Why is Australia buying Japanese submarines
Australia is buying new weapons
Garden Island, the headquarters of the Australian Navy in Sydney Harbor: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is late. A military band kills the invited guests on the deck of a frigate. The crew has lined up in their white dress uniform. Air, Army, and Navy generals and the press are growing impatient. But it's worth the wait.
In a 15-minute speech, Prime Minister Rudd revised decades of Australian military policy. Flanked by two national flags, it proclaims the most comprehensive armaments program in Australian history; in the middle of a recession.
"As the Prime Minister of Australia, I am primarily responsible for the security of our country - and I do not even think of justifying myself for it. We are noticeably expanding our military program because there is armament elsewhere - in Asia and the rest of the Pacific. That's a fact."
The Australian armed forces' shopping list for the next 20 years is long: more than 100 state-of-the-art combat aircraft and high-tech helicopters, plus 1,100 armored vehicles; eight new warships. The number of submarines is to be doubled to twelve and the fleet is to be equipped with long-range medium-range missiles.
Australia would be the only country in the Pacific region, along with the USA, that owns cruise missiles. Prime Minister Rudd is said to have received the okay from President Obama with a handshake on his inaugural visit to Washington: a gesture among friends. Because Australia and the USA have been able to rely on each other since the end of the Second World War.
February 19, 1942: The Second World War reaches Australia. The Japanese air force bombs the port city of Darwin in the north of the continent. More than 200 people die and hundreds are injured. Australia goes mobile. Just 300 kilometers from their own national border, the Australian soldiers confront the Japanese in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.
The Australians succeed in repelling the imperial troops, on the side of the USA they help to stop the advance of the Japanese in the Pacific. Two years later the war is over. Australia had a new ally. Since then, the US has been able to count on the Australians in every armed conflict: in Korea, in Vietnam and - twice - in the Gulf.
March 2003: It only took two phone calls from President Bush and 2,500 Australian soldiers were ready to invade Iraq. The then Conservative Prime Minister John Howard speaks of "national interest". For the first time, Australia is attacking another country as an aggressor; without debate in parliament and without the consent of the population.
More than a million people take to the streets, and polls show that almost 80 percent of Australians are against an Iraq campaign without a UN mandate. A coalition of the unwilling calls for fewer war missions and more peace missions for the Australian military; similar to East Timor.
Dili, 2005: After six years at the helm of an international peacekeeping force, hundreds of Australian soldiers leave the capital Dili with flowers in their gun barrels. A little later, the troops are sent to the South Seas to pacify a civil war in the Solomon Islands. Security expert Alan Dupont doesn't believe that now, 2009, bigger is necessarily better. He hopes the government will keep an eye on hot spots around the world as well as those in Australia's immediate neighborhood as the military builds up.
"I'm afraid the government is spending too much money on expensive high-tech weapons that it will never need. The military must not forget that above all it has to be equipped for tasks in our region."
Prime Minister Rudd wants the Australian military to arm itself to cost more than 50 billion euros - despite the recession, the financial crisis and the credit crunch: a lot of money. Defense expert Andrew Davies is sure that every penny is well spent.
"The balance of power in Asia is shifting. The time when the big Asian nations had little influence on their own doorstep is over. So far, the USA and its allies - including Australia - have been the determining military powers in the region change in the future. "
Under Prime Minister Howard and President Bush, the Australians were mostly nothing more than the Deputy Deputy of the United States' World Police, an outpost of Washington. But Kevin Rudd wants Australia - also militarily - to stand more on its own two feet. From the Indian Ocean to the Pacific. Because should China actually rattle the saber, Canberra is ready to play the role of crisis manager. And a stronger Australia, Rudd believes, is simply better equipped for this.
"In Asia and the Pacific, tensions can arise when the interests of the USA, China, Japan, India and Russia collide. The expansion of China in particular harbors security risks. Should conflicts arise, Australia is ready to mediate Probability is not very great, but misunderstandings can always arise. "
It is surprising that Kevin Rudd, of all people, declares China to be a trouble spot. Because while the rest of the West has a rather frosty relationship with the government in Beijing, relations between Australia and China have so far been in a political thaw.
He came, saw - and spoke technical jargon. Kevin Rudd is not only fluent in Mandarin, he was a diplomat in China for a long time and knows how much the two countries depend on each other. China is Australia's largest commodity market and Australia is China's most important supplier of energy and raw materials. No one can do anything without the other, and a handful of Australian medium-range missiles will probably not change that.
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