COPE 2019 – US military prepares its Australian and Japanese “allies”
A recent US-led military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region, together with some related defence matters, has revealed a great deal about regional military planning.
Wave after wave of US-led military planning is continually sweeping the region.
The Pentagon has clearly defined military planning directed primarily against China; initial planning to contain and encircle China in the region now appears to have been escalated to a higher level of militarism.
The recent Cope Drill, with US, Japanese Australian air-forces following orders from the US Indo-Pacific Command, consisted of approximately 2,000 U.S. Airmen, Marines, and Sailors alongside approximately 800 Royal Australian Air Force and Koku-Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defense Force) members, nearly a hundred aircraft and twenty different units. (1) The combined military effort was noted 'to integrate and project air superiority'. (2)
The simulated military exercise was initially composed of retaliation for adversaries shooting a plane down although other elements included testing electronic warfare systems and tactical airlifts. In official military jargon, 'these are war-winning capabilities'. (3)
Important considerations have arisen.
What was not openly acknowledged was Cope Drill formed part of Air-Sea Battle scenarios, 'a Pentagon strategy designed to knock out an enemy's long-range surveillance radar and precision missiles, followed by a blistering air and sea assault'. (4)
The recent Avalon Australian International Air-show Special Report also threw further light about US-led regional military planning. Statements that 'the RAAF needs more capable, longer-range stand-off weapons readily available off the shelf for current air platforms, complemented by the navy acquiring long-range sea-based stand-off weapons for anti-ship and land-strike roles', have revealed the Air-Sea Battle strategy is now part of US-led military planning. (5)
Secondly, reference to tactical airlifts reveal planning for military incursions and counter-insurgency provision. The recent Avalon Special Report included references to the need for Australia to have 'much greater flexibility in moving personnel and cargo to remote locations, whether across northern Australia, or into the Pacific'. (6) The same section of the Avalon report also included reference to a, 'future scenario of an expeditionary deployment to undertake stabilisation in a contested environment'. (7)
Finally, the US-led military planning has rested on longer-term provision dating back through at least three US presidencies.
There was no great surprise, therefore, with the three countries involved in the Cope Drill. In recent years the full implementation of a triangular diplomatic relationship between the US, Japan and Australia has taken place: US military planners in the Pentagon use Japan as a northern regional hub for 'US interests', with Australia as a southern counterpart. The diplomacy has both regional hubs taking greater responsibility for US-led military planning to defend 'US interests'. Part of the greater responsibility thrust upon Japan and Australia has been the establishment of favourable diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries.
The US-led regional foreign policy was initially planned during the period of the Bush administration, with Donald Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary, and continued throughout the later Obama administration.
Official media releases from the US Defence Department during the Obama period, noted that ‘America should provide global leadership with less recourse to military might in future'. (8) Furthermore, Obama, addressing a graduation ceremony for cadets at the US military academy in West Point, New York, spoke about how 'it was possible for the US to lead through example and by creating international alliances'. (9)
The moves also included US military planning to develop the Defence Intelligence Agency (DEA), 'into a spy service focused on emerging threats', rather than reliance upon the CIA. (10)
Official media releases made reference to as many as 1,600 DEA intelligence collectors in various positions around the world. With the Asia-Pacific region being a major priority for the Pentagon, most of the new intelligence personnel are likely to be based in either Australia or Japan. (11)
Recent moves to expand the Australian intelligence services have coincided with Japan 'establishing a secret foreign intelligence service to spy on China'. (12) And there remains little doubt the US-led triangular diplomatic links including Australia, have been the prime movers with the initiative. It was noted, for example, that 'Australian intelligence sources said they and the CIA would support the spy service'. (13)
The US-led regional foreign policy is now being played-out during the Trump administration. A recent study has, however, revealed widespread concern amongst allies about short and longer-term US foreign policy. It was noted, for example, that 'questions about the reliability of US commitments keep the lights burning late in foreign and defence ministries the world over'. (14)
While the US has alliances in the Asia-Pacific region about hostile attacks on allies such as the Philippines, whether they would ever activate Article 4 of the US-Philippine Mutual Defence Treaty to deal with the problem met with the answer, 'maybe'. (15) Under US-led military planning the responsibility to deal with the problem would be far more likely to be left to Japan and Australia.
The recent Cope Drill was also accompanied by a further US-led and Australia Sea Dragon maritime exercise in the West Pacific. It included four US and one Australian P-8A aircraft in a simulated war-game hypothetically in retaliation for an attack on a submarine. (16) With submarines being used by US-led forces for intelligence collection duties and tensions rising in the South China Seas, moves by the Japanese government to purchase Mage Island has become a matter of some concern. (17)
Mage Island, is about four hundred kms from the US-run Iwakuni Air Force Base, south-east of Honshu Island which hosts about sixty US aircraft carriers. The deal, by the Japanese government to purchase the small landmass, is due to be finalised this month. Mage will then be used 'for massive aircraft drills' with US aircraft carriers. (18) The moves by the Japanese government under US-led military planning leave little to idle speculation and imagination of what they mean for Australia; we will be further drawn into regional hostilities and real-war scenarios.
A recent statement and assessment from Michael Thawley, former Australian ambassador to Washington, 2000-2005, and later former secretary to the Prime Ministerial Office in Canberra, warned that the US and China were on a 'collision course' unless 'the US gives up wanting to be a super-power'. (19) With President Trump at the helm of US-led diplomacy, continually pushing America First positions, such initiatives are highly unlikely.
Australia needs an independent foreign policy!
1. US, Japan, Australian Forces Practice Air Combat in Western Pacific – Cope Drill, Sputnik, 8 March 2019; and https://www.pacom.mil/Media/Photos.aspx?igphoto=2002098229
4. US war strategy 'targets China', The Age (Melbourne), 9 August 2012.
5. A gap to close in next-generation defence, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
6. Spartan lifter could be ADF's first gunship, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
8. US signals foreign policy shift away from military might, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 6 June 2014.
10. Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
12. Japan rebuilds foreign intelligence service to spy on neighbours, The Age (Melbourne), 21 February 2011.
14. US draws curtain on its leading role, Australian, 8 March 2019.
16. US, Australia Kick-off Anti-Submarine Drills near Guam – Pentagon, Sputnik, 15 January 2019.
17. Japan to but uninhabited island, Sputnik, 9 January 2019.
19. US, China 'on collision course' over power, Australian, 18 February 2019.