Defence White Paper 2009

On 2 May 2009, then prime minister Kevin Rudd and defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon launched a Defence White Paper entitled Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Its lead author was the senior defence official Mike Pezzullo.

The White Paper argued that Australia’s core strategic interests lay in the Asia-Pacific region. It emphasised China’s growing military strength, predicted that US primacy in the Asia-Pacific would decline, that the region would develop into a more multipolar system, and advocated a A$100 billion upgrade of Australia’s naval and air force power.

The White Paper argued that ‘the pace, scope and structure of China’s military modernisation have the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern’, and that if China does not explain its military plans, ‘there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term purpose of its force deployment plans, particularly as the [military] modernisation appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan’.

This apparent contemplation of military conflict with China created controversy within Australian media and policy circles. Comment was divided between arguments that the White Paper was a ploy to boost defence funding; that the White Paper was Rudd’s response to domestic misgivings about him being too close to China; and, that the China aspect was being overblown.

The Australian media also reported that the White Paper was written in spite of reports from the Defence Intelligence Organisation and Office of National Assessments arguing for the defensive nature of China’s military build-up and dismissing this as a national security threat. Furthermore, US Pentagon staff had endorsed these reports in meetings with Australian defence officials before the launch of the White Paper.

The debate was further politicised when then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull blasted the paper’s ‘highly contentious proposition that Australia is on an inevitable collision course with a militarily aggressive China’. A retired rear-admiral at China’s National Defence University criticised the White Paper for playing up a dangerous ‘China threat thesis’ that could accelerate a regional arms race.

While the official response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry was muted, Wikileaks cables released in 2010 showed that in spite of public denials that China raised concerns with the White Paper, Defence was forewarned by furious Chinese military leaders that Australia would ‘suffer the consequences’ if it singled out China as the focus of its defence strategy.

The next 2013 Defence White Paper attracted far less public debate, possibly due to the fact that it affirmed that Australia ‘welcomes China’s rise’ and ‘does not approach China as an adversary’, and since it described China’s military modernisation as ‘natural and legitimate’.


Defence White Papers

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

September 2009

Winter 2009

September 2010

December 2010

June 2012

April 2013

May 2013