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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Releases > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Remarks > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Remarks (2006)

Australia and America 2006: Two Different Countries Separated by a Common Ocean and Strategy

John Hillen, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs
Remarks at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australia National University
Canberra, Australia
February 2, 2006

Many thanks for allowing me to address you today and especially to get your thoughts and insights on the strategic challenges facing our two countries. I very much appreciate the invitation to address this distinguished group and the opportunity to contemplate the changing nature of our alliance and the strategic environment our two nations face.

I hope you will find at the end that this will not be the customary U.S. defense talk where one restates our policies and inserts Australia in the allied bits and SE Asia in the regional bits of the boilerplate. I would like to structure this talk in not quite the usual way for a visiting American official. First, for the bulk of the talk I’d like to give you my interpretation of the recent evolution of Australian strategy – so you can hear from an outsider a fresh appraisal. More conventionally, I’d then like to tell you a bit about some of the moves we are making in the U.S. to recalibrate our strategy and realign our resources as one must in the middle of a number of different persistent and yet ever-changing strategic challenges. Last, I’ll offer a few ways we may wish to consider enhancing or changing Australian-American defense and intelligence cooperation to deal with global and regional issues.

My Impressions of Australian Strategy

When I studied the ADOD’s 2005 Defense Update, I was struck by a number of things. In the first place, it reaffirms the Howard government’s commitment to an expeditionary strategy and an expeditionary force structure. It very concisely connects the tools of Australian policy and strategy to the aims, ambitions, and one might even say obligations that the Prime Minister feels Australia must take on to better protect its own interests and security. In speaking of the update, he said:

"It does recognise the need for a country such as Australia to examine the lift options that are available to it – given the distance that we are from so many potential areas of activity. It does recognise the special responsibilities that we have in the Pacific area. It also recognises that as well as having a partnership role within our own region, we do have, by dint of the values we share in common with many nations around the world, we do have responsibilities on occasions beyond our own immediate region."

Moreover, the 2005 Defense Update explicitly acknowledges several dynamics that underpin the Prime Minister’s belief that the defense of the realm cannot be predicated on the physical defense of its shores but must move well beyond that. First, that the three chief strategic threats to Australia today are terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and nation state instability in the region. These threats have their roots outside of Australia and they grow beyond your shores but you have learned through tragic experience, as have we, that your citizens and your country itself are ultimately threatened. Few responsible voices argue today that, as a fundamental tenet of its strategic policy, Australia should not be proactively managing its defense against these threats by deploying military and intelligence assets well outside of the country. There are certainly vibrant differences of opinion about the tactics, locales, and modalities of these deployments but it seems to this observer that the root premise of an active defense, so to speak, is the bedrock of Australian strategy.

In addition to the nature of the threat environment and how it is best addressed, a second related dynamic underscores the expeditionary nature of Australian strategy alluded to by the Prime Minister. This dynamic, referred to variously as globalization, transnationalism, flatness, de-Westphalianization, or other even more cumbersome terms, pulls like-minded states together to fight global threats from which no country is unaffected. The transnational nature of today’s threats is a phenomenon in and of itself but the same factors behind it also highlight the interconnectedness of our economic, political, trade, and energy systems. Countries that are plugged into those systems cannot afford for them to be disrupted even from afar and thus responsible stakeholders in the international community have an obligation to commit resources to a global fight against terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or instability and poor governance that could threaten regional stability and the global systems on which the security and prosperity for billions depends. I thought Peter Cosgrove described this well in 2004 when he noted,

"Our environment is now characterised by a complicated web of interconnected threats and vulnerabilities, including traditional state-on-state tensions. Also including amorphous groups of rogue states, terrorist organisations and trans-national criminals. We see a world where WMD materials and the technological know-how to make them are increasingly available. We see countries whose weak government institutions allow for the emergence of lawless regions and weak borders which may be exploited by those who threaten us. And we have a global 24/7 environment of information, comment, and ideas available to both friend and foe."

It thus strikes me that clearly in this setting it is a false choice for Australia to have to choose between defending at home and being, in concert with its allies and partners, a proactive manager of the international security environment abroad. As Australian strategist Alan Dupont has written,

"We need to recognise that because conflicts and threats originate far from our shores they should not be regarded as peripheral to our interests or requiring no capacity for intervention by the ADF. Equating proximity with importance in today’s global village is a strategic misjudgement of breathtaking proportions. Advocates of the proposition that our defence forces should be structured primarily for homeland defence, or regional conflicts, fail to understand that we must be capable of fighting well beyond our immediate neighbourhood, as well as at home and regionally. These are not either/or propositions. Those who argue that an expeditionary capability is unnecessary and detrimental to our regional capabilities have got this completely wrong. Geographical determinism is no substitute for sensible strategy."

Just so. In particular, I found very encouraging the framework recently laid out by Air Chief Marshal Houston that the Australian Defense Forces must be able to: 

  • provide joint forces to contribute to, or lead coalition operations in the South West Pacific and Southeast Asia; 
  • contribute to coalitions further afield where Australia’s interests are at stake; 
  • support UN activities and long-standing alliance commitments; 
  • play a role in crisis responses as part of a coalition package in support of our international agreements such as the five power defence arrangements; and 
  • be prepared to routinely work together with other Government departments to provide options to Government to protect Australian interests.

This is a truly global outlook – solidly rooted in Australian security and interests – but cognizant of the nature of today’s threat environment and putting Australia in a position, unlike some others in the region, to be a net contributor to global security rather than simply a net beneficiary. So many countries in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere benefit from the public good of security and it is countries like Australia, boxing above its weight as a regional and global power, that end up pulling the load for those who want the benefits without the sacrifices.

Let me make another observation on Australian strategy in regard to Asia in general and China in particular. For the past few years, an argument has been periodically floated in some political and strategic circles here that engagement with Asia and China in particular is a bit of a zero sum calculus when measured against engagement with the United States. Like the argument about focusing your security on the defense of Australian real estate versus having an expeditionary mindset, I think most observers view this is a false choice. Regionalism vs. globalism or Asian engagement vs. U.S. engagement mischaracterizes Australia’s policy options and badly misunderstands the nature of U.S. strategy with China and Asia, a subject on which I shall expand later.

I have seen no evidence over the past few years that the reinvigoration of the Australian-American relationship and alliance has hampered Australia’s stated ambitions of increasing security cooperation, trade, economic interdependency, and relationships with all Asian powers – including China. Given that America has essentially the same set of goals with Asia and China and a very significant economic and strategic investment in those goals, it is hard to imagine any scenario – including a Taiwan crisis – that would cause either Australia or the U.S. to see its options vis-à-vis each other in zero sum terms. In fact, some have reasonably postulated that the personal leadership and energy Prime Minister Howard has applied to the American relationship have bought him political capital for Australian moves in the region. It is certainly conceivable that Australia can strengthen ties regionally, with China, and with the U.S. all at the same time.

All in all, I can pronounce the U.S. very pleased with the two major elements of Australia’s defense policy as articulated in the 2005 update: to 1) shape and build Australia’s armed forces to ensure effectiveness, a range of capabilities, and interoperability with other allies and friends; 2) build strong security relationships regionally and globally. From our perspective this is certainly the expeditionary and coalition-based framework that helps us to find like-minded and capable partners for addressing today’s global security problems.

Recent Developments in U.S. Strategy

As you might know, the White House is currently working on an update to America’s National Security Strategy. But, fundamentally, the goals of the 2002 strategy have not changed. The U.S. still declares, as its goals, the need to champion aspirations for human dignity; strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism; work with others to defuse regional conflicts; prevent enemies from threatening the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction; ignite a new era of global economic growth; build the infrastructure of democracy; and transform America’s national security institutions.

I am sure that during the discussion period there will be a chance to assess how we are doing on the six external goals but let me give you an update on our own efforts to change a set of foreign policy institutions that were created for a world that no longer exists. The Pentagon, of course, has been pursuing a transformation of its forces from mindsets and formations rooted in industrial mass and firepower to organizations and tactics that take advantage of precision, lethality, range, stealth, and digital communications. Simultaneously, as the Quadrennial Defense Review being released this week highlights, it must transform it recruitment, training, education, organization, and assignment systems to produce a force that is culturally attuned to the complex demands of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Some view these movements as being in contravention to each other but I do not and would be happy to talk about that during discussion. On top of those efforts, we are dramatically repositioning our forces and their operating posture to address today’s and tomorrow’s conflicts rather than yesterday’s priorities. Doing all this while fighting in three conflicts is a challenging enterprise.

Some of you may have noticed last week that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a series of changes that will help transform our diplomatic instruments and better align those resources with the missions being undertaken by our armed forces and with the international security environment we face today.

Transformational Diplomacy

  • reposition staff, assets, program energies 
  • forward deploy diplomats to meet transnational challenges 
  • reach beyond traditional diplomatic structures 
  • work jointly with other agencies at intersection of diplomacy, econ reconstruction, military. S/CRS and POLADs 
  • geopolitical impact to match GDPR

On China, let me say that I participated in the AUSMIN talks in Adelaide in November and noted there in particular a remarkable congruence about U.S. and Australian attitudes towards China. The United States very much appreciates the role that Australia plays in dealing with China and in particular in helping support China’s responsible integration into the international community. China’s integration into the global community is of interest to all and the U.S. will continue to look to Australia and other Asian partners to reinforce the message of responsibility and transparency to China.

America has a complex relationship with China but it is wrong to portray it as inevitably adversarial. U.S. prosperity depends in large measure on China and Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick laid out the strategic complexity of accommodating China’s rise to power when he said,

"We now need to encourage China to become a responsible stakeholder in the international system. As a responsible stakeholder, China would be more than just a member – it would work with us to sustain the international system that has enabled its success. Cooperation as stakeholders will not mean the absence of differences – we will have disputes that we need to manage. But that management can take place within a larger framework where the parties recognize a shared interest in sustaining political, economic, and security systems that provide common benefits."

Zoellick also recognized, however, that China could not divorce responsible economic behavior from responsible political and security actions. He went on to note,

"China’s rapid military modernization and increases in capabilities raise questions about the purposes of this buildup and China’s lack of transparency. The recent report by the U.S. Department of Defense on China’s military posture was not confrontational, although China’s reaction to it was. The U.S. report described facts, including what we know about China’s military, and discussed alternative scenarios. If China wants to lessen anxieties, it should openly explain its defense spending, intentions, doctrine, and military exercises."

The U.S. wants China to succeed – but in a responsible way.

Another bit of U.S. policy in the greater region worth updating you on the high-level initiative we have undertaken of building a strategic relationship with India. While I know regional geostrategists might dismiss the entirety of the move as a simple promotion of a counterbalance to Chinese power, this misses a number of important points. First, the U.S. is engaging India for its own sake. A billion- person democracy that is a technological and increasingly economic powerhouse does not necessarily need to be judged in any context but its own. In fact, one of the great achievements of Secretary Rice and President Bush has been to de-hyphenate American policy in South Asia and carve out the freedom of action to deal with India and Pakistan on their own terms. In any case, the U.S. is firmly bent on improving political, economic, energy, and military ties with India – an initiative being personally led by the President.

Let me turn now to the Australian-American relationship and our alliance and I’ll mention a few other regional issues in that context. Our partnership has more, not less, important in the post cold war world. Confronting the threats I spoke of earlier is a global task and one in which like-minded countries must rely heavily on each other to defeat the threats, build the capabilities of partners, and shape the choices of countries at a strategic crossroads. In Asia and especially SE Asia, Australia has the unique ability, position, and experience to do all these things in ways that the U.S. cannot. With this region at the center of the great global questions over energy, the struggle for the heart of Islam, governance, political stability, and terrorism, Australia’s willingness to be a regional leader is vital to meet today’s security threats.

In Southeast Asia, Australia has a tradition of engagement and a long-standing record of trust and friendship with nations in the region, allowing Australia a freedom of action and an interlocutor role with Southeast Asia. As the U.S. looks to improve its relations with states such as Indonesia and Vietnam, we look to Australia’s engagement as an example and seek Australia’s input on the way forward. We also look to continuing cooperation with Australia on counterterrorism and promotion of initiatives such as PSI to promote overall security in the region. As the U.S.-Australia partnership continues to evolve, it is critical for the U.S. to understand Australian thinking and work towards promoting Australia’s strategic goals in the region.

Because of the extraordinary work the ADF has done in Afghanistan and Iraq, fewer American strategists think of Australia as solely a regional ally – instead it is viewed as global partner. Australia is increasingly willing to be a part of global missions, is a strong international economic player, and has a progressively more substantial role as a regional leader. Pound for pound, the ADF are as good as any military out there – our problem is just that there are too few of you.

You know better than I that the building of an ADF that is versatile, robust, joint and integrated, as well as interoperable with the U.S. will require significant political and economic commitment. I am not certain that spending only two percent of GDP will get you to the stated ambitions of the Defense update and may in fact leave you well short as you modernize the force and increase your capacity for power projection. For our part we’ll attempt to help by improving the processes and mechanisms for defense cooperation, technology transfers and intelligence sharing. We know though, that Australia’s ability to be a meaningful contributor to global operations and meet today’s security challenges will rest upon the government’s willingness to grow, modernize, and maintain force capabilities.

Let me bring this to a close by mentioning some other areas in which we can increase Australian-American security cooperation. The first is in regional counter-terrorism. Australia’s recognition of the terrorist threat unfortunately comes from sad experience. As more countries in the region work to develop CT capacity, Australia’s access and capabilities are key to combating the terrorist threat. Despite improvement in national CT programs, security cooperation among SE Asian nations remains insufficient to address regional terrorism. We can make considerable strides in this area by focusing assistance on regional CT gaps and trouble spots. In particular I know that Australia recognizes the significant security challenges posed by the Strait of Malacca and the seas around the southern Philippines and more should be done to coordinate our efforts there. Recognizing that the worlds of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgencies are often one on the ground, my counter-terrorism counterpart at State, Ambassador Hank Crumpton, and I are working closely together in designing security assistance programs for this region. I’d also like to note that the U.S. and Australia are piloting a Regional Movement Alert List system, endorsed by APEC ministers, which will strengthen the ability of participating countries to monitor the movement of people across borders. In September 2005, U.S. held the first U.S.-Australia-Japan CT Trilateral discussions in Washington – a very good start for a grouping that holds so much other promise for trilateral security cooperation.

The U.S.’s QDR, which I will deliver official to the Australian Government tomorrow, notes the importance of addressing the world’s ungoverned or poorly governed spaces that ultimately can become safe havens for terrorism. Here, and in the related worlds of hard-edged peacekeeping and semi-hot counterinsurgency operations, the U.S. has much to learn from Australia. Australia’s involvement in the Solomon Islands, East Timor and PNG has taught your armed forces and police much about the dynamics of these sorts of challenges. We should explore new programs of cooperation to learn from one another and be fully interoperable in these spaces as well as in near failed states in crisis.

One such vehicle is the G-8 program called the Global Peace Operations Initiative. The extension of the U.S. Global Peace Operations Initiative into the Asia-Pacific presents a number of opportunities for partnership in helping build the capacity of regional countries in this area. President Bush approved the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), a five-year program, on April 1, 2004. GPOI was developed to address major gaps in international peacekeeping support operations (PSO): 1) the number of capable peacekeepers and the ability of countries to sustain that capacity, 2) deployment and logistics support, and 3) the number of gendarme units able to participate in PSOs. GPOI’s goals were put forth as a G-8 Sea Island Summit initiative in June 2004, where G-8 Leaders agreed to an action plan on "Expanding Global Capability for Peacekeeping Support Operations." This plan includes commitments to: 1) train and, where appropriate, equip 75,000 military PSO troops worldwide, with an emphasis on Africa, through 2010; 2) develop a transportation and logistics support arrangement to help troops deploy to PSOs and help sustain them in the field; 3) support the Italian initiative to establish an international training center to train gendarme units to participate in PSOs.

Australia is already a leader in the region in this type of activity and together we can have a much greater impact not only on peacekeeping capacity building in the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia but in Africa and other global regions. Right now our governments are considering cooperation on police training (a capability in which the U.S. lags) in the Asia-Pacific region, development of operational peacekeeping capacity, provision of mobile training teams to Oceania countries, and participation in GPOI exercises (including the first such exercise in Mongolia in August 2006).

Finally let me mention again the newly inaugurated Trilateral Strategic Dialogue is opening the door to trilateral cooperation with Japan; as this dialogue matures, our joint efforts to encourage Japan’s engagement and integration in the region will be critical to its success. Australia has sought ways to engage with Japan, building on cooperation in Iraq. Trilateral cooperation has good potential; bringing Japan in on humanitarian missions, disaster relief and peacekeeping. GPOI is another excellent opportunity to begin trilateral engagement; given Japanese domestic political considerations, peacekeeping and humanitarian response are good options to begin engagement. We are increasingly of the mind in the U.S. that Japan needs to continue to build global peace operations capabilities more commensurate with its economic powerhouse status but also mindful of its unique political-military circumstances.


The U.S. National Security Strategy notes that old distinctions between domestic and foreign affairs are diminishing. In a globalized world, events beyond America’s borders have a greater impact inside them. To my mind Australian strategy explicitly recognizes that the "Defense of Australia" strategy and related thoughts it represents is an outdated policy based on a Cold War international strategic environment that no longer exists. Australian strategic and economic interests are now global and threats to those interests cannot be confronted by a defense force designed to stay home and protect the Australian continent from foreign invasion.

We could not be more pleased to have a partner in Australia who is both a regional security leader, but a global military partner and a sage counselor on Asian affairs. We firmly support an Australian defense policy and a defense transformation plan that keeps Australia in a proactive mindset and expeditionary posture for addressing tomorrow’s threat environment.

The Australian-American strategic relationship, like all relationships, has had its ups and downs but is blessed that it has been certainly more ups than downs. Moreover, it has withstood both crises and the test of time. Our cooperation today in both your region and in global security operations give the alliance a new lease on life and there is no reason why that interoperability on the ground and political symmetry in our capitals cannot continue beyond the current administrations in Canberra and Washington. The alliance will endure if we ourselves at the policy level can replicate the extraordinary cultural bond and trust that our forces have achieved working together on the ground under fire. And, the same principles apply. Shared burdens, shared risks, shared sacrifices, active listening, and trust. Not always easy work in the hurly burly of international politics but if achieved, something that can only make the world a safer place for our populations and many, many others.

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