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Australia and the US

I don't know how to feel about this.

On the one hand, I'm no massive fan of America and it's not very consistent with having a proper, sovereign national identity to just let another country use us as a staging ground for its imperial ambitions. On the other, America has bases in Germany and in lots of places which aren't obviously just cravenly giving in to US wishes.

And there are reasons to support the US alliance and help it achieve its goals in the Asia-Pacific. It's a good idea to have a situation in the region which prevents war from breaking out. US forces as a kind of containment might achieve that, though they might also just be antagonistic. More narrowly, it'd be nice to have US forces to hand if Australia faced a defence threat.

But what would that look like? The most likely catalysts for armed conflict in the Asia-Pacific, in my largely uninformed view, are disputes over random islands (mostly in the South China Sea, but also near Japan) and disputes over non-random islands, ie. Taiwan. It's possible to see how Australia might become involved in those conflicts - we have a broad liberal-interventionist streak, I think, and we'd probably like to act to create regional peace. It's much harder to see how those conflicts could ever threaten Australia in a way that meant we needed to defend ourselves.

My confusion here comes down to this: I find it all but impossible to imagine a territorial invasion actually happening. There are a few narrow exceptions for things like Sudan/South Sudan and the Congo/Rwanda. I guess Georgia's move on South Ossetia might qualify. All of these things, though, are basically border disputes, with a lot of characteristics of civil wars, and not full-blown, rising-power territorial conquests.

This is probably not much more than familiarity bias. In my life, most of the world's significant conflicts have been ethnic, civil and religious ones. I have essentially no experience of countries just deciding to annex other countries. Australia doesn't face any ethnic, civil or religious conflicts. The only possible defence risk to Australia is actual invasion by an expansionary foreign power, presumably China. (I guess Indonesia? India?) In a world where territorial invasion doesn't happen, we have no need for a significant US presence in Australia. That move can only be part of a dying superpower's desperate posturing.

But let's give Leon Panetta and co some credit - as actual military staff they're not likely to be into desperate posturing. So in a world where territorial invasion doesn't happen, the US just wouldn't be doing any of these things that are being proposed. Obviously, then, the US armed forces don't share my view on the anachronistic nature of expanding territory by force.

One of us is wrong! And I'm willing to accept that on an objective basis, it's less likely to be the US defence establishment and more likely to be me. But that doesn't alter my basic trouble conceptualising imperial and territorial expansion ever actually happening, particularly in Australia.