In this issue of the Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies:
We go to print as 2020 is coming to a close, and one could be forgiven for never wanting to experience what this year has brought again. Natural disasters, pandemics, domestic and international elections, failing economies, a surge in great power competition have all captured our attention and affected our lives, and not all for the better. But, not wanting to dwell on the negatives, we have also witnessed great acts of kindness, resilience, and adaptation to circumstances never felt by many in our community. All of this has brought change. Change comes in many forms, good as well as bad. Change allows us to examine our priorities; it allows us to re-evaluate how we do things and whether we can do them better. And, Australia’s national defence and security plans have certainly not gone untouched.
While enduring a global pandemic and shoring up our alliances, in a time of upheaval both domestically and internationally, the Australian Government has reviewed what changes are needed for the greater good of our national security. It is an acknowledgment that we are living through challenging times. We are not immune from external threats, and these warrant an evolution of our defence and collective security posture.
In this issue, we have Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s address, delivered at the Australian Defence Force Academy, to launch the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan, introduced by Major General Mick Ryan, chair of the AJDSS editorial board. The speech outlined a significant defence policy reset to strengthen our force posture and sharpen Australia’s focus on our immediate region. It was an important speech heralding Australia’s more insistent stance in response to a global security environment where we face greater threats and uncertainty.
Given this refocus on our neighbours and region, in ‘The contending domestic and international imperatives of Indonesia’s China challenge,’ Greta Nabbs-Keller highlights for us the tensions facing Indonesia to balance complex domestic political sensitivities and international pressures in its relations with China. These tensions may well be exacerbated by the continuing economic disruption caused by COVID-19.
Jeffery Meiser follows, seeking to bring greater clarity to the concept of strategic leadership and its practical importance to our professional literature. For Meiser, strategic leadership is less a set of relatively unfocused characteristics to embody and more a practical skill set that should connect competencies of strategy and leadership. To examine his strategic leadership theory of military effectiveness, he presents an exploratory case study of General Matthew B Ridgway’s revival of the Eighth Army during the Korea War.
In our commentary section, Scott Dewar draws our focus to the transformations underway in the realm of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT). More than imagery analysis, today’s GEOINT can provide a decisive edge but it takes more than keeping up with technological change to take full advantage of the innovations currently revolutionising the sector. Dewar reminds us that data and a highly trained GEOINT workforce are as vital as fuel in today’s military. We must therefore encourage the utilisation of GEOINT and its practitioners across the intelligence and operational communities and as part of the capability life cycle.
In ‘What is in a name: discarding the grand strategy debate and seeking a new approach,’ Jason Thomas asks, ‘Apart from the benefits of education and promoting necessary dialogue, what is the further benefit of defining an additional level of strategy as “grand?”’ He argues that attempts to define grand strategy provide little service to the creation of effective strategies.
As noted above, we are living in a time of rapid change, both positive and unsettling. In Shane Halton’s commentary he notes that the military technologies coming fully online in the 2020s (hypersonics, cyber and electromagnetic warfare) will be so fast that in many cases human operators will not be able to operate ‘in the loop’. Instead they will have to be reliant to some extent on machine-learning technologies and automation. The effect this will have on traditional command and control structures is unknown. Will the 2020 battlespace be a military technopia where command staffs are relieved of the grunt work of running a war, suggestive of the technological positivism dreamt of by General Westmoreland? Or, does such an interactively complex and increasingly tightly coupled system mean the question is not if but when a dramatic failure will occur, as Dr Charles Perrow feared?
To add to your summer reading list, Zac Rogers gives his review of Thomas Rid’s Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare examining disinformation, fake news and a heavily manipulated internet. Mark Beeson reflects on how he has benefited over the years from reading David Martin Jones’s work, even if his blood pressure hasn’t, in his review of History’s Fools: The Pursuit of Idealism and the Revenge of Politics. Michael Evans provides an insightful overview of Civil-Military Relations: Control and Effectiveness Across Regimes, edited by Thomas C Bruneau and Aurel Croissant. Then, the myths and personal stories of Kokoda are explored in Kate Tollenaar’s review of David W Cameron’s The Battles for Kokoda Plateau. Finally, Imogen Matthew reflects on the purpose, process and personal benefits writing can have for military professionals in her review of Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War, edited by Randy Brown and Steve Leonard.
While it is hard to not look towards 2021 as a turning point, this year has shown that strategic challenges defy timetables and the plans we seek to impose on them. Instead, to meet these dynamic issues we need leaders and policymakers with the advanced skills in strategy and leadership who can develop and implement appropriate, flexible responses to change. To this end, the Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies will continue to play its role in fostering original thinking, scholarship and challenging debate of strategic issues and concerns to allow leaders to meet challenges that, like 2020, redefine the status quo.
As we reflect on this year and ponder what next year may bring, it is important that we not lose faith in our collective ability to face whatever the future may hold. Summertime in Australia and the region brings great joy to many, but we cannot forget it is also a testing time for ADF members who are always at the ready to respond if called upon. If this year has taught us anything about change, it is that Defence members are agile, resilient and willing to contribute.
Finally, I would like to wish you all a safe and happy summer. Enjoy. Relax. Read.
Published online: 3 December 2020