The U.S.-Australia alliance is commonly framed as beneficial for both players. However, there is a troubling tendency to deemphasize the possible challenges that may be encountered in the long term. The following paper discusses three potential challenges created by the alliance and highlights possible implications for continued reliance on the U.S. for security.
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First, it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that in the foreseeable future, the U.S. will likely require a certain degree of support from its allies. The historical narrative of the support offered by the U.S. to some of the key players in the Cold War era suggests that it may seek help from some of them once such necessity becomes apparent. However, there is no reason to suspect that any of the existing allies is to adopt the supportive role in the short term. This concept, known as burden sharing, exists as one of NATO’s basic principles since its inception. In fact, it has been argued that some of the conflicts between its members occurred as a result of the allegations made by the U.S. of overreliance on its European allies on its security guarantees without allocating their budgets to the same purposes (NATO, 2017).
Thus, it can be argued that security burden-sharing is an essential element of a successful security strategy. To a certain extent, the said concept is particularly relevant for China, which is among the most noticeable rivals of the U.S. At the same time, the weakened economic position of America caused by the recent financial crisis and the devaluation of a dollar has led to cuts in defense expenditures of the country, further aggravating the situation.
As can be seen from the described scenario, both existing and potential strategic allies of the U.S. need to recognize the long-term implications of the described setup. In the short term, the military influence of America is unlikely to be disputed. However, China will likely proceed with developing strategies and assets intended to minimize the possibility of intervention. For Australia, such a scenario introduces the possibility of burden-sharing tensions in the medium- and long term. For instance, in a hypothetical scenario where the combined forces of the United States and its major allies will be insufficient for a future large-scale operation, Australia will be pressed to commit forces to compensate for the deficiency. Importantly, Australia is known to have low defense expenditures, further aggravated by recent cuts. As can be seen, Australia may not be able to ensure meaningful participation in the U.S.-led campaigns, which may lead to unforeseeable tensions.
The second expected challenge is the risk posed by America’s potential tensions with China. Admittedly, there is no reliable evidence in favor of this suggestion. Both the current and the previous administration emphasized its orientation at peaceful cooperation, showing no indications of a possible containment. Nevertheless, a number of actions by the U.S. government are consistent with the suggestion. Most notably, the Pentagon is becoming increasingly aware of the potential risk posed by the Chinese advanced mobile missile program (Sonne, 2018). In its current state, the program is sufficient for participating in a major conflict.
At this point, it is reasonable to point out that the likelihood of such a scenario is decreased dramatically by the existence of robust ties between the two countries economies. Nevertheless, this argument is insufficient for discarding the possibility entirely. First, it is important to remember that the Chinese government’s military modernization program clearly aims at the deterrence of the U.S. forces and rendering their current approaches ineffective and prohibitively expensive (Sonne, 2018). In addition, it may be tempting for some of the U.S. political players to frame the existing rivalry between the two states in the same way as those between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Admittedly, the situation is mitigated by the existence of high-level communication channels such as the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue. However, a similar situation was observed during the Cold War without a noticeable effect on tensions between the actors.
The described risk poses a major challenge for Australian policymakers. First, it is apparent that both Australia and the United States have valuable economic relationships with China. The disruption of these relationships will constitute a major vulnerability for the former. In addition, the estimates suggest further increase independence on the economic collaboration with China in the following years. In this light, the participation in the containment effort as a U.S. ally will be a major detriment to international relationships between China and Australia.
Finally, it is necessary to acknowledge the challenge of extended nuclear deterrence. Historically, it was expected that in the case of a threat of nuclear attack, Australia would fall under the protection of the United States. This assumption was backed by the existence of American intelligence installations on the Australian territory, which will fall under the same risk in the described scenario. The reliance on U.S. protection was stated by the Australian side in the twentieth century. Notably, no confirmatory message was received from the American side regarding their course of action in such a scenario. At the same time, such statements were made regarding other U.S. allies, including South Korea and Japan (Roehrig, 2017). Thus, these expectations are based largely on the lack of contradictory statements and actions on the part of the U.S. authorities as well as occasional testimonies of Australian officials.
However, it is necessary to account for one important factor, namely the return of a long-term nuclear disarmament policy initiated by the Obama administration. While the policy was met with enthusiasm by the democratic governments around the world, the representatives of conservative parties responded by pointing to a possible deterioration of strategic stability. Thus, the conflict of interests between deterrence and disarmament may introduce unwanted tensions. On the one hand, Australian policymakers may voice concerns regarding the insufficient extension and/or reliability of the deterrence guarantees since the existence of a nuclear umbrella over Australia is considered the key factor in the strategic defense planning of the country. On the other hand, reductions in nuclear armament may be viewed as beneficial and desirable for the preservation of stability on a global level. Admittedly, Australia’s stance on the nuclear umbrella is relatively lax, which decreases the possibility of a crisis related to the issue. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that nuclear disarmament will weaken the perceived security offered by the United States to its allies.
As can be seen, Australia is expected to face a range of challenges related to its alliance with the U.S. Some of these challenges are posing a threat to the country’s economic integrity, while others create a risk of involvement in undesirable conflicts. Thus, it would be reasonable for Australia to review its reliance on the U.S. for security. The ongoing disarmament effort may compromise the integrity of the nuclear umbrella, necessitating the diversification of security options.
NATO. (2017). Sharing the burden of keeping Europe whole, free and at peace. Web.
Roehrig, T. (2017). Japan, South Korea, and the United States nuclear umbrella: Deterrence after the Cold War. Chichester, England: Columbia University Press.
Sonne, P. (2018). Pentagon looks to adjust missile defense policy to include threats from Russia, China. The Washington Post. Web.