Any credible future enemy operating directly against us will have highly vulnerable lines of logistics support back to its home base in North Asia.
My colleague and a former deputy secretary of Defence, Richard Brabin-Smith, and I wrote an ASPI report in 2021 titled Deterrence through denial: a strategy for an era of reduced warning time. We argued that Australia needed to acquire highly accurate, long-range missiles. In this way, we could deter military actions against Australia’s interests with less dependency on warning time than in the past. Holding a potential adversary’s forces at risk from a greater distance would influence the calculus of enemy costs involved in threatening Australian interests directly. For this we need to acquire long-range anti-ship strike missiles, cyber capabilities and area-denial systems
There’s nothing novel about Pine Gap being identified by potential nuclear adversaries as a priority target. In the late 1970s, it was made quite clear to me during talks in Moscow that Pine Gap was a priority Soviet nuclear target. And in 2016, I was warned: ‘In the event of nuclear war between Russia and America, you Australians will find that nuclear missiles fly in every direction.’
In ‘Target Australia: Is the alliance making us less safe?’, Roggeveen asserts that the basing of US B-52 bombers at the Tindal airbase near Darwin will make the site a priority nuclear target of China because the bombers could strike China’s nuclear missile silos and bases, early warning radars and nuclear command and control facilities.
But the distance from Tindal to military targets in the south of mainland China is over 4,500 kilometres and the B-52’s operational speed is subsonic (900 km/h). This means that it would take in the order of five hours to reach key military targets in China’s south
And flying from Tindal to Beijing would take more like eight hours, providing China with plenty of warning.
In contrast, the joint US–Australia intelligence facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs will be by far China’s most important and time-urgent nuclear target because of its ability to give the US instant, real-time warning of a Chinese nuclear attack, the precise number of missiles, their trajectory and their likely targets.
The fact is that the KGB had detailed evidence in the late 1970s from two US spies, Andrew Lee and Christopher Boyce, with access to the Pine Gap ‘intelligence take’ of its key role—together with the joint facility at Nurrungar near Woomera—in detecting and tracking Soviet ballistic missiles and listening to the USSR’s military communications.
We can assume that the Russians will have briefed China about Pine Gap, which now includes the space-based infrared detection capabilities of the old Nurrungar base, being a much more time-urgent target than Tindal.
Roggeveen asserts that China would not strike Pine Gap because of its important role in US nuclear deterrence. That is not my view: we’re not talking about deterrence and nuclear arms control here but a decision by China to use nuclear weapons. Tindal would not be targeted with the urgency that Roggeveen claims.
Roggeveen asserts that Australia’s acquisition of Tomahawk cruise missiles ‘can be interpreted only one way: Australia wants the capability to strike targets on Chinese soil’.
don’t know how Roggeveen’s imagination jumped to this conclusion
But the 2023 defence strategic review recommends that Australia’s concept of defence have ‘a focus on deterrence through denial, including the ability to hold any adversary at risk’.
That does not include striking China’s territory, which would be a dangerous gamble by Australia.
But attacking China’s military bases in the South China Sea and contingently in the South Pacific certainly should be included in our future targeting doctrine if—as Roggeveen accepts—there’s a likelihood of a ‘Chinese military assault on Australia’.
Deterrence theory holds two alternatives: deterrence by punishment and deterrence by denial. Deterrence by punishment gives priority to destroying the enemy’s territory, military bases and key population centres. By comparison, deterrence by denial requires Australia to hold potential adversaries’ forces and forward-based military structure at risk from a greater distance rather than waiting for them to operate in a threatening way in our immediate approaches.
The closer it comes to our strategic approaches the more vulnerable its logistic support will become.
If a potential adversary such as China develops—as it already has—several military bases in the South China Sea (or in the South Pacific in future), Australia must be able to destroy them if necessary.
Nowhere in the defence strategic review or in our own writings is there a suggestion that Australia needs to be able to strike mainland China
ttempting such deterrence by punishment would be extremely provocative and dangerous given China’s military capabilities