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Australia-PNG Defence and Security Agreement

Written by: (Contributed) on 18 June 2023


(above: joint planning Australian and PNG militaries   Photo: PNG Embassy, Australia)

A defence and security agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea has to be viewed in the wider context of increased US-led militarisation of the Indo-Pacific region.

The agreement, nevertheless, forms an important component part of traditional Australian military and security concerns following intelligence assessments about the vulnerability of sensitive northern approaches.

In early June, with the bare minimum of publicity, an announcement from Canberra stated Australia and PNG were close to reaching agreement on a defence and security agreement scheduled for completion by the end of the month. (1) PNG, historically, together with the similar South Pacific countries, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, have had strategic significance as buffers, protecting sensitive northern approaches to Australia. In recent years, a constant stream of well-publicised intelligence assessments has warned about the increased presence and threat from China, in the South Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific region.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising to find both the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are also being considered for similar defence and security agreements with Australia.

Within the corridors of power in Canberra, however, there remains widespread US influence: the so-called 'alliance' has bound Australia ever closer to Pentagon regional military planning. The sovereignty of Australia accounts for little in the eyes of the Pentagon. The recent Defence Strategic Review, for example, contained numerous references to the perceived vulnerability of northern approaches to Australia and the role of the US in large-scale military upgrades to secure 'US interests' elsewhere in the region.

Reference in the review to a 'network of bases stretching from the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean across northern Australia to Townsville, must allow the ADF the capacity to deny an adversary's attempt to project power against Australia through our northern approaches', clearly shows the strategic importance of the South Pacific countries and elsewhere. (2)

It is, therefore, not coincidental the US have also recently signed their own defence agreement with PNG. (3)

The arc, from the Cocos Islands to Townsville, also swings through sensitive areas of Micronesia, where a number of the countries remain under US political and diplomatic control and form strategic parts of Island Chain Theory, designed to restrict access and egress to the wider region. (4) As members of regional trade and other bodies, the US uses its protectorates as pawns with diplomatic manoeuvres which include Taiwan.

The list of Australian bases in the network include: an upgrade to the airfield on the Cocos Islands for the specific purpose of intelligence and surveillance assets; major works at Tindal in the Northern Territory in conjunction with the US; Darwin, to cater for rotational deployments; Townsville, Learmouth and Curtin in north-west Australia; Scherger on the Cape York peninsula; and elsewhere. (5) The review also stated that, 'the RAAF's northern bases will be hardened, and developed as regional logistic hubs'. (6)

Planned upgrades at Townsville have, furthermore, already been designated as an ADF 'jumping off point for operations in the north as well as the Pacific together with those on Cocos Island as 'vital for offence as well as defence and, as such, are front-line installations'. (7)

It is not difficult to establish the role of the US and Pentagon in these military plans.

In fact, the review has included a statement that 'intense China-US competition is the defining feature of our region and our time'. (8) Australia remains little other than an appendage.

An official statement from the US Department of Defence has noted the strengthening of US regional force posture, by, 'launching a series of new force postures with Australia … including increased rotations of US bombers and fighters at Australian bases, alongside expanded maritime and ground forces co-operation'. (9)

The same factsheet also lists five forthcoming US-led regional military exercises, which increasingly resemble a preamble for 'real war scenarios'. (10)

These developments place Australia as a client state of the US, not as a regional ally:

                                          We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     PNG security pact nears completion, Australian, 2 June 2023.
2.     Comprehensive upgrade works to northern bases 'imperative', Defence Report, Australian, 25 May 2023.
3.     Factsheet: Secretary Austin's 7th trip to the Indo-Pacific region, United States Department of Defence, May 2023.
4.     See: Peters Projection, Map of the World, Actual Size.
5.     Comprehensive upgrade, Defence Report, op.cit., 25 May 2023.
6.     DSR calls to strengthen northern bases, Defence Report, Australian, 25 May 2023.
7.     Mission critical, money neutral, Australian, 25 May 2023.
8.     Ibid.
9.     Factsheet, op.cit., United States Department of Defence, May 2023.
10.   Ibid.


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