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SR192 ImpactfulMateship

Impactful mateship: Strengthening the US–Australia defence relationship through enhanced mutual understanding

By Colonel Alan W. Throop

AUKUS, and the Australian Government’s release of the 2023 report of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR), reinforce to Canberra and Washington DC that there’s an urgent need to continue strengthening the US–Australia alliance. Those efforts underpin allied cooperation within the Indo-Pacific, which is an increasingly complex security environment. 
This report highlights 9 opportunities for both US and Australian defence decision-makers at a vital time in the relationship as it develops in complexity and builds towards the ambitions of AUKUS over the coming decade. 
A series of ‘quick wins’ for the US DoD are recommended, including arranging more training for inbound DoD personnel and conducting allied-centric training for relevant US-based action officers and planners at US headquarters. US DoD Funding should be provided for US action officers to visit Australia to build rapport with their counterparts and facilitate appreciation for the relationship in person. Broadly, US professional military education at every level should incorporate Australian Defence-centric views when appropriate, and the DoD can better leverage its US liaison network throughout Australia earlier in planning and when considering new initiatives. 
Recommended quick wins for Australian Defence to include further leveraging of US-based Australian Defence personnel and encouraging greater transparency with US counterparts regarding capacity. Enhanced transparency would provide maximum clarity on capacity challenges at all echelons, especially regarding the potential impacts of a future crisis within the Indo-Pacific. It’s also recommended that Australian Defence provide greater clarity regarding sovereignty and security concerns for the US DoD. 
Finally, this report also makes a major long-term recommendation that will require more resourcing, coordination and focus from US and Australian defence decision-makers, and that’s to establish and empower a US Forces Australia headquarters (USFOR-A) to synergise US DoD efforts with the Australian defence establishment. It’s inevitable that the US–Australia defence relationship will grow in scope and complexity. That will quickly outgrow and challenge the current coordination structure, which was built and implemented decades ago. This report also notes that there are lessons to be learned from the US–Japan bilateral coordination mechanisms, especially in the light of the US–Japan–Australia defence relationship, as it is set to grow in importance in the coming years.