CANBERRA – The great Scottish poet Robbie Burns craved the gift “to see ourselves as others see us.” The refrain kept going through my head as I read the Australian Defense White Paper published in February, which maps the strategic environment to 2035, identifies the threats Australia is likely to confront, and describes the steps it will take to meet these contingencies. This is the first defense paper to assess defense needs against two major trends that directly impact Australia’s security: the power transition and the changing technology of warfare, including the constantly mutating threats of international terrorism and cyber-attacks.
Rich, sparsely populated and perched on the edge of Asia, Australia is dependent for security and prosperity on long and vulnerable transportation networks. Its wealth makes it an attractive target for potentially hostile countries but also permits it to build and sustain a highly professional and capable defense force that necessarily has to be small. For decades the strategy has been framed in terms of the “air-sea gap”: If we can secure the air and sea gaps between potentially hostile forces and the Australian continent, we can prevent the enemy from attacking the homeland.