The 2022 Goldrick Conference: Indo-Pacific Maritime Strategy in the 21st Century provided great food for thought

Writes Sayres Australia Training Development Specialist, Leah Frauenfelder.

On 21 September 2022 I attended the Australian Naval Institute (ANI) Goldrick Conference at Canberra’s Australian Defence Force Academy. This year’s Conference was an event organised as part of the Corbett 100 project, which marks the centenary of the death of the maritime strategist Sir Julian Corbett (1854-1922).

Twenty international and Australian experts from Defence, industry and academia presented their insights into Australian, Indo-Pacific and international perspectives on maritime strategy.

I enjoyed the discussion of the relevance of Corbett’s contribution to modern strategy. It was explained that Corbettian thinking does not apply verbatim, nor does Corbett claim to provide a holistic guide. As stated on the day, Corbett indicates this by his 1911 text’s title Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, by which he seems to acknowledge this to be a wider, ongoing discussion. 

Corbett understood the great potential of maritime warfare for a state suited to it, and he focused on the enduring concept known as sea control today. “In the conduct of naval war all operations will be found to relate to two broad classes of object. The one is to obtain or dispute the command of the sea, and the other to exercise such control of communications as we have, whether the complete command has been secured or not.” (Some Principles of Maritime Strategy)

The speakers described the importance of examining the publications of distinguished naval thinkers and historians, as well as past events, when developing future naval strategy. It was mentioned that history (neither a panacea nor algorithm) is no guarantee for strategic success, however as the only evidence we have, we can use it to draw lessons and look at parallels. I felt one theme emerged across multiple presenters: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ 

From an Australian perspective, key points were made regarding the country’s dependence on maritime trade routes. For example, that sea power and maritime security are more than naval power:  the ability for the country to protect its resources and sea lanes is economic power. It was also noted that the era of AUKUS puts us in a unique environment, facing a range of strategic challenges. 

The strategy discussion was fascinating. Questions posed by international speakers explored the catalysts for strategy: ‘If maritime strategy and technology have a symbiotic relationship, what role does new technology play?’ and, ‘Do platforms, not strategies, drive naval strategies? And if this is the case, should it be the other way around?’ Another question raised for the audience was: ‘Are the overarching principles of maritime strategy new, or enduring?’ 

The Conference provided a range of engaging presentations from leading experts in their fields. Across the speakers I saw great appreciation for the evolving, complex and critical role of Indo-Pacific maritime strategy, and the value historical studies bring to the development of current strategic theory. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Sayres Australia.