• YouTube Square

RUSI Victoria / (03)9282 5918/ secretary@rusivic.org.au/ © 2019 RUSI Victoria

Australia’s Defence Strategy

Evaluating Alternatives for a Contested Asia


Adam Lockyer

MUP Academic    2017

Paperback   332pp   RRP: $49.99


Reviewer:  Robert Dixon, August 2018


At the beginning of this book the author poses a rather important question: “How would we know a ‘good’ defence strategy if we saw one?” He then sets out a conceptual framework that might be used to evaluate alternative defence strategies. This first part of the book is, in itself, a very welcome addition to the literature on defence strategy in Australia. The author then uses that framework to critically examine various defence strategies that have been put forward, including those that have been used as the basis for a number of recent Defence White Papers. The author argues that none of these strategies satisfy all of the criteria set out in his framework and this leads him to (tentatively) suggest a new focus for defence strategy for Australia.

Lockyer considers defence strategy’s aims (1) Do they align with the political objectives of the defence policy? (2) Has the defence strategy taken into consideration the likely counter-strategies of opponents? and (3) Can the strategy feasibly achieve the aim of the policy with the resources that have been made available? Defence Reviews and White Papers in Australia have typically focussed on a “denial” strategy, usually with reference to the air-sea gap to Australia’s north. A denial strategy may take the form of ‘Anti-access denial’ (taking steps to deter an opponent from even entering the air-sea gap) or ‘Area denial’ (preventing an opponent from being able to safely manoeuvre within the air-sea gap). The author argues that a comprehensive ‘Anti-access denial’ strategy is simply not achievable given the overwhelming size and diversity of weaponry available to potential aggressors and that ‘Area denial’ would only be a feasible deterrent if there were a significant increase in Australian defence spending.

Both strategies are based on the premise that the aim is to prevent conventional military attacks on the Australian mainland and in order to achieve this Australia should have the means to engage and defeat enemy forces at various distances away from the Australian mainland.  The author argues that there is little risk of such an attack in the foreseeable future in part, because of our relationship with the USA. He then proposes that Australia’s defence policy should focus on mitigating the threat of “great power competition” in the vital maritime chokepoints in the “Indo-Pacific arc” to our northwest. The objective would be to prevent any great power using a similar approach in that area that China has employed in the South China Sea. This strategy would entail greater security co-operation with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, more attention given to the maintenance of their political sovereignty, and enhanced air and sea (including sub-surface) surveillance capability in the Indo-Pacific arc.

The author is well placed to write on these topics. Having spent four years serving in the Australian Army he is now a senior lecturer in security studies at Macquarie University. He is also a research associate at the United States Studies Centre and was the 2015 Fulbright Scholar in US-Australian Alliance Studies.

The book is very well written, with numerous historical examples being given to illustrate the points being made. The argument is made easier to follow with the aid of five tables which set out the relationship between a number of alternative strategies and each of the three “tests” in tabular form and also through the use of seven maps, each focussing on a different part of our region. The work has an extensive bibliography and a very detailed index.  There is much food for thought in this book that is sure to provide a starting point for a re-think of Australian defence strategy and, by implication, defence procurement.

[An excellent introduction to the book was given in a presentation by Dr Lockyer to RUSI (NSW) that was published in their December 2017 Newsletter. A copy may be found at http://www.rusinsw.org.au/Papers/20170829.pdf ]


The RUSI – Vic is most grateful to the publishers for making available this work for review.