SHOULD AUSTRALIA ALIGN ITSELF WITH SOUTHEAST ASIA? 1
SHOULDAUSTRALIA ALIGN ITSELF WITH SOUTHEAST ASIA?
Everyyear, countries evaluate their international policies to determine ifthey are beneficial to the citizens. Major political powers in thedeveloped countries are skeptical when choosing where to put theirsupport. The United States, Australia and other developed nations inAsia and Europe are known to sustain mutuality through internationalagreements. As opposed to several decades ago when some countriespresumed that they could take it alone in international diplomacies,the changing political and military environment has triggered most ofthem to seek regional and international alliances.1Australia had not been an exception in forging favorable partnershipswith different nations which the government deems to be strategic forthe country’s security and economic.
Inthe hypothetical year 2018, the United States through its QuadrennialDefense Review is concentrating on protecting the interest of itscitizens. The rationale for is that that there has been escalatingdebt and public fatigue. The government would not hesitate to useforce on any country that threatens the countries progression. Thegovernment of Australia should concentrate on South Asian Alliancerather than focusing on self-reliance since it will be better placedto enjoy the maritime benefits through the protection of regionaltreaties, ease the military burden, extend its benefits beyondphysical security and obtain a buffer zone against the dominantChina. This paper will discuss the appropriateness of Australiaaligning itself with the Southeast Asia countries by drawing ideasfrom the country’s diplomatic history. It will also provide thebenefits that the country can reap from the allegiance by consideringthe influence of the United States and China in the region. Finally,it will explore the effectiveness of Southeast Asia allegiance thatsurpasses an association with major Asian countries such as Japan,China and India.
Afterthe Vietnam War, the Australian government opted for a self-reliantdefense strategy. The White Paper of 1987 ruled out any internationalmilitary engagement.2The resolution was after the conflict of interest with the UnitedStates in Indonesia. However, in 2013, the Department of Defensepresented another White Paper that recommended the identification ofstrategic military partners. The targeted countries included America,China, India, and other Asian and African states. However, with thehistory of conflict of interest with the United States in Indonesia,it would be misinformed for the Australia to place its interests inareas that America eyes.3It is worth noting that the geopolitical and trade benefits thatAustralia enjoys have been realized mostly through the agreement withthe South Asian partners. The Australian Defense Policy Programprovides that the country has enjoyed greater transparency andmutuality from the South Asian partners.4
Withoutregard for the benegits accrued from the Asian region, some policyanalyst and critics believe that as a continent, Australia benefitedmore from the self-reliance pact since it has one of the strongestand highly equipped army than most countries in the bloc. Theconception of self-reliance assumed by Australia after the VietnamWar was initially uncontested.5Regardless of this fact, it is worth noting that the government andother stakeholders in the policy making dockets believed that theforces could be in a position to protect the continent in case of anattack. However, the notion changed after the realization that thealliances were more than for forming military pacts. They had toinclude political and trade cooperation. In the hypothetical year2018, the enactment of the Quadrennial Defense Review by the UnitedStates should be an eye opener for Australia. As the globalsuperpower, the United States has one the biggest military hardwareand technological advancements. The rationale for this is thatAustralia has been associating with America and the two nations havebeen engaging in joint military operations and projects across theworld. However, the economic pressure in Australia should trigger thegovernment to rethink the pact with the United States. As a countrywith interest in the Southeast Asia, there is a possibility of thecountries conflicting on various issues. It would be a viablelong-term strategy for the government to align itself with thecountries in the region where more benefits can be realized.
Somepolicy makers argue that since the relationship between the UnitedStates and Australia is already established, the government shouldnot consider capitalizing on Southeast Asia. The rationale for theargument is that the current strategic partners can be instrumentalin supporting a self-reliant Australia in the case of a conflict inthe triangle. On the contrary, it is noteworthy that the country hasan influence on the pacts it has struck with the South Asian Regionmembers. For example, The Five Power Defense Arrangement, East AsiaForum and the South Asian Nations Defense have been instrumental inensuring support and transparency in the block.6A Self-reliant Defense would deny the country a chance to enjoy tradeand political mutuality that is reaped from such pacts. Besides, theideology of adopting a self-defense policy has been positivelycriticized for denying the nation a chance to associate with the restof the countries both politically and economically.7It is also noteworthy that the Department of Defense does not ruleout the possibility of a conflict between the countries with aninterest in the Southeast Asian waters. The treaties in whichAustralia is member are better placed to quell the mild tension. Forexample, the continent can gain security benefits from SEATO thatseeks to create a mutual environment between the signatories.
Inaddition, a continued alliance with the United States only puts astrain on the Australian defense budget. The annual jointcontingencies deployed around the world have resulted in the wearingout of military hardware and most of it needs replacement. Accordingto the Department of Defense, most of the countries in the regionview Australia as having the biggest and most advanced force. Theinternal mechanisms geared towards self-reliance may compromise onthis reputation. In 2012, the government cut the defense budget by10.5% and a continued engagement with the United States strains thespending.8Although the United States enjoys a global influence, it isnoteworthy that it is far from Australia. Its interest in theSoutheast Asian sea is mainly focused of security. In this regard,even if the United States can offer military support in case of aconflict between Australia and other countries in the region, it maynot be a strategic business partner. The countries in the block forma viable business block that can facilitate Australia’s economicgrowth and security.
Besides,the country cannot opt for self-reliance when it controls one of thebiggest maritime jurisdictions in the world. The country’s locationis far from most of its allies, and the government does not subscribeany regional bloc.9Self-reliance would put the country on the receiving end ofunfavorable policies since it would put the government out of thenegotiation table. Currently, the mutual diplomatic polices includingSEATO and the Five Force Defense Arrangement enables the governmentto present issues to member parties. A self-reliant diplomacy woulddeny the country protection of strategic partners in case of aconflict.
Theeconomic prosperity of the country highly depends on trade carriedout through the sea. Therefore, a secure sea would mean economicgrowth for the country. Stability and favorable policies with majorAsian countries that have immense interest in the sea areimperative.10The defense policy should extend beyond the physical security of thecitizens. The diplomatic approach that was assumed after the VietnamWar was based on the security approach while it ignored the economicagreement that the country would rely on for its growth. In addition,the economic and military changes of key countries in the regionincluding China and India continue to escalate the security tensionin the Area.11A self-reliant force in a department that is currently being mauledwith budgetary cuts would not be effective in protecting theinterests of the country in case of a conflict.
Australiacan also benefit from buffering and hedging from Southeast Asia.After the cold war, China started a wave of economic and militarydominance by improving its trade and defense funding.12This should change Australian perception of Southeast Asia. Insteadof seeing it as a region full of threats, it should perceive it asthe best guarantee of future prosperity.13The Defense White Paper of 2013 outlines the problems facing theAustralian Maritime Strategy.14China’s current dominance in regional waters and the enactment ofthe Anti-Access Area Denial proves to be a major problem forAustralia. Since the country depends on maritime operations tosupport its economy, such a threat can comprise the interest of thecitizens.15With China being its biggest trade partner in the region, it isimpossible to ignore the Southeast Bloc since it stands between them.
Inaddition, China remains a threat to Australia through its coercivepolicies. In the recent past, the government of China has intensifiedits efforts to build the BlueNavythat would include four aircraft carriers, missile launchers and thebiggest fleet of submarines. This would deny the United Statescontrol in the sea extending to Philippines and the South China Sea.Any association with China will spur a conflict of interest betweenAustralia and the United States. The Quadrennial mechanism adopted byAmerica might be applied to suppress China’s dominance anddisregard for international laws. Joining the countries in the regionwould create mutuality between Australia and the small countries.They will be in a position to counter the effects of China’spolicies collectively. Also, Australia will gain influence owing toits large and advanced army. Pursuing self-reliance can pave way forChina to compel the smaller countries to the disadvantage ofAustralia.
Theabove option is appropriate for the country instead of self-relianceor striking allegiance with other parties such as Japan, China orIndia. The rationale for this is that Australia played a key role inthe conception of regional instrumental arrangements such as APC andASEAN Forum. Opting of self-reliance would render the agreementsinfective for the country.16The recent defense policy developed by Australia has depicted supportfor the agreements.
Besides,the policies adopted by China are considered unfavorable in theinternational arena. Aligning with the country would lacerateAustralia’s association with the United States. They gave thecountry an edge to engage in high-level negations that would havebeen impossible if the government sought an audience as a detachedparty.17The partners in Southeast Asia allow the country to walk among thegiants such as China and India. The institutional agreements allowthe region to foresee miscalculations and avoid a situation thatcould lead to possible conflict.18With the intensifying economic development of the Southeast Asianations, it is more viable to approach security matters jointly.
Inconclusion, it is advisable for Australia focus on the South Asianregion since it will be in a position reap maritime benefits throughthe protection of regional treaties, lift the military burdenincurred through joint global activities, extend its benefits beyondphysical security and control a buffer zone against the dominantChina. The self-reliance approach to security would be ineffectiveespecially with the American resolution to use force to protect itsinterests. If the country remains in the Southeast Asian bloc, itwill retain the power to negotiate on a higher platform. Also, thecountry relies on the sea for most of its economic activities. Itwould, therefore, be advisable for the government to invoke thecooperation of its allies with interests in the sea. This wouldprevent tension from blooming since major decisions would be reachedat through mutual agreements. Finally, Australia should not view itsinterest from a unilateral approach of physical security. The economyneeds enough support through trade with its allies. The Southeastregion remains the most appropriate to align with for both securityand trade prosperity.
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1 Feigenbaum, Evan A., and Robert A. Manning. "A tale of two Asias: in the battle for Asia’s soul, which side will win—security or economics." Foreign Policy 31 (2012). 5
2 Baldino, Daniel, and Andrew Carr. "Defence diplomacy and the Australian defence force: smokescreen or strategy?." Australian Journal of International Affairs 70, no. 2 (2016): 139.
3Frühling, Stephan. "Australian defence policy and the concept of self-reliance." Australian Journal of International Affairs 68, no. 5 (2014): 533
4 Oliver, Alex, and Andrew Shearer (Diplomatic disrepair: rebuilding Australia`s international policy infrastructure 2011). 7
5 Dean, Peter, Stephan Frühling, and Brendan Taylor (Australia`s Defence: Towards a New Era?. Melbourne University Press (an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing), 2014) 65
6 Griffiths, Martin, and Michael Wesley. "Taking Asia Seriously." Australian Journal of Political Science 45, no. 1 (2010): 17
7 Bou, Jean. (Ambition and Adversity: Developing an Australian Military Force, 1901-1914." In 1911: Preliminary Moves: The 2011 Chief of Army History Conference. Big Sky Publishing, 2011) 5
8 Brown, James, and Rory Medcalf (Fixing Australia`s incredible defence policy. 2013) 23
9 Gyngell, Allan, and Michael Wesley (Making Australian foreign policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 32
10 Blaxland, John (The Australian Army from Whitlam to Howard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 259
11 Gyngell, Allan. "What Happened to Diplomacy?." Address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs (Canberra: ACT Branch), May 7 (2012): 9.
12 McLean, David. "Australia in the cold war: a historiographical review." The International History Review 23, no. 2 (2001): 230
13 Frühling, Stephan. "A history of Australian strategic policy since 1945." Canberra: Defence Publishing Services (2009).
14 Jennings, Peter. "The Politics of Defence White Papers." Security Challenges 9, no. 2 (2013): 1-14.
15 Green, Michael J., Peter J. Dean, Brendan Taylor, and Zack Cooper. "The ANZUS alliance in an ascending Asia." Centre of Gravity Series 23 (2015). 13
16 Taylor, Brendan, John Blaxland, Hugh White, Nick Bisley, Peter Leahy, and See Seng Tan. (Defence Diplomacy Is the game worth the candle? 2014). 19
17 Capling, Ann. "Twenty years of Australia`s engagement with Asia." The Pacific Review 21, no. 5 (2008): 609
18 Carr, Andrew (Winning the Peace: Australia`s Campaign to Change the Asia-Pacific. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2015) 298