U.S. Deputy Secretary Rich Armitage put it best back in July, when he said “Australia punches above its weight.” For decades Australia has been a proven and reliable American ally. They are the only country to have fought alongside the United States in every major conflict since the First World War.
In the global war on terrorism, the Australians have been no less than strategic and operational trailblazers. Australia was one of the first nations to commit military support to the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan. Over 150 Australian Special Air Services (SAS) troops participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, with more than 1,000 other members of the Australian Armed Forces operating in the Persian Gulf in support roles. Australia answered the bell again in Iraq, this time with 2,000 troops (including 150 special forces), a commando unit, warships, a squadron of F/A-18 Hornet jets, three Hercules transport aircraft and a specialist team for chemical and biological defense. The Australians proved yet again that they are willing and able to put boots on the ground with American forces when the need arises. Since Bush’s May 1 declaration that major combat operations were over, over 300 ADF personnel have remained in Iraq, with another 700 engaged in support operations in the Persian Gulf.
Soon after its own citizens were attacked in the Bali bombing of October 2002, Australia revised its military doctrine to emphasize power projection forces and preventive operations in distant theaters to forestall threats that could degenerate into terrorism, or worse. The Australian Approach to Warfare (AAW) doctrine states a preference for attacking hostile forces as far away as possible, even in a “Defense of Australia” scenario. Australian military policy complements America’s readiness to undertake preventive operations against terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
This past July, Canberra took its first steps to project power to a distant theater by sending forces to the Solomon Islands, 2000 KM northwest of its shores. The purpose? To prevent any drift into unrest and potential violence that could make those islands a haven for terrorism. This operation and the rationale behind it represent an important experiment in crisis prevention that other countries should learn from.
Australia understands that distant unrest has the potential to threaten international security by growing into terrorist phenomena. Genuine crisis prevention by a regionally powerful ally may become a precedent that is usable in future situations. And while such an intervention style is not a perfect solution to the problems of all failing states, it may be the most effective one devised to date. We live in an era where instability in any part of the globe can dramatically affect citizens far off in other parts of the globe. The Australian government understands that fact. These days, such like-mindedness gives America a valuable, committed ally.
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