A Cold and Clever U.S. Base Move
Image Credit: White House

A Cold and Clever U.S. Base Move


U.S. President Barack Obama’s sheen may have worn off somewhat in the United States, but not in Australia. Yet amid the handshaking and backslapping, the photo opportunities and exultations of shared values, interests and history, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Obama’s trip “down under” is driven by cold strategic logic: to sell Australians on accepting a greater burden on behalf of their alliance with the United States.

That process has begun with a major enhancement of military cooperation between the two countries, to be concentrated in Australia’s North West. The arrangement grants the U.S. military greater access to Australian bases, particularly airfields, as well as providing for more extensive training, ship visits and exercises, and the forward deployment of a small detachment of U.S. Marines. It also covers the prepositioning of materiel – fuel, ammunition and spare parts – creating the foundations of a latent staging point for the U.S. military in the Indian Ocean.

For many Australians, an enhanced U.S. presence in Australia is a beguiling prospect. Not only is it seen as a welcome symbol of Washington’s enduring strength and resolve, but also as a more tangible expression of U.S. strategic commitment.

The reality is somewhat different. In fact, Washington’s sudden interest in Australian real estate says less about its resilience than its relative decline. In particular, the quest for new bases reflects the way in which China’s growing power has already begun hollowing out U.S. military dominance, pushing back the boundaries of U.S. primacy.

Indeed, while the United States has spent the past decade losing wars and squandering power, China has been studiously undercutting U.S. advantages across virtually every sphere of policy: economic, diplomatic and strategic. No longer the quiescent child it was when the United States took its eye off the ball, China has grown into a boisterous teenager – and has plenty of growing still to do.  With the transformation of Asia’s security order well underway, Washington now finds itself trying to reinvigorate its strategic presence in the face of a putative rival over whom its leverage has been greatly diminished.

 Still, why the specific interest in Australia? Three reasons predominate.

The first reason is largely technical: over the past two decades, China has accumulated a formidable array of precision guided strike capabilities, namely long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, which can be launched from sea, air and land. These have been woven into an offensive war-fighting doctrine that places an operational premium on their use early and en-masse – and not just against U.S. ships at sea. Since U.S. bases in Japan, Korea and even Guam are increasingly at risk of being saturated by Chinese missiles at the outset of a conflict, they no longer constitute an indefinitely reliable basis from which the United States can project power.


[...] and has given $4 billion in construction fees to the U.S. toward force realignment. Australia, per President Obama, has offered American troops and ships “permanent and constant” access to their [...]

July 23, 2012 at 23:16

What a refreshing change from the usual "China is THE (only) threat" angle…

January 22, 2012 at 02:30

You got that right, our closer alliance with all three world powers and others in our region, will gives us the influence to check U.S military aggressiveness in our region.

January 6, 2012 at 14:11

Interesting view, Mr Raoul Heinrichs. An honest and intelligent piece. A somewhat rare commodity these days.

January 5, 2012 at 10:49

Obviously you’re an idiot, because this has nothing to do with having a woman in charge. As for maintaining our alliance with the US, if we didn’t side with them and instead to develop closer ties with China in matters of Defence, we would be keeping some pretty poor company and become even more isolated in our immediate area than we already are (being a ‘european’ country in south-east asia).

Our role now is to temper US’ sabre rattling and trigger finger, and press the importance on China of following international norms.

Mr. Sens
December 19, 2011 at 19:31

Why is everyone assuming here that China or any country that doesn’t follow the US is a threat to the world? So far we’ve only witnessed the US abuse its power and murder millions of people while the rest of the world sat back and enjoyed the show. Now the US is crippled and needs to feed off other countries to survive, like a parasite. In the meantime, Australia should not be getting itself involved with the ‘world bully’, but what can you expect when you have a woman in charge!

December 12, 2011 at 21:07

Yes, the Bradshaw area and the area around / outside of Darwin in the NT are impressively huge and wild. And yes, the Marines are VERY good at navigation. If I had a nickel for all the days I spent learning how to find my way through the bush (with no GPS) I’d be a rich man. Brian – U.S. Marines

December 12, 2011 at 16:00

Davis, I am sorry to ask – Since when has Beijing been been belligerent? If anything, China under Mr Hu Jintao has been the most timid and leadershipless since Mao Tsetung and Deng Xiaopeng. We took advantage of this by constantly smearing China and the Chinese through ridicule and mocking any comments or viewpoints that are soundly and rationally presented. We have to do that to prevent their image from becoming positive. CIA doesn’t pay all that well but they have promised us many other benefits in future. You can call us mercenary if you like but we like our job slandering others 24/7. However, maybe I have a change of heart lately and have seen the light. So, I regret to inform you that truly the Chinese are good people, great people. Just that we, the bad guys, are tasked with destroying their image and reputation. Forgive me.

December 12, 2011 at 15:48

“Reason” makes no sense. He is wrong. The Chinese are great people. It is Washington and Canberra on the wrong side of history.

November 25, 2011 at 17:47

I hope the Marines are good on navigation – 2,500 marines in the Northern Territory means there’s 1 marine for each 210 sq miles.

The Bradshaw training area is bigger than Holland and Belgium put together.

November 22, 2011 at 14:15

LOL @ the links about china fake parts, showing the whole world about china as the place for fake parts of everything. Fake, fake, and more fake. Fake and copy of everything and stolen IP.

Are there anything real in china? Yes, the dirty water, polluted air, poison meat, and explosive melons.

November 22, 2011 at 02:42

@DownRedChina. What would you do if someone killed thousands of innocent people such as 9/11 at WTC? Shake hands and making peace?

You are rightfully entitled to be filled with consternation. I would feel the same too like you if it happened to my country Austalia.

I agree that invading Afghanistan and removing Al-Qaida, Taliban was not wrong. In Iraq, George Bush was too hasty as he was too eager to extract revenge and recover bruised US ego after the 9/11. War historians now comment widely what went wrong was the US attempt to conduct nation-building ( without much success in relation to the financial costs ) after they invaded them.

Ivan the Great
November 21, 2011 at 19:25

We Russian has a saying that applies aptly to you American,
“If you cannot swim, don’t blame that your balls/testicles are too heavy”

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