Document Daze: Understanding Trump’s “Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework” (James Curran)

In the dying days of the most chaotically dysfunctional presidency in living memory, outgoing officials in Washington declassified the Trump administration’s Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. At issue is not only the contents of this document, but the manner and timing of its release and further, what its reception in Australia says about Australia’s relationship with the United States, and whether it shapes expectations for the new Biden presidency.

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Early public release of US’s Indo-Pacific ‘Strategic Framework’

On 12 January 2021, the outgoing Trump administration released a declassified document titled em>United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. The document was declassified some thirty years ahead of schedule to enable its early public release. This unusual step by an outgoing US administration has seen the emergence of a range of views on the merits of the document, and the intention behind its early release.

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The curious case of the ‘United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific’

On 12 January 2021, the then US National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, released a declassified document titled the United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. The document was declassified for release on 5 January 2021, thirty years before this was due, in the last days of the outgoing Trump Administration. What should an Australian analyst make of this document?

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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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The metrics of strategic competition with China don’t add up

The recent Belfer Center report by RAAF Group Captain Jason Begley, Winning Strategic Competition in the Indo-Pacific, offers important insights into the strategic thinking of the Australian military. The author’s analysis of the strategic competition with China in which the US and Australia have engaged far surpasses the level of the policy arguments offered in the Australian government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

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No power in the Lowy Asia Power Index 2020

The Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index 2020 is a substantial undertaking that purports to map “out the existing distribution of power as it stands today, and tracks shifts in the balance of power over time” by ranking “26 countries and territories in terms of their capacity to shape their external environment”. However, a misunderstanding of the concept of power, and some underlying subjectivity and biases, undermines its usefulness.

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Primer on Hypersonic Weapons in the Indo-Pacific Region (Atlantic Council)

With Russia, China and the United States leading the development of operational hypersonic weapons, other Indo-Pacific states, including Australia, have indicated that they intend to do so in the intermediate future. This comprehensive Atlantic Council primer seeks to marry technological characteristics, geostrategic and military imperatives, and regional dynamics in order to provide a basis for further analysis about hypersonic development and application trajectories in the Indo-Pacific.

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Out of shape: Australia’s lack of strategic influence

It seems clear from recent surveys that the Australian government is overestimating its influence in ‘the immediate region’ and underestimating the capacity of the ASEAN states, in particular, to recognise their own strategic interests. The strategic objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update rest on the assumptions that Australia will be able to ‘shape’ strategic perceptions in the region, and that this can best be done while acting in close association with the US. Are the foundations of Australia’s strategic logic sound?

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How COVID-19 will reshape Indo-Pacific security (The Diplomat)

This article is one of a number of pieces circulating that usefully starts to ponder the effect COVID-19 will have on strategic relations in the Indo-Pacific. It presents one of the more comprehensive lists of possible effects. The narrow focus of the article, however, means two major results of the pandemic, a change in the relativities in economic power and a possible change in the US Administration, are not clearly factored into the analysis. With regard to the question of impact of Covid-19 on military readiness, there may be room for greater caution; it is yet to be seen if the worst predictions about a shift in the military balance because of readiness issues will eventuate.

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US-China strategic rivalry: causes, trajectories, and implications

An insightful paper that seeks a strategy for Europe ‘to escape the bipolar logic that demands it choose between the American and Chinese economic/technological spheres’. The recommendations for Europe should resonate equally in Australia – a country already caught up in the global competition for influence, and likely to be subject to ‘increased pressure from Washington on its allies to take a clear position on the sharpening US-China conflict and clearly side with the United States’.

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