Reaching and grasping (corrected)

As best I understand it, poet Robert Browning was suggesting that artists should attempt to go beyond that which they have currently mastered with his famous quote about “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” In art, undoubtedly. As a precept for making decisions about a nation’s defence policy? Not so smart.

And so we come to another piece of Bigglesdom (or whatever the naval equivalent is) from retired Admiral James Goldrick at the ASPI Strategist blogat the Lowy Interpreter blog. Part one of what is apparently going to be a multi-part saga is his observation that were Australia’s oil imports to cease, the country would come to a grinding halt.

And the award for Stating The Bleeding Obvious goes to …

However, it seems that Admiral Goldrick thinks this is an argument, purely in Defence of Australia terms that Australia needs a “sea control” capability rather than the “sea denial” capabilities argued for by Hugh White – that is, the ability to stop others from denying use of the sea to us.

That’s great, if that was remotely feasible.

While perhaps I should be fair and wait for the Rear Admiral to make his full case, the idea that Australia could unilaterally maintain sea control anywhere outside the unrefuelled range of the Air Force doesn’t pass the laugh test, and last I checked our trade routes would need to be protected a long, long way beyond that.

As such, designing a navy around the idea of doing so strikes me as a very expensive exercise in futility, and one that the Gillard government – or, frankly, an Abbott government – is unlikely to indulge.

Update: Correction, it was at the Lowy Interpreter, not the ASPI Strategist blog. Apologies for the sloppy error.

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3 Responses to Reaching and grasping (corrected)

  1. BilB says:

    “nation’s defence policy? Not so smart”

    That depends upon the threat. It worked for the Japanese to range extend their military aircraft with an optional return trip. But I am not sure that it fits the thinking of todays military (Navy).

    It is easy to get caught up in the national threat paranoia, but is the threat really there? Due to the new eBike regulations being introduced into Victoria (based on a European standard) I had cause to look at population densities, and there are some real surprises. For starters the European population zone has 700 million people (not 400 million as had thought), and those 700 million people have a land share or 1.3 hectares per person. The real surprise is that Indonesia’s per capita land share is about the same, but indonesians have a far higher coastline share than Europeans and this is very significant when looking at feeding oneself from ones environment. It is not surprising that we Australians have a 27 hectare land share with a lot of that being dessert.

    So are we threatened by our neighbours? I think not. Our real invasion threat will come with advancing sea levels, climate change and subsequent population displacement.

  2. David Irving (no relation) says:

    Being a sailor, the Admiral is likely to see everything as a nail (or something). As Obama implied recently, Naval power isn’t as important as it was 100 years ago. (In fact, I suspect that the two things a navy is most useful for these days is providing mobile airfields, and carrying soldiers to where they need to be. Destroyer duels are a thing of the past.)

    • It’s an open question as to whether they can even do that against non-trivial opposition.

      My guess is that, were we ever to see serious conflict between two advanced naval powers, most surface ships would end up not being on the surface for very long. Submarines and aircraft would make mincemeat of them before too long.

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