Australia’s Defense Strategy Reinforces US Links

An Australian defense white paper issued on Feb. 25 is clearly designed to ensure that the country will remain the leading regional military power in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific for the best part of the 21st century. The strategy outlined in the paper has been cautiously praised within Australia for being neither alarmist nor naive, for offering a clear strategic rationale for beefing up the country’s defense forces, and for providing a credible financial plan to fund the planned improvements in capability. Australia will undertake its largest peacetime upgrade to all three arms of the military in terms of money and capability.

Besides seeking to dissuade any Southeast Asian power from invading Australia’s northern shores, remote as that possibility is, Canberra also sees risks to its broader geostrategic and economic interests from the increasingly assertive and destabilizing behavior of other states in the South China Sea. The white paper explicitly acknowledges that China will continue to seek greater power in the region, with profound implications for Australia and other countries. The possibility of a U.S.-China conflict arising as a result is also recognized. Given the expectation that Washington is more than likely to request Australian assistance in the event of conflict, Canberra will not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. Indeed, there is a strong emphasis on improving the ‘interoperability’ of Australian forces with the American Pacific Fleet, from surface vessels and submarines to cyber capabilities and intelligence.

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