Deterrence at sea remains vital to underpinning international rules-based order, says Australian defence chief

HMAS Brisbane
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Anzac-class frigate HMAS Toowoomba (left), Supply-class auxiliary ship HMAS Stalwart, and Hobart-class guided-missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane conduct replenishment-at-sea activities during a regional presence deployment in 2023. RAN presence and capability is central to effective regional deterrence, according to Australia’s Chief of Defence Force.

Deterrence, including credible defence capability at sea, remains essential to maintaining stability and security, and the wider rules-based international order, in the Indo-Pacific region, General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), told the Indo-Pacific Sea Power conference 2023 in Sydney on 8 November.

The Indo-Pacific theatre is a focus for increasing state-based competition, with tension between maintaining or re-aligning the region’s, and the wider world’s, established international order. The Indo-Pacific region’s maritime nature, and the fact that the established international order includes key components like maritime trade flowing along well-founded sea lines of communication, dictates that much of this competition is evident at sea.

“The rule of power over the rule of law is not an idea or a state of being that Australia wishes to see succeed, whether here in the Indo-Pacific or anywhere else,” said Gen Campbell. “That’s why Australia sees deterrence delivered through enhanced, credible defence capabilities, strong partnerships, and clearly communicated intent as essential for reducing the likelihood of conflict in our region and realising our goal of a secure Australia in a secure region.”

“We live in an era and region of great power competition, an era that will last for some time,” he added.

“The use of coercive statecraft, lawfare, and influence operations in the grey zone between peace and war continue to undermine traditional understandings of the international rules-based order and test the threshold for conventional military response,” Gen Campbell continued. He noted too how advanced technology, including missiles and sensors, is exacerbating the threat and altering the region’s traditional power balance.

With the conference discussing ‘Sea Power and the Future of Maritime Warfare’ as the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) seeks to shape its fleet out to 2035, Gen Campbell reiterated Australia’s intent (as set out in its 2023 Defence Strategic Review) to re-align its balanced defence force structure towards a force – including a navy – focused on enhanced, long-range lethality to deliver deterrence. This focus, which includes building integrated partnerships with allies, reflects an emphasis on “the ability to project power to shape the strategic landscape and deter threats”, said Gen Campbell.

The ADF Chief noted that naval power has been and remains essential to maintaining the rules-based international order, and will be essential to offsetting the new risks that are emerging.

“The economic prosperity enjoyed by Australia and the Indo-Pacific region more broadly has been largely enabled by unimpeded and free access to and use of the sea, governed by agreed rules and norms and underpinned by naval power,” said Gen Campbell.

Australia’s geostrategic area of interest ranges from the northeast Indian Ocean, through maritime Southeast Asia and out into the Pacific. “Given the inherent archipelagic character of this geographic area, naval power is and must continue to be an essential element of Australia’s total national effort,” said Gen Campbell. “Sustained and credible naval power is central to effectively shaping our strategic environment.”

by Dr. Lee Willett