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Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

AJDSS Volume 2 Number 1

Aiding our ally...some options for Australia

Jonathan Earley

To cite this article: Jonathan Earley, 'Aiding our ally...some options for Australia', Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies 2, 1 (2020): 47-63,

Published online: 21, August 2020


The Indo-Pacific regional order is under significant strain. The relative influence of the United States is in decline and an increasingly assertive China is leveraging its economic rise and growing military capabilities to challenge existing norms and impose its own rules as the new regional hegemon. 1

President Xi has openly stated the US-led security architecture and order has 'outlived its utility' in stabilising the region and is actively promoting China as an alternative to US leadership. 2

On the other hand, the US has yet to implement an effective strategic response that closes the gap between its 'ends and means' in addressing China's rise. For decades the US has relied on naval mastery of the maritime domain as one of the key pillars to sustain its global hegemonic status. 3 But with China modernising its military capabilities and projecting presence well beyond its territorial waters, the dominance of the US Navy is now under contest and a new policy approach is needed.

The 2017 release of the Trump Administration's 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific' (FOIP) vision was an attempt to reaffirm US primacy across diplomatic, economic and military domains. Although a positive step forward, its sparse detail led many Indo-Pacific nations to question the resolve of the US to remain committed to the region. It would not be until mid-2019 that an 'implementation strategy' was released that sought to 'operationalise' the FOIP vision. Named the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR), it identified how the rapid growth in Chinese military power would require the US to think differently about how it bases, moves and fights its forces in the Indo-Pacific. 4

More importantly, the IPSR also signified an 'inflection point' for the US, reflecting a hardening of its security posture in response to the changing balance of power in the region.

This strengthening of US security posture suggests a potential increase in US military presence across the Indo-Pacific. While Northeast Asia is well served by a number of established US bases in Korea and Japan, the US will be keen to extract greater utility from the key security relationships it holds in the southern region of the Indo-Pacific to enable a more distributed posture of its forces. Whether regional nations remain willing to support an expanded US security footprint will ultimately be subject to the influence such a decision may have upon the national interests of the country in question. In Australia's case, with our national interests of security and prosperity largely dependent upon the US-led order, I argue that this renewed US approach to security in the Indo-Pacific offers an opportunity for Australia to modify its future defence policy, posture and force structure to attract greater US interest and engagement in our near region.

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1 John Schaus, 'The Limits of Good Strategy: The United States in the Asia Pacific in 2018', Commentary, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2 February 2018, accessed 10 March 2019,

2 Gary Schmitt, 'Challenges to the US Rebalance in Asia' in Asia Pacific Countries and the US Rebalancing Strategy, ed. D. Huang (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 31-47, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-93453-9 (

3 Thilo Schroeter, Matthew Sollenberger and Bastiaan Verink, 'Challenging US Command of the Commons: Evolving Chinese defense technologies as a threat to American hegemony?', The SAIS Bologna Center, Journal of International Affairs 13, 1 (Spring: 2010): 41-56, accessed 15 May 2019,

4 Peter Jennings, 'America's New Asia Strategy Opens Doors for Australia', The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 22 June 2019, accessed 3 July 2019,