Australian Review of Military Force Posture Dovetails with Obama's Scheme for Confrontation with China
February 15, 2012 • 10:08AM

Australia's defense planners have released an interim report of Australia's force posture review, which makes clear that Australia's Labor government views the primary function of the Australian armed forces as a supplement to President Obama's plan to confront China militarily, and that the government is prepared to spend billions of dollars to ensure that adequate facilities are at the disposal of US ships, aircraft, and troops. The final report of the force posture review, the first of its kind since the 1980s, will be issued in March 2012.

Also, in service to the Obama Administration's gunboat-diplomacy orientation to Asia, Singapore is providing two more docks for U.S. military purposes, up from the two already in service for the U.S. now.

President Obama, while on a two-day visit to Australia last November, announced that the United States intends to shore up alliances in Asia, and said there would be 2,500 U.S. Marines deployed to Australia. Addressing the Parliament, he said he had made a deliberate and strategic decision, that as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future. The president said the moves were not intended to isolate China, but they were an unmistakable sign that the United States had grown warier of China's intentions.

The new force posture review says that the Australian military must shift a large proportion of its hardware and personnel to the sparsely-populated north of the continent. It advocates the upgrading of ports and air bases in the north, and northwest of the country in order to service large ships and aircraft. It also urges substantial upgrading of the airfield on the remote Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

The primary reason the report cites for a military realignment is not, in fact, defending the north, but what it describes several times, as the competitive multi-polar order in the Asian region—in other words, the strategic rivalry and growing tensions between the US and China. Steps must be taken, the review asserts, to enhance the ability of the Australian armed forces to participate in the expanding operations of the US military in the Indian Ocean and South East Asia.

The attractiveness of northern Australia to the US military is its proximity to the critical sea lanes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Sea trade between Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, including the critical oil and gas imports that sustain the Chinese and other major Asian economies, must pass through one of these passages. The most important is the Straits of Malacca between the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Close to 80 percent of Asia-Pacific trade travels via this route. Very large ships, however, must use the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java, or the 250-metre deep Lombok Strait, between Bali and Lombok, just 1,700 kilometres from Darwin. The Australian-held Cocos Islands and Christmas Island are even closer to these key straits.

Obama's strategy is designed to ensure it retains overwhelming military dominance by threatening China. The "pivot to Asia" announced by the Obama administration last year means positioning forces throughout the region, which can permanently threaten Beijing with a naval blockade of the sea lanes and the strangling of its economy.