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Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

AJDSS Volume 2 Number 1

Ten questionable assumptions about future war in the Indo-Pacific

Ross Babbage

To cite this article: Ross Babbage, 'Ten questionable assumptions about future war in the Indo-Pacific', Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies 2, 1 (2020): 27-45,

Published online: 21 August, 2020

Are the Indo-Pacific allies certain that their defence planning for the coming two decades is built on sound foundations? Many Western security analysts assume that a modernised version of their highly networked, combined arms operations will be able to prevail in any major conflict in the Indo-Pacific. 1 But is this right?

If there is to be a major war in the Indo-Pacific, it is likely to involve a struggle between China and a small number of supporters on the one hand and the United States and its allies and partners on the other. The precise sequence of events in such a catastrophe is difficult to predict but it is certain that Beijing will have as much, or even more, say over the shape of the conflict as Washington. This is a serious problem for the West because the core agencies of the Chinese government bring strategic cultures, strategies, operational concepts and priorities to the Indo-Pacific that are markedly different from our own. When viewed in this context, even an advanced version of conventional Western strategies and operations could prove seriously inadequate.

The Western allies need to ensure they plan to deter and, if necessary, to fight and win a future war, not just a part of a war, or even the wrong war.

There are at least ten reasons for doubting that the West's perception of future war in the Indo-Pacific is sound.

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1 This central assumption is clear from the priorities that allied defence and national security departments accord to advanced, highly networked, combined arms capabilities in their strategic plans, in their budgets and also in their public justifications for new capability acquisitions. These priorities dwarf those given to countering authoritarian state political and hybrid warfare operations or to the types of military and non-military resilience measures that would be essential to ensure continued theatre leverage in the event of a major conflict continuing for an extended period.