Australia and the United States share the same strategic imperatives. Historically, each nation has sought absolute security by dominating its landmass and securing its ocean approaches. But the geography of the Pacific makes safeguarding these maritime approaches difficult. Unlike the Atlantic or Indian oceans, the Pacific hosts a continuous girdle of islands along its western shores, running from the Aleutians in the north, through Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, to Polynesia in the south. Islands are potential bases from which military power can be projected, by missiles and aircraft as surely as by wooden sailing ships. Despite the vastness of the Pacific, American and Australian strategists have remained preoccupied with the vulnerabilities and opportunities presented by this huge island chain.
At the same time, and despite their wariness of Asia in security terms, both America and Australia have been inexorably drawn towards Asia by their commercial interests. American traders took advantage of the Napoleonic Wars to build trans-Pacific trade in the late eighteenth century. The profits they made transformed Boston, New York and Philadelphia into glittering metropolises and financed the growth of America’s first giant companies and banks. As its power grew, the United States did not seek its imperial sphere in Asia, but equal access to all spheres. From Matthew Perry’s Black Ships entering Tokyo Bay to John Hay’s Open Door Policy advocating China’s territorial integrity along with commercial access for all, the ability to prosper from the economic potential of Asia has been a strategic priority for the United States.