Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Amphibious Operations and the Evolution of Australian Defense Policy

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Amphibious Operations and the Evolution of Australian Defense Policy

Article excerpt

Since its European settlement in 1788, Australia has been dependent on greatpower protectors for its security. Initially this security was achieved by virtue of Australia's status as a British colony, later as a member of the British Commonwealth. In return for its protection, Australia committed military forces in support of British interests to the Sudan, in the Boer War, and in the First and Second World Wars. Australian support for these actions was premised on two key factors: Australia's membership in the Empire (and with that the identity of its citizens as "independent Australian-Britons") and the assessment, universal among Australians, that support and protection of the Empire and of British interests were also in their interest.

However, the fall of Singapore in 1942 was a "salutary warning about the dangers of a smaller power [like Australia] becoming too reliant on a great power to protect it."1 Accordingly, while Australia's strategic approach in the post-Singapore era involved heavy reliance on the United States, it was not as one-dimensional as its relationship with Great Britain had been. As early as October 1944 the Australian Defence Committee recognized that the nation "should not accept the risk of relying primarily for its defence upon the assistance of a foreign power."2 What developed instead was a combination of, on one hand, support for multilateral organizations and a rules-based global order through a strong liberal, internationalist approach to diplomacy and, on the other, alliances with major Western powers and a credible, capable, and permanent Australian military force for the defense of the home territory.3

Following the Second World War, Australia strongly supported the establishment of the United Nations, forged a new security partnership with Great Britain, and, along with New Zealand, formed the ANZUS alliance with the United States. Australian support for the West in the Cold War and the British presence in the Far East led to commitment of troops to Malaya and Malaysia in the 1950s and 1960s, and its emerging relationship with the United States would see it sending forces to Korea and Vietnam. Continued support for U.S. global leadership and Western liberal democratic values into the post-Cold War and post-9/11 eras would lead Australia to commit forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a consequence of this "expeditionary strategy," by which its armed forces have been used principally in support of its major alliance partners rather than in direct defense of Australian territory, Australia's approach to war fighting has come to be distinguished by the "quality of its expeditionary infantry, who are usually sent overseas as part of a wider coalition and depend on a larger ally for logistical and other support."4

This expeditionary approach to strategy-embracing a major alliance partner while maintaining a degree of defensive self-reliance-has led to tensions in Australian strategic policy. These tensions have been manifest in the need both to develop forces that can be used to support alliance partners in distant operational areas and to maintain capabilities to meet strategic interests and objectives in its immediate region and for the defense of the continent. Amphibious warfare represents an intersection of these needs and therefore a focal point for understanding the tension between them.5

This article traces the role of amphibious operations in the evolution of Australian defense policy. It argues that the Australian experience with amphibious operations has been ironic, in that while Australia's military forces conducted them in both world wars to support its interests and those of its major alliance partners, the potential for managing the nation's own regional security was not realized. Thus, during the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War years the amphibious capabilities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were not robust. However, with the end of the Cold War the ADF was forced to reorient its security strategy toward one requiring moderate projection and sustainment of forces to promote regional stability. …

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