US military expands reach in China’s backyard with Australian security pact

U.S. Foreign Policy Updates

Australia has been put in the limelight after signing a trilateral defense partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom that is expected to provide its navy with nuclear-powered submarines.

But the intention behind Aukus goes far beyond these subs and Australia. The new pact is a critical part of Washington’s attempts to prevent China from gaining military primacy in the region, military officials and analysts say.

“There is a real effort to improve the capabilities of the allies and exploit the new relationship as much as possible to increase the reach of the United States,” said Alexander Neill, an Asian security affairs expert who heads a strategic consulting firm. in Singapore. “It means integrating your friends and allies into your battlespace and deterring countries like China by multiplying forces. This is what Aukus is.

China’s growing arsenal of missiles targeting US bases in Japan, Guam and its warships, Beijing’s nascent electronic and space warfare force and its growing fleet of submarines have undermined the US military’s ability to operate freely in Asian waters and airspace.

For more than a decade, US policymakers and military officials have debated how to counter the erosion of its power as the People’s Liberation Army has expanded its capabilities. Some initial stages included changes in Marine Corps operations, the creation or expansion of airstrips on Pacific Islands, such as Midway, and the rotation of Marines and Air Force assets across the northern Australia.

But Aukus could push these efforts much further. “I think this fills the gaps in US military might in the region: we are now embarking on a very serious strengthening of the alliance with Australia, and this fits in the context of the US investing much more in the Quad, ”said David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum, a Hawaii-based think tank, referring to a partnership between the United States, Australia, India and Japan than the Biden administration has pledged to help counter Beijing.

Two Asian military officials said they expected a Quad summit next week to strengthen the United States’ commitment to deeper defense cooperation. “We are heading towards a situation where different partners are responsible for patrolling different areas of the sea, and this will optimize the use of the limited resources available to us,” said one of them.

Washington and Canberra noted On Thursday, they would expand the rotating deployment of US military aircraft to Australia and extend that cooperation to the maintenance of US warships in the country. Governments have also said they will conduct more integrated exercises and operate jointly with other allies and partners in the region.

The United States maintains its fleet of submarines for the region in Guam. Chinese ships are moving closer and closer to the western Pacific island © Naomi Johnson / AP

The Biden administration launched a Force Posture Review in February to determine what changes are needed in the U.S. military’s presence, resources, and strategies around the world. Experts believe that the initiatives agreed under Aukus may be the first results of this process.

“This could be the start of unfolding the implications of this review. I suspect that’s probably the background, ”said Euan Graham, senior researcher for Asia-Pacific security at the Institute for International Strategic Studies, a think tank in Singapore.

At the heart of the new strategy of the United States is an approach called integrated deterrence, whereby it draws together its forces and those of its allies and partners and leans more on them. This allows operations closer to Chinese territory but, in some cases, also protects US assets from attack.

“Australia is not just a political ally, it is in a convenient location outside of China’s longer range missile envelope,” Graham said.

“The United States could potentially base a strike force there and do what it did in the early 1940s,” he added, referring to the United States and Australia fighting Japan together. during the Second World War. “Technology changes a lot, but geography doesn’t change. “

The US Air Force’s rotating deployments to Australia include bombers capable of carrying anti-ship missiles, which can endanger Chinese Navy ships in the region. Analysts believe the US Navy will also request access to HMAS Stirling base in Perth for its nuclear-powered submarines. Cocos Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, is suitable for monitoring approaches from the west into the disputed South China Sea.

Equally important is the support of Pacific allies in the growing competition between the United States and China. Defense experts see Aukus as part of a larger push by the United States into Oceania, where Australia has long been the dominant power. It comes as Chinese naval and maritime research vessels move closer and closer to Guam, where the United States is keeping its submarine fleet for the region.

The closer integration of US and Allied forces through Aukus is expected to significantly complicate strategic calculations for Beijing.

“Think about the dilemma China faces if Australia’s military communications and surveillance satellites share information with the United States and the United Kingdom in a conflict, and China must decide whether to hit them,” said Drew Thompson, Visiting Fellow at National University. from Singapore and a former Pentagon official.

Thompson equates such a situation with the dilemma that China would face in a war over Taiwan: strike Kadena, the US air base in Japan, prevent fighters from coming to defend Taiwan but risk Tokyo entering the conflict.

“Aukus is part of a tremendous resilience initiative that brings all kinds of escalating dilemmas for China,” he said.

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