Self-Reliance has been a central principle of Australian defence and alliance policy since the Vietnam War. Since the late 1990s, however, the concept's influence on policy has become less dominant, as the Howard Government has developed a new national security strategy, and as analytical critiques of the Defence of Australia (DOA) strategic model have gained greater traction.
This dissertation poses two questions about Self-Reliance in Australian defence and alliance policy. Firstly, it asks what were the strengths and weaknesses of Self-Reliance during its development and implementation from the late 1960s to the present. Identifying these strengths and weaknesses offers insight into the current status of Self-Reliance and its future viability. Following from that assessment, the thesis then asks if it is feasible for Australia to pursue a new concept of Self-Reliance compatible with enhanced US-Australian strategic interdependence and increased commitments to regional and global security.
The initial hypothesis of this thesis is that Self-Reliance has demonstrated several key strengths by promoting concepts of national responsibility, agency and capability in Australian strategic policy. Yet the thesis argues also that Self-Reliance has exhibited serious weaknesses, related largely to the limitations of the DOA modeL These weaknesses have become particularly inhibiting for Australian defence and alliance policy in the contemporary security environment. Self-Reliance as a basic principle has been sound but its implementation has been flawed. This leads to the second major hypothesis regarding the feasibility of a new concept of Self-Reliance compatible with enhanced US-Australian strategic interdependence and increased commitments to regional and global security. The thesis proposes that such a concept is feasible, based on the integration of Self-Reliance's core principles with a broader policy framework of strategic guidance and alliance/coalition cooperation.
The thesis examines the development, consolidation and revision of Self-Reliance during 1966-2006. Chapter Three (1966-1972) examines the decline of 'Forward Defence' and problems that constrained the development of Self-Reliance as an effective strategic concept. Chapter Four (1972-1983) examines how the Whitlam and Fraser Governments adopted different approaches to security policy, including the conceptualisation of Self-Reliance. It finds that the Fraser Government's approach was the stronger and more successful of the two, but strategic guidance and policy implementation were critical weaknesses in both Governments' approaches to Self-Reliance.
Chapter Five (1983-1996) examines the consolidation of Self-Reliance under the Hawke and Keating Governments, in the context of managing problems in the ANZUS alliance and complementing Asian engagement. Although this effort achieved significant progress, it was compromised by major conceptual and practical weaknesses in the DOA model adopted during this period. Chapter Six (1996-2006) examines how the Howard Government gradually articulated a new defence policy to synthesise Self-Reliance with a more active military posture and enhanced security interdependence with America.
Chapter Seven assesses the major findings in previous chapters and summarises the major strengths and weaknesses of Self-Reliance. It concludes that the concept of Self-Reliance has demonstrated strengths that have benefited Australian defence and alliance policy, including a positive conceptual emphasis on 'self-help', clarity of policy guidance and setting a sound baseline for capability development. Against this, the DOA model used to implement the concept has been characterised by an excessively restrictive approach to strategy, capability development and security cooperation. Nor has the traditional approach to Self-Reliance guaranteed political con1mitments to provide adequate resources for defence. Accordingly, the thesis outlines a new concept of Self-Reliance within an integrated strategy that balances immediate regional, wider regional and global security interests. This new, reconfigured concept of Self-Reliance would not have the overarching quality of its previous manifestation but would instead complement emerging policy concepts of strategic interdependence and proactive engagement. This concept is better suited to the contemporary security environment. Ideally, it would promote also a synthesis between the competing traditions of interdependence and independence in Australian strategic culture.