The New Special Relationship

The U.S.-Australia Alliance Deepens

An art installation called "Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors" stands in front of the Sydney Opera House, February 19, 2015. David Gray / Courtesy Reuters

Owen Harries, the Welsh-born Australian editor of The National Interest, once remarked that Americans needed good peripheral vision to be able to find Australia on a map. When the country did get attention, as often as not it was either for some natural calamity (floods, bushfires, shark attacks) or else for its charms as a holiday destination.

Those days are over. Australia now figures more prominently in U.S. foreign policy than at any time since 1942–45, when Australian combat troops served under General Douglas MacArthur and scores of U.S. air and naval bases and army camps were stationed Down Under.

Australia, a medium-sized regional power with a population of 23 million, is the twelfth largest economy in the world; it hosted the G–20 in Brisbane last November, and just completed a successful stint as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It has not succumbed to recession in nearly a quarter century and has played high-profile roles in the wars in and subsequent occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia was the first nation to back the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), deploying 400 airmen and 200 Special Forces personnel to the fight.

Although Australia is one of five U.S. security treaty allies in the Asia-Pacific (Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines are the other four), it will increasingly matter more to Washington. Unlike the other allies, Australia is not involved in any territorial disputes with its neighbors. The country is at the fulcrum between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and has a long history of engagement in this region; an expanse of rich strategic and economic promise that Washington would like to influence. It is also a critically important supplier of energy, raw materials, and food to China, which adds a measure of leverage to U.S. efforts to shape China’s economic and political choices.

For all of these reasons, deeper engagement with Australia—including through increased presence of

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