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The Strategist Six: Andrew Shearer

Posted By on May 20, 2016 @ 12:30

Welcome to The Strategist Six, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

1. What are the prospects for deeper trilateral defence engagements between the US, Japan and Australia?

The three countries have been critical to peace, stability and prosperity for Asia for over half a century so I think there’s a strong prospect that they can work together much more closely, particularly in maritime security. Australia and Japan have a strong diplomatic partnership, a long-standing economic partnership and are now developing a strategic partnership. The whole gamut of issues playing out in the region mean that it makes enormous sense for these three highly capable maritime powers to work together even more closely than they already are.

2. To what extent do you think the US wants Japan to play a bigger role in the region?

The US faces a lot of challenges globally. It’s dealing with the threat posed by ISIL, instability in the Middle East and it’s also focusing on Europe thanks to Russian assertiveness. That’s different from a few years ago when the administration was very clear that it wanted to reduce its commitments in the Middle East and Europe and switch its attention to Asia. Reality means that its ability to rebalance in that way has been constrained and because of that and the growth in this region, I think the US is looking for its partners to step up—and that definitely includes Japan. There’s been strong American support for Prime Minister Abe’s security reforms. They’ve issued new guidelines for the US–Japan alliance and that alliance is getting stronger and closer at lots of different levels. And then at the same time, the US also is also going to have higher expectations of Australia. So Australia and the US, through the trilateral strategic dialogue, have been working now for over a decade to encourage Japan to step up its strategic contribution in the region, and I think we’re just going to see more of that as the Indo–Pacific’s military modernisation challenges continue.

3. Where should Australia focus its energy when it comes to engaging India on regional security issues?

I think the obvious place to start with India is around maritime security. The geography lends itself to that—India is looking east under their policy setting and is seeking to play a larger role in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Indian Ocean. India has a clear interest in ensuring that the regional order remains based on open economic institutions, a stable geopolitical environment and freedom of navigation. They’re very heavily invested in that order, and I think India is looking for ways to play a greater role in upholding it. So, I think there’s scope to work with India, for example, in anti-submarine warfare in the approaches to the Southeast Asia straits,  as well as on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.

4. You were a strong advocate for Australia to choose Japan to build our future submarines. How do you view France’s success in the CEP?

We can only take the Government’s word for it that the decision to proceed with France as Australia’s international submarine partner has a sound technical basis and presents an acceptable level of risk in terms of cost, schedule and capability. I’m personally not convinced on the decision given the pre-election timing, the challenge of converting a hull designed to be nuclear powered to conventional use, and Australia’s last unhappy experience partnering with a European submarine designer to produce the Collins-class.

Strategically, the decision amounts to a major missed opportunity. Notwithstanding government spin, Australia shares limited strategic interests with France. Partnering with Japan would have strengthened security cooperation with Australia’s most important partner in Asia, deepened defence industrial collaboration with one of the world’s most innovative economies, and helped to reassure an increasingly anxious Japan and engage it more deeply in regional defence and security arrangements. It would also have given additional substance to trilateral strategic cooperation with the United States and contributed to greater coalition maritime capabilities in the region, boosting deterrence and helping to reduce the risk of future conflict. Instead, strategic cooperation with Japan has been set back and Tokyo has been left wondering about Australia’s reliability as a long-term defence and security partner.

5. How quickly is China challenging the balance of power in the region?

Every time western analysts have made assessments about Chinese capability development in a particular area, the Chinese have over-performed and got there sooner. So broadly, it’s moving quickly—much faster than we anticipated. But it’s not a static game, as the US isn’t just sitting there passively either. It’s strengthening its alliances, it’s shifting its force posture in Asia—increasing its presence in Southeast Asia in particular—and under the third offset strategy it’s developing a series of new capabilities designed to ensure that the US can continue to operate in more contested environments and to counter various anti-access strategies. So the balance of power is shifting, but it’s not one-way traffic. I think you can see in the rebalance the US girding itself to compete and to ensure that the region remains one which is prosperous and underpinned by open economies and free navigation.

6. What do you think is the most significant threat to global security?

Right across the spectrum, the liberal international order that’s underpinned peace and prosperity for half a century is coming under sustained challenge. Whether it’s from Russian revanchism in Europe, Iranian adventurism or Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea—these challenges to the international order worry me most.

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