Defence is making a lot of effort to explain itself.  A few weeks ago, there was the White Paper, plus no less than 83 (!) separate press releases.  

Then we had the Budget, which as Mark Thompson points out, didn’t shed much light on anything at all, really. 

In the wake of the White Paper and Budget, a 20-page booklet (pdf) appeared, explaining what the White Paper actually meant—it wasn’t clear the first time around, and the booklet counters a some critiques by analysts. 

And now there’s a 34-page booklet—The Strategic Reform Program (pdf)—explaining Defence’s savings aspirations—needed to pay for the kit in the White Paper. 

It’s a bit like watching a game of Pong. 

A good editor would have helped Defence immensely, potentially saving time and a forest or two of paper.  Say what you will about the 1987 White Paper—and I certainly think it’s wrong—but at least it presented a single, coherent argument.

So why the flurry of material? One almost may think it was deliberate attempt to recreate reality:

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”  George Orwell, 1984

In a less dystopian frame of mind, there’s Brendan Sargeant’s paper on what he refers to as imagination in Defence.

A former head of strategic policy in Defence, Sargeant’s core idea is that in Defence strategy-making and policy formulation often have little to do with strategic realities, but reflect more with a self-reinforcing and mutually shared construct, which in turn references other myths in the wider Australian community. 

What passes for strategic policy reflects a closing of the imagination of the defence community, a collapse of possible futures into one, a means of socialisation that selects conformity and casts out difference.

AGENT SMITH: Have you ever stood and stared at it, Morpheus?  Marveled at its beauty.  Its genius.  Billions of people just living out their lives…oblivious.

Sargeant argues, too, that the resilience of the 1987 DoA doctrine lies at least partially in its reference to national myths—the outback, the sea, and, I would suggest, a fear of abandonment.  The same can be seen in the most recent expression of Australian strategic policy, with its strong DoA elements.

Together the White Paper, the Budget and the yet-to-be-released Defence Capability Program (DCP) will form a self-referential trinity: the White Paper fits budgetary constraints that shape the DCP that is justified by the White Paper.  The Strategic Reform Program represents an eight-fold path, while the booklet provides Defence staff their credo.

But the key problem will remain: WP2009 and its associated material offer an internally focussed solution—in terms of strategy, force structure and organisation—looking for an external reality-grounded problem.

References 

Department of Defence (2009). Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Canberra.

Department of Defence (2009). Defence White Paper – Booklet. Canberra.

Department of Defence (2009). The Strategic Reform Program. Canberra.

Sargeant, B. (2006). “Burning Bright: Defence Policy, Strategy and the Imagination.” Australian Army Journal 3(3): 67-86.

Thompson, M. (2009). The Cost of Defence: ASPI Defence Budget Brief 2009-2010, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

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