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Non-violent defence diplomacy is a relatively new phenomenon. But it has already become a widely admired idea in Australia – and throughout Asia. It has substantial bipartisan support.
Defence diplomacy assumes peacetime military-to-military co-operation – port visits, education activities and low-intensity joint training exercises – can help to mould co-operative practices, build regional trust, and prevent potential or rolling regional flashpoints from escalating.
Yet many of the underlying assumptions about defence diplomacy as a means of conflict prevention and crisis management, and its linked strategic benefits, are on flimsy grounds.
Despite a range of positive spin-offs, defence diplomacy will not substantially transform the overall picture of Asia’s ongoing political cleavages. Nor will it eliminate fundamental areas of strategic distrust.