Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 01:52 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 01:52 | SYDNEY

Gates budget will worry Asian allies


Rory Medcalf


8 April 2009 12:46

Sam’s right: the US Defense Secretary’s planned changes to the way Washington allocates its military budget have large implications for Australia. In particular, Gates’ logic seems starkly at odds with that of Kevin Rudd, who has flagged that his foremost strategic worries are about the impact of China’s rise on the maritime balance of power in Asia.

What to make of this? Perhaps in tomorrow’s AUSMIN talks, Secretaries Gates and Clinton will explain to Australia’s Fitzgibbon and Smith why improving capabilities for existing conflicts is more important than spending heavily against hypothetical future ones. Perhaps they will be persuasive. Perhaps some judgments in the forthcoming Australian Defence White Paper will shift as a consequence.

But I suspect that Gates’ apparent sense of moderation about military competition with China could have quite a different effect: the less worried he seems to be, the more concerned America’s Asian allies – including Australia – will become. At one level, it would seem odd indeed if smaller powers like Australia began putting greater faith in expensive sea and air combat platforms just when the superpower has begun to question the wisdom of such narrowly-focused investment.

Then again, perhaps Washington has a deeper logic at work. The more it can disconcert its allies, the more they are likely to spend on sharing the costly burden of hulls in the water and jets in the air.

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