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Between them, Richard Brabin-Smith and Paul Dibb have nearly fifty years of experience at the Department of Defence under their belt. Now working down the corridor from each other at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, they began talking mid-last year about what they identified as Australia’s deteriorating strategic outlook. The subsequent report they produced together on Australia’s management of strategic risk made headlines in The Australian and was launched by former Chief of the Australian Defence Force Sir Angus Houston in November 2017.
Its core concern is a growing regional capacity for a military attack on Australia from the north. According to Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb, there is only one country which could do that. “China is developing a capability that in the foreseeable future could have the capacity, should relations deteriorate, to attack us,” he says. “A country with which we don’t share values, that’s authoritarian, with no freedom of the press, no freedom of the judiciary and a dreadful human rights record.”
Dibb is not predicting war. But in managing risk, defence strategists need to think in the long term. His is an approach that demands greater attention to Australia’s maritime capacity and military bases in the north, including stockpiles of fuel and ammunition. “We must have a capacity to deny our vulnerable northern and western approaches to a future power,” he says. “It’s prudent planning.”