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Ensuring regional stability

Srinivas MazumdaruAugust 13, 2014

The recent defense deal between the US and Australia as part of Washington's "pivot" to Asia sends the message that both nations are committed in their efforts to tackle regional security challenges, say experts.

Symbolbild US Truppen in Australien
Image: Barbour/Pool/Getty Images

Describing the United States as a "Pacific power", Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Washington's commitment to the region by inking a defense deal with Australia on August 12. Kerry and Hagel were attending the AUSMIN consultations, an annual meeting of defense and foreign ministers from the US and Australia, in Sydney.

A host of issues figured in the talks between the two US Secretaries and their Australian counterparts Julie Bishop and David Johnston, ranging from the security situation in the Middle East, Ukraine crisis, terrorism and Afghanistan, among others.

However, the highlight of the gathering was the conclusion of a 25-year pact, which foresees a surge in the number of US troops that would rotate through a joint military training hub in the northern Australian city of Darwin from some 1,200 currently to around 2,500 by 2017. Furthermore, it will expand cooperation between the two nations on ballistic missile defense systems.

Stating that the deal emphasized Washington's policy of strategic "pivot" towards Asia, Hagel said it will "expand our regional cooperation here in the Asia-Pacific from engagement with [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] to the trilateral cooperation that we have been working on with Japan."

Symbolbild US Truppen in Australien
The deal foresees a surge in the number of US troops based in Australia to around 2,500 by 2017Image: Hitchcock/Getty Images

However, increased US' engagement in Asia does not mean a retreat from any other part of the world, the Defense Secretary said.

"We have interests all over the world. We'll continue to work with our partners and strengthen those partnerships and the alliances we have in every part of the world and here as well," Hagel stressed.

Ensuring stability

Analysts say the "Force Posture Agreement" sends a message to the region that the US and Australia are aligned toward the goal of guaranteeing stability and regional security.

Australia is a partner and co-investor for the United States and other allies and strategic partners in a vision for regional security that is "underpinned by balance and the ability to encourage all countries to make and play by the same set of international rules," says Ernest Bower, the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, says in a DW interview.

Janine Davidson, senior fellow for defense policy at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, explains that with this deal, the two nations can host multilateral military exercises that enhance their ability to respond to crises and threats of all sorts – from terrorism to disaster relief or piracy.

It also comes amid ongoing tensions in the region on account of territorial disputes between China and countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and Japan, among others. At a recent ASEAN regional forum meeting, an initiative put forward by the United States aimed at maintaining the status quo in the region and preventing unilateral actions was flatly rejected by Beijing.

Moreover, China's official Xinhua news agency recently criticized US' role in the region in a commentary published by saying that Washington's backing is emboldening countries like Vietnam and the Philippines to take a "hardline stance" against China.

"It is a painful reality that Uncle Sam has left too many places in chaos after it stepped in, as people are witnessing now in Iraq, Syria and Libya […] the South China Sea should not be the next one," the commentary read.

'Not aimed at China'

However, stressing that the defense agreement was not aimed at Beijing, both Canberra and Washington said that they welcome China's rise. Although the US presence in the region is "aimed at stability, security, prosperity and enhancing global norms like freedom of navigation and the rule of law, China thinks everything is directed against them," defense expert Davidson told DW.

Despite China's strong negative reaction to Obama administration's proactive engagement in East and Southeast Asia, Political analyst Bower says, Beijing understands the importance of strong US presence in the region as it contributed to peace, stability and growing prosperity in the region after World War II.

John Kerry und Julie Bishop
Analysts say the "Force Posture Agreement" sends a message to the region that the US and Australia are aligned toward the goal of ensuring regional stabilityImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Furthermore, China is Australia's biggest trading partner and Canberra wants Beijing to feel secure, powerful and prosperous, the expert said, adding that both Canberra and Washington have gone to great pains to explain that the new force posture is not directed at China, but instead as an investment in regional security.

But Australia also wants "enough geopolitical ballast in the region to encourage China to become a benevolent regional and global power, and not test the sovereignty of neighbors on its path to that place," Bower said.