12 July 2022
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Good afternoon everyone. It’s a pleasure to be among friends here at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an institution that has done so much to support clear-eyed national security decision making in a complex world.
CSIS has also been a professional home over the years for card carrying members of the US-Australia Alliance. Chief among them of course John Hamre, not only leader of this great institution but a long-time friend and adviser to Australia over the years, and Charles Edel, CSIS’ Australia Chair, whose work has so perceptively chronicled alliance developments over the last decade. And of course my good friend Anthony Pratt, who is a huge supporter of the Alliance and whose visionary endowment of the Australia Chair at CSIS will work to shine a light in Washington on how our two nations work together. Thank you all for being here and for your kind introductions.
It’s my privilege to join you today on my first visit to the United States as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence in the newly elected Australian Government.
In 1941, when Australian Prime Minister John Curtin looked out across a Pacific Ocean in which war “breath[ed] its bloody steam”, the United States wrote itself into Australian history with indelible ink.
80 years ago, Americans fought with their Australian allies in the “green hell” of the New Guinea jungle and swampland. In the beachhead battles of Gona and Buna, in hand-to-hand combat, 967 Australians and 687 Americans lost their lives, with thousands wounded. But their victory saw the threat to the Australian mainland finally recede.
It was in this crucible of war that the origins of the US-Australia Alliance were formed. But since the ANZUS Treaty was signed in 1951, the Alliance has far surpassed its origins. It is now a unique and thriving project: driven not only by our nations’ geopolitical interests, but also by our profound commitment to democracy, open economies, free and just societies. Today there is no more important partner to Australia than the United States. The US-Australian alliance has become a cornerstone of Australia’s foreign and security policy.
The sustained success of this great project, fostered by governments on both sides of politics over decades, speaks to something I’ve always felt realists have never quite understood: that the treaty that codifies our Alliance is less a piece of paper than it is a network of people. Politicians, policy officers, intelligence officials, and soldiers. Professionals who grow up working together, serve in each other’s institutions, deploy to combat zones, and come to each other’s aid. Professionals whose commitment to each other depend less on a treaty’s text than on a set of shared convictions.
Today I want to acknowledge that network of people, many of whom are in the audience with us now. And I want to speak about the future of our shared project: how we ensure the alliance between our countries is ready for a tougher strategic environment.
All of us here today understand the challenges we face: a military build-up occurring at a rate unseen since World War II; the development and deployment of new weapons that challenge our military capability edge; expanding cyber and grey zone capabilities which blur the line between peace and conflict; and the intensification of major power competition in ways that both concentrate and transcend geographic confines.
These trends compel an even greater Australian focus on the Indo-Pacific. For the first time in decades we are thinking hard about the security of our strategic geography, the viability of our trade and supply routes, and above all the preservation of an inclusive regional order founded on rules agreed by all, not the coercive capabilities of a few. In particular we worry about the use of force or coercion to advance territorial claims, as is occurring in the South China Sea, and its implications for the any number of places in the Indo-Pacific where borders or sovereignty are disputed.
But Australia knows its security and prosperity can’t be achieved via a geographic focus alone. Geography can’t deliver resilient supply chains or stop cyber attacks. It won’t halt de-globalisation and the worrying reversals of trade and investment liberalisation. And it can’t arrest the dangerous erosion of the global rules based order. For all its imperfections – and the cynicism that often greets this phrase – this order was put in place after the world’s greatest calamity precisely so states would have a mechanism to resolve disputes via dialogue rather than conflict. That’s something that benefits us all, big states and small, and we accept its weakening at our own peril.
The global nature of security explains why Australia is standing with Europe at this crucial time. Russia’s war against Ukraine is not just a brutal attempt to subjugate a sovereign state. It’s a calculated application of violence, intended to roll back the post-Soviet order from one founded on sovereignty and self-determination to one governed by the rule of might and force. Where only great powers are truly sovereign and where the choice of smaller states is to be either a vassal or an enemy. This can’t be allowed to succeed. Only by ensuring such tactics fail can we deter their future employment, in Europe, the Indo-Pacific, or elsewhere. It’s why Prime Minister Albanese visited Kiev earlier this month, not only to honour the extraordinary valour of the Ukrainian people, but to nail our flag to a European and global order of sovereign states and free peoples. In this I want to commend the leadership of President Biden. Once again, the United States is proving the pivotal power.
It is worth considering where Europe would be today without the deterrent inherent in NATO’s collective security. And yet the return of multipolarity has brought with it the argument that alliances are out of date. Some say that alliances are Cold War relics unsuited to contemporary statecraft; that they lead to irrational decision making, where smaller states ignore their own interests in deference to the interests of the larger partner. To be honest, that sounds less like the alliances we know and more like the regional order of a great power seeking to shape the world around it: where harmony depends on acceptance of a regional hierarchy; where access to favourable trade and investment depends on voluntary limits to political sovereignty.
In such circumstances, critics of alliances need to answer why countries like Australia would be better served going it alone. Why doing so would not in fact constrain national sovereignty rather than enhance it. In reality, the Alliance with the United States affords Australia capability, technology, and intelligence advantages we could not acquire or develop on our own. I want to acknowledge the comments of my counterpart, Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has underlined that it’s not just the fact of our alliances that gives us an advantage; it’s our ability to operationalise them in ways that transcend sovereign boundaries that’s truly unique. In a more contested world, those countries that are able to pool their resources and combine their strengths will not only have a competitive advantage, they will be less vulnerable to coercive statecraft.
Notwithstanding our strong foundations, we can’t afford to stand still. Because in the years ahead, the US-Australia alliance will not only have to operate in a much more challenging strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific; it will need to contribute to a more effective balance of military power aimed at avoiding a catastrophic failure of deterrence. Events in Europe underline the risk we face when one country’s determined military build-up convinced its leader that the potential benefit of conflict was worth the risk.
I want to underline, first and foremost, that Australia will do its share. This Government is resolved that Australia will take greater responsibility for its own security. We will make the investment necessary to increase the range and lethality of the Australian Defence Force so that it is able to hold potential adversary forces and infrastructure at risk further from Australia. This will include capabilities such as longer-range strike weapons, cyber capabilities and area denial systems tailored to a broader range of threats, including preventing coercive or grey-zone activities from escalating into conventional conflict. We will invest in the logistics, sustainment and depth required for high-intensity war fighting, including guided munitions. This will in turn require deeper engagement with industry to accelerate capability development and strengthen our supply chains.
The Albanese Government has committed to ensuring funding certainty for this pathway. And I have commissioned a Force Posture Review for delivery early next year, which will determine how best to structure ADF assets and personnel for this goal, as well as how we best integrate and operate with the United States and our other key partners.
Throughout I will be applying a rigorous focus on improving alliance cooperation. My first priority will be our trilateral partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom under AUKUS. For a three ocean nation, the heart of deterrence is undersea capability. AUKUS will not only make Australia safer, it will make Australia a more potent and capable partner. That the United States and the United Kingdom have agreed to work with Australia to meet our needs is not only a game changer, it illustrates why alliances help reinforce, not undermine, our country’s national sovereignty. I want to recognise both the Biden Administration – one of the key actors is here today – and the strong support in Congress for helping bring this agreement to life.
In determining the optimal pathway forward, the Australian Government is acutely aware of the obligations of nuclear stewardship. We are focussed on the whole enterprise: safely stewarding sensitive technology, building the workforce and industrial capacity to support the capability, and ensuring this initiative sets the strongest possible non-proliferation standards.
Of course, AUKUS is more than just a capability program for nuclear powered submarines. We have made good progress on AUKUS Advanced Capabilities and I intend to keep that momentum going.
In addition to AUKUS, we need to continue the ambitious trajectory of our force posture cooperation, drawing on Australia’s strategic geography and our industrial base to maximise deterrence and reduce the risk of conflict. Since President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard first announced the rotational US presence in Northern Australia in 2011, the scale of our cooperation has increased significantly across the air, maritime, land and logistics domains. We now engage in increasingly sophisticated exercises, bilaterally and with regional partners, including Exercise Talisman Sabre. And we are making big investments in defence capital infrastructure to support, maintain and sustain the growing number of Australian and American forces. We will operationalise a regular presence and an increased exercise routine. We will move beyond interoperability to interchangeability. And we will ensure we have all the enablers in place to operate seamlessly together, at speed.
Another key objective will be improving our ability to integrate our technology and industrial bases in ways that make a difference. Australia’s inclusion in the US National Technology and Industrial Base was a vital first step. But implementing it will require change. During my engagements this week, I will be proposing specific measures that both sides could adopt to streamline processes and overcome barriers to procurement, investment, information and data sharing systems and export requirements. In recommending these steps, we all recognise that integration cannot come at the expense of robust security which protects sensitive information and technology.
Our ultimate goal is to supplement and strengthen US industry and supply chains, not compete with them. A good example is Australia’s Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise. This project will not only build Australia’s guided weapons stores, it will establish a trusted second source of critical munitions supply to the United States. But doing this efficiently and quickly will require the Alliance to work across both government and industry. In tandem with other initiatives and other partners – such as our Loyal Wingman Program, hypersonics cooperation, and through AUKUS – we have the ability to build a technological coalition that can maintain our competitive edge.
Of course, an Alliance between two countries – no matter how resolute – has limits. Collaboration with other partners will need to be central to our efforts. We want to expand exercises and operational deployments in the region, drawing on the success of exercises like TALISMAN SABRE, RIMPAC and MALABAR. We will look to trilateralise cooperation with Japan following the signing of the Australia-Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement, through joint training and testing in Australia. And we will look for more Defence cooperation with other key regional partners like India, the ROK, and our South East Asian neighbours. We already have a strong base from which to build, but the Australian Government is committed to further strengthening these relationships, and for finding where we can do so jointly with our US Ally.
In order to develop effective, genuine, partnerships, we need to be attuned to the concerns of the Indo-Pacific region. The Biden Administration has recognised this. As Secretary of State Blinken said recently:
“At every step, we’re consulting with our partners, listening to them, taking their concerns to heart, building solutions that address their unique challenges and priorities.”
One of the biggest concerns we hear is the threat of climate change. It’s a threat from which no one and no country is immune. And it is a threat that demands action. The Albanese Government wants to make climate change a pillar of the Alliance. Because it is clear climate change is a national security issue. When you stand on the shores of our Pacific neighbours, as I have, you understand the intense vulnerability felt by those living on small islands. The Pacific Islands Forum, of which Australia is a member, has been consistent in declaring climate change as the single greatest threat to livelihoods in our neighbourhood – it is an existential threat. The Forum has also been consistent in calling for the countries of the Pacific – including Australia – to work together in response. Under Prime Minister Albanese, Australia will lift its weight.
I spoke earlier about the connections and relationships between Americans and Australians that make the Alliance enduring. It is my personal experience that this affinity also characterises Australia and the Pacific. Australia is of the Pacific and part of the Pacific family. It is the part of the world where we must be the most engaged, ever present, and responsive.
The Pacific defines Australia as a global citizen.
The Pacific is where Australia must invest in effective regionalism by reinforcing the Pacific Islands Forum and other regional institutions that are so key to regional resilience and agency. We must do this not only because of our unique connections to the Pacific but because Pacific security so directly impacts on our own security.
Given this reality, the Pacific is the part of the world where the United States rightly looks to Australia to lead. And we will.
We will not take our status for granted. Pacific Island Countries have choices about their partners. And we will work to earn their trust. The Pacific has been clear in saying that geopolitical competition is of lesser concern to them than the threat of rising sea levels, economic insecurity, and transnational crime. Australia respects and understands this position. And we are listening. And while we will not ask our partners to pick a side, I am confident that an Australia which collaborates and invests in shared priorities with the Pacific is an Australia which will be the natural partner of choice for the Pacific.
The United States also has a lot to offer. You share the region’s interests in the rules based order, freedom of navigation and the law of the sea; in climate change, biodiversity and oceans. And you maintain a commitment to working with the region, to building consensus, to patient engagement. This characterises the spirit and intent of the Partners of the Blue Pacific, an initiative that will deliver real benefits to the people of the Pacific.
Australia will also ensure our relationships in Southeast Asia are underpinned by respect and genuine partnership. We will reinforce a regional order with ASEAN at the centre. And we will prioritise cooperation in areas of shared interest - like combatting climate change, building health security and advancing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
Friends, in front of my office in the headquarters of the Australian Department of Defence in Canberra there is the Australian-American Memorial: a stone column, topped with an eagle and sphere. It reflects the gratitude of our nation for the service and sacrifice of United States forces in Australia during World War II, and symbolises, at its core, the profound friendship between Australia and the United States.
The Albanese Government will ensure that Australia plays its part in the success of the Alliance in the years ahead which matches the legacy left to us by the custodians of the Alliance in the past.
We will make the Alliance even stronger, as we all work together for a more secure, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and a safer world.
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