Hugh White (strategist)

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Hugh White
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
University of Melbourne
Known forAustralia-China relations

Hugh White (born 1953) is a Professor of Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, long time defence and intelligence analyst, and author who has published works on military strategy and international relations. He was Deputy Secretary for Strategy and Intelligence in the Australian Department of Defence from 1995 until 2000 and was the inaugural Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).[1]

Education and early career (1970s–2000)[edit]

White studied philosophy at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford in the 1970s. At Oxford he read for the B.Phil, and was awarded the John Locke Prize in Mental Philosophy in 1978. In the 1980s he was variously a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, an intelligence analyst at the Office of National Assessments, an advisor to Minister for Defence Kim Beazley, and the International Adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke. In 1995 he was appointed Deputy Secretary for Strategy and Intelligence in the Department of Defence.[1] During his tenure he was involved in the preparation of the 2000 Defence White Paper, entitled Our Future Defence Forces, published by the Howard Government.[2] Its central conclusions were that Australia must maintain a self-reliant defence force, retain control of its maritime territories and "seek to attack hostile forces as far from our shores as possible". He has since described himself as the White Paper's "principal author".[3]

Academic career (2000–present)[edit]

As an academic in the area of strategic studies White has become prominent within Australia. Crikey’s Power Index of influential thinkers in Australia ranked him number seven in 2012.[4] In the early part of the 2010s, White gained significant coverage in the Australian media with regular commentary in The Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, and numerous television appearances.

In 2010, White published The China Choice: Why We Should Share Power. This work gained significant national attention as well as favourable commentary globally including from journalist and strategist Robert D. Kaplan, the New York Times,[5] the Financial Times,[6] and the New York Review of Books.[7] The central argument made in White’s book is that there should be a concert of powers in Asia as there was in Europe in the 19th century. However, he believes that Australia's strategic hedging cannot last and that policy makers will one day have to choose whether they are aligned with the US or with China.[8]

"For more than a century, [the US] has contributed to peace and order, to economic development, to political evolution, and to science, technology and art around the world – and all these contributions have been nothing short of exceptional", Hugh White.[9]

In The China Choice, White argues the Vietnam War ultimately benefited the Asian region because it demonstrated the lengths the US would go to secure its supremacy over China. White has argued publicly that Australia needs to dramatically increase its maritime capabilities in order for Australia to avoid becoming a small power in Asia.[10]

In more recent times White advocated for a reconsideration of the Abbott Government's preference for a deal with Japan for the construction of Australia's next generation submarine fleet. The basis for his belief was the negative implications on Australia-China relations, so he instead advocated for deals with France or Germany.[11] White has also been critical of the Rudd and Gillard Government's escalation of Australian involvement in the War in Afghanistan which he argues resulted in increased casualties. He was also critical of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's reliance on national security during his term of office.[12]

White believes that Australia is a key player in the Asian region, but that Australian governments routinely believe Chinese governments are preoccupied with economic interests when China is determined to redistribute regional power in its favour.

"Australia seems to have acquired quite a prominent place in regional power politics, as shown by the way Obama, Xi, Modi and Abe have all come here to deliver big geopolitical speeches. It would be unwise to believe that the Chinese do not care about Australia's position on Asia's great strategic questions", White, 2014[13]


White has most often been criticised for his bullish outlook in defence matters, especially in relation to armaments. Writing in the Australian Review, political scientist Graham Cheeseman argued the authors of the 2000 Defence White Paper was "more about politics than policy, driven in large measure by the desires and vested interests of the major actors within the defence establishment and those, primarily within industry and government, who stand to gain from the $160 billion to be spent on Australia’s defence over the coming decade". He also believed the White Paper was much more aggressive than its preoccupation with peaceful solutions was designed to suggest.[14] This same criticism was taken up by ASPI commentator Peter Jennings.[15] A strategist at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, James Goldrick, argued in 2015 that White's bellicosity must be measured against the price of war, stating that "[w]hat we have to be sure [about] is that the end justifies the means".[16]

Other commentators have argued that White exaggerates the threat posed by China in the Asian region. Professor Paul Dibb from the Australian National University argued that White has overstated the ability of China to assert its power.[17]

Published works[edit]

  • White, H. (2006), Beyond the Defence of Australia, Longueville Media: Sydney, New South Wales.
  • White, H. (2010), Power Shift: Australia's Future Between Washington and Beijing, Quarterly Essay No 39, Black: Collingwood, Victoria.
  • White, H. (2012), The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, Black, Melbourne, Australia.
  • White, H. (2017), Without America: Australia in the New Asia, Quarterly Essay No 68, Black: Collingwood, Victoria.
  • White, H., Dawn of the post-American order in Asia, Straits Times, December 2017, Singapore


  1. ^ a b Professor Hugh White, Researchers, ANU
  2. ^ Defence 2000: Our Future Defence Force (2000 Defence White Paper) – Parliament of Australia
  3. ^ Hugh White, The China Choice (2010)
  4. ^ The Power Index: thinkers, defence strategist Hugh White at #7 – Crikey
  5. ^ Jane Perlez, "Hugh White on 'The China Choice'," New York Times, 16 October 2013
  6. ^ Gideon Rachman, "Search for a Safer Path in the Race for Asia", Financial Times, 18 August 2013
  7. ^ Ian Johnson, "Dreams of a Different China", New York Review of Books, 21 November 2013
  8. ^ America or China: one day, we will have to choose
  9. ^ Hugh White, The China Choice, p. 109.
  10. ^ Sharp criticism levelled against Australian defence white paper, Connect Asia, ABC Radio Australia
  11. ^ If we strike a deal with Japan, we're buying more than submarines
  12. ^ Tony Abbott's preoccupation with national security dangerous, The Age
  13. ^ Hugh White: Why I Was Wrong on China FTA, The Australian
  14. ^ Cheeseman, Graeme (July 2001). "The Howard Government's Defence White Paper: Policy, Process and Politics" (PDF). The Drawing Board: An Australian Review of Public Affairs. 2 (1): 11–26. ISSN 1443-8607.
  15. ^ The uses and abuses of defence white papers, The Strategist
  16. ^ The future of maritime conflict—a response to Hugh White, The Strategist
  17. ^ Should the US learn to share power with China? ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

External links[edit]