Quarterly Essay 62: Firing Line- Australia’s Path To War

Si vis pacem, para bellum.’ (‘If you want peace, prepare for war’).

As a pacifist, I came to former Australian Army Officer James Brown’s Quarterly Essay with some measure of apprehension.

Brown, a veteran of the second Iraq War and Afghanistan, applies his rigorous knowledge of defence and military issues in this examination of Australia’s role in 21st century conflicts.

‘Firing Line, Australia’s Path To War’ advocates for a thoughtful approach to matters of national defence, and is an excellent primer on our country’s geopolitical responsibilities as a so-called ‘middle power’. The essay gives consideration to our national interest, framed against the backdrop of shifting global alliances, terrorism and the continued evolution of the technologies of war.

Sensitive to the horrors and trauma of war, Brown writes with admirable pragmatism on the realities of Australia’s place in the global hegemony in stark terms.

Firing Line also makes a clearheaded case for our staggering focus on defence spending. Even this skeptical reader finished the essay understanding, if not precisely convinced of our government’s policies.

Brown also gives extensive consideration to the unprecedented powers of the Australian Prime Minister in matters of war, and wonders at the wisdom of this approach.

In the lead up to the 2016 Federal Election, there are whispers of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott returning to the Turnbull Government’s ministry in the Defence portfolio.

Brown’s Quarterly Essay is an eloquent repudiation of the Member for Warringah’s qualifications and temperament, with quotes from Abbott’s March Quadrant essay, ‘I Was Right On National Security’ giving the reader particular cause for concern:

“Placing substantial numbers of Australian troops within twenty-five miles of a hostile Russian army was a scenario that no one had ever before contemplated.“

Brown’s tempered prose throws Abbott’s aggressive overreach into relief. Considered and never hawkish, Brown examines the realpolitik and outlines a pragmatic approach to policy and preparedness for future conflicts.

‘Firing Line, Australia’s Path To War’ is an illuminating, perceptive examination of Australia’s shifting strategic role in the new millennium, a measured education for hawk and dove alike.