Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith will formally welcome the first contingent of U.S. Marines at a ceremony outside of Darwin, after 250 troops arrived Tuesday.
The U.S. troops presence will eventually grow to a 2,500-strong air-ground task force by 2016, as per President Obama’s new bilateral defense deal with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, first announced in November. The deal also includes an increased presence of U.S. warships and military aircraft – including B52 bombers – to operate from Australian bases.
Part of Obama’s ‘strategic pivot’ to Asia-Pacific, the move is aimed at countering growing Chinese military and economic influence in the region. In announcing the expanded military presence President Obama said “it’s important for [China] to play by the rules of the road. We will send a clear message to them that we think they may need to be on track, in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities of being a world power.”
Traditionally, the “rules and responsibilities of being a world power” means to act in a way that is subservient to the U.S., thus the need for Obama to “send a clear message” of militaristic provocation to the Chinese that their growing influence in recent years are American prerogatives.
To this end, Obama has announced troop deployments to not just to Australia, but to Singapore and the Philippines. He has also strengthened economic and military ties to South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Guam, all of whom already have significant U.S. military presence.
Former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski described Obama’s approach as overly confrontational. As he told Slate in January, “to define our engagements in the east in terms of China is a mistake. We have to focus on Asia but not in a manner that plays on everyone’s anxieties … It becomes very easy to demonise China and they will then demonise us in return. Is that what we want?”
The expansion of U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific occurs despite crippling fiscal deficits and impending cuts to the defense budget. The deployment also has no discernible necessity in terms of defending the nation from a military threat, making the imperial and economic aspects of this particularly blatant.
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