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Australia's unique geographical location and priorities in foreign affairs policies ensure its highest defence focus remains the Asia-Pacific region. Defence is shaped by challenges seen to be facing Australia such as globalisation, with the increase in cross-border linkages and security issues, and the rise of East Asian economies. Its main defence links are with the region's three major powers and largest economies: the United States, Japan and China, and with Australia's largest neighbour, Indonesia. This chapter discusses these links in the forms they have taken in Australia's regional alliances and treaties, and bilateral and multilateral peacekeeping efforts.

Defence policies

Australia's defence policy focuses on the defence of Australian territory and strategic interests that are tied to regional peace and stability. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) comprises army, naval and air forces, and received a budget allocation of $16.35 billion for 2004-2005 with defence activity being the highest since the Vietnam War. This is a response to Australia's perception of its region and strategic environment as being more complex because of the increasing non-military nature of defence issues such as counter-terrorism. Its stated five strategic tasks in guiding the development of Australia's defence capabilities are:

  • Ensuring the defence of Australia and its immediate approaches;

  • Fostering the security of Australia's immediate neighbourhood;

  • Working with South-East Asian countries to maintain regional security;

  • Supporting strategic stability in the wider Asia-Pacific region;

  • Supporting the international community to uphold global security.

These objectives are reflected in Australia's longstanding bilateral defence and security links with countries in the region and expanding bilateral, regional and multilateral security links. Examples of these links include the ANZUS Pact, Five Power Defence Arrangements involving Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and the UK, as well as ASEAN Regional Forum and military peacekeeping operations. Defence policies have recently converged more strongly with the United States, not just in Australia's cooperative military action in Iraq and Afghanistan but in response to the non-military issues of counter-terrorism, refugees, illegal immigrants, trans-national crime and piracy, and environmental protection.

Defence forces, 2005 June [Source: Brown, Bob, International Relations and Defence (2006)]:

Army: 25 356
Air force: 13 368
Navy: 13 089
Total: 51 813
Reserves: 19 275

See image 1

Five Power Defence Arrangements

The Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) is a lesser known military agreement between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom. The FPDA arose out of the rapid decolonisation of South-East Asia after the Second World War and security conditions in the region at the time. Tensions arising between newly-independent Indonesia and Malaysia and their impact on the region led to the arrangement, which obliged all parties to consult each other in the event of external aggression or threat of attack against either Malaysia or Singapore by the then potentially aggressive Indonesia. Since then, FPDA members agreed to form the Integrated Area Defence System (IADS), which aims at the defence of Malaysian and Singaporean airspace and is the only currently existing part of FPDA with Australian involvement.


During and after World War II, Australia became particularly aware of its isolated position in the Pacific. While still maintaining traditional ties with Britain, Australia began to turn towards nearer neighbours to hold off the threat of communist expansion.

In September 1951 the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-United States of America) pact was signed. Coming into effect in 1952 the ANZUS pact meant that the three countries would consult with each other if there was a threat to security in the Pacific region.

A dispute in 1984 over American nuclear-powered ships visiting New Zealand means that the ANZUS alliance no longer applies between New Zealand and America. The alliance between Australia and New Zealand and Australia and the United States does, however, still exist.

ANZUS is now a bilateral pact aiming at the practical cooperation of intelligence, defence technologies, and logistics support and arrangements. The ANZUS treaty has seen Australian and American defence forces fighting alongside each other during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both of the Gulf Wars, and in Somalia. Australian and US defence forces engage in joint training exercises on a regular basis and support is given for US deployments in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions through access to Australian ports and airfields, as well as maintenance and other support facilities. These facilities contribute to regional peace and stability.

ASEAN Regional Forum

Defence links are reflected further in Australia's treaties and agreements with South-East Asian countries. These include participation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was to replace older efforts to establish regional organisations such as FPDA. Today it is the region's only security forum in which most Asia-Pacific countries meet to discuss related issues. The group includes Burma, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Australia works with ASEAN as a dialogue partner in expanding its security links and looking at the region's non-military defence issues such as illegal immigrants, refugees, trans-national crime and piracy, environmental protection and counter-terrorism. ASEAN members aim at cooperation in these areas not as a military pact but in reliance on diplomatic means to settle defence disputes.

Regional peacekeeping

Australia's defence forces have contributed to regional peacekeeping by serving in combat operations and acting as UN and multinational peacekeepers and observers. An example of this is Australia's deployment of a UN multinational force of more than 5000 Australian and 4500 overseas troops to East Timor at its break for independence from Indonesia. Another example is Australia's involvement in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands with an Australian military contingent and Australian Federal Police and military personnel from Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. Australia has also served in regional peacekeeping and humanitarian projects in Bougainville, Cambodia and Indonesia.

Regional counter-terrorism

In recent years Australia's strategic environment has changed in the wake of the increased threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in countries seen to be hostile to regional allies. Australia has signed agreements on the issues of international terrorism with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei, aiming to continue negotiations with other governments with diplomatic, legislative, police and intelligence cooperation. It has also offered assistance in direct military involvement and border controls.

People smuggling

Defence personnel have been involved in measures taken by Australia's government to detect and deter the landing of illegal immigrants or 'boat people' entering by means of organised people-smuggling syndicates. Such measures include the establishment of coastal surveillance with electronic links to state government and defence agencies, as well as additions made to aircraft capability with night capable helicopters deployed in the Torres Strait and other areas. Australia's bilateral agreements with countries identified as being sources and transit-points for people smugglers have enforced calls for involvement by Australia's defence force in people- smuggling incidents. An example of such an incident occurred in 2001, when the Norwegian vessel, MV Tampa, picked up 433 asylum-seekers from a boat sinking in international waters between Australia and Indonesia. Australia's government ordered Tampa not to enter Australian waters but the captain defied the order and moved towards the territory of Christmas Island. The SAS was ordered to board the vessel and an increase was made to the number of naval and air force patrols of international waters between Australia and Indonesia.

Advantages and disadvantages of defence links

The advantages of defence links with nations are:

·           There is an increased security for Australia and for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, as nations with defence links should assist each other in times of aggression.

·           We can work with other nations to reduce the threat of terrorism and to assist people subject to militant actions, such as the peacekeeping force sent to East Timor in 1999.

·           We can assist other nations to develop their military skills so they are less reliant on Australia and other nations for military support.

·           Our links strengthen the perception of Australia being part of the Asia-Pacific region through its willingness to be an active participant in events in the region, such as the sending of military assistance (search and rescue, engineering and medical) after the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan in 2011


The disadvantages of defence links are:

·           Having a link with one nation may “upset” another country that sees that nation as a potential threat. For example, the Chinese government maintains that the island of Taiwan is part of its territory even though Taiwan operates as an independent democracy.  America has said it will defend Taiwan if China attacks the island. China and America have strong economic and cultural links with Australia. This makes is difficult to us to take either side in such a potential conflict.

·           Our defence links can result in our being committed to numerous military conflicts overseas, making it more difficult to protect ourselves if we are attacked.

·           Our involvement can increase the possibility of aggression in the form of terrorist attacks.

·           There is a high financial cost to being involved in conflicts.

·           There is the certainty that Australian soldiers will be injured and killed when we are involved military conflict.


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Question 1/5

1. Australia recently served in military peacekeeping in which of the following countries?

Bougainville, Cambodia, East Timor and Indonesia

Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor and Indonesia

Solomon Islands, Cambodia, East Timor and Indonesia

Solomon Islands, East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia


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