Tue, Aug 20, 2019 - Page 1 News List

US may struggle to defend Pacific allies: think tank

AFP, SYDNEY

The US no longer has military primacy in the Pacific and could struggle to defend allies against China, a top Australian think tank said.

A hard-hitting report from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney released yesterday said the US military is an “atrophying force” that is “dangerously overstretched” and “ill-prepared” for a confrontation with China.

If correct, the assessment has far-reaching implications for US allies such as Taiwan, Australia and Japan that depend on US security guarantees.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has deepened concerns that Washington would not defend its allies in the face of aggression from China — but this latest report has suggested that the US might struggle to help even if it wanted to.

Accusing Washington of “strategic insolvency,” the authors said decades-long Middle East wars, partisanship and under-investment have left Pacific allies exposed.

“China, by contrast, is growing ever more capable of challenging the regional order by force as a result of its large-scale investment in advanced military systems,” they said.

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Beijing’s official defense budget has increased by about 75 percent to US$178 billion — although the true figure is believed to be much more.

Crucially, Beijing has invested in precision ballistic missiles and counterintervention systems that would make it difficult for the US military to reach contested areas quickly. “Almost all American, allied and partner bases, airstrips, ports and military installations in the Western Pacific” lack hardened infrastructure and are under major threat, the report said.

That advantage could be used to seize territory in Taiwan, Japanese-administered islands or the South China Sea before US forces could get there.

Experts believe that the deployment of US land-based missiles and a changed role for the US Marine Corps will be vital to countering China, as well as collective regional defense — with the likes of Australia and Japan doing more.

In Australia, concerns have been growing about inadequate defenses, prompting debate about whether the country should think about developing nuclear weapons.

Similar discussions have periodically taken place in Indonesia.

A separate report released on Sunday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute recommended Australia boost and harden military capabilities in the thinly populated north of the country.

“Because of the significantly reduced warning times for future conflict,” it is likely the north of Australia would be used as a forward operating base or a “lily pad” to reach conflict zones, author John Coyne wrote.

The US military has already earmarked about US$210 million to boost a US Marine Corps base near Darwin.

During a recent visit to Australia, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper suggested that Washington wants to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia.

The Australian government said it has not received a formal request to host those weapons.

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