There’s much to admire in Michael Wesley’s hypothesis in his essay “Dangerous Proximity” – the historical sweep, encompassing the British settlement in Australia; strategists obsessed with how to defend a continent of few people; the changing nature of conflict through the advent of technology; and the rise of “coercive statecraft”. I came away disturbed and motivated. Australia, it seems, needs to completely rethink its approach to security because the nature and purpose of force has been transformed, and armed conflict is not the only way to defeat an opponent.
Wesley argues that long-range bombardment and nuclear weapons make major combat between powerful countries unthinkable. A new statecraft, based on coercive control and influence, lowers the risk of a nuclear exchange. Long-range precision-guided hypersonic missiles are being acquired by Russia, China, India and other Asian nations. Australia has lost its technological edge and the benefits of its remote location. Worse, new weapons threatening the Malacca Strait will see ships sailing around the east and south of Australia – placing us in the heart of “competition among the United States, China, India and Japan for influence in South-East Asia and the South Pacific”.