US military partnership in ‘national interest’

ABC Online
November 7, 2010

Defence Minister Stephen Smith discusses Australia’s role in Afghanistan and the strengthening of military ties with the US.

STEPHEN SMITH: … the NATO ISAF summit in Lisbon later this month will be dealing very directly with the transition in Afghanistan.

So we’re obviously part of the 47 country international security assistance force. Everyone has agreed we have got to transition to Afghanistan security competence and responsibility. And so Lisbon is a very important both NATO and ISAF summit to start mapping out the transition to Afghan responsibility.

We continue to be of the view that we can do our bit, our job in Oruzgan on the next two to four years training the Afghan National Army and police in Oruzgan province. …

we’ll be saying to the rest of the international community that we are committed to transitioning to Afghan-led security in Afghanistan, that whilst we can’t leave tomorrow, we can’t be there forever.

So we have to train the Afghan National Army, the Afghan national police and the local police forces to be in a position to manage security arrangements themselves.

And this is the strategy and the approach that we have outlined.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Not there forever but you will be there for at least 10 years?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well our current training mission we see being done in two to four years which is consistent with the timetable set by the Afghanistan conference in Kabul earlier this year.

But after that we do envisage the capacity for us to be there in some oversight or embed capacity. Time will tell what the detail and circumstances of that are. …

the United States is conducting what’s called a force posture review, looking at how it positions its forces throughout the world.

It has bases in other countries – Japan for example. It has a presence in the Republic of Korea. And in Australia, of course, we have joint facilities.

So in the course of the United States considering its force posture review, the possibility arises that the United States could utilise more Australia. And that’s very high on the agenda for AUSMIN today. …

… the United States is a significant power. It conducts strategic reviews from time to time as we do. And so you look to the future.

But it’s also making changes to the disposition of its forces throughout the Asia-Pacific, reducing, for example, the number of forces it has in Japan. So it’s looking at those matters.

But we welcome it very much because we want to see the United States engaged in the Asia-Pacific. That’s very important to Australia. It’s very important to stability in our region. We’ve had that stability since the end of World War II, largely as a result of United States presence.

So an enhanced engagement is something we very strongly support, whether that’s, for example, through the United States joining an expanded East Asia Summit or the United States taking part, as Australia did, in the ASEAN Plus defence ministers’ meeting.

All of these things are unambiguously good things for our region and also for Australia.

It’s certainly in our national interest to be very positively disposed to enhancing our engagement in that military and defence cooperation sense.

View a video of this interview or read the transcript here: