Revisiting the north in the defence of Australia

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By Paul Dibb*

The idea of the north of Australia being central to the new concept of the defence of Australia in the 1970s derived from the key strategic fact that the only country in the region with the conventional military capabilities to threaten Australia was Indonesia.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party and was armed by the Soviet Union with modern submarines and long-range bombers. Australia’s response was to acquire F-111 fighter-bombers and Oberon-class submarines.

However, by the 1980s, much of Indonesia’s military equipment was either out of date or suffering from a chronic lack of maintenance. Hence, the 1986 Dibb review and the 1987 defence white paper focused on the potential threat of low-level conflict, which could conceivably be escalated to the use by Indonesia of its deteriorating Soviet military equipment.

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