Last week the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Center (USSC) set policy circles aflutter when it issued a novella-length report that questions the staying power of U.S. military strategy in the Indo-Pacific theater while urging inhabitants of the region to take up their share of the defense burden vis-à-vis a domineering China. Read the whole thing.
In one sense the report presents little new information or insight. That the U.S. military has retooled itself for counterinsurgency warfare and must now reinvent itself again for great-power strategic competition is old news. So is the notion that Washington suffers from strategic ADHD, taking on new commitments around the world willy-nilly while shedding few old ones to conserve finite resources and policy energy. Over the past decade-plus, it’s become plain that Communist China is a serious, strategically-minded maritime contender and has equipped itself with formidable shore-based weaponry to assail U.S. and allied bases in the region and supply firepower support to its increasingly impressive battle fleet. Beijing can now hope to fend off U.S. reinforcements from coming to the aid of regional allies, to slow them down, or to make the effort so expensive in terms of lives and hardware that no U.S. president would order the attempt. If it does any of these things it could spring a fait accompli on the region, accomplishing limited goals before powerful outsiders could intercede.
This is old—if still potent—wine in a new bottle.
And yet. The report is clearly written and forceful, no small virtues. It adds a welcome new voice to the chorus—and that voice booms out from the region rather than from such precincts as Washington, DC or Newport, RI. One hopes the leadership in Canberra listens up, and other Indo-Pacific governments wary of Chinese Communist Party pretensions should bend an ear as well. The USSC coauthors’ central message—that the United States can no longer provide for common security alone and must have help—is precisely correct.