Planning the unthinkable war

'AirSea Battle' and its implications for Australia

Research output: Book/ReportBook


As part of America's 'rebalance' towards the Asia-Pacific region, Australia's most important ally has developed an 'AirSea Battle' concept that aims to deter and, if necessary, to defeat the Chinese military in a future conflict. The aim is to reassure its Asian allies and partners, including Australia, about the credibility of the US defence commitment at a time when China's growing 'anti-access/area-denial' (A2/AD) capability is gradually eroding America's maritime dominance in the Western Pacific. While officially AirSea Battle isn't targeted against any specific country, the US military's increased focus on China has given it much prominence in the strategic community. And some US policymakers consider Australia a key ally in operationalising the concept. We certainly have a major interest in the emergence of a credible US war-fighting strategy as a deterrent against a China that's increasingly flexing its military muscles. However, we also need to think through the potential implications of AirSea Battle and our practical military contributions. After all, this is about a potential military escalation with a major nuclear power. There are no 'good' military options for fighting a war against China, only 'least bad' ones. Seen through this lens, AirSea Battle has the potential to provide for US-Sino deterrence stability by signalling American resolve and capability to resist major Chinese attempts to change the status quo in East Asia by military means. Australia should welcome it as such. At the same time, AirSea Battle can't provide a panacea for lower level maritime conflicts and it seems partially disconnected from broader US China strategy. Further, Asian allies would benefit from more detailed explanations about the concept's concrete implementation. Also, unlike Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Australia is not a 'frontline state' in an AirSea Battle context. Any future Australian government will be able to make a noteworthy contribution to an AirSea Battle framework independent of any public commitment to a concept that's still in its early stages and that seems designed for a strategic environment in Asia which is yet to emerge.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBarton, ACT
PublisherAustralian Strategic Policy Institute
Number of pages39
ISBN (Print)9781921302817
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

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