The QUAD Summit and US expectations of the Australian military
Written by: (Contributed) on 19 March 2021
The recent Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) summit in March was given widespread media coverage. A subsequent high-level diplomatic visit to Asia a few days later, however, was given extremely limited publicity despite its importance for US-led regional alliances.
The developments take place amid an escalation of diplomatic tensions where observers openly discuss war preparations, within a context of a changing balance of forces away from US-led traditional hegemonic positions.
The recent Quad summit with the leaders of US, Australia, Japan and India, took place with huge publicity. Stated agenda items included regional security issues, the South China Seas and related maritime matters, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic considerations related to climate change; it was noted the 'soft agenda … for the … Quad alliance has been extended beyond a security partnership'. (1)
Elsewhere, carefully-worded media releases have taken considerable time to emphasise the Quad is not a security alliance 'but an informal strategic forum of like-minded countries with shared interests'. (2) Other media releases noted 'the Quad is not an Asian NATO'. (3)
The ninety-minute virtual Quad summit began with a video showing how the four countries had co-ordinated a response to the 2004 tsunami; time was possibly too pressing to talk openly about other matters. Defence Ministers from the four countries were also not invited to participate in the summit, although it was noted, nevertheless, the Quad 'has a military significance'. (4)
Following the seemingly befuddled summit an official media release from Canberra noted the Quad amounted to 'the most important development for Australia's security in the past 70 years', with reference to the forthcoming ANZUS celebrations in September which have included an invitation to President Biden. (5)
US demands ramp up
Within days, however, another high-level US-led diplomatic initiative began; it would appear to have been far more important than a ninety-minute on-line Quad-chat between Joe Biden, Scott Morrison, Yoshihide Suga and Narendra Modi.
It began when Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to the region to brief allies on US military planning. A major concern has been a Pentagon military assessment that China could seek to invade Taiwan within the next six years. (6) The assessment has also included the concern that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would 'supplant the US as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific'. (7)
While the Quad has the specific purpose of 'hemming China in from all sides', the Indo-Pacific strategy is centred upon the US-Japan alliance which has also included Australia as a southern hub for 'US interests'. (8) The regional allies regarded by the US as important include: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and others as 'lower level partners'. (9)
The role of Australia was subsequently clearly defined by the Biden administration as an important logistics and training centre for US-led operations. An announcement that the US 'is shaping to ramp up ship and aircraft visits and consider more defence infrastructure, especially in the north', was followed by a commitment to build a multi-million commercially operated strategic military fuel reserve in Darwin for joint use with US and Australian forces. (10) Fuel security is of vital importance for war preparations.
Elsewhere, it was reported that Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Indo-Pacific Command said 'more money is likely to be spent on equipment and facilities that Australia is well placed to provide and support', together with a call to increase defence budgets to US$27 billion over the next five years including new mobile missiles, radar systems, staging areas, intelligence-sharing centres, supply depots, testing ranges and exercises 'with allies and partners'. (11)
The announcement also coincided with information about the allocation of an extra $115 million by Australia to develop Loyal Wingman combat drones with a range of 3,700 kms from ground control systems. The drones are intended for use with electronic warfare systems with guided missiles and surveillance sensors. (12) Their range provides coverage of most of the vast Indo-Pacific region through use of out-reach military facilities linked to Australia.
Reject the idea that Taiwan is the ‘front-line of Australia’s defence’
The centrality of Australia for US-led regional military planning has also included an announcement from Defence Minister Linda Reynolds about a $1 billion investment into 'advanced guided weapons to enhance Australia's maritime security', and a diplomatic statement that Taiwan was 'in fact, the emerging front-line of Australia's defence'. (13)
With such US-led military planning already taking place it has not been particularly difficult to establish why two leading members of the Biden administration visited the region soon after the Quad summit.
Davidson and Blinken were not primarily concerned with existing defence and security agendas, but with escalating diplomatic tensions and war preparations toward China still further; the high-level diplomacy also coincided with a call from the Pentagon 'for more missiles to be placed in allied countries around China to enable the US to win the game'. (14)
Such developments push Australia into a front-line type position with US-led regional military planning, specifically designed for real-war scenarios: we need an independent foreign policy!
1. Quad leaders take charge on security, The Weekend Australian, 13-14 March 2021.
2. Summit to focus on China threat, Australian, 11 March 2021.
3. Quad stepped up to leader level in response to China, Australian, 10 March 2021.
5. Quad our biggest pact in 70 years: PM, Australian, 17 March 2021.
6. US reinforces China danger, Australian, 17 March 2021.
7. Editorial: Quad summit a historic step in collective security, Australian, 11 March 2021.
8. The reasons behind Washington's push for GSOMIA, Hankyoreh, 12 November 2019.
10 Western focus on Beijing makes us a Pacific power player, The Weekend Australian, 13-14 March 2021.
12. RAAF drone cleared for take-off, Australian, 3 March 2021.
13. We must be ready to fight our corner as Taiwan tensions rise, Australian, 27 January 2021.
14. Summit to focus on China threat, Australian, 11 March 2021.
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