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The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - GREG SHERI­DAN FOR­EIGN ED­I­TOR

Paul Dibb and Richard Bra­binSmith have done Aus­tralia a ser­vice by speak­ing so bluntly about our de­te­ri­o­rat­ing strate­gic cir­cum­stances and the need to strengthen our de­fences.

Iden­ti­fy­ing China’s mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion and rapid ter­ri­to­rial con­quests in the South China Sea as a po­ten­tial threat is brave, tricky, del­i­cate and com­plex.

As they rightly ob­serve, it is wrong to as­sume China will be hos­tile to our in­ter­ests.

We should do ev­ery­thing we can to pos­i­tively en­gage the Bei­jing govern­ment.

But de­fence plan­ning must deal with re­al­ity and it al­ways plans against ca­pa­bil­i­ties rather than avowed in­ten­tions. Sim­i­larly, it must take into ac­count ac­tual be­haviour. Bei­jing has ig­nored in­ter­na­tional law in the South China Sea, built big mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties on ter­ri­tory to which it has no plau­si­ble claim, mas­sively ex­panded its mil­i­tary and di­rected ex­pan­sion against the ca­pa­bil­ity of our ally the US.

Only a coun­try de­ter­mined never to face re­al­ity would ig­nore all this. So we should pre­pare.

Dibb and Bra­bin-Smith have of­fered the most ex­plicit pub­lic ex­pres­sion of this since Ross Babbage some years ago ar­gued that Aus­tralia should adopt the same asym­met­ric strat­egy against Chi­nese ca­pa­bil­i­ties as Bei­jing has adopted against the US. That is, aim to pos­sess armed forces suf­fi­ciently ro­bust that they make the cost of any ac­tion against us too great.

Where Dibb and Bra­bin-Smith are on much weaker ground, and where their ideas could even po­ten­tially do some dam­age, is in their call for a new de­fence strat­egy. That is the very last thing we need.

Bei­jing mil­i­tarises the South China Sea in the time it takes us to write a de­fence White Pa­per.

No, no, no to new strate­gies. Our na­tion drowns in strate­gies. Let’s have fewer strate­gies, and more ac­tions. The only strat­egy we need now is the Nike strat­egy: Just do it!

Our White Pa­per ac­qui­si­tion plans have wholly cred­i­ble force mod­erni­sa­tion and ex­pan­sion com­mit­ments. The only change we need to make is to ac­cel­er­ate them. Any re­vis­it­ing of the French sub­ma­rine de­ci­sion can only lead to fur­ther delay.

The only pos­si­ble change to that sub­ma­rine plan should be to try to hurry the French along and per­haps keep the youngest of the Collins subs in ser­vice even af­ter the ear­li­est French subs come on­line so we can build a force of more than six subs more quickly than we are cur­rently do­ing.

The other big con­tri­bu­tion of the two old strate­gists is to counter the hys­ter­i­cal pre­emp­tive kow­tow­ing of Aus­tralia’s China lobby. That we have just held a meet­ing at of­fi­cial level of the Quadri­lat­eral Di­a­logue — in­volv­ing the US, Ja­pan, In­dia and Aus­tralia — is en­tirely a good thing. Any­one who pays even the faintest lip ser­vice to the English lan­guage could not re­gard such a di­a­logue as anti-Chi­nese or as an ex­pres­sion of the pol­icy of con­tain­ment.

The word con­tain­ment means not only at­tempt­ing to pre­vent the strate­gic ex­pan­sion of a power but to iso­late it eco­nom­i­cally and deny it tech­nol­ogy and diplo­matic cred­i­bil­ity. No one is try­ing to do that to China.

Bei­jing’s of­fi­cial re­ac­tion to the Quad meet­ing was to say that it wel­comed di­a­logues in the re­gion and hoped they weren’t di­rected at any out­side party.

The China lobby in Aus­tralia seems to hold the view we should be ashamed even to talk to other democ­ra­cies, a truly hu­mil­i­at­ing and con­temptible out­look.

Some of the Aus­tralian China lobby even now see this as a con­spir­acy against Bei­jing.

Dibb and Bra­bin-Smith have in­jected more re­al­ism into Aus­tralia’s strate­gic de­bate.

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