Anticipating the Defence Strategic Review through ministerspeak

Feb 3, 2023
Very unusual close view of a F-35A Lightning II in a high G maneuver , with condensation clouds around the plane and afterburner on.

In anticipation of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) it would be advisable to stock up on a numbing agent.

While the words used might seem familiar to those whose tongue is English, a close reading of the text will reveal that it is written in late-contemporary American – a form of communication as different from any other Indo-European languages as it is possible to be. To translate it requires accessing a linguistic and cultural strongbox to which the Americans hold the keys and claim the sole rights of interpretation. It will also be written from a contemporary American philosophical-strategic perspective best described as aggressive -antiquated nostalgia.

To be noted is that Australia now speaks an identical tongue to the United States on matters of global security, despite being on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. It is a phenomenon familiar to a certain branch of physics and known colloquially as “spooky action at a distance,” a term Albert Einstein came up with when he discovered that, when entangled separation over vast distances did not prevent them sharing a condition or state.

The above is an essential forewarning of the inevitable assault upon the English language which the DSR will mount on the critical faculties of all who avail themselves of it. Stand by to witness linguicide.

Readers of recent official government pronouncements will probably find this notification redundant, however, because it is clear that the process has been well under way for some time; indeed, it is one of the over-determining influences of the DSR.

At one, simple level, words are used which seem designed as overtures to profound developments but on closer acquaintance are what they seemed to be in the first place: bullshit.

At other levels – the clinical for example – there is unmistakable evidence of a neurological condition, visual agnosia (VA), popularised by the neurologist, Oliver Sacks, and defined as the inability to recognise certain objects for what they are. Empirically, it is bipartisan in distribution, but heretofore undiagnosed in Australia’s political elite.

One reason for this latency is that the underlying condition is obscured by a variant of technophilia which takes the form of a search for, and worship of ultimate weapons.

Currently this ceaseless crusade is preoccupied with attempts to maintain the F-35s, acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) and / or squadrons of the B-21 bomber (about which most significant details are unavailable), and the HIMARS missile system. Others will be added in due course because that is the nature of the psychosis.

On this site, an early and disturbing presentation of the symptoms was illustrated by (then) Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s confusion, of Australia’s acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter with an abstract noun.

When sitting in the cockpit of an RAAF F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, he pronounced, as though from the Book of Revelation, that, “this is what sovereignty looks like.”

Sovereignty, in his mind, was objectified and anchored in possession of at least 70 of the sacred object which is the F-35 – not only the most expensive weapons system ever acquired by the United States, but one of the continuing reproaches to its military industrial complex, being delivered late, over budget, under-performing, and with a legacy of as yet unresolved issues.

Since then, the Morrisonian tradition has been enthusiastically embraced by the current Defence Minister, Richard Marles, whose offerings across all three areas (bullshit, VA, and technophilia) far outstrip his predecessor.

They include terms which, if they were expressed with due care for rigour and truth in official statements designed to inform an engaged citizenry would bring down a storm of ridicule and contempt on the Minister.

An indicative collection includes: the old “interoperability,” but now buttressed, or superseded by “interchangeability;” “greater lethality” (and relatedly) weapons “potent and powerful;” ‘expanded force posture initiatives (EFPI);” “high end warfighting;” “combat power;” “enhanced strike power;” “impactful projection,” and, of course, a Baroque elaboration on the detailed themes of deterrence – vanilla, by area, denial, cost imposition, punishment, extended, and integrated.

The paucity of thought invested in this ornamentation of strategic thought is indicated by the omission of existential deterrence – that reluctance to use force out of the fear that, once battle is joined, radical uncertainty, and possibly mutual annihilation, attends all outcomes.

Nevertheless, Australia is reassured that this involves sharing the burden of strategic thought with the US. Australia, in and of itself, is to become a “porcupine with very long quills,” and the alliance with the US is to be transformed from whatever fitness level it was before to becoming “match-fit.”

The nation is also to understand that the acquisition of the requisite weapons and technology – not least the SSNs – will ensure that “the rest of the world take us seriously (sic).”

Is this not preposterous? Logically, are we to accept that, inter alia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Spain, and The Netherlands lack the weapons to be taken seriously?

To read such proposals is to become reacquainted with the reasons for, and the failures of the great councils of the Christian Church in its attempts to solve fundamental questions of faith and life.

That said, translation is possible, not least as a result of living and operating in Australia’s neoliberal university system. Which is to say that, like a small number of rebellious colleagues, I acquired the vocabulary, but not the willingness to speak several dialects of Managerial Bafflegab.

Stripped of their impediments to accessible communication, what the government is preparing to announce is its abdication of thought in favour of the received wisdom contained in Washington’s National Security Strategy, and National Defence Strategy, both of late 2022.

Overwhelmingly, these dispense with diplomacy in favour of preponderant force, a disposition Australia seems to find self-delightingly attractive.

Tone, here, is the key. National defence policy, and the debates it must give rise to, inevitably includes weapons but that should not license the celebration of their possession as a matter of surpassing status.

Specifically, the notion of wreaking death and destruction on China from afar, should not exert an attraction which, in minister-speak, is unseemly and quite possibly pathological. And when this capability is, furthermore, heralded as the agent of national self-realisation . . . . . ?

Clearly, the national defence establishment has succumbed to the temptation to assume an extravagant and exaggerated posture presented by the powers that Australia has outsourced its strategic thinking to.

The predictable result in the form of the DSR will be embarrassing, yet another episode in what Peter Pierce bitingly described some years ago as the “premature ejaculation of national prowess.”


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