Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS:ACRI) has released a new research report, China, Australia’s national security choices and great power competition in the Indo-Pacific , by Dr Michael Clarke, UTS:ACRI Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Defence Research, Australian Defence College; and Dr Matthew Sussex, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Defence Research, Australian Defence College and Visiting Fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University.

The report assesses Australia’s current security and defence policy trajectory and examines what strategies Australia might pursue to serve its interests in the fractured and complex regional order emerging in the Indo-Pacific strategic space. The report argues that Australia’s current strategic policy has resulted in a confused approach, both in conceptual and capability terms, to achieve deterrence as the central objective of Australia’s defence posture. This poses two puzzles for Australia’s strategic and defence policy:

  • First, there is a disconnect between adopting an Australian forward defence posture without the uncontested primacy of the US that enabled such an approach in Asia during the post-Cold War era, and the assurance that US military-security commitments to the Indo-Pacific will continue. In effect, Australia is making a risky bet in embracing a strategy that is contingent on factors well beyond its control including exogenous developments in the US-People’s Republic of China (PRC) relationship as well as American domestic politics.
  • Second, while the Morrison government endorsed US strategic aims in the context of an ambitious Indo-Pacific security landscape, Australian capabilities for the foreseeable future will be incapable of providing anything other than general support to its main security ally. Hence any claims about an Australian contribution to deterrence – either by denial or punishment – are only credible if those contributions are actually useful to the United States in the first place.

To resolve these puzzles, the report identifies a hybrid Australian approach combining the most useful aspects of the Defence of Australia tradition alongside its past emphasis on regional engagement and integration. Such an approach leaves Australia less vulnerable to either entrapment or isolation and provides it with significant deterrent capabilities in its immediate region. Fundamentally this approach will also make Australia a more useful ally to the United States because it facilitates realistic burden-sharing, rather than demonstrations of Australian commitment to US strategic goals that may be more symbolic than militarily valuable.

The report is available on the UTS:ACRI website.

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