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Pacific News Minute: Australian Analysis: U.S. Military No Longer Dominant In Western Pacific

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U.S. 7th Fleet in the Philippine Sea | 2018

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will contribute forces to the American-led effort to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Skirmishes between U.S. and Iranian forces and the Iranian seizure of a British-flagged tanker have escalated tensions in the strategic waterway, which is used to transport about a third of the world’s oil supplies. The decision comes as an Australian think tank raised serious doubts about Australia’s reliance on the U.S. to guarantee its security.

While every American remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor as the event that defined the start of the Second World War, Australians focus on the fall of the British fortress of Singapore. Amid the catastrophes of 1942, the United States replaced Imperial Britain as Australia’s strategic partner.

Australian troops have been alongside U.S. forces in every conflict since.

A movie released in Australia this month chronicles the Battle of Long Tan, where 18 Australians were killed 53 years ago during the war in Vietnam.

The modest commitment to the Persian Gulf marks the latest embrace of what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called an “unshakeable alliance” on a recent visit to Canberra.

A report issued this week by the United States Study Center at the University of Sydney concluded that Australia can no longer rely on the U.S. alone for its security. The report says an aging and overstretched U.S. Military could find its bases in the Western Pacific overwhelmed by Chinese missiles in the opening hours of a conflict. One of the reports authors, Ashley Townshend, told The Guardian that since the U.S. would struggle to protect its allies, Australia should focus on a collective defense in partnership with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore in addition to the U.S.

As it happens, Prime Minister Morrison is in Vietnam this week, with security ties high on his agenda.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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