Reshaping the Australia–United States alliance for a contested Indo-Pacific should be at the top of Canberra’s strategic policy agenda. In his sweeping essay “Beijing Calling” (AFA8, February 2020), Michael Wesley offers a compelling account of the way that past Australian leaders have renegotiated the alliance at key junctures in our history. He rightly calls for another alliance makeover and an end to the sentimentality about “mateship” that risks obscuring the interests-based calculations at the heart of our entente.
Wesley examines the alliance through the lens of intensifying US–China competition, focusing on how this will test relations between Canberra and Washington. It is a critical question for Australia. But it cannot be answered without a hard-headed assessment of our interests in the alliance as the Indo-Pacific strategic environment deteriorates rapidly. This omission in Wesley’s otherwise thoughtful essay leads him to the untenable conclusion that Australia should make the alliance more about diplomacy and development, and less about military matters, at precisely the time we should be deepening our capacity for collective defence with the United States and other partners in the region.