Des Ball

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Desmond Ball AO (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]


  • Peter Baume Award, ANU (2013)[10]
  • Officer of the Order of Australia (2014)[11]
  • 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).