Operation Sandglass: Old History, Contemporary Lessons

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    A paradox of Australia’s strategic history is that its alliance with the United States, convened in a Pacific context, has for the last twenty years seen direct military collaboration focussed on the Persian Gulf and its hinterland. It commenced with the little known Operation Sandglass during the so-called ‘Tanker War’ phase in the long struggle between Iran and Iraq. It is useful to study these events now for two reasons. The first is that a new Defence White Paper is being written. There is an argument that a force structured around the defence of Australia needs to be restructured with an expeditionary strategic rational. The second is that the much discussed Iranian nuclear facilities raises the prospect of a maritime conflict in the Gulf of similar or augmented proportions to the Tanker War. The article points out that the many elements of the Australian armed forces deployed to the region over the last 20 years have been drawn from forces structured to protect Australia’s approaches and influence its immediate region. These forces have been acceptable to our ally and more particularly have constituted as much as any Australian government has wanted to commit to a distant region. The events themselves show how a careful analysis of broader Australian interests and a concern for our ally’s interest can quite readily draw Australia out of its immediate strategic zone. This was not contemplated at the time of the writing of the 1987 White Paper but provision was made for the possibility. Occurring within a few months of the latter’s tabling, it demonstrates it was at least prescient in allowing for that possibility. The article concludes with the view that there is no need to abandon this discipline in our force structure. The changing regional environment will not make the task of protecting our approaches any easier. More to the point, it is most unlikely that governments will want to do more than we have done or our ally demanded.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)23-43
    JournalSecurity Challenges
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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