- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Australian Strategic Policy

Hugh White


This chapter explores the development of Australian strategic policy and defense capabilities since the end of the Vietnam War.

Main Argument

The 2000 White Paper broadened the focus of Australia’s strategic policy beyond a narrow emphasis on the defense of the continent to a conception that includes U.S. support for preserving a stable power balance in Asia. This shift in strategic policy carries two main implications for the Australian Defence Force: (1) an increase in land force capabilities for regional operations and (2) sustained investment in high-tech air and naval capabilities.

Three factors have influenced Australian defense policy since 2000:

  • The war on terrorism, particularly operations in Iraq, has raised questions about the balance between size and weight in Australia’s land forces.
  • Instability in the region has increased demands to develop the capacity to mount stability operations in places such as the Solomon Islands.
  • As new economic and political opportunities overshadow traditional strategic anxieties, shifting Australian attitudes regarding China raise questions over the future alignment of U.S. and Australian objectives.

Policy Implications

  • Whether the U.S. and Australia can agree on the region’s future strategic architecture will depend in part on the extent to which the U.S. is willing to concede legitimacy to China’s growing leadership role in Asia.
  • The U.S. can ensure Australia’s help in maintaining regional stability by (1) supporting Australia in retaining superior Pacific air and naval capabilities and (2) continuing to allow Canberra access to sophisticated U.S. military technologies and systems.
  • By offering a clear assessment of which Australian capabilities could aid future coalition operations, the U.S. can help clarify confusion in Australia’s current policy debates.