Why we are in for a dangerous decade

Two leading strategic studies experts – Professor Rory Medcalf and Professor John Blaxland – outline the national security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cascading strategic shocks

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered cascading strategic shocks for Australia.

Initially, the hope was that this global public health crisis would compel nations to reduce strategic rivalry and focus on the common good. Instead, we have seen a troubling acceleration of existing trends of great-power competition, not only between China and the United States but also between, for instance, China and India, where there has been loss of life and sustained military tension along their disputed border.

The tragedy is that, instead of recognising the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity for cooperation, China has used this window of disruption to double down on its hyper-nationalist policies of assertiveness and authoritarian control, for instance inflicting economic coercion on Australia.

The good news is that Australia has not been passive or fatalistic during this time of global turmoil. The pandemic is stress-testing our nation and our Federation, no question. But, it is also building political and public support for a process of firming up national resilience that had been underway for some years.

On supply chains – fuel security, critical technologies and countering foreign interference – we’ve seen progress towards a more whole-of-nation approach to security this year. And, despite the hit to our economy, our willingness to invest in military capability and to take the initiative with activist diplomacy is striking. It’s disappointing, though, that our diplomacy is not receiving the resources boost it needs.

The shockwaves of the pandemic are playing out across Australia’s Indo-Pacific region. All nations are seeking to do more with less, and this places a premium on partnership. In face of Chinese domineering and American dysfunction, 
Australia is driving the establishment of coalitions of middle powers, seeking safety in numbers and creating a context of respect for sovereignty and rules.

But diplomacy alone is not the solution. We are in for a dangerous decade.

Professor Rory Medcalf is Head of the ANU National Security College and author of Contest for the Indo-Pacific.