A China strategy to reunite America’s allies (Chatham House)

China already has significant geopolitical and economic clout in Asia and beyond – especially through the Belt and Road Initiative, its massive investment program in global infrastructure, and commercial development. Economic decoupling is not in the offing; China is far too integrated into the global economy. So is there a “China strategy” that would reunite the US and its democratic partners?

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US-Japan alliance: experts point to America’s strategic reliance on Japan in Asia

Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, long time pillars of the Washington national security policy elite, are the lead authors of a new report from CSIS on the US-Japan alliance, with a suggested “new agenda for the challenges and opportunities on the horizon”. It is deeply refreshing to see them acknowledge, albeit somewhat wistfully, that there is no going back to US hegemony. To exercise influence the US will have to partner with other states.

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The US role in the world: a new normal

President Trump has pursued a different vision of the US’s role in the world – one which has had an undeniable impact on relations with allies and competitors alike, and has reshaped perceptions of the US as a global actor. A robust debate over its future global role has ensued. US allies like Australia should be paying close attention, because whether or not Trump wins re-election, the US will not be able to resume some quasi-mythical past role, and the world will need to adjust to a new normal.

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An alliance of democracies: with the US or for the US? (Sven Biscop)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an “a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies”. By bringing together its European and Asian allies under American leadership, the US hopes to bring them into line with its own China strategy. But an “alliance of democracies” would not really be an alliance with the US – it would be an alliance for the US, to further the American interest, to which the interests of its allies would inevitably end up being subordinated.

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Australia-China July monthly wrap up | On being ‘very different countries’ – AUSMIN and China’s rise (Australia-China Relations Institute)

ACRI’s Elena Collinson and James Laurenceson present a useful summary and analysis of major developments in July 2020. The authors’ observations about Australia-China and Australia-US trade issues are a welcome contribution to an area often long on rhetoric and short on analysis. Professor James Curran sees reason for optimism in an assessment of the state of the Australia-China relationship in light of the comments of Australian ministers Payne and Reynolds at the AUSMIN 2020 talks in Washington. But has Australia done enough to distance itself from the US’s confrontational stance with China? Or will Australia-China high-level channels of communication “continue to stagnate”?

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The rationale for Australia’s 2020 Force Structure Plan: A 2040 war?

There is a mismatch between the urgent need to respond to the supposed recent deterioration in Australia’s strategic circumstances, and Australia’s recently-released 2020 Force Structure Plan.

It is highly improbable that many, or most, of the investments proposed in the Plan will be delivered on time and within cost. Ministers and defence planners know this. But bringing capabilities into the ADF inventory within the next 20 years doesn’t seem to be the priority for government, despite the apparent deterioration in the strategic environment.

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Predation and predators in the post-alliance era (INSS)

In this interesting article Heisbourg frames his speculation about the transformation taking place the international environment in terms of a shift from a structured system founded on US-sponsored liberal values to a more dog-eat-dog anarchic situation: in this new “post alliance” arrangement dominated by sovereignism, transactionalism, and authoritarianism, the US, China and Russia will be the top predators.

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The Australia-India Strategic Partnership: ‘Shared values’ mask the real strategic purpose

The much-used phrase ‘shared values’ is regularly used as the basis for international relationships and alliances. It can be used to selectively point to values found in political, social or economic ideologies, or in religious or ethical systems – and to divert attention away from substantive issues or conjure up imaginary communities of interest. In the context of the Australia-India Strategic Partnership, does the use of the phrase mask the real strategic purpose of the agreement?

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Rising powers: grand strategies, balance of power and Australia

Grand strategies are the territory of great powers, while other states see their strategic independence incorporated into another state’s grand strategy. The comfort that Australia embraced while enclosed in an American grand strategy can’t last, and hard choices lie ahead. In the shifting power balance, Australia will need to recover its autonomy.

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The dogs of war cry wolf: the post-pandemic China threat

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings and Michael Shoebridge have recently written of a potential military crisis in North Asia, possibly as soon as late 2020 or early 2021.

Amongst other extraordinary measures, Shoebridge calls for the ANZUS Treaty to be invoked, while Jennings calls for the Australian Defence Force to be placed on the highest levels of readiness and for Australian defence expendture to be boosted to around 3.2% of GDP.

Are their conclusions supported by the evidence they proffer?

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Australia’s strategic quandary: political leadership and the abandonment of strategy

Strategy, the link between policy and the battlefield, is now more important than ever.

Australia’s strategic quandary emerges from its status as an ally to a great power. If it abrogates its responsibility to set national policy aims by joining in a coalition in which one great power antagonist determines the goals of the war it cannot claim to have a strategy. It cannot claim to be linking Australia’s national priorities to the military actions. Its fate would be in the hands of its great power ally.

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A tale of two Americas: Australia’s foreign policy choices post-pandemic

Writing in ‘The Strategist’ (Australian Strategic Policy Institute), Michael Shoebridge rightly points out that how the US rebounds from the COVID-19 crisis will be important. For better or worse Australia is tightly bound with the US economically and strategically.

But Shoebridge’s arguments posit an excessively flattering picture of the US and an incomplete view of its history – at a time when it is crucial that Australian foreign and strategic policy-makers have a realistic and unvarnished understanding of how the US might approach the post-pandemic world.

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DGAP: Deterrence and defense in times of COVID-19 – Europe’s political choices

In this policy brief from the German Council on Foreign Relations, the authors suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic could see Europe heading for a much deeper recession than the economic downturn after the 2008 financial crisis. To avoid a devastating impact on national defense sectors the brief argues that governments can acs to mitigate the effect on defense – but that to safeguard political and defense priorities, EU and NATO States need to act jointly and decisively.

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What do the Chinese think of the United States-Australian alliance?

In similar articles appearing in The Australian newspaper and on The Strategist website, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings has lauded the Australian government’s decision to refurbish and expand the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Tindal as ‘a giant strategic step forward’ – a project that ‘will deliver a firmer deterrent posture and a closer alliance with the US’.

In these articles ASPI’s Executive Director seems to overstate the case. Does China view Australia’s defence alliance with the United States ‘with a mix of envy and puzzlement’, as he suggests? Or might it be more likely to look with bafflement on a small, physically distant country willing to openly plan on the assumption of fighting a war it cannot influence against a state crucial to its economic prosperity?

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Is the United States of America a normal country?

Remarks at the Munich Security Conference by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are full of unconscious irony.

If ‘the United States’ was substituted for every reference to ‘China’ in each address not much of their coherence would be lost. Can the two premier US leaders of foreign and strategic policy genuinely be so naïve about the current impact of America’s policies on the world order, multilateralism, alliances, and international security?

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