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Policy brief | 24 January 2024

Operationalising strategic risk reduction in the Asia-Pacific region: An Australian perspective

Image of Brendan Taylor

Brendan Taylor |Professor of Strategic Studies and Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre (SDSC), Australian National University

Asia-Pacific Asia-Pacific Region China Defence Deterrence Risk Reduction Security Global Security

Australia is on track to spend a historic $A50 billion on defence expenditures in 2024. A new report from the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) finds that Australia’s deterrence-heavy defence strategy may, in fact, heighten the risks of inadvertent escalation rather than mitigate them and, in doing so, is creating ripe conditions for conflict in the Asia-Pacific.

The policy brief, written by Australian strategic studies expert Brendan Taylor, identifies several potential flashpoints for conflict in the region, including a US-China conflict over Taiwan or a war on the Korean Peninsula. Despite general recognition that inadvertent escalation is the most likely trigger of major power conflict in Asia, Taylor argues that the Australian defence establishment continues to inadvertently undermine regional security by overly relying on defence capabilities. Excessive build-up of military capability, the paper argues, can steer countries towards a ‘crisis slide,’ in which leaders feel that their options are narrowed to the point where they must choose between war or a humiliating concession.

Deterrence strategies may, in fact, heighten the risks of inadvertent escalation rather than mitigate them. Brendan Taylor

To avoid falling into a deterrence trap, Taylor makes the following recommendations to Australian policymakers:

  • Balance an increased focus on deterrence with greater advocacy for crisis management and avoidance mechanisms designed to reduce the risks of inadvertent escalation and accidental conflict.
  • Recognise that the risk of inadvertent escalation extends beyond the US-China relationship; reinvigorate regional risk reduction measures, especially on the Korean Peninsula and across the Taiwan Strait.
  • Work with other Asian middle powers – including Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam – to identify areas where new crisis management and avoidance mechanisms should be developed.

This paper is part of the Asia-Pacific Strategic Risks project, a joint project between the ELN and the APLN, that convenes government officials, experts, and practitioners from South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the UK to discuss how changing threat perceptions impact new and ongoing proliferation challenges and what policy solutions can address them, including steps to encourage strategic restraint, greater collaboration and carefully honed nuclear risk reduction diplomacy.

Read the policy brief here.

Image: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

The opinions articulated in the report represent the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network or the European Leadership Network, or any of their members.