How to Defend Australia


Hugh White

Black Inc Books   October 2019

Paperback   336pp   RRP $34.99


Reviewer: Michael Hili, February 2020


This work of strategy and forecasting by Hugh White is a rather draconian outlook on the prospect of Australia defending itself against a foreign invader. Steeped in undertones of realism, it has clearly been written in response to the declining influence of America in South Asia and the impending rise of China’s economic and military capabilities in Australia’s vicinity.

The book undoubtedly aims to serve as a warning to the government and general population of Australia to the potential of war near or on Australian soil within the coming decades. With this objective at the forefront, White’s arguments are entrenched in hypothetical scenarios based upon reasonable assumptions regarding the changing nature of power in Asia from America to China. As an informative work, it is most useful when it attempts to compartmentalise Australia’s interests under a ‘concentric circles’ model; clearly outlining our priorities should warfare become an impending possibility. He then does well to transpose the ordering of these interests into a plan for designing Australia’s armed forces.

Whilst the hypothetical sections are interesting and sobering at times, it tends to become repetitive in its attempts at defining Australia’s interests and how Australia should respond to the changing dynamic of contemporary international relations. In between important sections of his book, White tends to re–iterate previously made points that distract from the usefulness of his planning and recommendations. In this way, the book can become an arduous read from front to back as White is attempting to emphasise similar points with continuous evidence that is not necessarily quantifiable or empirical.

This work should therefore not be considered as a sole reference point for forming an opinion on Australia’s need to bolster or reform its current defence force. It is highly focused on military and economic capabilities of state’s as an indicator for the likelihood of warfare or conflict with Australia. From a broader interpretation of international security, White’s arguments can seem slightly remissive of the importance of international diplomacy, global crises, global governance and non-state actors in contemporary international relations and how these may affect the characteristics of future wars.

Thus, readers should note that this book presents a highly militarised perspective of the likelihood of warfare. This means that White considers all options and hypothetical scenarios regarding a future war with an external state. It is a useful reference point in terms of forecasting future needs and capabilities of the ADF and how we should structure our defences in case of conflict; however readers should be careful not to consider it as a prophetic work to stir paranoia and irrational support for increased military posturing by Australia.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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