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Australia – an important link to Asia

Although Australia and Sweden are far from each other geographically, they are closer to each other in several vital aspects of security policy. A new FOI report confirms it.

A new report from FOI examines, among other things, how Sweden’s security policy intersects in several ways with Australia’s. This includes how both countries, relatively speaking, resemble each other in questions regarding the size and structure of their armed forces, and cooperation with NATO. But it also includes how the threat perceptions of the two countries have structural similarities, what with the aggressive behaviour of the revisionist superpowers, Russia and China, which lie rather close to them, respectively.

“Australia is an extremely interesting country. It is the biggest and strongest military power in Oceania, at the same time that, like Sweden, its defence is small and professionalized. Both countries have strong connections with the USA, which they are also dependent on for weapons materiel,” says Mike Winnerstig, a Deputy Research Director at FOI.

In September, 2015, Malcolm Turnbull became Australia’s new prime minister via a vote of no confidence within the ruling Liberal Party. Since then, the Australian government has pursued a somewhat different policy, not least in strengthening its relations with China. This may in turn cool the good relationship it has with Japan.

“There are two camps regarding the position one should take on China and the possibility of a conflict between it and the USA. One maintains that because of China’s dependence on trade with the USA, it is utterly unlikely that anything will happen. The other points to the build-up against China that is currently underway. In an attempt to achieve a balancing act between the two powers, Australia is substantially arming itself by purchasing systems that can deter an eventual war.”


Turning its gaze to Russia

The outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 brought Russia to Australia’s attention. The similarities in security policy between Sweden and Australia have also made Sweden and its neighbourhood interesting.

“After the end of the Cold War, Australia became entirely focused on Asia. But now they’ve understood that Russia remains a potential problem. What is interesting for Australia is to see how the USA would act if, for example, Russia were to attack Estonia. If the USA refrained from intervening, many Australians would conclude that they couldn’t rely on the USA and that Australia should dramatically build up its defence. The studies of Russia and NATO that FOI is undertaking are in this context of great interest for Australia.”

“Today Australia is considering buying Japanese submarines that are equipped with motors that use Swedish technology, and where Sweden can contribute important know-how. We can assist with defence analysis, crisis management and weapons systems. Australia is becoming increasingly important for Sweden. Its culture and the kind of society it has are similar to ours, and there are even parallels in terms of security policy. As a result, the country is an important link between us and Asia,” says Mike Winnerstig.

FOI, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Swedish Defence Research Agency
SE-164 90 Stockholm

Phone +46 8 555 030 00
Fax +46 8 555 031 00

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