Strategists today are grappling with asymmetric warfare, collateral effects of past actions and the complexity of military operations in the Information Era, where outcomes may be influenced as much by what people think as by the application of conventional military force. Yet questions over how best to apply military force in this age of instant access to information have been generating debate since before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, with several recent international military operations being criticised. One success story stands in contrast, however: the Australian-led mission to East Timor.
The Australian approach merits attention, particularly as it contrasts with the traditional American way of conducting military operations. Australia has a history of seeking to ‘punch above its weight' with battle cunning and stealth, backed up with, but not driven by, kinetic capabilities. This paper sets out emergent ideas on the Australian approach to military operations and the growing awareness of ‘Information Operations' in Australian military doctrine that preceded the East Timor operation. Australia's disciplined, restrained and self-deprecating approach helped bind together a 22-nation coalition of the willing, demonstrating the application of a manoeuvrist philosophy adapted for the mass-media information era. The result in East Timor was an ‘Information Operations' method relying largely on a ‘tactics and television' approach to accomplish the mission with minimal fighting and collateral damage to the region. This information-era manoeuvre approach is about intangibles, exploiting the opponent's mental rather than geographic hard-spots. The success of this mission suggests that this innovative method is valid for the military challenges of today and beyond.