Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned of the “haunting” global uncertainty as nations begin to look beyond the coronavirus pandemic in a speech to cadets at the Australian Defence College today.
Mr Morrison was launching the 2020 defence strategic update, which included a $270 billion boost to defence funding for 800 new jobs, upgraded weaponry and an underwater surveillance system.
“Even as we stare down the COVID pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-COVID world that is poorer, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly,” he said.
“We have been a favoured isle, with many natural advantages for many decades, but we have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia in our region since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s (during WWII).”
The Prime Minister said he had reflected heavily on the economic challenges and global uncertainty in that period as he grappled with what to do as the world began to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It can be very haunting,” he said, “but not overwhelming. It requires a response.
“Now we must face that reality, understanding we have moved into a new and less benign strategic area, one in which the patterns of co-operation that have benefited our prosperity and security for decades are now under increasing – and I would suggest almost irreversible – strain.”
Mr Morrison made no secret of his worries about an incoming conflict, noting tensions were rising in the Pacific and around the world, and the risk of miscalculation was heightening.
He said the 2020 defence strategic update was markedly different from its previous version – with an upgrade in spending and larger focus on protecting Australia’s backyard – because the world order had dramatically changed.
“The prospect of high-intensity military conflict in the Indo-Pacific is less remote than at the time of the 2016 defence white paper, including, importantly, high-intensity military conflict between the United States and China,” he said.
While the threat of war between China and the United States loomed large, the Prime Minister said the superpowers were not the only threat facing Australia.
“Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the countries of South-East Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Pacific all have agency, choices to make, passes to play and, of course, so does Australia,” he said.
“There is a new dynamic of strategic competition, and the largely benign security environment, as I‘ve noted, that Australia has enjoyed, basically from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the global financial crisis, that’s gone.”