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Ashley Townshend and Brendan Thomas-Noone with Matilda Steward

The United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

August 2019


America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain.  Over the next decade, the US defence budget is unlikely to meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy owing to a combination of political, fiscal and internal pressures. America has an atrophying force that is not sufficiently ready, equipped or postured for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific — a challenge it is working hard to address.  A strategy of collective defence is fast becoming necessary as a way of offsetting shortfalls in America’s regional military power and holding the line against rising Chinese strength.

Australia should be deeply concerned about the state of America’s armed forces and strategic predicament in the Indo-Pacific. In order to realise shared defence objectives in the face of these challenges, Canberra would be wise to increase security cooperation with Washington and other like-minded partners to advance a strategy of collective regional defence. Such a strategy would see capable middle powers — like Australia and Japan — aggregate defence capabilities to offset shortfalls in America’s regional military power and hold the line against Chinese adventurism. This kind of collective action is not without risks and must be conducted prudently, including by remaining ever vigilant about America’s capacity and willingness to underwrite a regional balancing coalition. But as Australia’s freedom of action and ability to evade military coercion ultimately depend on the preservation of a stable strategic order, contributing to collective
deterrence in the Indo-Pacific is the best way for Canberra to assist in averting a deeper crisis.