27th February 2012: Knives Out

The Book of Stratagems


Australia’s current Prime Minister Julia Gillard has decisively defeated Kevin Rudd in a caucus leadership challenge 71 to 31 votes. The past week in Australian federal politics has been a fascinating case study in China’s 36 stratagems. Rudd’s initial resignation announcement exemplified ‘stomp the grass to scare the snake.’ His trip from Washington DC to Brisbane seemed like ‘leisurely await for the laboured’. Gillard’s counter-attack was ‘borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul’ (on the Australian Labor Party’s history and election chances) and ‘shut the door to catch the thief’ (gaining the numbers to defeat Rudd). Now, Rudd probably faces only one option: ‘If all else fails, retreat’ . . . to write the tell-all autobiography and do foreign policy consulting . . .

6th January 2012: On PMs and the National Security Apparatus

Andrew Carr blogged at The Interpreter on Australian national security policy:

While sometimes there are inevitable delays, Gillard has run a more efficient ship-of-state than her predecessor, leading me to believe that it is a disinclination for a centralised security office in PM&C that better explains the delays. This not only fits with Gillard’s lower level of passion for foreign policy than Rudd, but hopefully also a recognition that the system Rudd established didn’t work.


From my email reply to Carr:

The Rudd Government’s related foreign policy achievement was its 2008 National Security Statement which promised a regular NSS and budget. The Gillard Government has not acted on this promise. The missed reform opportunity was to develop a comparable mechanism to the US Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act (1986) which has mandated the White House’s regular NSS to US Congress.

Rudd’s National Security Adviser had a coordination role but never the power of its US equivalent or the National Security Council staff. It is still unclear (to me) how the NSA role also interfaces with Office of National Assessment responsibilities for whole-of-government estimative assessments.

Whilst Rudd had operational problems, as an ex-diplomat he understood the need for NSS reform; the need for a whole-of-nation grand strategy; and (possibly) the budget and resource allocation issues. He acted on a decade of national security debate, to move beyond the Howard Government’s emphasis on counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and effects based strategy. PM&C may not be the appropriate vehicle for (centralised) grand strategy formulation. But devolving these responsibilities back to the Deparment of Foreign Affairs & Trade and Defence Department won’t necessarily help, either. DFAT remains underfunded for the diplomatic and economic challenges ahead. The Defence Department’s Force 2030 whitepaper (2009) continues to be debated and until Rudd’s NSS in 2008, the defence whitepapers were de facto national security policy. With the exception of the 1986 Dibb Review and the 1987 statement, the defence whitepapers have not fully addressed grand strategy conceptualisation. Both departments pursue their respective interests and instruments of power at the expense of a coordinated grand strategy, and at the risk of institutional capture.

In contrast to the Goldwater-Nichols Act reforms, Gillard’s current (in)actions on the NSS, NSA role and annual national security budget suggests a different conclusion: strategy drift.


Alternatively, it could just be Gillard’s rollback of Rudd’s national security initiative.

Worth Reading

Strategist Edward Luttwak on Atilla the Hun and the status of military historiographers in academe.

Barry Saunders on journalism in an age of data abundance.

The Kevin Rudd essay (PDF) that the geopolitics journal Foreign Affairs rejected.

How the collapse of Lehman Bros. created a global shockwave and the anniversarial debate.

Why the StatArb hedge fund Renaissance Technologies red-flagged Bernie Madoff in 2003 and the SEC report (PDF).

Rewriting the political punditry of military historian Max Boot and neocon Paul Wolfowitz, who calls for a rethink on realist foreign policy, despite critics.

View some free university lectures on Academic Earth and YouTube Edu.