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"Enhancing" the Australian-U.S. Defense Relationship: A Guide to U.S. Policy

Authored by Dr. Thomas-Durell Young. | November 1997

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Conclusion

There can be little question that the Australian government under John Howard has substantively changed a key aspect of Australia's security policy. The Liberal-National Party coalition government has made it perfectly clear that it will participate in the defense of Western ideals and interests, irrespective of their location. In consequence, two important implications follow. First, the ADF will be restructured to enhance its capabilities for participation in power projection missions. Its combat capabilities will be augmented by a shift in resources from support activities and programs toward expanding and improving combat forces. Second, the government has stated its intention of enhancing Australia's long-standing security relationship with the United States. Lacking at this point is a blueprint expounding how the bilateral defense relationship is to be expanded.

Also lacking is a national strategy debate in Australia. Given the changes the government has effected in terms of defense policy, one could expect an intense debate in Australia over the government's new security and defense initiatives. It is essential that this debate take place so that one would hope to see a coalescing of a new bipartisan approach to defense. However, before this can be expected to come to pass, one could assume that the Labor Party will want the government's defense policy and its objectives explained, particularly how defense ties with the UnitedStates will be ?enhanced.? For the Howard government to stay accusations that it is over-selling the American alliance, a systematic outline of how the relationship will be expanded and an explanation of how it will benefit Australian security will be required. Without such a statement, the government runs the risk of politicizing the U.S. alliance, with all of the attending destructive consequences therein.

And it is surely the reemergence of a strong element of bipartisanship in defense policy that the United States would like to see develop. Washington will assuredly applaud efforts on the part of Canberra to expand the combat capabilities of the ADF, either for the defense of Australia or for power projection missions. But one must be aware of the fact that Washington enjoyed very close defense ties with the previous Labor governments and supported their efforts to improve the ADF's ability to defend Australia. Washington, over the years, has proven itself capable, therefore, of accepting and working with whatever defense policy Canberra determines best meets its national objectives and interests.

If there is a point that both countries should have extreme reservations about transgressing, it is in the value they place on maintaining defense cooperation. This ?nearly unique relationship? has heretofore proven itself capable of transcending the vicissitudes of the odd diplomatic contretemps between Washington and Canberra. Indeed, defense relations have even grown closer during such periods51 and have continued to grow despite the lack of identifiable threats to Australia's immediate national security. The reason for this, as stated in the Joint Security Declaration, is that the relationship ?. . . reflects fundamental shared interests and objectives.? Such a closeness in views and interests has served as the means where cooperation has reached its current level of intimacy. Therefore, perhaps the most sagacious principle the Howard government and Clinton administration should follow in exploring close defense ties is adherence toHippocrates's admonition to physicians, ?First to do no harm.?

Endnotes

51. It is interesting to note that the Defense-to-Defense talks, which address strategic nuclear issues and their possible implications for Australian security, were established by the Barnard-Schlesinger agreement, which was agreed to during the reign of the Whitlam Labor government in 1974.