US expands military presence in Australia
20. November 2011. | 07:09
Source: Voice of Russia
The main result of US President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Australia is an agreement between Washington and Canberra on expanding the US military presence in that country.
The main result of US President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Australia is an agreement between Washington and Canberra on expanding the US military presence in that country. During a joint press-conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday, Obama explained that, according to this agreement, up to 250 US Marines will be deployed at an Australian base in Darwin, in the north of the country.
Julia Gillard said that the deployment of US Marines in Darwin would begin in 2012 and their number would eventually reach 2,500. The bipartite agreement also stipulates an increase in the number of US aircraft at Australian bases, first of all US Air Force strategic bombers. In addition to that, Obama and Gillard agreed to increase the number of joint military exercises. Experts believe that the deployment of a US base in Australia is the largest joint military step made by Washington and Canberra since the Second World War.
You may recall that Obama’s current visit to Australia comes at the time of the 60th anniversary of ANZUS, a military alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the US. Its original aim was to expand the US military presence in the region. Obama has twice called off his visit to Australia: in March 2010 to stay in Washington to lobby for passage of his healthcare bill and in June 2010 to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Apparently, the US president should be pleased with the results of his trip to Australia. The military agreement with Canberra considerably strengthens Washington’s positions in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) which the US considers to be a zone of its strategic influence because US merchant ships carrying about $1.2bn worth of goods annually pass through this region.
Many observers look upon the conclusion of the US-Australian military agreement as a direct response to China’s growing influence in the region and an attempt to neutralize its influence and make sure that Beijing’s “soft power” remains just that and does not spill over into military assertiveness. Apart from that, this step of Washington and Canberra can mean that Barack Obama is keen to pivot the US foreign policy away from the wider Middle East towards the Asia-Pacific Region. Barack Obama stressed this in his speech at the Australian parliament on Thursday. Addressing Australian MPs, Obama directly declared that “the United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay”.
Evidently, Washington strategists rely on Australia as an assistant in promoting the US influence in the APR because Australia plays an important role in the region. The more so, because relations between Canberra and Beijing are neither friendly nor hostile, they are rather contradictory. China is Australia’s major trade partner but its growing military power is seen as a threat in Canberra, at least a future threat. This is first and foremost caused by China’s claims to some islands in the South China Sea.
It is worth mentioning that official Beijing immediately responded to the signing of a military agreement between Washington and Canberra by declaring that the deployment of US forces in Australia is inappropriate and should be discussed with the world community. Now that China has considerably enhanced its economic and military power, the US cannot completely ignore Beijing’s opinion. Washington closely watches China’s development and its activities on the international arena. During his stay in Australia, Barack Obama made a reverent gesture towards China. In particular, when speaking in parliament he said that the US welcomed the strengthening position of peaceful and prosperous China and intended to spare no effort in expanding opportunities for cooperation with China.
However, the US president’s official rhetoric is one thing and Washington’s practical steps is another. The signing of the agreement between the US and Australia on enlarging the contingence of US servicemen in the north of the “green continent” is an obvious fact of Washington’s expansion in the APR.