By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2011 – Australia and the United States are determined to broaden their security cooperation efforts to counter threats and challenges of the future, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said yesterday.
“The depth and breadth of discussions we’ve had here today really do confirm for me that the United States has no closer ally than Australia,” Panetta said in San Francisco following meetings there with senior Australian officials.
Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defense Minister Stephen Smith at the Presidio for the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, called AUSMIN.
The meeting was held on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the treaty at the Presidio by Australia, New Zealand and the United States in 1951.
After the meeting, the leaders released a 2011 Joint Communiqué and a separate joint statement on cyberspace, and then held a press conference in a room whose windows looked out through pine trees and Monterey cypress on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Australia and the United States are strengthening and broadening their 60-year-old alliance, the leaders said, to address together emerging 21st-century challenges such as global terrorism and cyber defense.
“With that goal in mind,” Panetta said, “we discussed today the efforts of the bilateral force posture working group … which has been making steady progress in developing options for our two militaries to train and operate together more closely, including more combined defense activities and shared use of facilities.”
The work to strengthen the alliance’s presence and posture in the Pacific “reflects a reality we all recognize,” he added, “that the security and prosperity of our two great nations depends on the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.”
The joint statement on cyber security sends a strong signal about the two nations’ commitment to work together to counter and respond to cyber attacks, Panetta said.
“This is the battlefield of the future,” the secretary said, “and our ability to work together is extremely important to the challenge of being able to counter this very significant emerging threat.”
Australia’s military contribution to the International Security Assistance Force is about 1,550 defense force members deployed within Afghanistan, according to the Australian government’s Defense Department. About 800 Australian military personnel deployed in the broader Middle East region provide support functions, including maritime, for Afghanistan operations. About 50 Australian civilians are working in Afghanistan, as well as 10 Australian defense civilians.
Panetta expressed the deep appreciation of the U.S. government and the American people for Australia’s very strong partnership in Afghanistan and for the considerable sacrifices Australian troops and their families have made during this time of war.”
For 60 years, the secretary said, the United States and Australia “have gone into battle together and we have bled together because of the shared values and the deep bonds between our people. We are both immigrant nations and that creates a very strong bond between the United States and Australia, particularly for this son of immigrants.”
Clinton said each new global challenge has brought a new cause for cooperation with Australia.
“That is exactly what happened 10 years ago when America was attacked on Sept. 11, just days after the 60th anniversary of our alliance,” she said. “Australia invoked the treaty to come to our defense.”
As Pacific powers, Australia, the United States and their alliance have provided a context for the region’s dynamic economic growth, Clinton added, underwriting peace and security and promoting trade and prosperity.
“The detailed joint communiqué we’re releasing today reflects the full range of our interests, values and vision,” the secretary said, “from maritime cooperation to joint development projects to building stronger ties with India to promoting democracy and prosperity in the Pacific islands.”
And, Clinton joked, “although Australians have taken over the Oscars, the Tour de France and now the U.S. Open, our affection for your country remains undiminished.”
The attacks on 9/11, Rudd said, are “a salient reminder of our common challenge based on our common values to deal robustly, comprehensively and globally with the challenge of terrorism.”
Looking westward from the California coast, Rudd said the Asia-Pacific region is destined to flourish and thrive as a powerful economic engine with global reach.
“The waters of the Pacific we see out there off the coast of San Francisco will be the center of gravity for global economic growth, for global security for the half-century to come,” Rudd said. “And it is in our combined interest to ensure that this Pacific century is indeed a pacific century.”
And, the AUSMIN cyber statement represents a new, critical area of operational engagement between Australia and the United States, he said, “which affects governments, business and citizens the world over, the region over and our countries individually.”
Like confronting terrorism, Rudd added, the cyber security realm “is a battleground that is fought unconventionally often without a known enemy. That is why it is critical that this becomes a formal part of our alliance deliberations and committed cooperation in the event of such attack in the future.”
The leaders also reviewed common engagement with China and the countries of Northeast Asia, including South Korea and Japan, and with countries in Southeast Asia, including Australia’s neighbor, the Republic of Indonesia, Rudd said.
Additionally, the leaders discussed engagement across the Indian Ocean and South Asia and the important relationship with India, as well as regional challenges including North Korea’s nuclear program, “which profoundly concerns our two countries,” Rudd said.
“More broadly we also reviewed our common interests in the Middle East,” he added, including the Mideast peace process, recent changes under way in Egypt and Libya and, with great concern, the abuse of human rights and the killing of innocent people in Syria.
Smith reported progress on the bilateral working group that for a year has been developing options to align Australian and U.S. forces for improved national security.
“We are looking at increased joint exercises, increased joint training [and] increased joint operations,” Smith said, adding, “As I’ve put it colloquially in Australia, more ships in, ships out; more planes in, planes out; more troops in, troops out.”
The group has more to do, Smith said, noting the work is very important.
“Whilst we regard this very much potentially as an extension of the good work we already do,” he said, “it will in an operational sense be the single largest potential change to the day-to-day working arrangement of the alliance since the establishment of … joint facilities.”
According to the communiqué, “Our discussions have acknowledged that our respective military forces must be postured to respond in a timely and effective way to the range of contingencies that may arise in our region, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and to enhance our ability to work with the armed forces of regional partners.”
Such discussions continue, Panetta said.
“Our goal here” he said, “is to try to strengthen that relationship as best we can so we can send a clear signal to the Asia-Pacific region that the United States and Australia are going to continue to work together, to make very clear to those that would threaten us that we are going to stick together.”