Alliances under austerity: what does America want?

30 Sep 2013

This paper examines how financial constraints in the United States are affecting its effort to 'rebalance' towards Asia and the implication for Australia.

Executive summary

  • Western military spending has stabilised and in some cases declined after a period of rapid growth over the past decade, but this is not only a function of austerity.
  • An expanding and diffuse set of security challenges are facing the United States (US) and its allies in Asia.
  • The US will seek to build on its security framework to more effectively integrate economic, diplomatic, and cultural engagement.
  • The US will ask its allies to take more responsibility for security, especially in their immediate neighbourhoods, but to do so while avoiding provocations.
  • The US will want help from its allies to both assure and deter China.
  • The current period of austerity will end and US fundamental economic strength remains.

Policy recommendations

  • Work with US partners to define and build a more expansive and comprehensive mutual security framework at both political and working levels, to encompass greater engagement across the spectrum of the relationship: on trade and investment; greener energy solutions; diplomatic initiatives; people-to-people exchanges; education, innovation and science programs; and defence and security cooperation.
  • Continue to engage and encourage active US participation in and commitment to effective, problem-oriented multilateral mechanisms in the region, both formal and informal, including multilateral collaborations, consultations, and joint activities amongst Australia, the US, and other allies and security partners.
  • Give particular attention to collaboration and consultation with the US in and related to Southeast Asia.
  • Generate new opportunities for bilateral security engagement in Australia and in Australia’s nearby region, including facilities sharing and access, prepositioning of US equipment, weapons and other defence technology trade and development, and joint deployments and training.
  • Explore and where possible expand possibilities to strengthen Australian deployments to bilateral and multilateral operations alongside American forces.
  • Take initiative to strengthen Australian bilateral security relationships with other non-US allies and partners.
  • Deepen military-to-military and other security-related engagement with China and encourage greater trilateral security cooperation amongst Australia, China and the United States.
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