That’s not a knife. This is a knife!

Paul Kane/Getty Images News Naval power isn’t quite what it was in the days of U.S. naval officer and historian Alfred T. Mahan, but it’s still a key differentiator between those countries that can power abroad, and those that can’t. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pacific, where some of the world’s largest ...

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601044_070621_aussie_05.jpg

Paul Kane/Getty Images News

Naval power isn't quite what it was in the days of U.S. naval officer and historian Alfred T. Mahan, but it's still a key differentiator between those countries that can power abroad, and those that can't. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pacific, where some of the world's largest and fiercest naval battles have been fought. And so it's interesting to note that Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson just announced a $9 billion plan to upgrade the country's naval forces. 

Did Australians suddenly turn into warmongers? Not likely.

Paul Kane/Getty Images News

Naval power isn’t quite what it was in the days of U.S. naval officer and historian Alfred T. Mahan, but it’s still a key differentiator between those countries that can power abroad, and those that can’t. Nowhere is this more true than in the Pacific, where some of the world’s largest and fiercest naval battles have been fought. And so it’s interesting to note that Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson just announced a $9 billion plan to upgrade the country’s naval forces. 

Did Australians suddenly turn into warmongers? Not likely.

This is part of a wider security shift in the Pacific. Late last year, U.S. diplomatic efforts managed to convince Japan to remain under the U.S. nuclear umbrella instead of  launching its own nuclear program in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests in October of 2006. But it was a close call. Should Japan change its mind, it has enough enriched uranium to join the nuclear club in a matter of months. 

Kim Jong Il is not behind the recent Australian move (ever heard of the North Korean navy? Me neither). To the folks down under, the real scary thing is China. Beijing’s recent test of anti-satellite missiles caught the world by surprise, and in March the Communist Party’s decision to raise military spending triggered alarmist outcries in the media

Australian officials were taking notes. After securing a military pact with Japan, they decided it was time to go for some new hardware. And so five advanced destroyers and amphibious warships are on their way.

Nelson made clear in announcing the move that defense and security come before any other priorities for Australia. But then he immediately added:

It’s not that we have hostile intent towards anybody.”

Right. A war in economically booming Asia seems unthinkable. But as any realist will tell you, the road to war is often paved with well-intentioned military upgrades.

Erica Alini is a Rome-based researcher for the Associated Press.

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