Des Ball

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Desmond John "Des" Ball AO (20 May 1947 – 12 October 2016) was an Australian academic and expert on defence and security. He was 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. From 1966 he was a "person of interest" for ASIO,[2] 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 held ASIO in disdain, for its inability to recognise aspects of defence co-operation with the US infringed Australian national interests by remaining entirely secret.[3][4]

Ball was diagnosed with incurable cancer and died on 12 October 2016 at the age of 69.[2] Despite his illness, he continued writing and working until his death.[5][6][7]


Ball was a political realist, and a believer in liberal institutions and solid defence strategies. He used an inductive, investigative approach to security studies.[8]

During the Cold War, Ball was invited to critique US nuclear defence plans—his analysis persuading the US that its plan to destroy 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.[9]

Ball worked on Australia's signal intelligence and exposed Australia's secret history of cracking diplomatic cables.[citation needed]

He studied, and was active in, some of Southeast Asia's "shadow wars". He was a supporter of Karen independence, having discovered the extent of Burmese Army human rights abuses, and advised the Karen National Liberation Army along the Thai/Myanmar border on successful guerrilla warfare from the early-2000s.[5][10] He made over 85 research trips to the region.[8]

He worked with the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and believed the biggest threat in the early 21st century would be the potential for conflict escalation in north-east Asia.[10]


A tree planted to commemorate Des Ball near the HC Coombs Building at the Australian National University
  • Peter Baume Award, ANU (2013)[3]
  • 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 the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) (2000–2002).
  • Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (1986).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pacific, Dean, ANU College of Asia & the. "Insurgent intellectual". Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  2. ^ a b Flitton, Daniel (13 October 2016). "Des Ball: a rare influence on thinking about secrets and war". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 October 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "ANU professor Des Ball who 'saved the world' honoured". Canberra Times. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  4. ^ Pacific, Dean, ANU College of Asia & the. "Before the books". Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  5. ^ a b "Academic saved the world, advised Burmese rebels, gets award". Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  6. ^ "VALE DESMOND BALL – 1947 TO 2016 – 'HE STOOD WITH THE OPPRESSED PEOPLE OF BURMA...'". Karen News. Retrieved 12 October 2016. 
  7. ^ Flitton, Daniel (13 October 2016). "Des Ball: a rare influence on thinking about secrets and war". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ a b "Des Ball: An Australian original". Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  9. ^ Wroe, David (21 December 2012). "Des Ball: the man who saved the world". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 13 October 2016. Carter says Ball's "counsel and cautionary advice, based on deep research, made a great difference to our collective goal of avoiding nuclear war" 
  10. ^ a b Wroe, David (2012-12-21). "Des Ball: the man who saved the world". The Age. Retrieved 2015-12-30. 
  11. ^ It's an Honour: AO. Retrieved 12 March 2015