In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • From Strategic Partnership to Strategic Alliance?Australia-Japan Security Ties and the Asia-Pacific
  • Thomas S. Wilkins (bio)

australia, japan, alliances, trilateral security dialogue

[End Page 81]

executive summary

This article examines the developing security relationship between Australia and Japan and assesses implications for the U.S. and the region.

main argument

Based on a series of unprecedented developments, Australia and Japan have greatly enhanced their direct bilateral security ties to forge what they now describe as a “special strategic partnership.” This new form of security alignment is not intended to be a traditional alliance pact, but rather represents a novel and versatile mechanism for diplomatic, security, and economic cooperation. Both states seek to pragmatically advance their national interests in tandem and to multiply their capabilities to meet joint security challenges in the Asia-Pacific. In this case, however, the strength and significance of the strategic partnership is further buttressed as a consequence of their adjunct status as “quasi-allies”—through their independent defense pacts with the U.S.—and their combined participation in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.

policy implications

  • • The rapid emergence and subsequent strengthening of the Australia-Japan strategic partnership is one of the most significant recent developments in the regional security landscape, and especially within the context of the U.S. hub-and-spoke alliance system.

  • • The strategic partnership is actually a new form of security alignment whose nature, function, and dynamics are not well appreciated or understood. A robust debate is developing among the strategic community in Australia regarding the desirability of deepening this security relationship and whether it portends a treaty-based military alliance pact.

  • • The impact of this partnership on the regional security environment is seemingly inconsistent. On the one hand, this intra-allied cooperation appears to reinforce the overall U.S. alliance system in the Asia-Pacific. On the other, it could represent a nascent effort by key “middle powers” to hedge against the breakdown of this system. [End Page 82]

In 2014, Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Shinzo Abe held two groundbreaking summits in quick succession: The first took place in Tokyo in May and the second in Canberra in July. The two leaders addressed one another’s national parliaments, and Abbott also spoke to Japan’s new National Security Council. After concluding a free trade agreement (or “economic partnership agreement” in Japanese nomenclature) at the first summit, and committing to a defense technology cooperation agreement at the second, Abbott and Abe went on to announce that “a new special relationship has been born.”1

Above all, these bilateral summit meetings were occasions to cement Australia and Japan’s rapidly deepening “strategic partnership.” The partnership was institutionalized through the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC), signed in 2007, and subsequently consolidated through an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) in 2010 and an information security agreement (ISA) in 2012. In tandem with these formalized annual leadership summits, the two partners have also been holding “2+2” foreign and defense ministers’ meetings for almost a decade. Notably, there was much mutual approbation on display during the 2014 meetings, including the obvious chemistry between conservative leaders Abbott and Abe, who have repeatedly characterized their countries as “best friends” and even “strong allies.”2 From this rhetoric, Clint Richards observed that “the two countries might be drifting toward a more formal alliance.”3 Certainly this prospect has sparked an energetic debate among strategic commentators in Australia, which will be discussed in this article. But can the current Australia-Japan strategic partnership genuinely be considered an alliance, and if not, is it likely to develop as one in the future? This article is organized into four sections as follows:

  • ≈ pp. 84-88 address problematic definitional dilemmas surrounding the terms “strategic partnership” and “alliance.” [End Page 83]

  • ≈ pp. 89-98 contemplate the forces actuating the strategic partnership from the Australian and Japanese viewpoints, respectively, examining the mutual and individual gains for each country.

  • ≈ pp. 99-110 assess how the new security dyad is viewed from U.S. and Chinese perspectives, and in particular how it exhibits the dual function of both reinforcing and hedging against the prevailing U.S.-led regional hub-and-spoke security system...


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pp. 81-111
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