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The other day, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Ruud said his country would no longer be able to rely on the United States for its protection because the U.S. had begun to fade. Coupled with the rise of China, Australia is worried about a “sudden deterioration” in its security.
The findings were part of a 20-year defence blueprint, a white paper titled Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030.
So I dug around, found the paper, and thought it would be interesting to take a look at how others see the United States, as well as China. Following are but a few excerpts from an extensive study.
*Note: I’m using the spelling of ‘defence’ as is proper in the rest of the English speaking world.
The Global Strategic Environment
Since World War II, Australia’s strategic outlook and defence planning have been shaped most fundamentally by the global distribution of power, and in particular the strategic primacy of the United States. The United States has played a stabilizing role across the world and especially so in the Asia-Pacific region. This has not, of course, meant that Australia has been able to avoid attending to its own basic defence needs, something successive Australian governments have recognized since the 1970s.
Australia’s strategic outlook over the coming decades will continue to be shaped by the changing global distribution of economic, political and military power, and by the future role and weight of the United States. We are not likely to see the emergence of an alternative political and economic system to rival the network of liberal, market-based democracies that emerged after World War II, as the communist system attempted to do last century during the Cold War. Globalization will ensure that economic interdependence links states and regions together more closely.
Further complicating this picture, the convergence of trends such as global demographic change and population movements, environmental and resource pressures (whether caused by climate change or other dynamics), global public health risks and even transnational crime will increase the risk of conflict over resources, political instability in fragile states and potentially destabilizing mass migration flows. Intra-state conflict, such as civil war and conflict involving non-state actors, is likely to be the most common form of conflict over the period considered by this White Paper.
Regional conflicts, such as in the Middle East and Africa, will likely continue to be a risk in the international system. Clashes between and within states in these regions are likely to arise for diverse reasons, such as the breakdown of fragile states; disputes over territory; access to resources, water and energy; population movements, environmental crises or food shortages; conflict between ethnic or religious communities; or efforts to promote ideological or nationalist goals.
Changing climate patterns, combined with booming population growth, will sharpen competition for scarce food, water and energy resources in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, and are likely to exacerbate existing population and infrastructure problems in developing countries in those regions, straining their capacity to adapt and cope. Large-scale strategic consequences of climate change are, however, not likely to be felt before 2030.
The Global Economic Crisis
Fragile and vulnerable nations, particularly in our region, maintain few significant reserves with which to buttress their economies from the crisis. Such nations may struggle to meet the demands of their citizens, and may be easier targets for foreign influence in ways that might be unfavorable to long-term strategic stability.
The global economic crisis also presents the potential for extremists in Southeast and South Asia, and elsewhere, to seek to capitalize on resentment fuelled by economic woes as governments struggle with diminished revenues and are forced to cut budgets, including in critical areas such as health programs, food and fuel subsidies, or even counter-terrorism activities.
The global economic crisis is likely to accelerate some established trends such as the shift of economic weight to the Asia-Pacific region. Differences in timing and strength of recovery between regions and states could alter some economic trajectories, while continued budgetary pressure will have consequent impacts on power relativities. In the Asia-Pacific region, the likely effect of the crisis on military modernization will be to delay planned capability acquisitions and improvements and curtail exercising and operational budgets. In Northeast Asia, China is likely to be able to continue to afford its foreshadowed core military modernization. Over the long term, this could affect the strategic reach and global postures of the major powers. There are many potential strategic scenarios that could emerge. Any future that might see a potential contraction of U.S. strategic presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with a requirement for allies and friends to do more in their own regions, would adversely affect Australian interests, regional stability and global security. Even so, the United States has large interests in remaining strategically engaged in the Asia-Pacific region.
The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 – politically, economically and militarily. Its strategic primacy will assist in the maintenance of a stable global strategic environment. China, India, Russia, Japan and the European Union will exercise global influence in differing degrees and acquire varying levels of military strength to promote their interests.
While the United States will maintain the capability to project force globally from its own territory, it will likely continue to judge that its forward deployed forces, including in the Western Pacific and the Middle East, provide reassurance to allies and partners, as well as providing operational flexibility in crises.
Balancing the capabilities required for unconventional operations such as counter-insurgency and stabilization, while retaining strong high-technology conventional forces, will be a major challenge for U.S. defence planners, and the Untied States will continue to seek further deepening of its strategic relationships with capable potential coalition partners, such as Australia. Within the timeframe of this White Paper, the United States will continue to rely on its nuclear deterrence capability to underpin U.S. strategic power, deter attack or coercion by other nuclear powers, and sustain allied confidence in U.S. security commitments by way of extended deterrence.
Will the United States continue to play over the very long term the strategic role that it has undertaken since the end of World War II? It remains the case that no other power will have the military, economic or strategic capacity to challenge U.S. global primacy over the period covered by this White Paper. But the United States might find itself preoccupied and stretched in some parts of the world such that its ability to shift attention and project power into other regions, when it needs to, is constrained. This is likely to cause the United States to seek active assistance from regional allies and partners, including Australia, in crises, or more generally in the maintenance of stable regional security arrangements.
The Strategic Implications of the Rise of China
Barring major setbacks, China by 2030 will become a major driver of economic activity both in the region and globally, and will have strategic influence beyond East Asia. By some measures, China has the potential to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy around 2020. However, economic strength is also a function of trade, aid and financial flows, and by those market-exchange based measures, the U.S. economy is likely to remain paramount.
The crucial relationship in the region, but also globally, will be that between the United States and China. The management of the relationship between Washington and Beijing will be of paramount importance for strategic stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan will remain a source of potential strategic miscalculation, and all parties will need to work hard to ensure that developments in relation to Taiwan over the years ahead are peaceful ones. The Government reaffirms Australia’s longstanding ‘One China’ policy.
China has a significant opportunity in the decades ahead to take its place as a leading stakeholder in the development and stability of the global economic and political system. In coming years, China will develop an even deeper stake in the global economic system, and other major powers will have deep stakes in China’s economic success. China’s political leadership is likely to continue to appreciate the need for it to make a strong contribution to strengthening the regional security environment and the global rules-based order.
China will also be the strongest Asian military power, by a considerable margin. Its military modernization will be increasingly characterized by the development of power projection capabilities. A major power of China’s stature can be expected to develop a globally significant military capability befitting its size. But the pace, scope and structure of China’s military modernization have the potential to give its neighbors cause for concern if not carefully explained, and if China does not reach out to others to build confidence regarding its military plans.
China has begun to do this in recent years, but needs to do more. If it does not, there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term strategic purpose of its force development plans, particularly as the modernization appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan.