Prof John Blaxland
Professor of International Security & Intelligence Studies, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

Dr John Blaxland is a Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU. His publications include ‘The Protest Years’, ‘The Secret Cold War’ (the second & third volumes of the ASIO official history, Allen & Unwin, 2015 & 2016), ‘East Timor Intervention (MUP 2015), The Australian Army From Whitlam to Howard (CUP, 2014), Strategic Cousins (MQUP, 2006), Revisiting Counterinsurgency (LWSC, 2006), Information era Manoeuvre (LWSC, 2002), Signals (Melbourne, 1999) and Organising an Army (SDSC, ANU, 1989). He is the first Australian to be awarded a Minerva Research Initiative grant for a project on “Thailand’s Military, the USA and China”. He is a member of the Australian Army Journal editorial board.

Beyond the SWOT: Responding to Pandemics, Contestation & Governance Challenges

Today we face a spectrum of challenges ranging from (1) great power contestation, to (2) looming environmental catastrophe (including droughts, floods, pandemics and sea level change) and (3) a spectrum of governance challenges (including terrorism, transnational crime, people smuggling and corruption). In 2019 I published a Geostrategic SWOT Analysis for Australia examining the nation’s internal strengths and weakness and external opportunities and threats. No one was to know how much of that would come to pass so quickly in 2020. Yet more could be on the horizon, including not just consecutive but concurrent crises at the intersection of the three key challenges, the likes of which we have not seen in generations.

How do we respond? I propose we strive to rise above the tyranny of the urgent and the short term political cycle to consider the challenges we face holistically and inter-generationally, with the welfare of our children and grandchildren in mind. To do that, I argue, we need:

  1. A national institute for net assessment, tasked with exploring ways to bolster national resilience, engaging expertise across the nation to consider holistically the future needs of the nation;
  2. A grand compact with the micro states of the South Pacific, to help them avert environmental catastrophe, manage governance challenges, and assist them in the face of heightened great power contestation;
  3. An incentivised but voluntary Australian Universal Scheme for National and Community Service (or AUSNACS) to absorb many unemployed, bolster resilience of federal and state emergency response, defence, police and security services;
  4. Greater engagement with regional and traditional security partners across Southeast Asia and the Pacific and beyond; and
  5. Reimagine Australia’s engagement over Antarctica, mindful of the implications arising from increased great power competition and environmental change.

Our response needs to rise above vested interests, jurisdictions, academic disciplines and departmental remits to pull together a plan for our future safety, health and prosperity, while also making a significant contribution to the world around us.