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Well need to pay a higher defence premium under Biden

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 17 November 2020


Since World War II Australia has kept secure by paying its premium on the USA-Australia Defence Alliance. This is a formal arrangement, via the ANZUS Treaty, but as New Zealand's suspension as a member shows, it is not "set in concrete" and needs to be nurtured.

In return for being one of the US's most reliable allies, Australia expects and hopes, that in the event of any serious threat to our borders, the US will come to our aid. As a result we don't field a defence force capable of defending Australia on its own against a major threat, but one that is designed to be more a modular part of an international effort.

While we spend more than many comparable countries on our armed forces, it also gives us the luxury of a dilettante approach to defence, for example ordering diesel submarines that are likely to be obsolete by the time they arrive and some of which won't turn up until 2050 – the year we will probably decide to go carbon neutral!

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Even with these handicaps, there is only one force in our area that might give us any problems, and that is the Chinese. While it might sound hawkish to talk about a Chinese threat, it is implicit in government actions like the banning of Huawei from public infrastructure. It is also explicit in China's militarisation of the South China Sea, attempts to secure naval bases around the South Pacific, war-gaming an invasion of Taiwan and clashes on the Indian border.

In the event of an aggressive China, there is only one country that we could turn to for help, so what happens in the USA is critical to Australia's security, which is why the US election result disturbs me.

The Trump Doctrine

Trump has reset US foreign policy by recognising the hegemonic threat that China poses to the world, and having the courage to do something about it.

Obama talked about a pivot to the West Pacific, but the pivot was left to Trump.

Trump appears to have recognised that most empires fall by being too stretched, and has started the process of withdrawing troops from unwinnable, or in some cases, historic, wars (would you believe that there are currently 55,000 military and supporting civilians in Germany, and this has more or less been the case since World War II?).

That allows him to optimise the number of troops that he can deploy to developing fronts.

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Part of this process has involved negotiating peace treaties in the Middle East, targeted executions of key enemy personnel, such as Qasim Soleimani, and reimposing punitive sanctions on Iran. He is also the first president since Jimmy Carter not to get involved in a foreign war. He's very much a realist and rejects the Neo-con impulse to use force to spread democracy. He'll do deals with anyone to get to his ultimate goal.

He has also increased spending on the armed forces at the same time demanding that the US's allies bear more of the costs of their own defence. This is often portrayed as unilateralism, but is in reality just getting a better deal.

More importantly he has started to reindustrialise the USA. I'm all for free trade which is the ideal economic system, but it can't be a universal system if you are at war. Wars are generally won by the country with the superior resources and logistics. The Allies won WWII not because their soldiers were braver or better-led than those of the Axis, but because we could keep going longer than they could.

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This article was first published in The Spectator.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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