Power projection has historically been the domain of superpowers and their smaller yet equally important great power counterparts. However, the rapidly shifting global security paradigm driven by the economic, political and strategic rise of nations like China and India, combined with the emergence and in some cases reemergence of nations including Russia, Japan, Germany and Brazil, is serving to reshape the power projection dynamic.
In a traditional sense, the US Department of Defense defines power projection as the capacity of a state “to apply all or some of its elements of national power – political, economic, informational or military – to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability”.
Australia’s position in the international community as a “middle power” committed to the maintenance of the post-Second World War geopolitical, economic and strategic order places the nation in a precarious position as the strategic power projection capabilities of its primary security partner, the US, is challenged by the competing interests and near-peer capabilities of China.
As part of Australia’s position in the global and regional order, both hard and soft power are equally important means of securing Australia’s national interests. In the Indo-Pacific, the Australian government has sought to balance traditional concepts of hard and soft power with the introduction of the Pacific step-up program, focusing on supporting the economic, political and cultural development of Australia’s Pacific Island family.
Hard v soft power in the Pacific
Coercion serves as the key objective of traditional hard power implementation. US international relations academic and political scientist Joseph Nye Jr describes this as “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will”.
While economic measures, namely sanctions, form a pivotal component in implementing hard power, the threat and, in some cases, use of direct military intervention through the use of power projection platforms and doctrines serve as the core component in both power projection and hard power doctrines.
In contrast, Nye explains a nation’s soft power, or the carrot component of the equation, as being generated by “its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad) and its foreign policies (when others see them as legitimate and having moral authority)”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has used the Pacific Islands Forum to reiterate Australia’s commitment to the Pacific and its enduring presence as a Pacific nation, saying, “As we come together here at the Pacific Islands Forum, it’s very different, you know, to many of the other forums there are around the world because it is truly a family gathering. And whether we say family as kāiga, or we say it is as whānau, or we say it as vuvale, or however we talk about it, that’s what it is. And when families come together, they talk about the stuff that matters, that’s most important to them.
“And over the next few days, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll be talking about the future of our environment. We’ll be talking about the future of our economies. We’re going to talk about what is talked about in every single family in the world, how our kids are going to get jobs, and what jobs they’re going to have in the future, and how we’re going to make sure that that happens. And that’s a particularly big challenge here in the Pacific with such a large youth population and a growing youth population. We want to make sure they have the skills for the jobs that they’re going to need,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
The Prime Minister’s statements build on a number of addresses made in the past 12 months, beginning with his “The Beliefs that Guide Us” address to the Asia Society Australia and his address to the APEC CEO summit, during which the Prime Minister identified two interconnected key areas for Australian focus, namely:
- Enhanced regional economic collaboration and integration through investment in key infrastructure and economic drivers, like communications networks; and
- Regional strategic partnerships and alliances to promote transparent dialogue and amicable strategic relations.
Maximising Australia’s capacity in the Pacific
The nation’s commitment to the Pacific region, however, is based on more than just its recent stabilisation and intervention operations, rather, Australia has, as outlined in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, sought to re-engage with the Pacific and ensure that it remains one of the nation’s highest foreign and defence policy priorities.
“The government that I have the privilege to lead is returning the Pacific to where it should be – front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook, our foreign policy, our personal connections, including at the highest levels of government,” Prime Minister Morrison said in November 2018.
Enhancing Australia’s military capability in the region is essential to the success of the government’s new Pacific pivot, and includes:
- An increased number of operational deployments by the Royal Australian Navy to the region to support maritime training exercises; and
- The local construction of the new Pacific Patrol Boats, which will be gifted to regional partners to support increased maritime security.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne reinforced the Prime Minister’s comments, saying, “In addition to our Australia Pacific Security College and Fusion Centre, which will address gaps in training and information sharing in the Pacific, a new Pacific faculty at the Australian Institute of Police Management will train the next generation of police leadership in the Pacific.”
The Prime Minister also used his remarks at the Pacific Skills Portal Launch to highlight Australia’s enduring commitment to addressing the range of challenges in the Pacific, saying, ’There are health challenges – everything from drug-resistant tuberculosis to just simply ensuring that we can deliver health services in remote areas. And as you heard on the video earlier, you know, these are challenges Australia deals with as well, no differently, just in a different context, in a different scale. We’re wrestling with the issue of making sure our training is right for our young people and for those who are transitioning much later in life with different jobs. And that the jobs that we want them to go into are there and that they will be there in the future.
“Similarly, we’re doing what we’re doing and delivering health services and education services across what is a very vast continent. The difference between the Pacific and Australia is it’s just as big, it’s just blue for the islands of the Pacific and for us it’s every colour of the rainbow, from the red dirt brown to the green of our rainforests and the blue of our coasts and oceans and sands.
“So, we’re dealing with different, different contexts, but we’re dealing with the same challenges, and that’s why I’m very pleased for us to be supporting the Pacific Skills Partnership. I’ve seen this in practices I’ve visited with my colleagues and from the forum, whether I’ve been in Fiji or other places, and I’ve seen the training that takes place, and I’ve met the students and they’ve come from right across the Pacific. And this is making a big difference in their lives, and it’s making a big difference to the one economy of the Pacific, which we want to see continue to grow,” the Prime Minister said.
Australia’s pivot to the Pacific provides new opportunities for Australian businesses of all shapes and sizes as the nation continues to invest in both regional infrastructure and defence capability to ensure the enduring peace, prosperity and stability of “our patch”.