Commentary | 30 June 2011

Resident power: the case for an enhanced US military presence in Australia

In this Lowy Strategic Snapshot, Dr Toshi Yoshihara, Associate Professor at the US Naval War College, makes a strong case for an expanded US military presence in Australia. Dr Yoshihara argues that the rise of China and India, together with the proliferation of precision-guided strike capabilities in Asia, requires rethinking America's existing regional military basing arrangements. Australia's pivotal location brings its geostrategic importance into sharper focus for US defence planners.

‘Both Canberra and Washington share a profound desire to uphold the current maritime system, premised as it is on unfettered access to the commons. The growth of Chinese and Indian sea power will accelerate the “Asianisation” of the US Navy.’

  • Toshi Yoshihara

In this Lowy Strategic Snapshot, Dr Toshi Yoshihara, Associate Professor at the US Naval War College, makes a strong case for an expanded US military presence in Australia. Dr Yoshihara argues that the rise of China and India, together with the proliferation of precision-guided strike capabilities in Asia, requires rethinking America's existing regional military basing arrangements. Australia's pivotal location brings its geostrategic importance into sharper focus for US defence planners.

‘Both Canberra and Washington share a profound desire to uphold the current maritime system, premised as it is on unfettered access to the commons. The growth of Chinese and Indian sea power will accelerate the “Asianisation” of the US Navy.’

  • Toshi Yoshihara

Key Findings

  • The US Navy will need to shift its attention to Asia as the Chinese and Indian navies grow.
  • US forces must be distributed evenly across the region in durable locations.
  • According to the Lowy Institute’s 2011 foreign policy poll, 55 per cent of Australians are in favour of basing US military forces in Australia (20 per cent strongly in favour).

Executive Summary

The strategic and operational rationales for this shift in US posture are compelling. The creaking Cold War-era basing infrastructure, the new requirements for meeting post-9/11 security threats, the dual rise of China and India, and the proliferation of precision strike weapons are all eroding the basic underpinnings of American power in the Pacific. While basing options in Australia are not a panacea, they offer some relief from these challenges. This quest for basing options is coinciding with America’s new geostrategic priorities in maritime Asia. The growth of Chinese and Indian sea power will accelerate the ‘Asianisation’ of the US Navy. As New Delhi and Beijing look seaward, both powers will jostle for influence and advantage across the entire Indo-Pacific maritime theatre. China’s energy insecurity will beckon its attention toward the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, through which the vast majority of the nation’s oil must pass, while India’s blue-water ambitions will draw it into the Western Pacific. The convergence and perhaps collision of these two powers at sea will likely unfold at critical junctures of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, most notably in the Malacca Strait. In short, the sources of naval competition will no longer be confined to Northeast Asian waters, where the US Navy has traditionally dominated.