Australia yesterday rejected a proposal by a Washington-based think tank to base a nuclear aircraft carrier strike group on Australia’s west coast as part of a shift of US military might to the Asia-Pacific region.
A Pentagon-commissioned report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on repositioning US forces in the region suggested relocating an aircraft carrier from the US east coast to an Australian naval base south of the city of Perth.
However, Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday that while negotiations were under way to increase US navy access to Australia’s Indian Ocean base, HMAS Stirling, it would never become a US military base.
“We have made it crystal clear from the first moment — we don’t have United States military bases in Australia. We don’t see the need for that,” Smith told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Smith said the think tank’s proposal was not endorsed by the US government.
The report said more than US$1 billion would need to be spent to make HMAS Stirling capable of becoming a home port to a nuclear carrier that would become the flagship of a carrier strike group.
Such a group would typically include two guided missile cruisers, two or three guided missile destroyers, two nuclear-powered submarines, a supply ship and up to nine squadrons of aircraft.
The Australian base would give the US a second carrier strike group in the Asia-Pacific region, the first with an existing Japanese home port in Yokosuka.
Washington has been forging closer military ties with countries in the region and has announced that 60 percent of the US Navy’s fleet will be based in the Asia-Pacific by 2020, up from less than 55 percent now.
Australia is a staunch US ally and the only country to fight alongside the US in every major conflict since the start of the 20th century.
China — Australia’s most important trade partner — has blasted the closer bilateral military ties as a return to Cold War divisions that risked the peace and security of the region.
Australian National University’s Strategic and Defense Studies Center head Hugh White said that US combat troops had not been based in Australia since World War II and that the situation was unlikely to change.
He said Chinese objections were the major reason why Australia was unlikely to ever allow US bases on its soil.
“The [Australian] government was surprised that China reacted as negatively as it has to the decision to have [US] Marines rotate deployments through Darwin, and I think they’ll be very careful not to risk further displeasure from China by doing anything that suggests they’re supporting a US military buildup in Asia,” White said.
“There’s a concern that the more the US builds up its military posture in the Western Pacific as part of [US] President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, the higher the risk that the US-China relationship will become more competitive, more adversarial, more hostile, and that pushes Australia close to the point of having to make a choice between the US and China, and that’s something we badly want to avoid,” he said.
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