Australia and the Asian Security Puzzle

Over at the Interpreter, Hugh White writes that despite its (predictable) drawbacks, the F-35 remains the best option for Australia’s air force. White’s argument echoes the major outlines of the Australian defense debate, which Craig Snyder examined in his WPR Strategic Posture Review for Australia. Essentially, that boils down to whether Australia has a vocation to compete with “Asian major powers” (White’s term that I assume refers to China, India and Japan), or just with the lesser powers on its periphery in Southeast Asia.

I’m flagging the article not so much to wade into that debate myself, but rather to underline the degree of strategic uncertainty that characterizes the Asian security landscape. In some ways, to paraphrase the well-worn cliché, this has to do with American strategists doing a lot of sneezing lately, leaving Asian strategists with a major cold. By which I mean that questions over America’s posture vis à vis China, and also doctrinal debates within the U.S. military over COIN vs. conventional, have left regional strategists pondering a wider range of scenarios, including greater degrees of self-reliance, than in the recent past.

But it also has to do with very real questions over conflict vs. cooperation in Asia’s future, as well as what the evolving balance of power will ultimately look like. As an illustration, these kinds of strategic discussions are taking place simultaneously with all the various competing regional integration schemes on offer at the moment. How the Korean standoff is resolved, what role Japan will play and whether it will adopt a nuclear capacity, whether the India-China and India-Pakistan rivalries will remain cold or get hot: All of these are open-ended questions that present an endless amount of possibilities to consider, none of which offer any easy answers.

One thing I’d add with regard to Australia and its strategic considerations in particular, though, is that I’d always intuitively considered it “safe” from invasion. What’s more, on a symbolic level, it always represented something of a “last chance” safe haven for me, probably because of Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach,” in which the Aussies are the last holdouts following a nuclear armageddon.

But I suppose contingency planners can’t go on precedent alone, whether historical or literary. And invasion is not the only contingency that could require a viable deterrent capacity.