America’s defence strategy in the Indo-Pacific is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. Faced with an ever more capable and assertive China, the US military urgently needs to refocus on the requirements of great power competition and rebuild its strength after years of costly conflict in the Middle East.

Washington, however, appears unable to sufficiently focus its armed forces on this goal. Meanwhile, budget uncertainty and political instability has seen Congress fail to deliver a defence spending plan commensurate with the overall scope of US strategy. The result is an increasingly dangerous mismatch between America’s strategic ends and its available means.

In a special report released by the United States Studies Centre today, Ashley Townshend, Brendan Thomas-Noone and Matilda Steward argue that in the absence of hard choices by US leaders to spend more or do less in the world, the United States will confront rising levels of strategic risk with destabilising consequences for the Indo-Pacific.

To avert a deeper crisis and safeguard shared strategic objectives, they recommend that Australia advance a strategy of collective defence to offset shortfalls in America’s regional military position and bolster a favourable balance of power.

Key points

  • America no longer has uncontested military primacy in the Indo-Pacific and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain.
  • Over the next decade, the US defence budget is unlikely to meet the demands of the 2018 National Defense Strategy owing to a combination of political, fiscal and internal pressures.
  • The United States military is not sufficiently ready, equipped or postured for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific, a challenge the Pentagon is working hard to address.
  • For Australia, a strategy of collective defence is fast becoming necessary as a way of offsetting shortfalls in the United States' regional military power and holding the line against rising Chinese strength.

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