Australia wants to pump you up!
By Christian Brose Australia has released a pretty far-reaching and extraordinary defense white paper that is getting a lot of attention, and raising a lot of questions about the future of great power politics in the Pacific. Here is Andrew Schearer writing today in the Wall Street Journal Asia: Asia has long looked to the ...
Australia has released a pretty far-reaching and extraordinary defense white paper that is getting a lot of attention, and raising a lot of questions about the future of great power politics in the Pacific. Here is Andrew Schearer writing today in the Wall Street Journal Asia:
Asia has long looked to the United States to underwrite two critical public goods: free trade and security. Now there is anxiety in the region about its continuing willingness and ability to so, and governments are looking for ways to adapt. For the latest example, look no further than Australia’s defense policy paper, released on Saturday.
Westhawk was on top of this early (as always). Here is his rundown of what Canberra has committed itself to:
1) Doubling Australia’s submarine fleet with next-generation submarines,
2) Replacing Australia’s surface combatants with new-generation warships,
3) Expanding Australia’s amphibious lift capacity,
4) Purchasing 1,100 protected combat vehicles of various types for the Army,
5) Replacing the Army’s helicopter fleet with latest-generation aircraft,
6) Improving the training and equipping of Australia’s special operations forces,
7) Acquiring 100 F-35 fifth-generation strike-fighter aircraft,
8) Upgrading and expanding airlift, air early warning, and air refueling capabilities,
9) Acquiring long-range strategic strike land-attack cruise missile inventories,
10) Upgrading ISR capabilities across the force,
11) Acquiring cyber and electronic warfare capabilities,
12) Acquiring independent space mission assurance capabilities,
13) Exploring the development of missile defense capabilities to defend troops in field and Australia’s population and key infrastructure.
Not too shabby. And this from the government of Mandarin-speaking, left-wing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, no imperialist war-monger he.
Schearer, in his Journal piece, is troubled by this, and I think he anticipates the reaction of some U.S. conservatives:
[I]t’s clear that if the Obama administration does not show it is serious about maintaining the U.S. military presence in Asia, Australia may end up with no choice but to get serious about strengthening its military defenses, even beyond what is in the policy paper. "Smart power" has its place, but U.S. allies in Asia would feel more secure if America backed reassuring rhetoric with real military muscle.
But why is it a bad thing for our allies to strengthen their defenses? Absent some major surprise, the relative decline of U.S. power seems like a pretty sturdy long-term trend, and we shouldn’t do anything to catalyze it further than recent events may have already — say, by assuming that future conflicts will necessarly look like our present ones or that the old axiom of power abhorring vacuums won’t apply to new great powers. That said, I see the Australian white paper as a reason to be optimistic that America’s relative decline can be managed in a smart way that leaves us in a good strategic position. Westhawk puts his finger on one reason why:
If the Australian defense ministry can reach these conclusions, why shouldn’t the Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Indian, and Russian defense ministries also formulate these same planning assumptions?…. The greatest loser from such a chain reaction would be China.
I’d go even further. The United States should want the Indians, and the Japanese, and the South Koreans, and the Indonesians to reach the same conclusions. We should actively encourage them to reach the same conclusions. And that goes for our NATO allies as well. (The Russians, not so much.) We should work to get more and more of America’s like-minded allies investing in the capabilities to shoulder a greater share of our collective defense. And to that end, the perception that the "unipolar moment" is passing can actually play in our favor, as will the fact that China’s "peaceful rise" remains an open question at best.
This is not an argument for America to retrench — to send the signal to our partners that they are free-riders who need to be weened off a dependence on U.S. power. To the contrary, it’s a reason to do even more with our Pacific allies and to expand our joint capabilities. The rise of potentially aggressive great powers creates a natural incentive for their wary neighbors to provide more for their own defense, and I think we actually further that trend by showing a greater resolve to do so ourselves.
Less clear is whether what is true for Australia (and perhaps other Asian powers) will also be true for, say, Europe. But that’s a whole other problem.
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