New Delhi: Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds Thursday said the security environment in 2020 has deteriorated much more than what it used to be in 2016 and that Australia will continue to work with the US, China and other “like-minded countries” such as India and Japan.
She said the region around the Indo-Pacific and especially where Australia is located is witnessing strategic realignment that is similar to what had happened during World War II.
“Our security environment has deteriorated — far more rapidly — and in ways we could not have predicted — just four years ago. Our region is now facing the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War II,” she said at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Reynolds was speaking about Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, which was unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 1 June.
The $270-billion defence strategy is a 10-year plan rolled out by Australia, which includes, for the first time, land, sea and air-based long-range and hypersonic strike missiles for Australia.
“Together, we are ensuring our region remains strategically secure, economically stable and politically sovereign. Our engagement is not defined through the narrow lens of strategic competition. We are continuing to strengthen cooperation with like-minded partners, including the United States, Japan and India,” she said.
She highlighted how countries “right across the Indo-Pacific” are modernising their military capabilities, thereby enhancing their preparedness for conflict equipped with advanced capabilities such as submarines, next generation air combat, and highly capable land forces.
Reynolds added Australia’s new weapons and technologies, including hypersonic glide and long-range missiles, autonomous systems, space capabilities, AI and cyber capabilities have increased their range, speed, precision and the lethal factor that are “transforming the characteristics of warfare”.
Australia has also made its largest ever investment in its cyber security capabilities with a new $1.35-billion investment over the next decade to enhance capabilities and assistance.
“Nations are increasingly employing coercive tactics that fall below the threshold of armed conflict. Cyber-attacks, foreign interference and economic pressure seek to exploit the grey area between peace and war,” she said, adding that: “Transnational threats remain — Terrorism, violent extremism, organised crime and people smuggling.”
Covid ‘dramatically altering’ strategic landscape
According to Reynolds, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be an “active and unpredictable threat” that is “dramatically altering the global economic and strategic landscape”.
“All of these pressures are contributing to uncertainty and tension, raising the risk of military confrontation, and compromising free and open trade,” she added.
Reynolds also stressed on the fact it is Australia that has an important and key role to play in shaping the strategic environment.
However, she said her country is willing to work both with the US as well as with China, both of which have a role to play in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We want to work with both the United States and China and with all other partners to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific,” she said.
She also gave a detailed description of Australia’s acquisition of long-range strike weapons.
“Long-range strike capabilities mean our forces are able to pose a threat to potential adversary forces and infrastructure from greater distances,” she said, adding that possession of such weapons “influences the decision making of those who seek to threaten our national interests”.
She said Australia has recently acquired an advanced maritime strike capability — the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).
A contested maritime domain
Reynolds said it is of particular concern to Australia being a maritime nation that the domain is “becoming increasingly contested”.
“This maritime domain is becoming increasingly contested. A range of advanced technologies — from hypersonic missiles to modern submarines — are being rapidly deployed… We now have an Australian continuous naval shipbuilding enterprise as well as the infrastructure and workforce to support this,” she said.
She said Australia is now giving a great deal of focus to building Air Warfare Destroyers, anti-submarine warfare frigates and attack-class submarines.
“Our submarine capability underpins Australia’s credibility and influence as a modern military power. This is not about politics or partisanship. This is about the security and the future of our nation,” she said.
She also warned of a “more unstable, more dangerous, and more vulnerable” post-Covid world.
“We face a post-Covid-19 world that is more unstable, more dangerous, and more vulnerable to the impacts of technological and economic disruption. Shifts in power and pressure on rules, norms and institutions are all endangering the global order as we knew it,” the minister said.