This article was originally published by the East-West Center on 27 February 2017.
The recent story of Australian defense policy is straightforward. Faced with an increasingly adverse strategic outlook, Australia has been bolstering its defenses since the turn of the century. In the past 15 years defense spending has increased by 75% in real terms, defense personnel numbers are up by 18%, and military modernization is underway across the board. At the same me, Australia has demonstrated its alliance credentials through stalwart support of US‐led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As a result, there is little doubt that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is now more capable and more inter‐operable with the US, and the Australia‐US alliance is stronger than at any time since at least the Vietnam conflict.
But the strategic environment has continued to deteriorate on multiple fronts. Most alarming has been China’s annexation and militarization of contested territory in the South China Sea. It is hardly surprising then, that Australia unveiled plans last year to further expand and modernize its own defense force. Just about every aspect of the ADF is slated for expansion and/or enhancement over the next two decades, but the centerpiece is a US$50 billion naval construction program. In addition to new classes of anti‐submarine frigates and offshore patrol vessels, 12 new French‐designed submarines — much larger than any extant conventional submarines — will replace the six existing boats. To pay for this large‐scale program, the government has promised to increase defense spending to 2.1% of the GDP by 2020.
Courtesy of Damian Gadal / Flickr
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 6 December 2016.
The Regional Security Outlook 2017, prepared by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) and available at www.cscap.org, conveys an unmistakable sense of despondency. The Outlook includes a cluster of assessments by regional analysts of the security picture across the region as a whole and two smaller clusters focusing on what CSCAP deems the most acute challenges to stability and order in the region – North Korea’s nuclear weapon program and the dispute in the South China Sea.
The RSO 2017 contends that both principal actors – the US and China – believe themselves to be too wise and wily to stumble into a replay of the Sparta-Athens drama of 2,500 years ago but now stand exposed as capable of exactly that. Geopolitical contest, so stoutly denied over a number of years, intensified markedly, and was at last more openly acknowledged. We can, and should, take some reassurance from the fact that the tilt in the balance of power and influence in Asia is likely to be neither quick nor decisive. Although the drift of the US-China relationship toward difficulty and coolness inescapably heightens the risk of inadvertent incidents, neither side has any interest in conflict.
This article was originally published by the Lowy Institute on 21 November 2016.
As the Trump juggernaut rolled across the US on election day, turning the political map red, anxious foreign leaders began to contemplate a new world order of a kind few had envisaged.
Could it be that Donald Trump, the quintessential change agent, would administer the last rites to Pax Americana, the US-led rules-based Western order that had prevailed since 1945, thereby achieving what China, Russia and legions of anti-American jihadists had failed to bring about?
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen believes Donald Trump’s shock win signals the end of Pax Americana. Many others agree, among them former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, who sees the failure of Barack Obama’s signature Trans-Pacific Partnership as ‘symbolic of the dismantling of the post-World War II order in which the US had sought a global leadership role’.
Courtesy Steve Snodgrass/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 11 November 2016.
It is very tempting for political leaders to react to Donald Trump’s victory with anger or disdain. Leaders who express such sentiments can be sure to be applauded. And we have seen plenty of such statements over the past few days.
But to alienate the next US President is unwise, as it will harm European interests. Instead, Europe must try to influence Trump’s policies and his decision-making by engaging with him. And it must start to work on a plan B.
Geopolitically, Europe is far from being strong or independent enough to survive a more or less hostile Trump presidency without major damage. It needs an active and engaged US to keep NATO alive and kicking, to help manage relations with Russia and to deal with growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, Europe has a major interest in being involved in US-Chinese relations, as peace in East Asia is vital for the European economy.
Courtesy thierry ehrmann/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Pacific Forum CSIS on 9 November 2016.
Like most American Asia-watchers, I have no clue what the basic tenants of the incoming Trump administration’s Asia policy will be. I have learned from experience to discount at least half of what is said during presidential campaigns: Reagan was going to recognize Taiwan; Carter was going to withdraw US troops from the Korean Peninsula; etc., etc. The challenge is knowing which half not to believe.
While I don’t know what Trump’s Asia policy will be, I have a pretty good idea what it SHOULD be, so allow me to offer some unsolicited advice.
The pivot is dead, long live the pivot. The “pivot” or “rebalance” toward Asia is an Obama slogan which will leave with him – it likely would have even if Clinton was elected – but America’s focus on Asia as a national security priority has been a bipartisan constant since the end of the Cold War and the centrality of the US alliance system in Asia (with Australia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand) – as in Europe (NATO) – has likewise been a bipartisan constant since the 1950s. The going in assumption seems to be that a Trump administration is less committed to maintaining the alliance system as a vital component of America’s security (as well as the security of our allies). If he truly believes this, he needs to say so and address the alternatives and consequences. What he SHOULD do is to reaffirm the centrality of both Asia and the US alliance system to America’s continuing commitment to sustaining peace and security in Asia and beyond. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton did this by producing overarching East Asia Strategy Reports; a new one is sorely needed.