Down Under Defense
Nov 15, 2011 -
President Obama is going down under – visiting Australia this week to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Australia alliance.
The Australians have stood by us in every conflict since WWI. After 9/11, Canberra invoked the treaty to come to our defense. U.S. and Australian forces have worked with Southeast Asian countries to smack terrorist cells in the region. Intelligence ties are strong. While some allies contribute "support troops" to U.S. missions, the Aussies bring real firepower. "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi."
The headline from Obama’s visit will be an agreement to give American troops and ships "permanent and constant" access to an Australian base in Darwin, in the north. The access isn’t all that new, but the pace will be. "More ships in, ships out; more planes in, planes out; more troops in, troops out," is one Australian official's take. More combined exercises between U.S. Marines and Australian forces are on the way.
About two-thirds of Marines are in the Pacific, with big concentrations in Guam and Okinawa, Japan. This spreads the U.S. presence --now concentrated in Northeast Asia-- down south, closer to the critical South China Sea. Some see this as recognition of the increased vulnerability of U.S. forces in Guam and Japan to new Chinese missiles. "Australia's 'tyranny of distance' is now a distinct strategic advantage," says one Aussie strategist.
Strengthening this alliance makes a lot of sense. Some will wonder why it hasn’t happened until now. Our presence helps ensure the free flow of energy resources and U.S. goods to Asian customers.
But balance in all things. Basing agreements are often used by the host as a crutch. Australia’s percentage of GDP going to defense is a little less than 2 percent – putting them in the same camp as some NATO laggards. Australians have done some real fighting, for sure, but we need to insist that our partners pay their own freight, too.