Australia’s National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program 2024: A Review

 By Dr Shushant VC Parashar
0
142

In an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific, a region of immense strategic importance, with potential clashes between China and the USA on the table, nations across the region are developing roadmaps to outline their defence strategies. Unlike its previous iterations, Australia’s 2024 Defence White Paper doesn’t just deal with a defence strategy but is structured into two volumes. It deals with strengthening the country’s defence apparatus through building mutual relationships and channelling funds into critical areas vital to the defence sector. An earlier iteration of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR), especially in 2023, observed that Australia now faces its most challenging strategic environment since WW II and has reaffirmed that Australia no longer enjoys the benefit of a ten-year window of strategic warning time for conflict. The 2024 strategic update acknowledges this reality.

Key Points

The strategy document highlights three crucial areas: the growing strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific as Australia’s strategic environment deteriorates, the need to foster security cooperation in the Pacific half of the Indo-Pacific, and, more importantly, the ‘Strategy of Denial’, a cornerstone of Australia’s defence approach, aimed at deterring any actions that could threaten the nation or its primary strategic interests (p 21).

These two documents show Australia’s changing security perceptions. Earlier iterations of the DSR used to plan on a ten-year window of warning time for conflict. At present, Australia acknowledges that it no longer has this luxury of time to prepare, and therefore, emphasis on dynamic situational awareness by working with other government agencies, the USA, and critical partners is stressed.

Secondly, for the first time, Australia has developed the Integrated Investment Program (IIP), which acts as a backup to the NDS. The IIP is aimed at targeted investment and spending on domains critical to strengthening the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) capabilities. This includes undersea warfare, the application of maritime capabilities for sea denial and localised sea control operations, targeting and long-range strike missiles, space and cyber (p 7), etc. Thirdly, the Government will enable the Australian defence industry to pursue export opportunities and integrate them into global supply chains through the Global Supply Chain program.

The IIP states that the government will invest “$28‑$35 billion to develop and enhance targeting and long-range strike capabilities across the defence” (p 43). This includes acquiring advanced guided weapons, building stockpiles, and developing and integrating targeting capabilities. Australia will also invest $16-$21 billion in Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) and develop Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems in 2025 to increase domestic missile manufacturing and reduce dependence on foreign weapons manufacturers. At present, Australia has no domestic long-range missile manufacturing capability.

These documents state that Australia’s growth is inextricably linked to developments in the Indo-Pacific. As the region grows financially, Australia will continue to benefit. Canberra sees Australia’s security as being tied to enhancing its regional partnerships. The IIP makes a maiden foray into integrating the region in terms of maritime connectivity, by calling for an investment of $510 million over the decade to 2033-34 to strengthen maritime cooperation and security with regional partners (p 16), under the Defence Cooperation Program and Pacific Maritime Security Program.

Cooperation in Australia’s Areas of Primary Interest

The areas of strategic interest for Australia include the Northeast Indian Ocean, North Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, inherently intertwining the nation’s economic and security well-being to the evolving landscape of the Indo-Pacific. Thus, it actively engages with resident countries in the respective regions to protect its interests.

India is pivotal as Australia’s primary maritime partner in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) (p 49). Australia considers India a “top-tier security partner,” a phrase used first by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during his visit to India in 2023. This shift in perspective can be seen from the 1990s and is reflected in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership 2020 between the two nations, which is seen as a potent tool for fostering cooperation and stability across the Indo-Pacific. This partnership, aimed at upholding a global rules-based order, is crucial for ensuring regional peace and security.

Relations between India and Australia have grown, and they engage in bilateral and multilateral exchanges. Both are part of the Quad and actively participate in significant focus areas under the umbrella of the strategic security dialogue. The two countries have joined like-minded players like Japan to implement initiatives such as creating resilient supply chains. In Australia’s 2024 document, India features again, which states, “There is still a risk of tension and miscommunication between India and Pakistan and between India and China. The possibility of nuclear weapons being used or increased is a concerning factor in each potential area of conflict. Additionally, the threat of terrorism from extremist groups driven by political and religious motivations will persist, fuelled in part by the ongoing violence and instability in the Middle East.” (p 14). This indicates a keen awareness of India’s security threats and their possible impact on Australia’s security interests.

Conclusion

Given the strategic precedents due to competition between the USA and China, Australia is redrawing its defence strategies. In its quest for calculated balance, the island nation is closely pursuing defence agreements with the West while maintaining close economic ties with China. The policy documents outline Australia’s vision to secure a regional order to ensure its national interests. They can be seen as a necessary response to the military build-up in the Indo-Pacific. The main objective is to present Australia as a more valuable and potent partner for countries to depend on as the competition between the USA and China continues to rise. Similarly, Australia’s courting of China can be seen in the restarting of the Australia-China Strategic Dialogues that resumed in 2017 after a gap of seven years. This restructuring of relations between Australia and China is centred on Australia’s presumption that China won’t economically attack Australia if a war breaks between the USA and China.

The policy documents reiterate the Indo-Pacific as Australia’s strategic environment. Australia sees maintaining and developing relations with its Asian partners and explicitly mentions them, briefly though, including India. For instance, India was not part of Australia’s strategic thinking until the 1990s. But times have changed as India has become increasingly prominent in Australia’s strategic thinking. As Japan is declining with its economy and population not growing, China, on the other hand, is rising, and Australia’s relationship with the two is changing. The economic relationship between Japan and Australia has stagnated, while that with China has multiplied tenfold. However, an “Australian Atmanirbharta” seems central to the realisation that its treaty partners may not be as infallible as it was. As economic power shifts towards Asia, so does Australia’s strategic thinking.

Cooperation between India and Australia centres around economy and finance. There is a vast diasporic presence in Australia as well. Ties are growing, with Australia’s total investment in India being $ 17.6 billion and India’s total investment in Australia being $ 34 billion in 2022. Thus, for Australia to strengthen its relationship with India, both can work in the following areas:

  • Japan is a vital regional security player for India and Australia. All three are part of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI). They can protect and promote their respective objectives while making the existing critical infrastructure resilient.
  • AUKUS is a partnership between Australia, the UK, and the USA focused on security in the Indo-Pacific region. As part of the partnership, the UK and the USA are assisting Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS countries are also working together to develop advanced technology in cyber security, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Technologies, and Underwater capabilities. India is actively expanding its capabilities in these areas, creating opportunities for potential collaboration between Australia and India. In addition, it’s worth noting that reports suggest that the US might not provide Australia with complete control of AUKUS submarines, indicating potential limits to collaboration.
  • Southeast Asia is one of Australia’s primary areas of interest. India and Australia have a known presence in the region and leverage by engaging in various security exercises, thus helping maintain a stable Indo-Pacific.
  • India and Australia have a chance to collaborate and enhance the security capabilities of Pacific Island States through Australia’s Pacific Maritime Security Program and India’s Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC). This collaboration provides an excellent opportunity for both nations to complement each other’s capacity-building efforts.

Australia has a distinctive history and geography that makes it stand out. It was associated with the West in the past, but in economic terms, it has become more connected with the East. These policy documents show that Australia is navigating a different neighbourhood and, like India, would require sharp decision-making regarding security threats. To safeguard the region, Australia will work closely with Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bangladesh to further strengthen its region’s security.