Springboard into the Pacific Region

BERLIN/CANBERRA (Own report) - To reinforce its position in the Pacific region, Berlin is initiating a regular dialogue with Australia at foreign and defense ministerial levels. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are participating in the first "German-Australian 2+2 Dialogue" held today in Berlin. The meeting, which will be repeated at regular intervals, is one of the measures initiated in early 2013 to enhance cooperation between Berlin and Canberra, in light of the shift of global policy priority from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In view of its growing economic and political importance, Washington considers China to be its main rival of the future. Therefore US President George W. Bush (2002) and US Foreign Minister Hillary Clinton (2011) explicitly declared this to be "America's Pacific Century," and Washington has begun redeploying its military forces closer to the People's Republic of China. Explicitly claiming to "help shape the global order," Berlin also feels obliged to reinforce its position in that region.

America's Pacific Century

Germany is intensifying its relations with Australia, in light of the current shift of global policy priority from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In view of the People's Republic of China's economic and - foreseeable - political rise to become the most powerful US rival, President George W. Bush declared during his visit to Tokyo in February 2002, that the United States, as "a Pacific nation" and as "a part of Asia's future" is "more committed than ever to a forward presence in this region." At the time, he already spoke of a "Pacific Century."[1] However, failing in his efforts to secure US hegemony in the Middle East, Bush was unable to focus forces on rivalry with China. Finally, US President Barack Obama began withdrawing US forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and redeploying them more in the direction of the Pacific. In November 2011, US Foreign Minister Hillary Clinton reiterated "America's Pacific Century" and - in view of the war on Iraq - declared the US will no longer be "distracted" in the future from its "pivot toward Asia" by "events elsewhere".[2]

Pivotal Power Australia

Australia is not only playing a special role in US Pacific strategies - because it is one of the United States closest allies and US forces are expanding their presence in the country, but also because of Canberra's growing claim to play a pivotal role in the region. This, furthermore, was expressed in the White Paper "Australia in the Asian Century" published by the Australian government in October 2012. "Due to its geopolitical position," Australia is "not only a power in the Pacific region," but also in the Indian Ocean, said the head of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Geoffrey Garrett, already in November 2011.[3] This claim to power was further developed in the "Defense White Paper," published February 25, 2016. It presented strategic rudiments for developing a regional "order" in the Indian and Pacific Ocean aligned to Australian interests. Australia has thus become interesting as an ally for Berlin's foreign policy to implement German interests in this key geopolitical region of the future. "Australia is a strategic springboard for us into the Asia-Pacific region," declared German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in January 2013.[4]

Strategic Dialogue

Westerwelle made this statement at the signing of the "Berlin Canberra Declaration of Intent on a Strategic Partnership" January 28, 2013. The declaration of intent stipulates its aim being "strengthening and deepening Australian-German bilateral cooperation." The declaration specifically calls for "enhancing strategic dialogue on global political, security and defense issues," considered of "great value." It also stipulates that German-Australian economic relations be enhanced and concrete measures taken in "energy and resources policy." Germany imports significant amounts of raw materials from Australia, Germany's largest zink and major supplier of lead. The "Berlin Canberra Declaration of Intent" also announced a "strategic policy dialogue" which includes a "dialogue" and "defense cooperation." The explicit objective had also been to maintain regular "consultations and visits at the political, civilian and military levels."[5]

2 + 2 Dialogue

Efforts to forge a strategic cooperation with Australia have been systematically continued in the years that followed. During her Canberra visit in November 2014, Chancellor Merkel convoked along with Australia's Prime Minister, at the time, Tony Abbott, an "Australia-Germany Advisory Group," to elaborate proposals for the expansion of relations. November 13, 2015 the advisory group's two chairpersons, Maria Böhmer, Minister of State in Germany's Foreign Ministry and Australia's Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, issued their report with numerous recommendations for intensifying cooperation. These included proposals to maintain a "strategic dialogue" as well as reinforce cooperation in military policy. For example, the German Chancellery-financed Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and Australia's Strategic Policy Institute should begin regular exchanges. Both countries will also work to strengthen bilateral dialogue especially on "counter-terrorism issues." Germany and Australia will inaugurate an annual "‘2+2’ strategic dialogue" involving Foreign and Defense Ministers from both countries.[6] Today, Tuesday, the German government announced the participation of Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the first '2 + 2' Dialogue taking place in Berlin.

Military Cooperation

A meeting between Germany's Defense Minister and her Australian counterpart in April 2015 had preceded these talks, during which further cooperation in military policy had been discussed in greater detail. In April 2015, Australia had additionally concluded a Framework Participation Agreement with the EU, which provides for the participation of Australian troops in EU military interventions. Australian soldiers have already taken part in the EUCAP Nestor, an EU operation to enhance counter-piracy naval capabilities off the coast of East Africa - particularly Somalia.[7] Other joint measures are envisaged. Cooperation in the inverse direction is also being contemplated - participation of European troops in Australian military operations in the Pacific.

Germany's Global Horizon

The expansion of German-Australian cooperation is taking place, not only at a time when tensions between the western powers and China are clearly escalating,[8] but when Germany has explicitly stated its aspirations to play a role as a world power. "The horizon of Germany's security policy is global," affirms the Bundeswehr's newest White Paper. Berlin will "help form" the "international order" of the future.[9] The combination of both factors threatens to lead Germany directly into future conflicts with the People's Republic of China. The fact that German-Australian cooperation includes a component of military policy clearly indicates that preparations for possible armed conflicts have already begun.

[1] Elisabeth Bumiller: Bush Affirms U.S. Role in Asia in New "Pacific Century". www.nytimes.com 19.02.2002.
[2] Hillary Clinton: America's Pacific Century. Foreign Policy 11/2011. See Das pazifische Jahrhundert.
[3] USA und Australien verbünden sich gegen China. www.zeit.de 17.11.2011.
[4] See Die Pax Pacifica (I).
[5] See Berlins Pazifik-Bündnis.
[6] A fresh look at links between Australia and Germany. Berlin 2015.
[7] See Asiens Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz.
[8] See Ostasiens Mittelmeer (I), Ostasiens Mittelmeer (II) and War Exercises in the Pacific.
[9] See Deutschlands globaler Horizont (I).