An Evolving Relationship

Nothing seems to stand still for long.  In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS treaty change is in the air.  President Obama's trip to Canberra and Darwin, while brief, comes on the back of change and ushers in a new era.  At the AUSMIN in September 2011 it was announced that the ANZUS treaty could be invoked in the face of a cyber attack.  Fast forward to November, President Obama has announced increased US military presence in Australia, including the basing of US Marines to Darwin.

But his speech to the Australian Parliament was so much more than that.  President Obama said: 

"As the world's fastest-growing region-and home to more than half the global economy-the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority and that is creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.  With most of the world's nuclear powers and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.  As President, I have therefore made a deliberate and strategic decision - as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with allies and friends."

Perhaps less obviously, Secretary Clinton signaled a change in the alliance from a Pacific focus to an Indo-Pacific focus.  This can only be construed as both a recognition of India's growing importance, while at the same time offsetting a more ebullient China.  I can't help but reflect over the years in which Ambassador Kim Beazley has insisted that policy makers take into account the importance of the Indian Ocean.  Getting Australia to acknowledge its Indian Ocean role has been hard yacker over the years.  The east coast states do not always recognize their western neighbor.  That American and Australian policymakers now embrace ANZUS as an Indo-Pacific partnership is significant. 

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) renews a free trade agenda across the Pacific and notably does not include China.  Of course, the President did not slam the door on the Chinese, but he insisted that China must "play by the rules".  

Taken together expansion of ANZUS, new basing arrangements with Australia and the evolving TPP signal change.  Not only has the Obama Administration announced that America is in the Pacific to stay, but that staying includes a decidedly southern focus.