Australia’s three-decade naval presence in the Middle East is coming to an abrupt end this year as the Federal Government grapples with an increasingly uncertain strategic environment that is getting closer to home.
The main point:
- This shift was marked in the Government’s recent Defense Strategic Renewal
- He said the military would focus more on the Indo-Pacific and the direct territory of Australia
- China has been engaged in massive naval building and asserting control over the South China Sea
Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds announced Australia would no longer send Australian Navy ships to the Middle East every year.
The last Australian Navy ship to deploy to the region, HMAS Toowoomba, returned to Australia in June this year.
Australia will also withdraw from the US-led naval coalition patrolling the Strait of Hormuz by the end of 2020.
That means Australia’s 30 years of maritime operations in the Middle East – largely focused on counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations – are coming to an end.
In a statement, Senator Reynolds said the Government’s priorities had shifted.
“This year is already visible [the] The Navy is responding to the wildfires and the COVID-19 crisis, five ship deployments across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, ongoing commitments to initiatives under Pacific Step Up, and some very successful activities with our regional partners, “said Minister Reynolds.
“As a result, the Australian Defense Force will reduce its naval presence in the Middle East to allow more resources to be deployed in our region.”
The shift is marked on Government’s most recent Defense Strategic Update, arguing that the deteriorating strategic situation will force the military to focus more on the Indo-Pacific region and directly on Australia.
China has been involved in massive naval building over the past decade, and has asserted increased control over the waters of the disputed South China Sea by building a series of military fortifications.
Relations between the United States and China have also become increasingly hostile, sharply increasing the risk of conflict in the region.
Australia has participated in a growing number naval exercises in the region with a range of allies and partners, including the United States and Japan.
Earlier this year Australian warships confront the Chinese Navy while sailing near the disputed island claimed by Beijing on its way to the trilateral exercise.
Next month The Australian Navy will also rejoin the Malabar naval exercise with the US, Japan and India after being absent for more than a decade.
Senior officials, military officers and Morrison Government ministers have been contemplating transitioning away from the Middle East for several years.
Last year there was debate within the Federal Government when the Trump Administration asked Australia to join a US-led naval coalition to protect ships in the Strait of Hormuz near Iran.
But one government source told the ABC the decision was “hotly debated.”
The head of Joint Naval Operations, Lieutenant General Greg Bilton, said the changes announced by the Government were “historic” and Senator Reynolds said Australia could be “proud” of its naval contribution.
“For more than 30 years we have supported freedom of navigation, maritime security and free trade flows in the Middle East,” he said.
“Working closely with our partners, our commitment is invaluable in disrupting the global drug trade, supporting reducing funding channels for terrorism activities and building the capacity of regional forces.”