THE ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE OF NEW SOUTH WALES
Held: THURSDAY, 26 MAY 2011
The Blamey Oration perpetuates the memory of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey, GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO, ED, Australia’s highest ranking serviceman, who was commander-in-chief concurrently of the Australian Military Forces and the Allied Land Forces, South-West Pacific Area, from 1942 to 1945 when Australia’s security was directly threatened by Japan.
The 2011 Oration is occurring at a time when the Australian government is under pressure to revisit its Defence White Paper(1). The government’s assessment of the global security outlook will be a key element of any such review. Accordingly, the Oration will examine the global security outlook from both Indian and Australian perspectives with a view to informing that assessment.
The global security outlook is in flux. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Australia’s national security guarantor – Great Britain up to World War II; the United States after the war – was also Australia’s major trading partner. While the ANZUS Treaty(2) remains the bedrock of Australia’s security, the United States is no longer our major trading partner, a role which was initially assumed by Japan and has now been assumed by China. How sustainable is this trade/security dichotomy?
The United States remains the world’s only superpower, but over the last decade has been weakened by international terrorism; military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan; the global financial crisis and her resultant international indebtedness; and dependence on fossil fuels; among other factors. Indeed, a multipolar geopolitic is re-emerging with China, India, Japan and Russia becoming more assertive in what the White Paper refers to as the Asia-Pacific century.
China, in contrast, is on the ascendant. Now a confident global power, she has underwritten much of the United States’ debt. Consequently, it is in the interests of both countries to cooperate wherever their mutual interests coincide and generally speaking are so doing. China, however, is modernising her armed forces and is now able to challenge the United States Pacific Fleet in relation to Taiwan. China is also in competition with India, Japan, South Korea and her neighbours in South-East Asia and is spreading her influence more widely. She is asserting her territorial claims in the East and South China Seas; securing naval and mercantile marine bases at key sites around the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea; projecting ‘soft power’ into Africa, Melanesia and Polynesia via supposedly ‘no-strings-attached’ development assistance; and using sovereign wealth funds to secure long-term interests in strategically-important natural resources around the world, including agricultural land, mineral resources and water; among other measures.
Australia is likely to be faced with conflicting interests as it seeks to manage its relationships with its major security partner, the United States, and its major trading partner, China. India, another Asian economy also on the ascendant, faces similar dilemmas. Australia and India, while different in many ways, share a rich common heritage. We can learn much from each other from the exchange of experiences and views and through exploiting opportunities to work collaboratively. The 2011 Blamey Oration will provide an opportunity to further this relationship and improve mutual understanding of the global security outlook and its possible management.
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