Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Defence diplomacy and the ADF: smokescreen or strategy?

‘Defence diplomacy and the Australian defence force: smokescreen or strategy?’ (With Daniel Baldino) Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:2, 139-158, 2016.

The practice of military-to-military engagement has been strongly embraced in the last few decades as a central tool for strategic management. Many governments in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia, have accepted the practice as an instrument of statecraft to achieve comprehensive strategic outcomes: as a means of defusing tensions, reducing hostility and shaping the behaviour of states towards each other. This article examines Australia’s broad approach and practice, and argues that such transformative ambitions are overstated. The evidence suggests that the benefits from defence diplomacy are evident at the tactical and operational level. It is a mode to deal with precise and immediate security issues, as opposed to the moulding of major strategic settings. This indicates the need to better recognise the limitations and conceptual flaws of defence diplomacy, and to reformulate Australian defence channels and related engagement prescriptions towards a more cautious, pragmatic and ultimately security-related stance. Through the use of case-study analysis, this research identifies both opportunities and constraints in conducting defence diplomacy, while offering guidelines for its future implementation in the region.

Keywords: Australian Defence Force; defence diplomacy; middle powers; soft power

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