A Defence Strategy for a Deteriorating World

Ignorance truly is bliss because there are few things less ‘comforting’ than hearing Australia’s Minister for Defence, the Hon Richard Marles MP, publicly state the extent to which Australia’s strategic circumstances have deteriorated over the last twelve months.

Characterised by great power competition in our region, the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) reaffirmed that Australia finds itself in the most challenging strategic environment since the Second World War. As articulated in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review (DSR), of greatest concern for the defence of Australia – where our nation formerly relied on its natural geography to protect its people, territory, and interests – technological advancements in missile and cyber capabilities mean that Australia can no longer rely on its long-standing moat-like advantage. To quote the DPM: “so much damage can be done to our country by an adversary without ever having to step foot on Australian soil”.

In this light, speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, Minister Marles took the opportunity to release Australia’s new National Defence Strategy (NDS) and its accompanying Integrated Investment Program (IIP).

 Image Credit: The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, the Hon. Richard Marles MP, announcing the National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program at the National Press Club, Jay Cronan

The cornerstone of Australia’s NDS is a ‘Strategy of Denial’. This strategy seeks to deter conflict before it begins by signalling to an adversary that the costs of attacking Australia (even if the adversary could achieve victory) are simply too high. 

To be read in parallel with the NDS, is the IIP. The IIP sets out the specific defence capabilities the Government will invest in to give effect to the NDS. Although Australia as a middle power is unable to be a strategic peer to nations like the United States and China, the ADF can nonetheless be positioned and equipped with the kind of capabilities that mean Australia’s sovereignty cannot be easily ‘pushed around’.

As the DPM stated, the ADF ‘can only do, [what] you properly fund’. For this reason, the Albanese Government will grow Australia’s defence budget to an estimated $100 billion by 2033-34.  Furthermore, Defence funding as a proportion of GDP is projected to rise to around 2.4% by the end of the decade (i.e. $765 billion over the next ten years). This includes a $330 billion capability investment budget (a significant increase from the previously set $270 billion investment budget).

 Figure 1: Proportional investment for the decade 2024‑2034 by capability priority, IIP page 10

Figure 1 shows the proportional investment for the decade by the capability priorities of the Government as delineated in the IIP.

Of note, when it comes to acquisition, the demand of the deteriorating strategic environment means that the Government is continuing to prioritise ‘speed’ by embracing a ‘minimum viable capability’ approach. Where necessary, the Government has made decisions to ‘cancel, divest, delay or re-scope projects’ that are not critical to Australia’s new strategy.

20 April 2024 | Authored by Connor Andreatidis, Consultant, Precision Public Affairs

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