Washington’s inability to increase the US defence budget is having a serious impact on America’s global strategic presence, according to a new brief by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Written by Acting Director, Foreign Policy, Defence and Strategy Ashley Townshend and Alliance 21 research fellows Dougal Robinson and Brendan Thomas-Noone, it details how political gridlock in Congress is affecting the defence budget, and explains what the budget's strategic priorities mean for Australia and the Indo-Pacific more broadly.

"While there is no solution in sight to the defence budget crisis, there are signs that America’s strategic presence in Indo-Pacific Asia will be prioritised in this budget cycle," the brief says.

"US Congress has emphasised the need to strengthen regional capabilities in response to Chinese and North Korean challenges, including by increasing cooperation with allies and bolstering extended deterrence."

Although there is little doubt that the Trump administration will sustain a “military-first rebalance” to Asia in the short-term, the brief states that it is unlikely that Congress will succeed in broadening this into a integrated economic, political, and developmental strategy.

Key points

  • Although Trump has been adamant about a big military buildup, ongoing budget caps and political gridlock in Washington will prevent Congress from passing more than a modest increase in defence spending for 2018.
  • Current budget proposals suggest at least four strategic priorities: additional ballistic missile defence, institutional reform in new warfighting domains, an ongoing focus on Indo-Pacific Asia, and a step-up in efforts to address “military readiness” problems.
  • Australia should welcome sustained US military engagement in the Indo-Pacific, but remain cautious about Washington’s ability to reverse the long-term impact of budget uncertainty on the armed forces.

Media enquiries

Stephanie Dunstan
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E stephanie.dunstan@sydney.edu.au

Drew Sheldrick
T 02 9114 2622
E drew.sheldrick@sydney.edu.au