More U.S. forces Down Under

Australian and American officials are reportedly set to sign agreements that would give more U.S. access to Australian bases.

Australia and the United States have been close allies forever, and they’re about to get closer, according to press reports: Secretary Panetta and Secretary of State Clinton are set to meet with their Australian counterparts soon to sign agreements that will give American units more access to Australian military bases, including ports and logistics facilities. They’ll also mean Australian and U.S. commanders will work even closer than they do now, with “‘full knowledge and concurrence’ with full access to intelligence and maintenance facilities,” as The Australian newspaper put it.

Defence editor Brendan Nicholson makes it sound as though the Aussies have already been read in about the key role they’ll play in the Pentagon’s Mother of All Reviews, which, as you’ve read before here on Buzz, probably will call for protecting or even adding to the American presence in the Western Pacific as it thins and withdraws forces elsewhere. Or as Nicholson wrote:

The increased US access to facilities in Australia is expected to be a significant feature of the Obama administration’s ongoing global force posture review examining where US forces would be best placed to deal with future threats and uncertainties, including the increasing military power of China.

Mr Smith has ordered a similar review to work out where in Australia the nation’s own forces should be based. Australian and US officials are liaising closely on both reviews to ensure they are complementary. As US planners looking for ways to move forces around the world more effectively broke the globe down into regions, Australian officials worked closely with them on the Asia-Pacific.

US forces will not establish new bases on Australian soil, but they will be welcomed into existing facilities with the less politically risky formula of being given unfettered access to “places, not bases.”

American and Australian officials are betting that it’s wise to work out these agreements now, during a time of relative calm, rather than having to wrangle with the details in the event any unpleasantness happens out in the Western Pacific. The more safe harbors American forces have across the Pacific, the better fixed they’ll be.

Or to put it another way: If you bring up DoD’s official report on China’s military capabilities and turn to page 31, you’ll see the ranges of China’s various “anti-access” missiles — the ones Chinese commanders might use to keep enemy warships away to create space and time to operate. The various layers easily encompass South Korea, Japan and even Guam, but not Australia. For now.


Photo: Marine Corps //  A U.S. Marine trained with Australian soldiers during the Talisman Sabre exercise in July.