The United States and Australia need to bolster their contributions to deterrence and defence in an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific. This will require updating and future-proofing the US-Australia alliance so that it keeps up with the pace, scale and intensity of the multidimensional challenges that China is posing the regional order. Developing integrated and combined approaches to deterring grey zone coercion, political warfare, economic leverage, military threats and nuclear pressure should be a top priority for the alliance going forward.
Canberra and Washington hold broadly similar views on the nature of China’s strategic objectives in the region. Both have judged that Beijing is seeking to displace the United States as the dominant power in the Western Pacific in the near-term and, eventually, across the wider Indo-Pacific. China’s willingness to use coercion in pursuit of regional dominance places it in competition with Indo-Pacific countries that want to preserve a strategic order in which all nations are free to exercise their sovereignty.
Any effective strategy by the United States or Australia to deter Chinese coercion must operate across this same spectrum of competition. Denying Beijing the ability to gain or wield leverage cheaply — by building domestic resilience, strengthening physical and metaphorical defences, and issuing credible deterrence threats in advance — is the surest way to give Chinese policymakers reason to take pause. This, however, raises difficult decisions for government about their interests, red-lines and willingness to accept costs and risks, which neither country’s leadership has sufficiently broached.