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Firing Line (Quarterly Essay #62) [Read] ➲ Firing Line (Quarterly Essay #62) By James Brown – Going to war may be the gravest decision a nation and its leaders make At the moment Australia is at war with ISIS We also live in a region that has become much volatile as China asserts itself and Am Going to war may be the gravest decision a nation and its leaders make At the moment Australia is at war with ISIS We also live in a region that has become much volatile as China asserts itself and America seeks to hold the lineWhat is it like to go to war How do we decide to go to war Where might we go to war in the future Will we get that decision rightIn this vivid compelling essay James Brown looks to history strategy and his own experience to explore these uestions He examines the wars we have chosen to fight in the past from Gallipoli and Timor to Afghanistan and Ira and asks did we get the decision rightBrown considers how we plug into the US war machine and the American troops based in Darwin He also sheds fascinating light on the changing technology and terrain of war the cyber realm the oceans and space This is an essay that examines our independence as a nation and the choices that may confront usJames Brown is a former Australian Army officer who commanded a cavalry troop in southern Ira served on the Australian taskforce headuarters in Baghdad and was attached to Special Forces in Afghanistan He now runs the Alliance project at the US Studies Centre University of Sydney A columnist for the Saturday Paper and regular media contributor his first book was the acclaimed Anzac's Long Shadow.

10 thoughts on “Firing Line (Quarterly Essay #62)

  1. Caitlin Caitlin says:

    In Anzac's Long Shadow James Brown briefly touched on the topic of how Australia comes to be involved in conflicts and what this means for those who make the decision as though little fault of their own many Australians can be forgiven for thinking that we simply send troops in and that's thatThis uarterly Essay expands on this outlining some of the strategies behind our recent engagements and how the method of decision making has come to fall heavily on the character and knowledge of the Prime Minister than anything Even though I cannot claim to have the strategic insight to argue whether his assertions are correct it has certainly broadened my own understanding of a field in which people should be aware of such as Australia's stake in the South China Sea island disputeBrown has experience within both the actual theatre of war and academia so he is able to communicate his ideas well unfortunately some are perhaps uick to judge his propositions without following his reasoning therefore he is sometimes criticised by both left and right Personally I read little bias into his argumentation which I feel is especially important as his father in law is now the Prime Minister of Australia Technically this should not matter at all to his stance as a writer and his recommendations hold true regardless however given his argument about the emphasis on the personality and personal attributes of whoever holds the office of Prime Minister it's impossible to hold that Brown is so passionate without having a word or two at Sunday dinner Sometimes uarterly Essays are restricted by the format the authors need to plan within the format and sometimes it means that there is not as much space to expand on ideas as they would like often these essays get expanded into full length books later down the track I feel like this happened in parts within the points Brown was making where he might have wanted to continue the argumentation a little or provide examples to back his pointsEach uarterly Essay is inescapably written of its time some becoming obsolete or shifting ground within weeks of publication especially those dealing with immediate political situations so I highly suggest that if you're interested in reading it get hold of it soon I'm just putting this review up here until I get hold of the next uarterly Essay which features some correspondence about Brown's essay and argument which is always good to follow up on as the contributors are often experts within the topic and might bring new light

  2. S& S& says:

    raises some very important uestions which lead to others you might want to consider yourself I intended to write a extensive review at the time of reading but have uite successfully been diverted by other forces in the lead up to local council elections for which I ran in the previous two contentions yet these issues must be faced and considered by ordinary Australians to better understand how we see each other and remain responsive in an ever dictatorial world of intensive media bombardment

  3. Loki Loki says:

    A thought provoking essay about the governmental mechanisms and processes whereby Australia goes to war and the rather distressing lack of oversight and accountability in them A wake up call for everyone no matter you stand politically after all the other mob may be the ones in power next time the dice roll snake eyes

  4. Timothy Dymond Timothy Dymond says:

    ‘Firing Line’ is a well timed uarterly Essay given the current discussion about potential Australian confrontation with China over freedom of navigation in the South China sea James Brown is concerned however that Australian political culture is intellectually ill euipped to answer the uestion ‘What is it that we are willing to fight for?’ A veteran of deployments to Ira Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands among other places Brown feels that while Australians have often passionately debated going to war they rarely ‘think’ about it ‘it is something we go to not something that comes to us It seems we often shrink from talking about war in any detailed way as if to speak of evil might set us on an inevitable path towards it’ Brown wants Australian politics and specifically the Australian Parliament to come up with sophisticated institutional arrangements for deliberating where and when to go to war In particular where do Australia’s vital interests in a warAt the moment a decision to deploy the military is basically the Prime Minister’s to make possibly tempered by Cabinet when Cabinet government is working but not something the Parliament even necessarily debates until after the fact The problems with this system were demonstrated most recently under Tony Abbot’s premiership in which impulses to send the Australian military into the middle of the Ukrainian conflict over the shooting down of the MH17 passenger jet were matters of serious consideration Brown it should be noted is the son in law of the current PM Malcolm TurnbullBrown does not propose radical departures from the status uo indeed he is intimated connected to it So there is no real discussion about whether say the US Alliance which is invoked to justify our involvement in many conflicts is better than an ‘armed neutrality’ position However Brown does come up with a series of uestions that Australian should ask about any potential military action The two most important of which are what vital interests are at stake? And can our deployment make a difference?To my mind the second uestion is the one that does not get enough consideration Australia could certainly make a material difference in East Timor or the Solomon Islands but its involvement in Ira and Afghanistan could never be anything than symbolic From an Australian strategic perspective they were primarily investments in the US alliance We needed to be seen to be there by our allies But if that is enough of a ‘vital interest’ to justify deployment then what wars would we NOT be involved in if the US makes a decision? A US China dispute to our north will be a real moment of clarity for how Australia considers going to war

  5. Lisa Lisa says:

    Did you know that in 2014 then Prime Minister Tony Abbott not only sent 200 of our special forces to Europe to help with the MH17 recovery operations but also seriously – very seriously – also considered sending a battalion? That’s 1000 troops from our small Australian army Fortunately he was talked out of it Citing a report in The Australian the man who brings matters military to the long overdue attention of the Australian public former Australian Army officer and author James Brown says“Australia’s leading military planners argued against that proposal telling Mr Abbott there were serious problems with the plan Australian soldiers would not be able to speak either Ukrainian or Russian and the Australian troops would have difficulty distinguishing between the Ukrainian and the Russian militia” Beyond these concerns the response of Russia to having an armed formation from a NATO partner country dropped near a sensitive border was a major issue The potential for harm to Australian troops was all too real The logic of deploying large numbers of troops into an active war zone alongside the border of a major global military power was entirely shaky p 51And that’s not all When it comes to assessing our capability to deploy troops Australia has only the capacity to operate on a rule of three It’s called mathematactics That is divide whatever our military strengths are by three because while one third of our army navy or air force is on operations one third is in for maintenance or repair and the other third is working up the skills and procedures necessary to head out on operations next It’s obvious when you think about it maintaining a unit in the field soon exhausts people and euipment So plans to deploy a whole battalion or 200 of our special forces to anywhere for any purpose leaves Australia vulnerable if things go wrong elsewhereIt is tempting to dismiss Abbott’s grandiose proposal as just another example of the embarrassing folly of the man who knighted Prince Phillip but it’s serious than thatTo read the rest of my review please visit

  6. Andrew Doohan Andrew Doohan says:

    This edition of the uarterly Essay is a very welcome contribution from James Brown to any future conversation about the way in which Australia engages in war and war like activitiesDrawing on both his experience as an officer in the Australian Army and a thorough review of historical precedence in Australia's practice Brown pulls together a very compelling argument for changes in the way in which Australia and Australian Governments in particular approach this awesome expression of State powerI do not necessarily agree with all of Brown's analysis though I respect his expertise in the areas he comments on and I remain to be convinced about some of his suggestions as to improvements for this part of Australian public life I am however gladdened that someone of Brown's clear calibre has been bold enough to start the conversation in this areaOne can only hope that I'm not the only person in Australia that reads this essay and takes it as the serious contribution to dialogue that it clearly isFrom the back coverGoing to war may be the gravest decision a nation and its leaders make At the moment Australia is at war with the Islamic State We also live in a region that has become much volatile as China asserts itself and America seeks to hold the lineWhat is it like to go to war? How do we decide to go to war? Where might we go to war in the future? Will we get that decision right? In this vivid urgent essay James Brown looks to history strategy and his own experience to explore those uestions He examines the legacy of the Ira War and argues that it has prevented a clear view of Australia's future conflicts He looks at how we plug into the US war machine now that American troops are based in Darwin He sheds fascinating light on the extraordinary concentration of war powers in the hands of the Prime Minister and how this might go wrong This powerful essay argues that we have not yet begun to think through the choices that may confront us in years ahead

  7. David David says:

    I enjoyed Brown's previous book 'Anzac's Long Shadow' which focused on Australia's cultural obsession with the Anzacs and Gallipoli at the expense of focusing on the present needs of Australia's military and veterans In this book Brown shifts his attention to the politics of war in Australia In a concise but clear argument he explains how our political system puts the executive power to go to war in the hands of the Prime Minister and there is a lack of formal process and institutions to support himher in the decision making He is particularly critical of recent Prime Minister Tony Abbott who dangerously overestimated the military's capacity and Australia's strategic interests As a result Abbott very nearly launched Australia into what would probably have been a disastrous military misadventure in the Ukraine In the conclusion Brown writes We risk having a large defence force but not the wisdom to use it properly

  8. Calzean Calzean says:

    I felt this essay was a bit like Australia's defence and foreign policies Not uite sure what it is about or what it is trying to achieveThe bit about the strategic knowledge of politicians and Abbot's flexing of his muscles was uite frightening The bit about China and where it is going was good but did not lead anywhere The bit about Australia's involvement in Ira and Afghanistan missed the opportunity to wait for the Chilcot Report It also missed Australia's historical desire to go to war which was well discussed in Unnecessary Wars by Henry Reynolds

  9. Greg Greg says:

    While the title suggests some kind of historical subject Brown's essay is about the process by which Australia chooses to go to war and discussing what we should consider fighting for In an era when our staunch ally is suaring off against our greatest trading partner militarily what path should Australia choose?Brown's point is that Australia's thinking about warfare is mired in WW2 tropes and our process for committing troops to war virtually at the whim of the Prime Minister is woefully inadeuate as is our planning for war and its aftermath The one thing that can be certain is that the Australian people will not get a say in whether they go to war or why

  10. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    Compelling essay Even if you don't agree with some of his contentions his argument that our politicians the parliament should think debate carefully and openly about committing to war and what that means for the national interest as opposed to the government's electoral interest is extremely persuasive

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