Home Contact Us  

Peace & Conflict Database - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4439, 14 May 2014

US in Asia Pacific

Rebalancing: Australia's Middle Way Approach
Obja Borah Hazarika
Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dibrugarh University, Assam

The US’ ‘rebalance’ strategy certainly has important policy implications for Australia.

Apart from other considerations that underlay the US’ decision to announce the pivot, the China factor is the most oft-cited one. Positioning itself to counter a growing and decisively aggressive China have been seen as the prime reasons for Washington’s rebalance strategy. The US has had troop presence in many countries surrounding China even prior to the announcement of the ‘rebalance’ strategy. However, by announcing the ‘rebalance’ strategy, one that is strategic and military in nature, the US made its intentions to be positioned in Asia-Pacific absolutely unambiguous. 

A possibility of the US-Chinese standoff complicates the position for Australia. Australia has to play its own balancing act between China and the US. This dilemma is often depicted as a choice Australia will have to make between its traditional security alliance with the US and its key trading partner – China.

The 1951 Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America remains the foundation of the Australian security structure. Even today, the US continues to play a gargantuan role in the Australian security architecture. Making the US its most formidable security ally is indispensable to Australian defence strategies.

On the economic front, however, Australia is tied to the dynamic Asian region, and with China in particular. Australia’s top 10 two-way trading partners in 2011 included seven Asian countries, with China in the lead, making itself exceptionally critical to the Australian economic agenda.

For the first time, Canberra is faced with a situation where its major trading partner is not a security ally. Australia cannot do without either the US or China. A deteriorating US-China relationship will thus force Australia to choose sides, which means it will have to make a decision between its economy and its security – both of which are integral to the health of Australia as a country, and thereby making such a choice extremely exigent.

The US’ ‘rebalance’ strategy to Asia thus becomes a mixed blessing for Australia. Canberra welcomes Washington’s strategy to the Asia-Pacific as it entails a commitment of the most powerful country in the world to maintaining stability in the region surrounding its landmass. Simultaneously, a number of commentators in Australia express concern about anything that may ignite strategic competition in the region.

Australia’s middle-power status can be used as a matrix to comprehend its response to the US-China competition in Asia-Pacific. Middle powers such as Canada and Australia, are not Great Powers; but they are not failing/fragile/failed states either. They occupy rungs in the middle of the spectrum of states. Geographically, economically, and militarily, Australia has immense consequence, albeit lesser than the US or any of the P-5, giving it vast significance in world politics.

However, none of these aforementioned attributes make Australia a dominant power anywhere in the world except in the South West Pacific region. Its middle power status determines its behaviour and its responses. Middle powers usually are characterised by a commitment to multilateral institutions, the rule of law, and norms constraining the use of power.

Australian responses to the international system have also provided a more nuanced understanding of the concept of middle power diplomacy. Australian middle power diplomacy has attempted to pursue coalitions with like-minded states to generate the impetus necessary to bring about multilateral diplomatic outcomes; lacing the overall Australian strategy with a large dose of moral leadership. Being several steps shy of being a great power, building coalitions and pursuing multilateral engagements are politically and diplomatically prudent ways of navigating its responses as a significant power with an interest in shaping the evolving strategic order in its immediate neighbourhood.

Therefore, Canberra is in the process of choosing a middle path to navigate out of the conundrum of having to choose between Washington and Beijing. The 2012 White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century throws light on the country’s attempts to manoeuvre its way around the issue. The White Paper stressed that that Australia is interested in stability and the sustainable security of the region and that a strong US presence in Asia will support regional stability, as will China’s full participation in regional developments.

Not wanting to negatively impact its economic ties with China or its security relationship with the US, Australia will artfully use all its skills and position as a middle power to prevent escalating tensions and/or a security impasse between Beijing and Washington. In the foreseeable future, institution-building, coalition building, and multilateral governance will remain the mainstay and foremost tools of Australian diplomacy to navigate its relations with the US and China.

Not wanting to rub either giant the wrong way, and remaining true to its status in the spectrum of nations, it is taking the ’middle’ route out of the dilemma at hand.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Monish Tourangbam,
"Rebalancing: Where Does India Figure?," 14 May 2014
Urbi Das,
"Rebalancing: An Instrument of Economic Diplomacy," 14 May 2014
Amrita Banerjee,
"Rebalancing: Nature of New Alliances," 14 May 2014
Gaurav Kumar Jha,
"Rebalancing: China’s Concerns and Responses," 14 May 2014

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.