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The concept of self-reliance within the ANZUS alliance has been the intellectual cornerstone of Australian defence policy for many decades. It was a response to heightened strategic uncertainty in the context of great power rivalry in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. Once dormant, the concept of self-reliance has once again returned to the broader defence policy discourse as Australia’s strategic environment has become increasingly uncertain. Yet, few scholars have analysed what self-reliance meant, and what lessons might be drawn from its conceptual development. In this seminar, Sasha Vukoja will present the results of his PhD study, which is the first in-depth examination of how the self-reliance concept developed in Australian defence policy. He draws on declassified archival records and interviews to define the concept and articulate an intellectual framework to show how it has evolved over time. In doing so, he challenges the dominant narrative that self-reliance developed as a political idea from the mid- 1970s. In fact, the self-reliance concept was first developed by the Menzies Government and was a response to the West New Guinea Crisis in the late 1950s. The public servants and military officers involved with that challenge later refined the concept of self-reliance as they rose through the ranks in subsequent decades.
Vukoja shows how self-reliance has been based on four variables: core interests, geography, perceptions of threat, and the expectations of allies. He also shows how self-reliance is intertwined with alliance obligations: that alliances provide access to enablers—such as logistics and intelligence— that facilitate self-reliance, while the results of self-reliance have assisted successive governments in stepping up as proactive allies. These findings offer insights into how Australia has adapted to strategic uncertainty in the past, and how it may do so in the future.
Sasha Vukoja is a PhD candidate in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University.
This event will be recorded for those who are unable to attend in person.