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The Future of the Australian-U.S. Security Relationship

Authored by Dr. Rod Lyon, Prof. William T. Tow. | December 2003

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Australia is an increasingly important ally for the United States. It is willing to be part of challenging global missions, and its strong economy and growing self-confi dence suggest a more prominent role in both global and regional affairs. Moreover, its government has worked hard to strengthen the link between Canberra and Washington. Political and strategic affi nities between the two countries have been refl ected in--and complemented by--practiced military interoperability, as the two allies have sustained a pattern of security cooperation in relation to East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq in the last 4 years.

This growing collaboration between the two countries suggests that a reinvention of the traditional bilateral security relationship is taking place. At the core of this process lies an agreement about the need for engaging in more proactive strategic behavior in the changing global security environment, and a mutual acceptance of looming military and technological interdependence. But this new alliance relationship is already testing the boundaries of bipartisan support for security policy within Australia. Issues of strategic doctrine, defense planning, and procurement are becoming topics of fi erce policy debate. Such discussion is likely to be sharpened in the years ahead as Australia?s security relationship with the United States settles into a new framework.


The past 4 years have seen Australia and its major ally establish a rhythm and cadence to their pattern of security cooperation that truly justifi es characterizing the ANZUS alliance as a ?reinvented relationship.? Levels of security cooperation between the United States and Australia are already so high that it is diffi cult to see how they might get even higher in years ahead. This is particularly the case because of the constraints that we have identifi ed within the current arrangements: constraints that include a range of political, economic, and international factors.

Yet a more intimate relationship is possible. The theme of defense self-reliance has been superceded by events and new thinking in Australian security policy. The theme was instrumental in allowing Australia to cast off its dependency on great and powerful friends in the 1970s and 1980s, but strategic interdependence is an increasingly sound strategic recipe for the challenges of the 21st century. The ANZUS alliance will remain central to Australian security policy for three key reasons: the nature of the emerging security threat which is asymmetrical and global; Western defensive technological evolution towards network-centric warfare; and the inability of autonomous security policies and ?orphan? capital equipment to provide a competent defense even of continental Australia. Rather, we expect a doctrine of interdependence must play a larger role in Australian security policy.

Such essential interdependence will clearly pose serious tests for Australian policymakers, in large part because self-reliance previously assumed such a prominent position in the Australian strategic lexicon. It makes more necessary the nurturing of a greater level of bipartisanship within the Australian body politic about the advantages of interdependence and the imperatives of good alliance management. The payoff of such an effort will be sustained ANZUS credibility and viability?an outcome that should advantage both countries? ability to anticipate and confront those contingencies that will inevitably emerge to challenge their shared aspirations and their security.