Australian media reported Wednesday that Australia is moving towards wartime footing under which the government plans to significantly boost the number of defence personnel. Under the new plans, Australia aims to develop an 80,000 personnel-strong military by 2040.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at an army barrack in Brisbane that “the defence forces would grow by 18,500 personnel to 80,000 over the 18-year period, at a cost of some Aus$38 billion (US$27 billion).” Morrison also told the media that it was the biggest increase in the size of our defence forces in peacetime in Australian history.
Amid increased threats from China, the Australian government has made fortifying the country its topmost agenda. The government last September had signed a historic AUKUS security pact with the US and the UK that will see Australia armed with nuclear-powered submarines by the late 2030s.
Australia moving away from strategic dependence on the US
Australia has never been an impressive military power. Indeed, Australia is ranked 17 of 142 nations on the global firepower index. The Australian Defence Forces (ADF) is technologically advanced but relatively small with only 58,000 active personnel. The country has always relied upon America’s extended nuclear deterrence to keep its rivals at bay.
In 1951, the US had signed the ANZUS security pact with Australia and New Zealand in view of the increased threats from communist China and post-war Japan. Since this time, the Australia-US alliance has been at the core of Australia’s security and defence policy and has been supported by both Liberal and Labor governments.
Lessons learned from the Ukraine crisis
But suddenly it seems like Australia has grown wary of its security dependence on the US or it has something to do with the Russia-Ukraine crisis where Ukraine has been left in the lurch by the US and its NATO allies. The timing of Australia’s announcement to ramp up its security apparatus says it all.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week relinquished his months-old demand of Ukraine’s admission into NATO while he expressed his displeasure at NATO’s response to the Russian invasion. He also blasted NATO for dragging its feet on imposing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territories. The US and the West sent plentiful wishes but stopped short of sending any significant military support.
Australia disappointed with NATO’s response to the invasion
Expectedly, Australia toed USA’s line in condemning the Russian invasion and lending its diplomatic support to Ukraine. However, it also made a life-changing observation. Australia realized that when push comes to the shove, no one except oneself stands the ground. All alliances, security pacts, and commitments are nothing more than a damp squib.
Across Europe, various countries seem to already have realized this bitter truth. Nations like Poland, Denmark, and Germany have already announced an unprecedented increase in their defence budgets. Poland is on its way to building Europe’s largest standing army, given the recent NATO crisis over Ukraine.
So, Australia is now left with no other option than to develop its military and strategic independence. When it comes to guarding its territories and shaping its foreign policy, Canberra is too dependent on Washington DC. And Washington DC has become too unpredictable given the rise of highly ambiguous Democrats like Joe Biden. Be it on Taiwan, North Korea, Ukraine, or Iran; “Strategic patience” or “Strategic ambiguity” is Biden’s identical response on every single issue of global importance. This has not only frustrated US allies in epic proportions but has also encouraged them to attain as much strategic independence from the US as possible.