Growth of Asia means we need to spend more on defence: report

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A new report says Australia needs to invest more in its army in the ‘Asian century’ as US power wanes.
Source: News Limited

AUSTRALIA needs to spend more on defence to ensure a quality force that can meet the strategic challenges presented by rising Asian countries, a new research paper says.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Rod Lyon said Australia could get by spending about two per cent of gross domestic products (GDP) on defence but it might need to increase spending to 2.5 per cent if the region tended to a “dark and combative Asia” rather than a “bright and cooperative” one.

The federal government’s Defence White Paper, due for release in 2013, aims to spell out a strategic response to challenges posed by the so-called Asian century.

Dr Lyon said Asia was experiencing change as US primacy in the region waned.

Australia had an interest in encouraging rising regional powers to provide the foundations for security in the region but should also maintain a capable defence force, he said.

“It should look regionally appropriate but it shouldn’t appear trivial in a region where both quantitative and qualitative enhancements to force structure are the norm and not the exception,” Dr Lyon said in a research paper.

He noted that the latest federal budget linked Australia with struggling Western economies rather than fast-growing Asian economies, and included significant cuts in defence funding, which now stands at 1.56 per cent of GDP.

“We can’t turn up to the transformational Asia as an underperformer in the defence arena,” Dr Lyon said.

“In this Asia, we could probably get by with a high quality (rather than high quantity) force structure and a defence budget that in big, round numbers was about two per cent of our GDP.”

Dr Lyon said the most dangerous outcome for Australia would be a slide towards regional armed conflict.

In such conditions, Australia would have a strong interest in a working ANZUS alliance.

“We might even be willing to accept deployments of US … nuclear assets on Australian soil, as Europe did during the Cold War, if Washington were interested in such a commitment,” he said.

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