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Defence and Strategy

Michael Shoebridge
Rod Lyon
John Coyne
Isaac Kfir/Leanne Close
Lisa Sharland
Marcus Hellyer
Huong Le Thu
Malcolm Davis
Genevieve Feely
Aakriti Bachhawat
Charlie Lyons Jones

The Defence, Strategy and National Security Program analyses shifts and developments in Australia’s strategic environment, including in the balance and uses of military capabilities. It covers topics including:

  the interaction between economics and security, where the connection with technology and investment is intense and where the international and domestic boundaries are blurring
  developments and trends in the Indo-Pacific strategic environment, driven by increasingly assertive authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia and North Korea, and by the policies and actions of states such as India, Japan, the US and Indonesia, with a focus on strategic relationships, military calculations, risks of escalation and conflict, and Australia’s national interests

  Australia’s near region, with a particular focus on the impact of broad political, economic and strategic engagement by China in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean
  deterrence, including how it is affected by the practice of grey-zone or political warfare below the threshold of armed conflict
  the role of conventional and nuclear weapons in deterring aggression and major-power conflict
  regional capability developments
  counter terrorism, law enforcement and peacekeeping.

The program also analyses the capability of the ADF and the broader Defence organisation through all stages of the capability life cycle, including by assessing capability programs, options and implementation, and analyses the management of the Defence organisation. This involves assessments of Australia’s defence budgets and the wider range of activities required to produce and support the ADF’s capabilities, including:

  defence funding over the short and long terms
  policies and capabilities of the defence industry, with a focus on the implementation of the new suite of defence industry policies and programs
  defence economic trends, especially as they apply to materiel
  emerging capability issues and challenges, including from powerful new technologies, and concepts for applying them in military operations.

Over 2019–20, the program’s analysis and policy recommendations for Australian decision-makers focused on:
  the further deterioration in Australia’s strategic environment and the deepening explicit strategic, technological and economic struggle between China and the US
  a Chinese state growing in assertiveness and willingness to conduct interference in other states, including Australia
  a US more likely to act unilaterally in transactional ways than in coalition with allies and partners.
Boundaries between international and domestic issues blurred, and the rate of technological change, including in the defence and national security spheres, continued at a pace that challenged the Australian Defence organisation and the broader national security community’s processes and structures.

A core implication flowing from our work over the year is that Australia’s national interests are engaged and affected by those broad developments in ways that go beyond any US–China construct and require Australia to decide and act in our own national security interests, working with like-minded partners and influencing global debates as we do so. Enhancing national cohesion, notably between the federal and state levels of government, is an essential element in this approach. The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on strategic and defence issues has been covered in ASPI’s After Covid series, of which volume 1 was published in 2019–20, and has been incorporated into a range of other articles and products from the Defence, Strategy and National Security Program.

Orbiting around those themes, the program produced reports, shorter Strategist articles, podcasts and media commentary and used both ASPI staff and commissioned authors during 2019–20.