Australia’s growing online strategy-sphere

In March last year, I wrote that Australia was seeing an emerging online strategy-sphere. It’s now grown well past the point where it can be considered “emerging”.

That post discussed how, in the mid-to-late 2000s when the US had tens of thousands of troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, an online network developed of soldiers and civilians who debated military operations and strategy. My post suggested that Australia was starting to see something similar, and gave the following examples:

  • The Australian Army has started its own blog, the Land Power Forum, with contributions from many active members. As Danielle Cave points out, despite it being a government blog the posts are not simply puff pieces. There are of course firm boundaries set though, with the about page stating “Land Power Forum is not designed to re-litigate issues that have already been discussed and decided upon.”

  • Army Major Clare O’Neill has a website called “Grounded Curiosity”, including a blog and a podcast, which “aims to start a conversation with junior commanders about our future in warfare.”

  • Army Major Mick Cook has started a podcast called The Dead Prussian (referring to Clausewitz), which “aims to explore War and Warfare through discussion and analysis of military theory, historical events, contemporary conflicts, and expert interviews.”

  • Army Brigadier Mick Ryan has a Twitter account, has been writing in The Bridge (an online journal which is part of the Military Writer’s Guild) about the importance of social media for the military, and appeared on Clare O’Neill’s podcast.

  • Several Army officers recently spoke at a conference on Social Media and the Spectrum of Modern Conflict. You can watch videos of their talks here.

  • Navy Captain Justin Jones, who was director of the Sea Power Centre, has been blogging on the Lowy Interpreter and tweeting for a while (I would guess that there are other examples from the Navy, and maybe the Air Force, but most of what I have found is Army).

  • With the creation of ASPI’s Strategist in 2012, and the Land Power Forum in 2014, Australia’s institutional blogs now feature much more discussion of military strategy than before (though strategy has always been part of the discussion on the Lowy Interpreter since 2007), with both civilian and military contributions.

There have been many more developments since then. For example:

  • Lieutenant Colonel Tom McDermott and others have created a new online resource, The Cove, which describes itself as “a professional development resource for the Australian Profession of Arms.  It is designed to help military professionals sharpen their skills, connect with peers and allies, and develop new concepts and ideas for consideration.”
  • Major Clare O’Neill and others have set up the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum Australia, to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation within the military, which is described here. It was prompted by the need to better facilitate innovation within the Army, which has been recognised for some time. DEFAus is a subsidiary of a similar outfit in the United States, created in 2013.
  • Another organisation has also been created, the Postern Association, which is “the Australian Army’s new association for professional development”. It doesn’t seem to have a website yet, but these four posts (one, two, three, four) help explain what it is.
  • Army Major Mick Cook now has a second podcast, co-hosted with Rich Thapthimthong, called War for Idiots. Their review of Netflix’s War Machine is a good place to start.
  • The Army now has its own official podcast, called The Australian Army Training and Doctrine Podcast, to “explore all aspects of training within the Australian Army. From international large-scale exercises to individual training activities, find out how the men and women of today’s Australian Army work towards professional excellence.”
  • The Australian Defence Force also now has its own podcast, called Our Stories – Australian Defence Force on Operations Podcast. Its description says “ADF members serving Australia in the Middle East describe their mission and share their personal experiences”.
  • The papers from the 2015 conference I mentioned on social media and the military have now been published in a special edition of the journal Security Challenges. The organisers held a follow-up conference in March called Keyboard Warriors.
  • There continue to be many Australian contributions to the Strategy Bridge, often by Australian members of the Military Writer’s Guild.
  • Brigadier Mick Ryan has continued contributing to many of these discussions. He wrote this three-part series on mastering the profession of arms (one, two, three) for War On The Rocks, and a recent piece for Foreign Policy. He also conducted a review of Australia’s Professional Military Education, Training and Doctrine called the Ryan Report, and sometimes posts updates (from January, February, and March).
  • There are now more Australian Army Twitter accounts.
  • The Army’s own blog, the Land Power Forum, remains active.
  • Nathan Finney, a major figure within America’s online strategy-sphere, is currently in Australia as an Australian Strategic Policy Institute visiting fellow.

The term “strategy-sphere” was borrowed from this Tanner Greer post about the American version of this scene. I don’t know if the participants in the Australian initiatives I’ve listed above would consider themselves part of a “strategy-sphere”, or what other term they might use to describe their online community. But I find value in the term because it conveys how their focus is not primarily on the broad political questions of the wisdom or justice of particular wars, alliances or foreign policy decisions (though these can be considered questions of “grand strategy”).

Instead they mainly discuss questions of military strategy, operations and tactics, including issues such as leadership, logistics, training and technology. These online discussions tend to be practitioner-focused rather than policy-focused, which makes sense. Many of those involved are serving soldiers, who don’t decide whether wars should be launched but have to fight where elected leaders choose to send them.

For the broader political discussions, there’s plenty coming out of the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), National Security College (NSC), Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre (USSC), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), the Lowy Institute for International Policy, the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA), the Kokoda Foundation (now the Institute for Regional Security or IFRS), the Perth USAsia Centre and many other places.

But I’m finding this strategy-sphere (which does overlap with the activities of some of the above institutions, there isn’t a firm divide) particularly interesting, because it’s a much newer addition to Australia’s online national security discussions.

We weren’t seeing this five years ago (the earlier post discussed some of the reasons why), but Australia now has a substantial online community focused on military strategy and operations, including the voices of serving soldiers. It has gotten much bigger in just the past year, and I’m enjoying watching it grow.

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