Australian security policy - Geopolitics and identity problems in tomorrow's Asia


  • Mike Winnerstig

Publish date: 2010-03-31

Report number: FOI-R--2967--SE

Pages: 58

Written in: Swedish


  • Australia
  • security policy
  • defence
  • defence policy
  • geopolitics
  • identity
  • Asia
  • USA
  • China
  • Japan


Australia is a fairly young actor in international politics, whose principal policy since Federation in 1901 has been to enjoy the partnership of a "great and powerful friend". From 1942 this "friend" was the United Kingdom, but after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese early this year, the United States has been the partner - and after the ANZUS treaty of 1951 the ally - that Australia has been counting on. Australian security policy is based on an explicit geopolitical outlook, according to which the international relations of the Asia-Pacific region and globally are governed by geography and power relations. Today, this means that the major problems that Australian decision-makers believe they face are determined by the relations between primarily the US, China, Japan and India - and by Australia´s relations to these great powers. At the same time, given its own geographical location, Australia has been forced to deal with its Asian neighbours in an increasingly direct way, due to the latter´s increased power and influence. During the 1990s, there were attempts made by the then Australian government to reconstruct the Australian, traditionally primarily Western and European, national identity to a more Asian one. These attempts did not last for long, and neither the Howard nor the current Rudd government have seemed to be willing to try that road again. In the White Paper on defence issues that the Rudd government published in May 2009, all the above-mentioned dimensions are present. The general worldview of the White Paper is clearly geopolitical including a multi-dimensional picture not least of the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region. On the one hand, the great importance of the Australian-American alliance is underlined. On the other, the increased likelihood of the US losing its relative power position in the region due to the rise of China´s political and military power is noted. The primary action that the White Paper promotes is thus a relatively large military rearmament, especially regarding tha navy. In the long term - at least 20 years - this will lead to much greater defence self-reliance against any emerging threats in the region - partly regardless of the American ability to help its Australian ally. In terms of defence policy, this means that the defence of Australia concept, i.e. the ability to defend Australian territory against an armed attack from a major state actor, again has become the paramount Australian defence doctrine. The White Paper admits readily that this doctrine does not inhibit expeditionary warfare capabilities, but it is very obvious that the conflict scenario that will drive the new formation of the Australian Defence Forces is the traditional armed conflict between state actors. Other types of conflict, such as intra-state war and the consequences of failed states for their neighbours, might be more likely, but the Australian government primarily wants to secure the country´s ability to defend itself against a major, conventional armed attack. For the future direction of Australian international relations, the following will be the most likely trajectories until about 2030: Australia continues its close security and defence cooperation with the US but also with the United Kingdom. Australia will also build very good relations in the security and defence field with Japan, and in the long term also with India. Australia tries to engage itself peacefully in the region rise of China; if this fails, steps toward formal US-led alliances with Japan and India might be taken as a counterweight to Chinese dominance. Australia acts as a "manager" of its nearer neighbourhood, and deploys smaller peacekeeping or peace-enforcement operations in the minor neighbouring countries if a need for this arises.