COVID-19 Delta variant
With tension rising in the Pacific, Australia is preparing to fight alongside the US and on its own
Benjamin Brimelow
June 20, 2021ยท6 min read
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Australia has announced major investments in its own military capabilities, especially new weapons.
Countries in the region bolster their militaries amid heightened tensions between the US and China.
Australia is looking for "a combination of integration with the US and greater self-reliance," one expert told Insider.
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As China's growing military stokes concerns in the Indo-Pacific region, US allies are stepping up their own military modernization efforts.
China's immediate neighbors, particularly Japan and Taiwan, get most of the attention when it comes to military modernization, but Australia, which has no territorial disputes with Beijing, is also investing heavily in its own armed forces.
Last month, the Australian government announced an economic spending plan that included some $212 billion in defense spending over the next decade.
The spending covers updating bases and acquiring new weapons, including long-range missiles - all meant to increase Australia's deterrence and combat capabilities and enable it to continue operating smoothly with US forces.
The new plans come amid a sharp decline in Sino-Australian relations, driven by China's military modernization, its activities in the South China Sea and Australia's Pacific island neighbors, and Beijing's efforts to influence and coerce Australia through political, diplomatic, and economic pressure.
Australia's 2020 defense strategic update reflected not only those changes but the pace at which they have happened, according to Arthur Sinodinos, Australia's ambassador to the US.
"Things were going in the direction we expected. They just happened more quickly than we thought. So it was important to review our strategic defense outlook and work out what to do," Sinodinos said in response to a question from Insider at an event in February.
Denial and punishment
An Australian airman prepares munitions for Australian air force F-35s during an exercise in Florida, October 10, 2020. Royal Australian Air Force
Australia has already been investing heavily in its military, spending 2.1% of its GDP on defense in 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
That makes it the fifth-largest defense spender in Asia. Amid that modernization effort is an ongoing debate about what weapons will have the best deterrent effect - a relatively new consideration.
"The overall assumptions that guided US and Australian thinking about contingencies in the Pacific were that we would have dominance in a maritime domain, and then it would be a question of where we applied power," Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider.
China's growing missile arsenal and navy, both of which can cover longer distances, can threaten US allies in the region and the US bases they host.
"The harsh reality is dominance is going to be very hard to sustain in the face of this major Chinese buildup," Green said.
As a result, the debate has focused on two means of deterrence: by denial, which entails the ability to destroy Chinese ships, subs, and planes; and by punishment, which requires the ability to strike China directly.
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