Our History

Holding a unique place in advancing Australia’s security thinking for over a decade.

Since our inception in 2005, firstly as the Kokoda Foundation and now as the Institute For Regional Security, we’ve been at the forefront of the intellectual effort needed to grapple with Australia’s future security challenges.

Our work has promoted and provided a basis for debate on a range of issues of strategic importance for Australia and the region, including Australia’s place in space, reform and transformation of the nation’s intelligence and decision-making architecture, and how to respond to the growing threat of cyber security challenges and other economic and social security challenges.  Our research and dialogues for defence strategy has been significant and an important contributor to both the national defence debate and international relationships.

A need arises

Between 2002 and 2004, key leaders and senior professionals from across Australia’s national security community began to identify two significant problems that faced Australia’s capacity to meet future security challenges:
First, there was a shortage of innovative research into Australia’s most serious future security challenges and strategic blind-spots, both within government and beyond.

Second, for a range of reasons the Australian national security community had failed to adequately develop a new generation of advanced national security analysts during the 1990s. 

As failure to act was not an option, a number of senior government and industry leaders stepped up to the plate and launched the Kokoda Foundation in early 2005 – an effort led by Professor Ross Babbage AM and inaugural Board members  AVM Peter Nicholson Retd),  Dr Gary Waters, Dr David Connery, RADM (Rtd) Simon Harrington AM and Mr Brice Pacey.

Strong support

The power of the idea for a think-tank that focused on long-term, complex, strategic challenges quickly grabbed the attention of both government and industry leaders alike. 

The Foundation won the support of many government ministers, officials senior Defence officers and leaders, as well as leaders of industry and academia. The Australian Department of Defence, a founding sponsor of the Foundation, still supports the Institute to this day.

A rapid start

The Kokoda Foundation launched in 2005 with two critical and highly complementary missions:

  • Conduct multi-disciplinary and innovative research into the tough security and defence challenges likely to confront Australia in the coming 25 years. 
  • Strengthen the next-generation of strategic thinkers and strategic leaders by encouraging their professional development, facilitating their involvement in some of the Foundation’s challenging research projects and providing means for them to network with senior officials, researchers and others to mutual advantage.

Soon after launching, the Foundation was already engaged in two major research projects – the New Air Combat Capability Study, and the Defence Transformation project – as well as growing its reach into government, industry and academia via almost 20 research workshops and through the Foundation’s first international event, the “Next Generation Threats to Australia” conference held in October of that year.
By the end of 2005, the Foundation had also launched a new, important periodical called Security Challenges – a peer-reviewed journal focused on research and ideas pertaining to Australia’s security concerns. Until then, researchers and graduate students had to attempt to publish their work in North American and European journals, publications that had little interest in publishing works predominately focused on Australian interests. This drove many of Australia’s best young minds to focus on research topics to appeal to those journals, rather than on matters of Australia’s national security priorities. With the launch of Security Challenges, Australian researchers had a publication they could call their own, and one which has helped spawn a renewed independent, academic community focused around Australia’s national security.

A growing footprint

Building on the success of this first year of operation, the Foundation commenced two more research projects, and in follow up to the successful October conference, launched a new program that is known today as the Strategic Dialogue event – an unsurpassed annual gathering of high level dignitaries, officials, academics and leaders from across the region and the United States, aimed at driving greater levels of understanding, rapport and cooperation through extensive dialogue opportunities around a mutually important theme.

The Foundation’s second mission of strengthening the next generation of strategic thinkers and leaders also came into focus with the launch of the Young Strategic Leaders’ Forum in early 2007. The Forum started out as a series of seminars by preeminent speakers from across the globe, and quickly expanded into other programs, including the highly effective weekend Congress series held every six months on the NSW coast. As the Forum grew, so too did the interest from abroad, with events in Sydney and Washington DC following suit. In 2012, the YSLF was relaunched as the Future Strategic Leaders’ Program (FSLP) to reinvigorate and reflect the young professional demographic that the program attracted.

Major achievements

From keynote presenters such as AMB Kim Beazley, AMB Richard Armitage, Ms Susan Eisenhower, and former Australian Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers, to front-line reporting of its research in Australia’s major newspapers, the Institute has achieved a lot in its first ten years. These achievements reflect the commitment and dedication of those involved with the Institute , as much of the effort behind each of these successes was in a volunteer capacity.

But the Institute’s legacy truly lies in the informed action it’s spurred. 

The launch of Australia’s first ever space policy in 2013 was the direct result of pioneering work undertaken between 2008 and 2010 by the Institute delving into understanding Australia’s true space interests. In a similar vein, work undertaken behind the scenes by the Institute helped shape the Australian Government’s 2009 Cyber Security Strategy.

We’ve made an impact too on the education and research landscape that is the groundswell of today’s national security talent and study. The 2010 launch of the National Security College at the ANU was a direct result of a 2007 Kokoda Paper examining practical recommendations to enhance the national security community by 2020, and through the launch of Security Challenges, we’ve helped spawn a renewed independent, academic community focused around Australia’s national security affairs.

New Challenges – New Approach

The start of 2015 saw the start of something new. Building on our heritage and key strengths as the Kokoda Foundation, we’ve re-created ourselves by becoming the Institute for Regional Security.

We’ve also acknowledged that our work has broadened into the regional.

Whilst based in Australia, our home is truly in the Asia-Pacific region. Our growing collaborations with international partners, particularly in Indonesia and Japan, underpin this trend of expanding our efforts in regional engagement and understanding.

We’ve also stepped up our focus on a more holistic notion of security. 

True security extends beyond military and defence matters – as central as they are to a secure society. Matters of economic stability, environmental and resource security, and national wellbeing all contribute to a nation’s – and ultimately a region’s – sense of security. Holistic security thinking has been a central tenet of our research, and positions the IFRS to play a leading, influential role in integrated thinking about national and regional security matters.

We’re excited about the next chapter of our story. With our renewed focus on promoting regional stability and prosperity, we’re looking forward to making a difference that ultimately affects the lives of more than 3 billion people.  

It’s a story we invite you to be a part of.