Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Australia warns of Asia-Pacific arms race; increases military expenditure

Australia's new-found assertiveness on the international arena continued with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s latest announcement to expand our military, particularly naval, capabilities in preparation for a possible Asia-Pacific arms race.

The move follows a series of measures by Rudd to restructure Australia's foreign policy since sweeping to power last year.

But the decision to expand Australia's armed forces doesn't come as a surprise when considering that much growth and attention this century is set to be focused on our Asian neighbours.

Asian growth, Asian insecurity

Economic growth in China, India and the South-East Asian region has been accompanied by greater military expenditure in the region.

China and India are already nuclear powers, and as their economies continue to grow, so do their military budgets. China's military spending has concerned the West for years, but there is no secret behind Beijing's impatient desire to modernise its military.

But China isn't the only concern.

More so, it's the unsettled border and resource disputes across the region that fell silent following World War II. An economic boom in the region has generated a newly discovered confidence in Asian capitals, rekindling old disputes into potential conflict flashpoints.

China-Taiwan, China-Japan, Kashmir, Korea, Indonesia-Malaysia, and China-Vietnam are all potential problem cases that could rock the region.

All are flashpoints Australia is keen to avoid.

China - US competition

Many have predicted that China will succeed the US as the global superpower. If not the world's dominant power, a power to contend with the Americans nonetheless.

In the midst of the battle for supremacy is Australia. An Anglo-Saxon nation on the fringes of Asia, reaping billions of dollars worth of benefits from China's economy, yet holding onto old, cultural and security ties with the US and the West.

China's rise has long been problematic for Australian policy makers. The dilemma of juggling relations between Beijing and Washington hasn't been easy. Rudd is attempting to position Australia as a potential mediator, an in-between should competition for dominance in Asia lead to a tense standoff.

It is also important to remember that the last time an Asian power confronted the West, Australia was almost invaded. Australia's security blanket during World War II, Great Britain, lost Asia and left its large colony wide open. Japan came, but luckily for Canberra, was thwarted by the inclusion of the United States into the war.

Canberra does not want to be caught stranded again.

The fear is that once the American conflicts in the Middle East soothe, attention and focus will turn to the flashpoints in Asia as China ascends to global supremacy.

Should conflict ever explode in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia would not want its security solely reliant on whether or not the Americans can win on the battlefield.

Australia needs its own military deterrent and a prowess to empower its diplomatic stand in the region. Whilst it values and will retain its US alliance, Australia – under Labor anyway - does not want to be seen as the cowboy's lackey.

Canberra has its own interests that don't always mirror that of the Americans, particularly when it concerns Asia.

After all, we live in this region.

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