Opportunity to reflect

UNSW Canberra Academics Involved: 
Major Andrew Maher

“There has been a strong argument to say that we in the military are so busy doing what we are good at - training and operations - that the ability to reflect upon why we are doing certain things can be a challenge,” says Major Andrew Maher, explaining why his new role of Military Fellow to UNSW exists. 

“But this power of reflection is a strength that comes from academia, so we established this position based around a desire to engage more broadly with academia, in line with the Australian Army’s Ryan Review [around Army’s future doctrine, education and training requirements].” 

Having spent a great deal of his time in active operational roles – including in Afghanistan and Iraq, and often with interagency responsibilities with such organisations as Intelligence agencies, US DEA and Australian Federal Police – Major Maher is now helping to shape the influential role of Military Fellow. Bridging the gap between theory and practice can involve a complete re-think of previous processes and policies.  

“I have a lecturing responsibility at a post-grad level, as part of my job,” he says. “But there’s also an obligation in terms of writing pieces that challenge our current way of thinking about a problem, whether that be for policy makers, military leaders, think-tanks or for academic journals.”

Major Maher, who has earned a Master of Defence Studies, currently focuses his PhD study with UNSW Canberra around Proxy Warfare or “achieving effects through others”. For most of the time the Australian military has been in Afghanistan, it has been practising proxy warfare, yet the theory is somewhat limited, he says. 

 “There is routine training, advising and assisting local ground forces to counter the threats of insurgency and terrorism,” Major Maher says. “But the tenuous security gains seen in Iraq before 2010 and ongoing tensions in Afghanistan suggest that the Australian Army needs to be in a position where its military influence can be brought to an entirely new level. By understanding the fundamentals of irregular warfare, the next generation of Army might be better prepared for such tasks.”  

The audience for his work is threefold. One core group is military officers actively engaged in such efforts. The second is the broader military, those outside the realm of irregular warfare but who would benefit from exposure to new concepts. Finally, government and academic bodies considering or commenting upon irregular or unconventional military options.