Kokoda Annual Dinner
‘The impact of the US “pivot” towards the Indo-Pacific region’
Good evening distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Kokoda Foundation. It is with great pleasure that I am here at the Kokoda Annual Dinner this evening, representing the Prime Minister.
Kokoda leads the way as the Australian organisation that fosters informed, open and frank dialogue on security matters and works collaboratively with Defence and the ADF to develop innovative policy responses to those challenges.
In her message to Kokoda, the Prime Minister acknowledges that the success ofAustralia’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific region depends on people like you, connecting and exchanging ideas around the region through think-tanks, business, academia, study and travel.
Tonight, I have been asked to talk about the impact of the US “Pivot” towards the Indo-Pacific region.
WORDS ARE BULLETS
Now much has been said about the term “Pivot”, its meaning in a defence and strategic environment, and its use, and then abandonment in the rhetoric of Governments, officials, commentators and analysts.
Words are powerful tools, they shape and influence debate. Sometimes in ways not expected.
Complex and sensitive matters – especially in the fields of defence and diplomacy – are often described in a way that attempts to summarise. However, this approach can be risky, and miscommunication can lead to unintended consequences.
As we have seen recently, much of the discussion on security matters is devoted to the rise of China, the so-called pivot of the US, and balancing the “east”.
The language used during the Cold War was not too dissimilar. With catch phrases like great power rivalry, ping pong diplomacy and the domino theory evoking the imagery of a strategic game between two opponents driven by irreconcilable ideologies, where there could be only one winner.
At face value this sort of language frames the contemporary security discussion, suggesting the overwhelmingly influence of a bi-polar rivalry. This risks Australia failing to properly recognise the dynamic and complex nature of security policy in the Asia-Pacific, which is of course affected by the powerful forces of development, society, trade and economics.
More importantly, such language fails to recognise the inter-connected and multi-polar international order of the 21st Century. This international order in whichAustralia must find its future will require new, creative and innovative approaches and solutions. And the wrong language can serve to mislead not just officials and academics but entire populations.
We should learn from the wars of rhetoric which have marked both our past and recent history – and we should not get dragged down into distracting skirmishes.
So it is our task to understand what the US “pivot” is, and what it isn’t.
And as Australia carefully considers the opportunities and challenges of the Asia-Pacific Century, we must remain focused on the question “What is Australia’s interest?”
THE US PIVOT
Over a year ago, on 10 November 2011, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton gave an address onAmerica’s Pacific Century prior to the APEC Leaders Meeting in Hawaii. It was a speech of particular importance and nuance – and I would like to quote the Secretary of State at some length to anchor this discussion.
The Secretary of State said that:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that in the 21st Century, the worlds strategic and economic center [sic.] of gravity will be the Asia Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas. And one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decades will be to lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic and otherwise – in the region. Across the United States Government, under President Obama’s leadership, our diplomats, military leaders and trade and development experts are hard at work reinforcing our relationships in the region to set us on a course for broad and lasting progress. Events elsewhere in the world have also lined up in a way that helps makes this possible. The war in Iraq is winding down. We have begun a transition in Afghanistan. After a decade in which we have invested immense resources in these two theatres, we have reached a pivot point. We can redirect some of those investments to opportunities and obligations elsewhere. And Asia stands out as a region where opportunities abound.”
First, it is interesting to note that the words which were seized upon by the press, commentators and officials were not phrases like “substantially increased investment” and “reinforcing our relationships in the region” – phrases which demonstrate that the US intends to build on its longstanding presence in the region. Yet it is these phrases which actually give meaning to the so-called pivot. Context is important.
And the context here – the momentous change and growth in the Asia-Pacific – is extremely important.
By 2025 it is predicted that the Asia-Pacific will produce 60% of the world’s GDP growth and be home to the majority of the world’s middle class. Economic growth is occurring on the back of increasing productivity, technological improvements, and inter-regional trade.
Regional and global dynamics are driving change in our security order. The security environment is shifting in response to the region’s economic growth, the change in the strategic power of nations, and the modernisation of existing military forces, not just inChina, but also others such as Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and others.
In considering the US Pivot, let us not lose sight of the continuity and the outstanding success of US policy in the Asia-Pacific. Since WWII, and certainly since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, theUShas been the guarantor for stability and free trade. The US has long been a Pacific power, and no one should imagine that this ever ceased. TheUShas not just “re-discovered” the Asia-Pacific. As we consider the “US Pivot”, we should remember the strong continuities in US policy, which have been in place since 1975, which include:
- A strong military presence throughout the region, incl. Korea, Japan, and the Philippines;
- Strong and multi-faceted bi-lateral relationships with the nations of the region;
- A commitment to free trade, peaceful and secure sea lines of communication, and strong frameworks to facilitate commerce and investment; and
- A commitment to supporting human rights and the continuing proliferation of democracies and democratic discourse (outstanding successes since 1945 include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan).
It can very much be said that the Rise of China – the lifting of 300 million people out of poverty – is the ultimate tribute to generations of US policy makers.
Recognising these important US policy continuities, it is nonetheless apparent that the US Pivot is significant.
THE US PIVOT AND REGIONAL SECURITY
The United States has signalled that it comprehends the opportunities and challenges of the Asia-Pacific Century, and that US posture and presence in the region will grow just as the region grows.
This US resolve is welcome. Welcome to Australia, and as recent months have made plain, welcomed by most of the nations of the Asia-Pacific.
The simple, uncomfortable fact is that the most potentially destructive unresolved territorial disputes are to be found in the Asia-Pacific, including:
- Korean peninsula;
- Straits of Taiwan;
- South China Sea;
- East China Sea; and
- The Continuing threat of terrorism ( i.e. Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand).
For Australia – a ‘creative middle power’ with a predilection for strong international law and norms, a rules based international order – the danger of any one of these threats to global peace and security are incalculable. Consequently, the continuing US presence – as set out in the recently completed US Global Posture Review – and its contribution to stability is welcomed.
And for many others – Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, PNG – the calculation has been the same, and these nations have also embraced the US Pivot.
Australia’s oft repeated comment is that the most important military relation is not that betweenAustralia and the US, or Australia with China, but rather that which exists between the US and China.
THE RISE OF CHINA
In considering the Rise of China, and Australia’s alliance with the US, one wit recently described our policy as “walking a road that we hope has no fork in it”.
Commentators remain obsessed with the notion that US primacy is under sustained challenge by China, and that the states of the Asia-Pacific must choose which power to support in a bi-polar Indo-Pacific world.
This is simply flawed analysis and over-hyped rhetoric.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr recently said “The US is one budget deal away from banishing talk of US decline.” He’s right. GDP and military spending are but a part of a bigger picture, but in simple factual terms the US still outspends China 6 to 1 on military expenditure. The US spent 4.77% of its GDP on defence last year. It is 43% of the global military spend. Interestingly, the US is expected to become the largest global oil producer by around 2020, overtaking Saudi Arabiain the mid-2020’s. In addition, the resilience of US power is mightily buttressed by its education, research, and innovation systems, its institutions, entrepreneurial culture, and its championing of international norms, free trade, human rights, and democracy.
Those commentators who are selling a tale of great power rivalry pushing the Asia-Pacific into a new “Cold War” have been spectacularly wrong before. In the 1997 White Paper – “Australia’s Strategic Policy”,Indonesiawas declared to be strengthened by President Suharto’s cohesion and prosperity, and India and Pakistan were assessed as not having a major impact on the East Asian security environment. Soon after these assessments were made, India and Pakistan became nuclear nations, at war in Kashmir, and President Suharto’s three decade long Presidency collapsed and the Indonesian political system and economy entered into a period of crisis.
The point is – no one gets its right all the time – so we have to be careful about what we say. Commentators, public servants, politicians, diplomats, and military officials all have a responsibility to provide accurate facts and the proper context so that balanced and appropriate policy can be developed which supports the security of our nation and our region. Meaningful dialogue supported by positive action does more to educate the populace on issues that matter than scare mongering based on half truths or biased viewpoints.
Let me be clear, I believe that painting the United States-China relationship as one of inevitable great power rivalry – some kind of cold war part two – does both nations a disservice.
The truth is infinitely more complex. A bi-polar world disappeared in the years 1989-1991.The mirage of a uni-polar world disappeared in the sands of Iraq a decade ago.
In a world where population is once again a principal driver of GDP, given the success of free trade, investment and technology transfer – we in fact find that the Asia-Pacific is a distinctly multi-polar environment, where multilateral architecture such as ASEAN and APEC have never been more important.
THE PIVOT IS A SIGNAL OF INTEGRATION, RATHER THAN DIVISION
Australia is not caught in some kind of Catch 22 with the US and China. To succumb to this view is to devalue our relationship with both nations, and, further, it mocksAustralia’s ability as a sovereign nation to perceive its own interests and pursue them.
This Government is clear about its strategic and security interests. As a creative middle power, we have a clear interest in the international system being robust and rules based. Containment and appeasement are not words or concepts Australia uses when developing our foreign or strategic policy approaches. Australia values the relationships we share with our friends and allies alike.
As a nation, we are optimistic about the ability of the United States and China to together manage strategic change in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is clear that both Beijing and Washington want to develop constructive relations – both their Governments have consistently said so, the intensity, structure and sophistication of their engagement, often underestimated, has shown it.
Importantly, the very thing that has rendered the Indo-Pacific region the centre of global gravity – economic growth and development – depends largely on regional cooperation. In a carefully calibrated report issued this October – the International Monetary Fund’s Regional Economic Outlook for the Asia Pacific, assessed that the sustained high rates of growth over the medium term cannot be taken for granted, and that to sustain growth the region must become more inclusive. The IMF concluded that this can only be achieved by a diverse policy agenda and collective action – “particularly the maintaining and sustaining of strong regional trade integration”.
This is a pivotal point – it implies necessary collaboration, co-ordination and an understanding that we are interconnected as never before. We are all dependent on each other. It is a view understood and acknowledged by all nations in the region, including India, China and the United States.
The US Secretary of State said in her pre APEC speech, when she called the 21st Century America’s Pacific century –
“a period of unprecedented outreach and partnership in this dynamic, complex and consequential region” to create “a more dynamic and durable transpacific system, a more mature security and economic architecture that will promote security, prosperity and universal values, resolve differences among nations , foster trust and accountability, and encourage effective cooperation on the scale that today’s challenges demand”.
THE PIVOT AND US FORCE POSTURE
The impact of this outreach will be felt most keenly through increasedUSengagement in our region. This engagement will be seen in expanding trade and investment, deepening diplomatic relationships and people-to-people links, and a broad based military presence as demonstrated by US Force posture.
Force posture is essentially shaping and influencing the environment in which we have an interest. It’s true that force posture is the ability of one nation to project military power to deter or defeat – but force posture also serves to strengthen diplomacy, demonstrate commitment in the region, establish cooperative military ties between nations, respond to environmental and humanitarian disasters and dissuade resort to force. These goals support cooperation on regional security issues in accordance with shared values and continuing economic growth.
The United States seeks to address these issues and engage with a broader range of security partners to build “collective capacity and capability for securing common interests”. To do this, the US Navy will re-posture its forces from today’s roughly 50/50 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, and a majority of US cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships and submarines. The US Marines will establish a rotational presence of up to 2,500 personnel rotating into Northern Australia in the dry season. There is also an intention to support increased rotations of US aircraft through northernAustraliaand we will look at opportunities for greater access by the US navy to our Indian Ocean port HMAS Stirling. All these issues have been canvassed at AUSMIN this week.
ForAustralia, this means that our Australian Defence Force (ADF) has greater opportunities for combined training and exercises, to further develop our interoperability with US forces and develop our ship to shore capability, as the Landing Helicopter Docks come online. This training andAustralia’s acquisition of the LHDs gives the ADF a commanding presence in our primary operating environment (POE). And this is important – because the ability to shape and influence outcomes in our POE strengthens Australia’s security.
Now, some commentators have said that Australia’s support of increased US engagement in our region has everything to do with burden sharing and even burden bludging. The argument goes – that Australia is not spending enough on Defence to ensure its security and is bludging off the US, whether that be reliance on the nuclear umbrella or allowing the US greater access to Australian bases.
Well, “burden sharing” and security is not just about military spending or access to bases. Because security is so intrinsically liked to social cohesion, economic development and good governance, preventing problems before they occur is strategy at its best and good global citizenry. That is why the security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood – the South Pacific and East Timor– remain a core Australian defence priority.
It is in our immediate neighbourhood thatAustraliacontinues to act as a responsible global citizen. For example, the ADF will continue to enjoy strong relationships with the military forces of New Zealand, PNG, Tonga and the French Forces in New Caledonia. Interoperability and people to people links are strong and they will endure.
The bi-lateral co-operation which started in 1987, with Australia gifting 22 patrol boats to 12 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) as the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, will continue. The Pacific Maritime Security Program will see Australia’s commitment to maritime domain awareness and the peace and security of the ‘global commons’ in the South Pacific remain a priority. The PMSP will be a whole-of-government regional response to intensifying threats posed by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing and trans-national crime. It will promote Pacific integration through better co-ordinated surveillance, legal frameworks and cooperation to protect national, regional and global resources.
And it’s important to note, that in our immediate region, Australia has provided over $926.8 million in overseas developmental assistance to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific in financial year 2011/12. In FY12/13 we will spend $1.17 billion on aid in the Pacific. These numbers will continue to grow.
By comparison, the US provides approximately $330 million in aid to the Pacific annually.
Australia understands its regional task, and it is stepping up to the plate.
Clarity on complex matters is often found in the most unlikely of circumstances. At the Formal Dinner for delegates to the 20th American Australian Leadership Dialogue in Washington in July this year, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, presented a wonderfully light hearted round up of the major issues of 2012.
By taking the mickey – or as Australians would say, another P word – out of the overuse and over-focus on the term “Pivot”, Kurt reminded us that we shouldn’t “get hung up” or “spun into a frenzy” by mere words alone. Context is everything.
The US refocus on the Asia-Pacific sits in a well understood context.
Australia, for its part, is committed to words and actions which support the emergence of an even stronger regional community, one with shared strategic and security interests. And that is why Australia will continue to work with its ally the United States, and China, India, Indonesia and our many other regional friends and partners to strengthen regional stability, prosperity, security and peace.