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965 words - May 6, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
One week after France unveiled its Defense posture for the years 2014-2019, the Australian government led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard released the 2013 Defence White Paper which complements the National Security Strategy released in January, and the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper released in October 2012.
"This White Paper sets out a framework to continue to defend the national security interests of the Commonwealth and to have an effective and capable Australian Defence Force," said Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith. "The White Paper makes the point that the Government sees four priority tasks for the Australian Defence Force," he further said.
Firstly, to be capable of the defence of Australia. Secondly, to be capable of operating and taking lead responsibility in our immediate region, the South Pacific and Timor-Leste. Thirdly, to be capable of operating with our partners in our region, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, South East Asia. And finally (Fourthly), to be in a position to make a contribution where our national security interest warrant it to a broader operation or a global operation of which Afghanistan is a current example.
From a more global viewpoint, the Paper reaffirms the United States as "the bedrock of Australia's defense, security, and strategic arrangements." Taking the United States' rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region as "further opportunities for (bilateral) cooperation," Australia will conduct large acquisitions of US-made military technologies. Its government will acquire 12 new build Boeing EA-18G Growler aircraft instead of converting 12 of Australia's F/A-18F Super Hornets to Growlers, and will continue the Australian Air Forces' transition to the Lockheed-Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) that is the Pentagon's "focal point for defining affordable next generation strike aircraft weapon systems" for the US military.
In November 2011, Ms. Gillard and President Barack Obama decided to intensify cooperation to meet emerging security challenges, especially in space and cyberspace. The two countries have held top-level bilateral meetings named AUSMIN and which showed the depth and the scope of the bilateral relationship, on all topics, on defense and security issues in particular. Most revealing has been the acknowledgement by the Australian government that through its alliance with the United States, it "obtains access to capabilities, intelligence and capacity that (Australia) could not generate on (its) own."
On the other hand, Australia acknowledges that China has real strategic significance however it says no word about the likely tough competition which might emerge between China and the United States in the longer term. In fact, the Australian government seemed to start from the premise that the United States will remain the strongest and most influential power both in the world and in the region. Australia takes therefore a quite ambivalent stance. Without questioning the United States' leadership in any way, Australia cleverly avoids introducing China as a potential adversary.
Summing up, Australia closing ranks with the United States simultaneously serves its growing friendly cooperation with China, at least on paper. It overtly contradicts with the 2009 Defense White Paper in which then-Kevin Rudd's government had termed China "a major power adversary" whose growing military capabilities obliged Australia to markedly increase its defense efforts. Finally, Australia has opted for a real commitment to strengthening relations with China, including on military topics.
One month ago, Mr. Smith expressed that China is of great importance for Australia's political, strategic and economic interests. "We hope to continue to establish positive, cooperative and comprehensive relations with China" and "any country has the right to modernize its military in the context of economic growth" said Mr. Smith in a direct reference to frequent criticism by the United States and other Asian countries over the rise in China's military might.
Over the last few years, Australia and China have been developing defense ties that Beijing has described as "positive and constructive." The recent visit to China by Prime Minister Gillard and her government's commitment to building up a strategic partnership with China convinced the Chinese leadership of the consistency of Australia's foreign and defense policy. Thanks to the "good development momentum" of the bilateral ties, the Australian government doesn't see China as a military threat. From Gillard government's standpoint, China needs peaceful development and prosperous trade relations as much as western countries like Australia.
If China is likely to become a tougher and possibly more positively aggressive competitor on all sectors in the Asia-Pacific, including defense, this is because China is quickly taking the place it deserves on the international scene due to its demographic size and fast-paced growth. That is what the Australia's Defence White Paper seems to assert: seeing China as a main adversary falls within exaggeration rather than within relevant assessment. Such a posture results from Australia's confidence that, in terms of defense capabilities, the United States will remain well ahead of any other nation, even China.
To conclude, Australia poses herself as a, if not the, main and closest ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific. The Defence White Paper fully subscribes to the United States' Defense Strategic Guidance released in January 2012. It emphasizes the development of military capabilities which are mostly dedicated to the projection of forces to places where the world's future will be shaped within two or three decades from now, mostly to the detriment of Europe's strategic relevance. As a consequence of the United States' rebalance, Australia believes that now is a historic opportunity to gain greater presence in world affairs while becoming strong enough in order to address any potential threat on its territory and its interests.
The unprecedented shift of the global strategic theater from the West to the East gives Australia huge strategic importance in United States' long-term "Grand strategy." Australia has no enemy, it has opportunity.
Read on for the introductions by Australia's political leadership:
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