Rising Hard Power in the Pacific

As the U.S. is looking to trim the number of troops serving in the military, the Austrailian Defence Force is recruiting U.S. servicemembers join its ranks. Many troops, especially enlisted servicemembers, stand to make more money in the Australian military. DAVID BYRON/U.S. AIR FORCE



I came across an interesting article while some of my military friends were considering retirement. They were thinking about doing their time in the U.S. military, retiring and then joining the Australian military to continue serving while getting two pay checks and a new experience.

According to the article, the Australian “government plans to increase defense spending — estimated at $26.5 billion this year — to $50 billion by 2023.”

This means that they have increased recruiting efforts to include foreign troops, as the U.S. military is being cutback. However, there hasn’t been much media attention to the increase of hard power in Australia and the rest of the world seems OK with this. They generally view the Aussies as a decent nation. How did this come about?

While reading  Joe Johnson’s views on how Swedes promote their culture and Yul Sohn’s article about Korean soft power and networked power, nothing really comes to mind about the public diplomacy efforts of the Aussies.  Those middle countries used branding to increase their public image, but I don’t think Foster’s beer is making the same soft power strides as Ikea and Samsung.

The Australians have been close allies to the Brits and Americans, and have fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Aussies haven’t been condemned as much for doing so as their allies. And now they are doubling their defense budget and recruiting foreign troops. So what’s the lesson to take away from this? Make sure you’re isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll seem harmless? Hardly. But I would be interested to hear anybody else’s opinion on how the Aussie’s have a better international image than their allies while continually increases their hard power stance.

10 thoughts on “Rising Hard Power in the Pacific”

  1. Thanks for this post, Mark–it definitely provides food for thought. I think your point about Australia seeming harmless because of their location, geographically (even though I know you were being sarcastic) is actually not a bad point. Australia is a smaller, isolated nation. The nation does not share borders with anyone, and therefore has not HAD to undergo war (even though they have participated as allies to the West). Because of all this there is a general sense that Australia is a peaceful nation.

    So yes, it is quite odd that the Aussies are doubling their military budget, but I’m not as shocked as you are regarding the lack of attention on the global stage. Global publics tend to fear nations who have a history/track-record of relying on hard power/force– China, Russia, in many cases, the United States (notwithstanding Terrorist organizations). People have no reason to fear a country that is better known for suede boots (Uggs) and actors like Hugh Jackman than participation in any modern war. In fact, I can’t even say I knew Australian forces were involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—which surely could just be my own ignorance.

    I think it is also worthy to note that Australia’s position as a Democracy with strong ties to the Western world, sets it apart from its regional counterparts in the Asia-Pacific region. This contrast/ foil is perhaps how Australia came to have the reputation as such a “decent” country as you said.

    A quick gander at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website (http://www.dfat.gov.au/public-diplomacy/public-diplomacy-strategy.html) reveals that they do indeed take a different approach to PD than what Johnson and Sohn describe in Sweden and Korea. Australia rather has focused on reaching a consensus on issues relating to economics/trade and regional stability. To me, this points to an interesting approach of using soft power to advance traditionally hard power endeavors.

    This might be a long shot, but maybe, by bringing together soldiers from across the world and increasing their military, they are trying to leverage some of the social/political capital they have earned to build up their hard power/military in a non-imposing and collaborative way.

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