THE Indian Ocean’s critical strategic importance continues to be under-appreciated, with the Indo-Pacific now home to three of the world’s super powers and four of the world’s largest militaries, Defence Minister Stephen Smith says.
In a speech on Australia’s changing strategic circumstances, Mr Smith has rejected suggestions that US economic and strategic influence is set to be rapidly eclipsed as a result of new strategic influence in the Indo-Pacific.
In Australia’s view, the US had underwritten stability in the Asia-Pacific for the past half century and would continue to be the single most important strategic actor for the foreseeable future, he said in the address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra.
Mr Smith said the new Australian Defence White Paper, set for release next year, would reflect the key defence tasks outlined in the 2009 White Paper, including the primacy of defending Australia against armed attack.
But it would also address changing strategic circumstances.
That included the shift towards the Asia-Pacific as a region of global strategic significance, the rise of the Indian Ocean rim as a region of global strategic significance and the growth of military power of countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean.
“The critical strategic importance of the Indian Ocean continues to be substantially under-appreciated,” he said .
“The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim are home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population. The security of its waters goes to the heart of global, regional and Australian strategic interests.”
Mr Smith said the ongoing shift in influence towards this region wasn’t just about economics or demographics and included military and strategic influence.
“The Indo-Pacific will be home to three of the world’s superpowers – the US, China and India – and is home to four of the world’s largest militaries – the US, Russia, China and North Korea,” he said.
Mr Smith said the 2013 White Paper would also address the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis, termed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta as “the new financial reality.”
“Financial and fiscal circumstances clearly present a real challenge for the 2013 White Paper,” he said.