Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 07:19 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 07:19 | SYDNEY

US base in Darwin: Option three


Sam Roggeveen


11 November 2011 12:44

Peter Hartcher's front-page story in this morning's SMH offers two interpretations of the impending announcement that the US will 'rotate' Marines through Darwin (BTW, is that different to 'basing' Marines in Darwin?). First is the Alan Dupont view:

''The new Chinese missiles could threaten them in a way they've never been able to before, so the US is starting to reposition them to make them less vulnerable. Australia's 'tyranny of distance' is now a distinct strategic advantage.'' Professor Dupont, a former Australian Defence official and intelligence analyst, said the ''Australian strategic rationale is that we are also hedging against increasing Chinese military power and their capacity to destabilise maritime trade routes. And we want to get closer to the US.

 Then there's Hugh White, who says:

''I think this is a very significant and potentially very risky move for Australia. In the view from Beijing, everything the US is doing in the western Pacific is designed to bolster resistance to the Chinese challenge to US primacy. ''In Washington and in Beijing, this will be seen as Australia aligning itself with an American strategy to contain China.''

It seems to me we could take Dupont's argument to arrive at the opposite conclusion to that reached by White. If the US is indeed moving its forces further away from China in order to buy them some safety from Beijing's increasing military reach, why would China be alarmed by this? If this move is actually accompanied by a reduced US military presence in Northeast Asia (which Dupont implies, though I'm not certain it is true) doesn't it in fact weaken America's ability to contain China?

Hugh White argues (convincingly, in my view) that Washington needs to cede some strategic space in the Asia Pacific to a rising China. If the Darwin basing arrangement is in fact a redistribution of US forces in the Asia Pacific and not a reinforcement, then that's just what the US is doing.

Photo by Flickr user US Pacific Fleet.