THE alliance between Australia and the US remains as strong as ever but there are major risks and threats facing this powerful relationship that both sides are ignoring.
A new report warns Australia being “wedged” by China remains among the biggest risks facing the alliance.
Against Complacency: Risk and Opportunities for the Australia-US Alliance also warns there are three other major risks facing a future alliance with the US including domestic politics, costs and a dysfunctional America.
The report, written by Alliance 21 Fellow Richard Fontaine, also outlines 12 opportunities to strengthen the alliance including granting home port access to US Navy vessels in Australia and boosting co-operation in space and quantum computing.
It also recommends supporting closer ties between the US and Indonesia as well as preparing a Plan B for the trans-Pacific Partnership.
According to the report by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia features prominently in the thinking of American policymakers and the relationship between the two nations has mutual benefits.
However it warns policymakers on both sides “have failed systematically to analyse and address a series of mid to long-term risks to it.”
While maintaining the alliance is deeper and closer than ever the report said the four big risk factors should be a cause for concern.
The first risk is what the report terms the Chinese wedge.
While acknowledging Australia’s close and growing economic ties with China have fuelled domestic prosperity, the report warns it has also created “worrying asymmetric vulnerabilities.”
“Complicating matters significantly is Beijing’s habit of employing commercial tools to punish perceived transgressions among its economic partners,” the report reads.
Several “China choices” are inevitable and could drive a wedge between the US and Australia if handled badly.
The second area of risks the report identifies is a potential change in Australian domestic politics.
While support for the alliance remains popular with Australians, it declines when it comes to issues such as joining the US in Japan’s defence “or pushing China from militarised sea”.
It warns “the gap between public opinion and the national security elite — and between popular opinion and government policy — presents a risk to the alliance, since it is not inevitable that elite views will always trump popular ones when the two clash.”
Costs have also been identified as a third risk.
A downturn in the economy has potential to affect the alliance, the report suggests, citing defence as an example.
According to the report, while Australia’s defence plan is costed, it is not fully funded and a downturn in the economy would almost “certainly wreak havoc on Australia’s carefully throughout defence plan — with implications for the alliance.
Finally the idea that America is in decline or dysfunctional has also been identified as a risk to the alliance.
It is widely perceived that the US is in long-term relative decline and is “ambivalent about continuing its traditional leadership role in Asia.”
According to the report, ongoing issues and distractions across the Middle East and Europe along with diminishing support for the Pacific Partnership trade agreement has heightened concerns about whether the United States wants to maintain its economic leadership in Asia.
Among the key findings is that the Australian Government needs to make the advocate for the alliance with the general public without fear mongering.
It also suggests the next US President find additional ways to strengthen the alliance and its commitment with the Asian rebalance without abandoning allies elsewhere in the world.
The need to tackle domestic anxieties about globalisation and security and the regional and global strategic balance is also crucial.