A government review of Australia’s military capability has called for Canberra to make sweeping changes to better prepare for a future conflict with China, Australia’s largest trading partner.
According to Australian media, the review has triggered “one of the greatest shifts in Australia’s military since” World War II.
The review was conducted by former Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Angus Houston, who previously served as the head of the Australian Defense Forces (ADF). Smith and Houston said that Australia has entered the “missile age” and is no longer protected by its isolated location.
They called for Australia to invest in more long-range missiles and drones and to boost domestic weapons manufacturing. The Australian government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has endorsed the review and said it would increase military spending to fulfill the recommendations.
The review called China’s current military buildup the “largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War … this buildup is occurring without transparency or reassurance to the Indo-Pacific region of China’s strategic intent.”
The review said as a consequence of China’s buildup, “for the first time in 80 years, we must go back to fundamentals, to take a first-principles approach as to how we manage and seek to avoid the highest level of strategic risk we now face as a nation: The prospect of major conflict in the region that directly threatens our national interest.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning hit back at the characterization of Beijing’s military modernization. “We do not pose a challenge to any country. We hope certain countries will not use China as an excuse for military buildup and will refrain from hyping up the ‘China threat’ narrative,” she said.
The release of the Australian review comes after the US, Britain, and Australia announced their nuclear-powered submarine plans under the AUKUS military pact, which the three countries signed in 2021. Australia is also a member of the Quad, a four-nation group that includes the US, Japan, and India that hawks in Washington as a potential foundation for a NATO-style alliance in the Asia Pacific.
The US has been encouraging its allies in the region to boost their military capabilities, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin welcomed the news from Australia. “It is the latest example of the pivotal role Australia plays in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific, including through participation in AUKUS and the Quad,” he said.
Austin added that the review “demonstrates Australia’s commitment to being at the forefront of incorporating new capabilities for the Australian Defence Force to better enable Australia to meet regional and global challenges, as well as to our Unbreakable Alliance, which has never been stronger.”
Australia’s announcement comes a few months after Japan unveiled its plans to dramatically increase its military capabilities by doubling its defense budget. Tokyo’s plans are also specifically aimed at China.