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Australian Army Cooperation with the Land Forces of the United States: Problems of the Junior Partner

Major General Christopher Bence (right), Commander United States Air Force Expeditionary Center, with Squadron Leader Scott Harris (left), Executive Officer for No. 37 Squadron (37SQN), during Operation Christmas Drop.
Australian Army Cooperation with the Land Forces of the United States: Problems of the Junior Partner by Alan Ryan
1 January 2003
Dr Alan Ryan

Australia's commitment to the War on Terrorism exposes a conundrum that lies at the heart of Australian defence preparedness. In a world dominated by the United States as the global superpower, how can Australia use its defence forces to pursue national interests while gaining the strategic benefits that accrue from being a close partner of the United States? Events since 11 September 2001 have demonstrated that it is no longer possible to restrict Australia's strategic horizon to its immediate region. Indeed, during the past century, conflicts of global magnitude always included Australia. The United States is at war. Initially, it was thought that this fact need not pose an immediate threat to Australia. However, Australian citizens have been the target of terrorist violence, not only because they were Australians, but because they were perceived as American allies. The fundamentalist terrorists' failure to discriminate means that the vital interests of any pluralist secular state are potential targets.

Without seeking a war, the Australian people have had a war declared on them. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) must maintain readiness to combat the threat. As a small, though high-quality, military force with limited resources, the ADF can only make the most of its capabilities by establishing complementary synergies with other armed forces. In this strategic environment, no military relationship is more important than Australia's relationship with the world's first ‘Hyperpower'. It is inevitable that the ADF will continue to play a part in coalition operations against terrorist organisations and the states that shelter them. Given the fluid and unpredictable nature of this conflict, the Army in particular will be stretched to provide the range of capabilities required, and to sustain the ongoing cycle of deployments.

As the Australian Government's support of the US position on the Ba'ath regime in Iraq has demonstrated, contributing land forces to contemporary international coalitions presents the Army with a range of political, operational and tactical problems. For Australia to make the most of its contribution, its political leadership, foreign affairs officials and force planners need to work closely in order to match capabilities to outcomes. Experience has shown that, when cooperating with a superpower in a military context, the junior partner must work hardest if it is to exercise any influence over coalition strategy and objectives.

This working paper outlines some of the historical lessons that the Australian Army has derived from its role as a junior partner in its military relationship with the United States. It concludes that effective army-to-army cooperation is essential to achieving adequate conditions of peace and stability in the new global-security environment. This environment is ‘protean', in that conflict rapidly assumes new forms and characteristics. In the future, Australia's Army will have to think beyond merely establishing tactical interoperability with its major partners. It will have to position itself to take advantage of the combat multiplier effect of multinational forces in an ever expanding range of contingencies.

Last updated
13 December 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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