Australia — Statement on Australian-US relationship/upcoming NATO and ISAF meetings

TOPICS: PM Julia Gillard’s address to the US Con­gress and the impor­tance of the Aus­tralian-US rela­tion­ship, Australia’s rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, upcom­ing NATO and ISAF meet­ings and the sit­u­a­tion in Libya.

KIERAN GILBERT: And with reac­tion to the Prime Minister’s address to Con­gress, I’ve got the Defence Min­is­ter, Stephen Smith, join­ing us from Lon­don. Min­is­ter, I know you’ve been in talks with your British coun­ter­part, Liam Fox. We’ll get to those in a moment. But first, your thoughts on the Prime Minister’s speech. She focused a fair bit on Chi­na and sug­gest­ing the rise of Chi­na means that the Unit­ed States needs to remain an anchor, a region­al anchor of secu­ri­ty. But on the oth­er hand say­ing that the Unit­ed States does­n’t need to be threat­ened by Chi­na and its eco­nom­ic rise. Aren’t the two mes­sages a bit con­tra­dic­to­ry?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, we don’t believe so. Her speech reflects what the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment has been artic­u­lat­ing for some time, which is we con­tin­ue to believe that Chi­na will emerge as a pos­i­tive influ­ence, as the Chi­nese would say, into a har­mo­nious envi­ron­ment. But this is, as we describe it, the cen­tu­ry of the Asia-Pacif­ic, the rise of Chi­na, the rise of India, the ongo­ing impor­tance of the Unit­ed States. So, it’s absolute­ly essen­tial that the Unit­ed States and Chi­na have a very pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship at every lev­el. From eco­nom­ic and trade to mil­i­tary and defence cooperation. 

So, as Chi­na ris­es it expands its mil­i­tary prowess, that’s under­stood and acknowl­edged. Aus­tralia sim­ply says that Chi­na needs to be trans­par­ent about that and to emerge as a great pow­er, con­duct­ing itself in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al norms and con­duct­ing itself in a man­ner which reflects a great pow­er work­ing coop­er­a­tive­ly with oth­er great pow­ers like the Unit­ed States and India. 

KIERAN GILBERT: The Unit­ed States is under­tak­ing a force pos­ture review in the Asia-Pacif­ic. There’s a lot of talk that they’re going to seek an expand­ed pres­ence in Aus­tralia. In that con­text, I want to ask you about John McCain — Sen­a­tor John McCain’s com­ments yes­ter­day. He is the senior mem­ber of the Sen­ate armed forces com­mit­tee in the Unit­ed States. Now, he says that Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed States need to work togeth­er to ensure free­dom of the seas. He said that in the con­text of Chi­na. What do you make of those com­ments and can we read into that an expand­ed naval pres­ence in Aus­tralia of the Unit­ed States Navy? 

STEPHEN SMITH: The Unit­ed States is con­duct­ing what it describes as a glob­al force pos­ture review. I think we need to under­stand the impor­tance of fol­low­ing that process. It’s a glob­al review, so it’s not just the Asia-Pacif­ic, but the Unit­ed States force pos­ture through­out the world. We are keen­ly inter­est­ed in what­ev­er might emerge in the Asia-Pacif­ic. As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion, we want the Unit­ed States to not just con­tin­ue its engage­ment and enhance­ment in the Asia-Pacif­ic, but also to enhance it. 

We have estab­lished with the Unit­ed States a joint work­ing par­ty to look at what­ev­er impli­ca­tions might arise for Aus­tralia in that con­text. So far as Sen­a­tor McCain’s com­ments are con­cerned, I’ve seen those, and I’ve also seen the Prime Minister’s response to them. 

On ques­tions of mar­itime issues we know, for exam­ple, in the South and East Chi­na seas, there are some poten­tial ten­sions. There are a range of mar­itime ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims some of which Chi­na is asso­ci­at­ed or involved with; oth­ers involve dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Aus­tralia has con­sis­tent­ly said that these mar­itime ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes need to be resolved in a peace­ful way, in accor­dance with the Law of the Sea and inter­na­tion­al norms. 

As a mar­itime coun­try our­selves, we’ve always under­stood and rein­forced the impor­tance of free lanes of sea traf­fic for trans­port and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and eco­nom­ic pur­pos­es. So, adher­ence to the Law of the Sea and inter­na­tion­al norms, so far as mar­itime use, is very impor­tant to Aus­tralia, but also impor­tant to our region. We remain con­fi­dent that Chi­na will emerge, in that con­text, as a coun­try which respects those conventions. 

These points were made to Chi­na by Aus­tralia and oth­ers at the ASEAN-Plus Defence Min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Hanoi last year, but also made gen­er­al­ly through the East Asia Sum­mit which, of course, we see, in the very near future, the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia join­ing, which is an unam­bigu­ous­ly good thing so far as our region is concerned. 

KIERAN GILBERT: On the issue of Libya and your dis­cus­sions with your British coun­ter­part Liam Fox does it look like there will be an inter­na­tion­al con­sen­sus on a no-fly zone and if there will be are you con­cerned about the warn­ing from Qaddafi where he says that the Libyan peo­ple will take up arms against any west­ern forces if they impose such a no-fly zone? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well as the Prime Min­is­ter has said, as the For­eign Min­is­ter has said, as I have said, we need to take this step by step. Aus­tralia does believe that a no-fly zone over Libya would assist in the res­o­lu­tion of the tragedy that we see unfold­ing in Libya. UK Defence Sec­re­tary Fox and I both leave tomor­row morn­ing for Brus­sels for the NATO and ISAF meetings. 

The NATO Min­is­ters will meet tomor­row. The NATO and ISAF Min­is­ters will meet on Fri­day on Afghanistan but I think the emerg­ing con­sen­sus in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty is that if there is to be a no-fly zone in or over Libya, it needs to be backed up or sup­port­ed by inter­na­tion­al law. The obvi­ous start­ing point is the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion and the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and its per­ma­nent mem­bers have made clear that that’s some­thing that the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil will take step by step. 

But in the mean­time NATO, as the near­est or most rel­e­vant region­al secu­ri­ty organ­i­sa­tion, is doing some pre-plan­ning or a scop­ing study on a no-fly zone arrange­ment over Libya. It’s of course poten­tial­ly a com­pli­cat­ed mil­i­tary or com­bat enforce­ment exer­cise, so again NATO coun­tries includ­ing the Unit­ed King­dom are tak­ing that step by step. 

But Aus­tralia believes that a no-fly zone would be of assis­tance. Hav­ing said that it’s not the only means by which Colonel Qaddafi is wag­ing ter­ror upon his peo­ple. He’s also doing that util­is­ing land forces as well. So the best solu­tion in Libya is for Colonel Qaddafi to move off the stage but we’re not hold­ing our breath for that to occur. 

KIERAN GILBERT: The NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al has flagged that NATO does­n’t want to inter­vene but it is ready to respond at short notice to devel­op­ments. Would Aus­tralia be involved in any mil­i­tary role there with NATO and I do see that you’ve sug­gest­ed that C17 trans­port air­craft would be made avail­able in terms of human­i­tar­i­an sup­port. Is Aus­tralia will­ing to pro­vide the human­i­tar­i­an sup­port through those C17s but not go fur­ther into mil­i­tary sup­port of NATO

STEPHEN SMITH: On the issue of human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance we’ve already con­tributed about six mil­lion Aus­tralian dol­lars to the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross and UN agen­cies to assist the human­i­tar­i­an disasters. 

I’ve made the point both pub­licly and pri­vate­ly here in the Unit­ed King­dom that if there is to be a no-fly zone over Libya and mil­i­tary enforce­ment action, then in the first instance we would look to Libya’s neigh­bours and its regions includ­ing Europe, to take part in that and obvi­ous­ly NATO and con­stituent coun­tries fall square­ly into that cat­e­go­ry and that’s why you’ve seen in recent days com­ments both by the Unit­ed King­dom and the Unit­ed States about that potential. 

We don’t expect that we would receive a call from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to assist in a mil­i­tary con­text. We’re obvi­ous­ly very far away from Libya itself and North Africa. I have said though that we do see poten­tial­ly a role for Aus­tralia, again if it’s required by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, for fur­ther human­i­tar­i­an assistance. 

We’ll only utilise that if it’s required or need­ed and we’ve done some pre-plan­ning, some scop­ing on the pos­si­ble use of either a C130 or a C17 heavy air lift capa­bil­i­ty. At this stage it’s very much at its pre­lim­i­nary stage and we would only utilise that fur­ther human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and capa­bil­i­ty if the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty was short in any way or believed that that could be of assistance. 

But we do see a pos­si­ble role for human­i­tar­i­an relief but we don’t see a direct role for mil­i­tary enforce­ment action. We believe that if the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty and the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil move in that direc­tion then that would be a mat­ter pri­mar­i­ly for coun­tries in the region, in par­tic­u­lar NATO or its con­stituent countries. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith in Lon­don, thanks very much for your time. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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