Following the New Australian Defense Model

This article appeared in the American Spectator on July 13, 2009.

For most of the Cold War, America's allies did surprisinglylittle to defend themselves, preferring to rely on the U.S. Thatdependent mentality continues, especially among the populous andprosperous countries of Europe. The election of President BarackObama notwithstanding, the Europeans have proved no more willingthan before to offer additional combat support in Afghanistan.

However, Australia is breaking the mold, preparing to do muchmore to protect itself and its region. Washington shouldencourage its other friends to follow suit.

Canberra issued its previous defense white paper a decade ago.Observed Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon: "the biggest changesto our outlook over the period have been the rise of China, theemergence of India and the beginning of the end of the so-calledunipolar moment; the almost two-decade-long period in which thepre-eminence of our principal ally, the United States, waswithout question."

Australia now discerns a future in which "there will be a numberof other powers floating about, China and India, for example, there-emergence of Russia," he added. Particularly important will bethe People's Republic of China, which said Fitzgibbon, "will bethe strongest Asian military power, by a considerable margin."Although the U.S. isn't going away anytime soon, its relativedomination will shrink and its willingness to make war for itsallies will diminish. Different circumstances require differentpolicies. Explained Fitzgibbon: "We need to be able to defend ourcountry without necessarily relying on the assistance of othernation states."

That means a military build-up. Prime Minister Kevin Ruddobserved: "It's as plain as day that there is a significantmilitary and naval build-up across the Asia-Pacific region." Henoted that "Either you can simply choose to ignore that fact, orto incorporate that into a realistic component of Australia'sstrategic assumptions about what this region will look like overthe next two decades." In May the Rudd government issued a140-page white paper, "Defending Australia in the Asia PacificCentury: Force 2030."

The report announced: "The government has decided thatAustralia's defense policy should continue to be founded on theprinciple of self-reliance in the direct defense of Australia andin relation to our unique strategic interests, but with acapacity to do more when required, consistent with thosestrategic interests that we might share with others, and withinthe limits of our resources." To influence security in theAsia-Pacific, the Rudd government has proposed upping real,inflation-adjusted military spending by three percent annuallythrough 2018 and then 2.2 percent through 2030.

That's a $72 billion increase in military outlays, a meaningfulinvestment for a nation of about 20 million. Canberra plans todouble the number of submarines, replacing existing models withmore sophisticated vessels capable of firing cruise missiles.Also on Australia's procurement list are "hunter-killer"submarines, Aegis-class destroyers, frigates, sealift ships, andhelicopter-carrying amphibious vessels.

Canberra would enhance its aerial capabilities by adding roughly100 F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters, 46 Tiger Helicopters,new transport planes, and advanced surveillance aircraft.Finally, Australia plans to expand its armor and artillery forcesand increase the total number of military personnel. ExplainedPrime Minister Rudd: "Force 2030 will mean the best fighter jets,the most versatile armored vehicles and the most sophisticatedsubmarines available to defend Australia's national security."Canberra wants to be capable of dealing with a worst casescenario, including by projecting power beyond its own waters ifnecessary.

It's a significant effort and is being criticized by theconservative opposition. Obviously, even with this new defenseprogram Australia alone cannot contain a more aggressive PRC, ifBeijing's rise eventually proves to be less than peaceful.Nevertheless, China's future domination is not guaranteed: China remains a poor country with substantial social and ethnicdivisions. Moreover, Canberra's planned expansion demonstrates aneffective strategy for other Asian nations: create a potentmilitary which would exact a high price for any aggression by anynation.

In fact, the PRC's reaction to Australia's plans demonstratesthat Chinese officials are concerned. For instance, Rear Adm.Yang Yi called Australia's plans "crazy," "dangerous," and"stupid," and said Canberra risked "stimulating an arms race inthe region." Other PRC officials anonymously complained ofAustralia's "Cold War mentality." Imagine how Beijing would reactto substantially more defense spending by South Korea, Japan, andother states.

Canberra is well ahead of the allied pack, but a similar realismseems to be slowly creeping into the policies of both South Koreaand Japan. Prime Minister Rudd and South Korean President LeeMyung-bak met in March. The two leaders denied that their jointsecurity statement was directed against Japan, but President Leeopined that "we have the issue of China building their militaryspending."

The Republic of Korea spends nearly $30 billion a year ondefense. The ROK long has faced a serious security threat fromNorth Korea, but the South has more than twice the population andbetween 30 and 40 times the GDP of the North. With Pyongyang busytesting nuclear weapons and shooting off missiles, Seoul finallyappears ready to do more.

The Lee government recently issued the latest update to theNational Defense Reform 2020 plan. More money will be spent withthe goal of "stemming and eliminating to the maximum degree"threats from the North, including attacking Pyongyang's "bases asquickly as possible to prevent launches no matter where theyare." Seoul hopes to increase its anti-missile capabilities,along with adding or improving satellites, artillery, earlywarning aircraft and drones, and intelligence-gathering assets.This is a good start, though much more could and should be done.

Equally important is Japan. The U.S. imposed Article Nine on thedefeated nation after the end of World War II, but soon came toregret the forced disarmament. So did Tokyo, which created amodest "Self-Defense Force," though for decades this cleverlynamed military was not deployed outside of the Japanese islands.

Now, however, with both China growing and North Koreathreatening, Japan appears to be slowly if irregularly adopting amore realistic perspective. Tokyo sank a North Korean spy ship in2001 and is considering attempting to shoot down any North Koreanmissiles that threaten Japanese territory. Japan also hasprovided unarmed assistance to the UN peacekeeping mission inCambodia and U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two yearsago Japan raised the Japanese Defense Agency to cabinet status.

Tokyo still spends far less than it could, but its capabilitiesare likely to grow as the international threat environmentbecomes more unsettled. In May Japanese Foreign Minister HirofumiNakasoni visited Australia and called China's military build-upan "issue of some concern." Japanese officials have begundebating the unthinkable: creating the capability to preemptivelytake out North Korean missiles and even developing nuclearweapons. "Calls for the debate are escalating," explainedTakehiko Yamamoto, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University. Thegrowing number of Japanese advocates of a larger military splitbetween those who would amend Article Nine or simply interpretthe pacifist provision away. "We won't sit and wait for death,"said Gen Nakatani, a former civilian defense chief now headingthe Liberal Democratic Party panel on security policy, in May.

Other East and South Asian nations too, are arming. TheInternational Institute of Strategic Studies notes "substantialevidence of continuing efforts by several Southeast Asian statesto modernize their armed forces." For instance, Bangladesh,Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnamall are constructing submarines. A plethora of better-armedsmaller states may be unnerving to some, but will furtherconstrain the dominant regional powers. Such a build-up also putsa premium on America's democratic friends doing more, since theycan ill afford to rely on Washington to protect them fromeveryone else.

Indeed, the most important incentive for Australia to strengthenits forces is recognition that America is likely to do less.Canberra's White Paper lauds the continuing U.S.-Australianalliance, but delicately warns of changes to come: "the UnitedStates might find itself preoccupied and stretched in some partsof the world such that its ability to shift attention and projectpower into other regions, when it needs to, isconstrained."  In fact, Americans concerned about paying forMedicare, Social Security, and accumulated debts aren't likely towant to keep spending as much as the rest of the world combinedto protect wealthy friends, like Australia. And as Beijingdevelops its own potent military with the ability deter U.S.involvement, Washington will be far less likely to risk war tomicro-manage local and regional disputes in East Asia.

The U.S. should make the same point to Japan and South Korea, aswell as other friendly states, such as the Philippines,Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. It is time for them to take overtheir own defense responsibilities, instead of sitting idly byassuming that Washington will come to the rescue in any crisis.

The U.S. cannot forever be the world's 911 number. While most ofAmerica's allies hope the good times of U.S. subsidies go onforever, Australia is more realistic. Recognizing that Washingtonis not likely to forever patrol the globe, the Rudd government ispreparing Australia to be militarily self-sufficient. The rest ofAmerica's military dependents should do likewise.