Australia's strategic view of the Indo Pacific

Briefing 08-02-2022

Australia, which is bordered to its west by the Indian Ocean and to the east by the Pacific Ocean, and lies in close proximity to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to its north, can be described as a central Indo-Pacific state. Since 2012, the idea of the Indo-Pacific has become a point of reference for Australian governments to define the country's foreign and security policy interests. Throughout the post-war period, Australia has sought to meet its conventional security needs primarily by way of its mutual defence pact with the United States (US), the 1951 Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty (ANZUS), as well as the 'Five Eyes' signals intelligence sharing agreement with the US, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada and New Zealand. In turn, the latter is underpinned by the 1946 United Kingdom-United States of America Agreement (UKUSA). In terms of its trade interests, however, Australia has looked increasingly to markets in Asia and proportionally less to traditional Western allies. As China has risen and grown more assertive, setting up a strategic rivalry with the US and its regional partners, Australia has begun to find it harder to insulate its commercial interests from regional geopolitical tensions. The recently forged 'AUKUS' security and technology partnership with the US and the UK reflects both the pace of geopolitical change in the Indo-Pacific and the enduring centrality of the US to Australia's defence strategy. Having initially determined that the lack of a domestic civil nuclear industry precluded the use of superior nuclear propulsion technology in Australia's submarine fleet, the current government has re-assessed its security strategy and re-calibrated its defence procurement arrangements, with potentially far-reaching diplomatic implications.