The United States and Australia yesterday signed a joint Statement of Principles, reinforcing a common vision and commitment to deepening security ties as in areas such as force posture, cooperation and interoperability, space, cyber, ballistic missile defense and furthering peace and regional stability.

(R-L)Secretaries Hagel, Kerry, Australian Ministers Bishop, Johnston
Photo: U.S. Government

In Washington, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Minister for Defense David Johnston. They said they are committed to modernizing their alliance by working together to support the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.

The rebalancing remains a top foreign policy priority for President Barack Obama, his National Security Adviser Susan Rice said in a speech at Georgetown University yesterday. Rice said Obama plans to travel to Asia in April since the government shutdown in October canceled an earlier planned trip to the region.

During a press availability after officials met, Hagel said the relationship between the two nations is long and deep–they have fought together in every major conflict over the past 100 years and over the last decade Australia has been the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the war in Afghanistan.

The Statement of Joint Principles provides a common vision for advancing U.S. force posture initiatives in Northern Australia, first announced by Obama two years ago during an Australian visit.  

The two countries agreed to begin negotiating a binding agreement to support future defense cooperation involving the U.S. rotational presence in northern Australia, the joint communiqué said. This would include activities such as: joint and combined training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and combined exercises in Australia and multilateral engagement in the broader region.

Also, the United States and Australia agreed to work toward full implementation of the U.S. force posture initiatives involving rotational U.S. Marine deployments and increased rotations of U.S. Air Force aircraft in northern Australia, including substantial progress toward rotations of a full Marine Air Ground Task Force of around 2,500 personnel and equipment.

Hagel said, “Two companies of Marines have rotated through Darwin. And we have increased exercises between our air forces. Next year, our Marine rotational force near Darwin will expand to 1,100 Marines.”

They also agreed to continue examining opportunities for future naval cooperation in Australia.

The ongoing rotational deployments to Australia are important, he said, in making the U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific “more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and also politically sustainable.”

Hagel said negotiations begin next month on a binding agreement that will govern the force posture initiatives and further defense cooperation.

“As we adapt our alliance to an evolving security environment, we are also focused on new challenges, including those in space and cyber,” he said. “We will continue to work closely together on the full range of cyber threats.”

Separately, Hagel and his counterpart Johnston signed an agreement to relocate a unique advanced space surveillance telescope to Western Australia.

“This telescope provides highly accurate detection, tracking, and identification of deep space objects, and will further strengthen our existing space cooperation,” Hagel said.

The United States and Australia will jointly operate the telescope beginning in 2016 to track space assets and debris, contribute to the safety and security of space-based systems on which we rely, and increase the coverage of space objects from the Southern Hemisphere, the joint communiqué said.

The two defense leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to relocate in 2014 a U.S. C-Band space surveillance radar to Western Australia, and to explore ways to further leverage Australian space surveillance capabilities for combined benefit, consistent with the Space Situational Awareness Sharing Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this year and the Space Situational Awareness Partnership signed in 2010. A future goal is establishing combined space operations.

The United States and Australia also intend to build on the 2010 Joint Statement on Space Security, in particular by working closely on pursuing transparency and confidence building measures, such as finalizing an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities to help strengthen the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment.

The United States and Australia also encourage greater regional engagement on space security issues, including through further Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum (ARF) Space Security Workshops.

The two nations also agreed to improve collaboration between their respective defense planning processes to identify new opportunities for cooperation across the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

In the cyber arena, the United States and Australia pledged to continue working closely together, including the private sector, building on the 2011 Joint Statement on Cyberspace.

“They agreed to promote common understandings among states on norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace derived from existing international law,” the communiqué said.

There also was discussion of improving the interoperability of Australian and U.S. forces, “especially as it relates to a common commitment to cooperation on combat and transport aircraft, helicopters, and submarine systems and weapons, with special focus on future submarine efforts,” the official communiqué said.

The two nations pledged to strengthen and regularize whole-of-government participation in the biennial Talisman Saber exercise, by improving the civilian participation in future exercises to strengthen interoperability and a combined capacity to deal with post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, as well as the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) cooperation also is expected to expand. This would include working to identify potential Australian contributions to BMD in the Asia-Pacific region. They agreed to continue cooperative technology research to counter ballistic missile threats, and continue their consultation regarding options that increase capability development in this area.

Additionally, the two countries will continue to consult as the United States develops its phased adaptive approaches to regional ballistic missile defense, which will allow missile defense to be adapted to the threats unique to the Asia-Pacific region.