The reaction to Barack Obama’s announcement of the Defence Strategic Guidance document is as good an opportunity as any to open a thread to discuss defence-related matters. The document puts a little bit more meat on the bones on some of the themes Obama raised in his speech to the Australian Parliament late last year: a smaller US military, with more of a focus on the Asia-Pacific and fewer resources centered on long land wars.
As noted in various places, the real meat is missing in that the cuts to specific programs will have to wait to February.
One possible implication for Australia is that there may be cutbacks to the number of F-35’s planned to be purchased by the US Air Force; the US’s schedule for buying the planes may also slow down. If that happens, if Australia keeps to its planned acquisition schedule and numbers, the price per plane and risks of technical problems go up.
One observation I did think pertinent about the plan is from Defence Industry Daily:
First, a premise: a defining issue for the US and its allies in the “developed world” is the fiscal sustainability of a technical superiority that comes at a massive cost premium, while that technical edge is threatened by relatively cheap disruption if not interdiction – think USS Cole bombing or MRAP vs. IED relative costs. If that premise is accurate, how is a “do a little less, for a little less, but optimized” guidance addressing the core cost/benefit and cost asymmetry challenges? To make a business analogy, for after all this has a lot to do with industry and funding, if your new competitor floods the market with an offering that provides 70% of the value at 10% of the cost, can you as the incumbent settle for marginal optimization as your strategy? Is linear thinking viable against disruptive economic forces shaped by deep demographic trends?
Then again, one might argue that the desire to avoid wars of occupation is indeed a response to this – as WOPR put it in WarGames, the only winning move is not to play.
On a related note, Sam Roggeveen notes the limits of a “refocusing” of American military strategy. Nothing is likely to be able to reestablish the old order, where the USA could operate with impunity pretty much on China’s doorstep.
The Interpreter also observes that the post of the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser remains unfilled after six months, and speculates that this is a deliberate decision by Julia Gillard to leave foreign and defence policy more in the hands of departments and ministers. Good.
Carl Ungerer of the ASPI has published 52 pages on future trends in terrorism without a single word about the implications of the only successful mass-casualty terrorist attack in the developed world since 2005. Dr Ungerer, terrorism is still terrorism when white right-wing Christians do it.
And finally, a timely reminder of just how much our continued wars of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us – a Radio National documentary about the effects of combat on Australia’s most recent veterans. While the number of deaths remains low by historic standards, many veterans carry hidden but very serious damage:
CHARLOTTE GLENNIE: At Brisbane’s Toowong Private Hospital, psychiatrist Andrew Khoo runs intensive courses for veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Dr Khoo says up to 15 per cent of soldiers returning from war zones later suffer PTSD.
More still develop problems with depression, anxiety or substance abuse.
But a stream of traumatized veterans is an acceptable price to pay for continuing to keep the US happy in a war everyone knows won’t actually achieve its goals. At least, that’s the bipartisan consensus in Canberra.