Agreements reached during the latest meeting of top U.S. and Australian officials in Perth, Australia, Nov. 14 will further cooperation between the nations’ military forces and expand capabilities related to the frontier of space.
At the end of sessions held as part of the 2012 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr and Defense Minister Stephen Smith, in a briefing for reporters.
“The important steps we’ve agreed to here in Perth to increase cooperation between our two nations will do much to ensure that this very strong alliance remains an instrument of peace and prosperity for Americans, for Australians and for all people who reside in this important region of the world,” Panetta said.
Clinton said the U.S.-Australian diplomatic, economic and security relationships are inseparable, adding that the alliance “is an anchor of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and around the world, forged in war, but flourishing in peace.”
Carr called the deepening of defense cooperation between the allies “a natural evolution of our existing, longstanding cooperation … aimed at supporting long-term peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.”
Smith said Australia’s analysis “continues to be that the alliance has served us very well for over 60 years, and that the presence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific has been a force for stability, prosperity and investment.”
One such investment involves placing two key U.S. space systems in Australia.
According to a memorandum of understanding signed here, the United States will relocate a C-Band ground-based radar system from an Air Force facility on Antigua, an island in the West Indies, to western Australia.
Panetta said the United States and Australia also have discussed the relocation to Australia of an advanced ground-based space surveillance telescope designed and built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, along with a combined communications gateway that would give operators in both nations access to wideband global satellite communications satellites now on orbit.
“All of that represents a major leap forward in bilateral space cooperation and an important new frontier in the United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta said.
During the meeting, officials from both countries took stock of the successful deployment of the first U.S. Marine Corps detachment to Darwin this year, the secretary said, and of increased U.S. Air Force rotations throughout northern Australia.
“We agreed to continue to build on that success, and we will,” he added. “And we also agreed to move forward with all deliberate speed in the further implementation of this important initiative that fosters great cooperation between our forces.”
A joint communiqué released by meeting participants says “the alliance is above all about practical cooperation and collaboration, whether through training and exercises, combined operations or intelligence sharing.”
In response to reporters’ questions, Panetta also addressed U.S. budget constraints and the need for a special operations forces presence in post-2014 Afghanistan, when Afghan forces will be responsible for their country’s security.
“Both of our countries are facing budget constrictions, and there’s no question that we have to take those into consideration” when designing the future defense force, the secretary said.
“We’re certainly doing that in the United States and I know that Minister Smith is doing that with regards to Australia,” he added.
But Panetta said he is confident that “we have the capability to maintain a strong national defense for both of our countries, and that we will be able to meet the threats that confront us, not only in this part of the world, but elsewhere as well.”
The secretary said Smith indicated an interest in the potential for a special operations forces presence in the post-2014 period in Afghanistan.
“I believe that is worth considering,” Panetta said.
“One of the missions we’re going to have to deal with in post-2014 Afghanistan is the counterterrorism mission – the ability to continue to target al Qaeda, to target those that would continue to try to conduct terrorism against that country,” he added. “As we design that post-2014 presence, I think we ought to consider the role of not only Australia, but other countries in providing the kind of special-forces capability that would be very important to the future security of Afghanistan.”
Panetta expressed on behalf of the United States his deepest appreciation to the Australian government and its citizens for sacrifices made in decade-long joint efforts in Afghanistan.
“When one of your own is killed on the battlefield,” he said, “I make it a point to pick up the phone and call the defense minister to indicate my deepest sympathies for that loss, because your loss is ours as well.”