Paul Dibb is an English-born Australian strategist, academic and former defence intelligence official. He is currently emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre which is part of the Australian National University.
From 1985 to 1986, Dibb was a ministerial consultant to Defence Minister Kim Beazley. During this time, he formulated a review of Australia’s defence capabilities known as the Dibb Report. His inclusion of a map centered on Darwin provided new insights into Australia’s strategic realities.
His most recent paper, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, is entitled “Australia’s management of strategic risk in the new era”, co-authored by Richard Brabin-Smith. In it he makes the case that Australia’s strategic outlook is deteriorating. Many of his conclusions are equally applicable to Canada.
Canada’s strategic outlook is also changing and, for the first time in a generation we face an increased prospect of threat of an actual attack on Canada. This means that a major change in our approach to the management of strategic risk is needed.
Strategic risk is a subjective field in which governments need to make critical assessments of capability, motive and intent. These factors are inherently ambiguous and uncertain. Over recent decades judgements in this area have relied heavily on the conclusion that there was no creditable entity inimical to Canadian interests with the capability required for a serious assault on the country or our infrastructure.
This is no longer true. It is critical that we understand that the development of new weapons and new technologies means that we are at risk and that we can no longer rely on long lead times that will provide us with adequate warning of conflict.
Instead of conceiving of the defence of Canada by making the comfortable assumption that our defence starts in Latvia or Afghanistan we have to consider that the place we need to protect begins at Tofino and Tuktoyaktuk and Torbay.
The reassuring certainties of the past; that we were bounded by to the west and east by vast oceans, to the north by an unpassable wilderness and to the south by a strong, reliable neighbour are no longer valid. The comfortable judgements of previous years about the limited threats to our region and our country are no longer appropriate
For example, China’s economic and political influence continues to grow while at the same time it maintains an ambitious program of military modernisation and expansion. At the same time Russia continues to devote a disturbing proportion of its admittedly limited resources to their military, particularly in the northern reaches of that country which border on Canada.
The power of non-state actors to engage in activities that range from infringements of Canada’s sovereignty to kinetic attacks has never been greater. All of these threats are informed by the ability of cyber warfare to inflict massive damage to our country.
In future the level of capability that can be brought to bear against Canada by a large range of state and non-state actors will increase while at the same time warning times will decrease. The potential warning time is now shorter, because capability levels are higher and will increase yet further.
How should Canada respond to military contingencies that are now credible in the shorter term and which could now be characterised by higher levels of intensity and technological sophistication?
Dibb would argue that readiness and sustainability need to be increased: we need higher training levels, a demonstrable and sustainable surge capacity, increased stocks of munitions, more maintenance spares, a robust supply system, and modernised operational bases, especially in the north.
We need to examine preparedness levels, the lead times for key elements of the expansion base and the resources we devote to ‘homeland’ defence.
The prospect of shortened warning times along with the possibility of an actual attack on Canada needs to be a major factor in today’s defence planning.
Just as important we must not allow the conduct of operations further afield, and our involvement in counterterrorism, to distract either from the effort that needs to go into this planning or from the funding that enhanced national defence capabilities will require.
Australia’s deteriorating strategic outlook
15 Nov 2017|Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith