Des Ball

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Desmond Ball (born 1947) is an Australian academic and expert on defence and security. He is credited with successfully advising the US against nuclear escalation in the 1970s.


Des Ball attended the Australian National University in 1965, shifting from being a promising student in economics to security studies. He completed a PhD supervised by Hedley Bull, on the global nuclear strategies of the United States and the Soviet Union. He was based for several months in the USA at the Institute of War and Peace. He joined ANU as a lecturer in 1974, later becoming Special Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific in 1987.

Ball was an opponent of the draft for the Vietnam War in Australia (although not the war itself, at the time[1]), and was arrested for protesting it. He won an appeal in the Supreme Court against his conviction. He was since 1966 a “person of interest” for ASIO, particularly following his inquiries into the Pine Gap secret tracking facility and Nurrungar in Australia from 1969, and was taken to court after the publication of A Suitable Piece of Real Estate in 1980. He holds ASIO in disdain, for its inability to recognise aspects of defence co-operation with the US infringed Australian national interests by remaining entirely secret.[2][3]

Ball has incurable cancer, but is still writing and working as of 2014.[4]


Ball is a political realist, and a believer in liberal institutions and solid defence strategies. He uses an inductive, investigative approach to security studies.[5]

At the height of the Cold War, Ball was invited to critique the US's nuclear defence plans – his analysis persuading the US that its plan to detonate selected Soviet targets in a limited strike would not work in practice and would lead to all out nuclear escalation. His analysis has been acknowledged by President Jimmy Carter.

Ball has worked on Australia's signal intelligence, exposed Australia's secret history of cracking diplomatic cables.

He has studied, and been active in, some of Southeast Asia's "shadow wars". He is a supporter of Karen independence, having discovered the extent of Burmese army human rights abuses, and has advised the Karen National Liberation Army along the Thai/Myanmar border on successful guerrilla warfare since the early 2000s.[6][7] He has made over 85 research trips to the region.[8]

He has worked with the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and believes the biggest threat in the coming years will be the potential for conflict escalation in north-east Asia.[9]


  • Order of Australia (2014)[10]
  • Peter Baume Award, ANU (2013)
  • Festschrift volume, Brendan Taylor, Nicholas Farrelly and Sheryn Lee (eds.) 2012. Insurgent Intellectual: Essays in Honour of Professor Desmond Ball. Institute of South East Asian Studies. Including a contribution by Jimmy Carter.
  • Ball Strategic Endowment ($AU 1.5m) established in 2013 for ANU research scholarship into Australian and Asian strategic studies and defence.
  • Co-chairman of the Steering Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) (2000–2002).
  • Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (1986).


  • 2014. Tor Chor Dor: Thailands Border Patrol Police: History, Organization, Equipment and Personnel Volume 1: BPP. Bangkok: White Lotus.
  • Tor Chor Dor Thailand's Border Patrol Force: Activities and Prospects Vol. 2. Bangkok: White Lotus.
  • Desmond Ball, Raja C. Mohan, Tim Huxley and Adam Ward. 2014. Asia's Power Dynamics: Military Change and its Geopolitical Effects. Adelphi Paper. London: Routledge.
  • Desmond Ball and Keiko Tamura (eds.). 2013. Breaking Japanese Diplomatic Codes: David Sissons and D Special Section during the Second World War ANU E-Press.
  • Desmond Ball, Cliff Lord & Meredith Thatcher. 2011. Invaluable Service: The secret history of New Zealand’s signals intelligence during two world wars. Waimauku:Resource Books. ISBN 9781877431-23-4
  • Gary Waters, Desmond Ball and Ian Dudgeon. 2008. Australia and Cyber-warfare.ANU E-Press.
  • (with David Scott Mathieson) 2007. Militia Redux, Or sor and the Revival of Paramilitarism in Thailand. Bangkok: White Lotus.
  • Richard Tanter, Desmond Ball, Gerry Van Klinken and Noam Chomsky. 2006. Masters of Terror: Indonesia's Military and Violence in East Timor. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • 2004 The Boys in Black: The Thahan Phran (Rangers), Thailand's Para-military Border Guards. Bangkok: White Lotus.
  • (with Hamish McDonald). 2000. Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • (with A. Amitav). 1999. The Next Stage: Preventative Diplomacy and Security Cooperation in Asia.Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.
  • 1998. Burma's Military Secrets: Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) from the Second World War to Civil War and Cyber Warfare. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.
  • (with David Horner). 1998. Breaking the Codes: The KGB's Network in Australia, 1944–1950'. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • (ed.). 1996.The Transformation of Security in the Asia/Pacific Region. London: Frank Cass.
  • (with Pauline Kerr). 1996. Presumptive Engagement: Australia's Asia-Pacific Security Policy in the 1990s. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • 1993. Signals Intelligence in the Post-Cold War Era: Developments in the Asia-Pacific Region. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  • (ed.) 1991. Aborigines in the Defence of Australia. Sydney: Australian National University Press.
  • (ed. with Helen Wilson). 1991. Strange Neighbours: The Indonesia-Australia Relationship. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • (with S. Henningham). 1991. South Pacific security: Issues and perspectives . Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.
  • (with Ross Babbage) 1990. Geographic Information Systems: Defence Applications. Brasseys.
  • with (C Downes). 1990. Security and Defence: Pacific and Global Perspectives. Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.
  • (with J.O. Langtry) (eds.). 1990. The Northern Territory in the defence of Australia: Geography, history, economy, infrastructure, and defence presence. Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.
  • 1988. Pine Gap: Australia and the US Geostationary Signals Intelligence Satellite Program. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • (ed. with Andrew Mack) 1987. The future of arms control. ANU University Press.
  • 1987. A Base for Debate: The US Satellite Station at Nurrungar. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  • (ed.) 1986. The Anzac Connection. Unwin Hyman.
  • (with Jeffrey Richelson) (eds.) 1986. Strategic Nuclear Targeting. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • (with Jeffrey T. Richelson). 1986. The Ties That Bind: Intelligence Cooperation Between the United Kingdom/United States of America Countries – United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. HarperCollins.
  • 1985. Defend the North : The Case for the Alice Springs-Darwin Railway. Allan & Unwin.
  • (ed.) 1985. Strategy and Defence: Australian Essays. Allen & Unwin.
  • (with I. O. Langtry). 1984. Civil Defense and Australia's Security in the Nuclear Age. Unwin Hyman.
  • 1981. Targeting for Strategic Deterrence. Adelphi Paper No. 185. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • 1981. Can Nuclear War be Controlled? Adelphi Paper No. 169. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • 1980. A Suitable Piece of Real Estate: American Installations in Australia. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger.
  • 1980. Politics and Force Levels: the Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • (ed.) 1976. The Future of tactical airpower in the defence of Australia. ANU Press.