Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN)
September 14, 2011
AUSMIN is the annual ministerial meeting between Australia and the United States. It is the core meeting underpinning the 60-year-old alliance and is held annually alternating between Australia and the United States. The meeting is attended by the Australian ministers of defence and foreign affairs and U.S. secretaries of defense and state, as well as a wide range of other senior officials.
This AUSMIN meeting will be special. It celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Australia–New Zealand–United States (ANZUS) treaty by convening in the same city, San Francisco, where the treaty was signed six decades ago. The meeting also precedes by two months President Barack Obama’s first planned trip to Australia in November. It also comes at a time when the United States and Australia are ready to announce significant steps forward in practically strengthening the alliance through new levels of security and military coordination, interoperability, and common vision on the development of emerging regional security and trade architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.
Generally, AUSMIN provides an opportunity to discuss perspectives on and approaches to global and regional political issues and deepen bilateral foreign security and defense cooperation. AUSMIN provides a means for coordination between the two nations who fought together in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At last year’s AUSMIN meetings in Canberra, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then–Secretary of Defense Robert Gates engaged in productive discussions with their Australian counterparts, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith, on a range of transnational issues, including coordination in the Pacific, cyber security, violence against women, and space security.
This year, the AUSMIN forum is likely to deliver more forward-leaning outcomes. Australia has traditionally engaged in a delicate balancing act between Chinese trade and U.S. security arrangements. However, with increasing pressure from Chinese actions in the disputed South China Sea and other areas of East Asia, Australia has faced internal uncertainty about the preeminence of its military alliance with the United States. In fact, polling by an Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute, indicated the level of public concern translating into support for allowing U.S. military basing in Australia at a remarkable 55 percent. This year’s AUSMIN meeting appears set to address that uncertainty.
Specifically, the two nations will discuss substantial issues, such as providing the U.S. military with direct and unfettered access to Australian military bases, implementing a defense trade treaty that will allow and promote Australian access to advanced U.S. military technology and equipment, and other areas of joint training.
Q1: What is AUSMIN?
A1: The Australia-U.S. Ministerial, or AUSMIN, is an annual meeting between the U.S. secretaries of state and defense and their Australian counterparts, the ministers for foreign affairs and defence. This year’s AUSMIN talks mark the 26th such meeting between the two nations. It also celebrates the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, a document laying out the trilateral shared security arrangement among Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. U.S. and Australian officials are expected to discuss ways to improve and deepen cooperation between these two allies, the changing situation in Asia, and issues affecting global security.
Q2: Why is AUSMIN important to the United States?
A2: AUSMIN is important to the United States because it is the institutionalized and established channel to discuss strategic issues with one of America’s most important allies in Asia, namely Australia. This is even more crucial as the center of gravity for U.S. security interests shifts from the Middle East toward Asia for the twenty-first century. Australia is positioned at the juncture of the Indian and Pacific oceans. This geography makes Australia vitally important as new security architecture develops in the Asia-Pacific region.
AUSMIN enables the two countries to coordinate a shared U.S.-Australia strategy in the Pacific. Australia provides helpful insights and specific expertise on Asia-Pacific affairs.
The results of this year’s AUSMIN could prove to be of greater importance to the United States due to the military basing arrangement between the two countries reportedly in the works. According to Defence Minister Stephen Smith, the basing deal “will be the single biggest change or advancement of alliance relationships since…the 1980s.”
Thirty years ago Australia and the United States negotiated a basing arrangement creating joint facilities in Australia that served as a catalyst for the integrated approach to intelligence sharing the two nations enjoy today. On September 15, the United States is set to take another leap forward in its military relationship with Australia by placing its military forces at bases on the western and northern coasts of the country.
In last year’s AUSMIN meeting, leaders agreed to examine ways in which the United States could make greater use of Australia’s strategic geographic location in the southern theater of the United States’ Asia operations. It appears that such a basing arrangement has been struck and could have a significant impact on U.S. policy in East Asia in two ways:
- It will allow the United States to increase its military presence in East Asia in close enough proximity to maintain stability in the region without interfering in contentious areas such as the South China Sea, where sovereignty remains unclear.
- It will allow a more integrated approach to collective security arrangements in which allies like Australia can play a greater role and reduce the burden on U.S. armed forces.
The increased U.S. access to facilities in Australia is expected to be a significant feature of the Obama administration’s ongoing global force posture review, examining where U.S. forces would be best placed to deal with future threats and uncertainties, including the increasing military power of China. New arrangements will likely result in a significant increase in military cooperation, including more visits by U.S. ships, aircraft, and troops, which are expected to exercise in Australia regularly.
Q3: What issues will be covered in the talks?
A3: AUSMIN will cover a wide range of issues and topics. Some of the key announcements regarding new basing arrangements may be reserved as deliverables for President Obama’s first visit to Australia in November. Additionally, the enhanced U.S. focus on the Pacific and increasing engagement in Southeast Asia and developing Asia-Pacific security and trade frameworks, such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus and the Transpacific Partnership, will be discussed.
Some of the key topics that will likely be covered include:
- Three basing locations: HMAS Stirling naval base in western Australia, an army base in Townsville as the primary location for operations, and the port of Darwin and the Bradshaw Field Training Area in the Northern Territory;
- Increased U.S. access to Australian training, exercise, and test ranges;
- Prepositioning of U.S. equipment in Australia;
- Allowing for greater U.S. use of Australian facilities and ports;
- Defense technology and equipment sales and interoperability, particularly Australian intentions to purchase as many as 100 new U.S. fighter aircraft (Joint Strike Fighter or F-35);
- Other issues, including cyber security, progress in Afghanistan, coordination on aid, trade, and security in the Pacific, and efforts to encourage stronger Indian engagement in Asia-Pacific security discussions.
Ernest Z. Bower is a senior adviser, director of the Southeast Asia Program, and director of the Pacific Partners Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Xander Vagg is Australia researcher with the Southeast Asia Program.
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