Andrew Carr, an Associate Lecturer in ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, writes:
Jim Molan makes a good argument that the Government is confused about its defence priorities, but unfortunately that's also true of the wider defence community in Australia. In just the last year we've seen major papers suggesting we should make offensive capabilities against China a core focus and papers suggesting we shouldn't make China much of a focus at all in our defence planning.
In between these poles, we have a wide range of views. Everyone thinks Iraq was a mistake, but few want to give up on the notion of forward deployment. Most want to see Australia improve its defence of continent capability, yet small increases in that direction all lead to the question 'why X and not Y', not to mention the role of sectional interests who are trying to shape the debate, whether on behalf of their branch of the Defence Force, or their local industry.
One of the 2009 White Paper's most widely recognised failings was the paper-thin (literally) discussion of how to pay for its changes. Yet, aside from a few good reports that specifically examine defence funding, most defence-related papers still separate the strategy and the equipment from explicit discussion of how to fund them.
To reiterate, it is the Government's responsibility to decide between these perennial differences, and if anything I wish there was ten times as many people arguing and discussing these issues. But, after the intense criticism of the 2009 White Paper and, assuming the plan for a 2014 White Paper is still in place, the wider defence community should spend the next two years trying to find some common ground that can give the federal Government a solid direction.
Given the current Government is somewhat distracted from defence issues, while the Opposition is showing little interest in them, if the wider defence community isn't helping to set the country's path, who will?