Seismic geopolitical shifts in the Indo-Pacific and an increasingly divided America are transforming Australia’s long-standing alliance with the United States, according to a landmark report released today.
The United States Studies Centre’s (USSC) second annual flagship State of the United States report (SOTUS) reviews the political, economic and policy developments in the United States of vital relevance to Australian national interests.
In this year’s edition, Biden’s agenda in the balance, USSC researchers analyse both where US politics and policy is tracking one year into the Biden administration and as well as extensive polling of both Australian and US public opinion.
USSC CEO Professor Simon Jackman said not since the Second World War had Australia found itself so proximate to shifts in national power and capability, nor with as much at stake.
“Technological changes and economic interdependence have reshaped the nature of interstate competition, with state power projection taking a myriad of forms and presenting Australia strategic challenges and opportunities across multiple domains,” Prof. Jackman said.
“Notwithstanding recent bipartisan support for Ukraine, the United States is consumed by a fractious debate about its role in the world and is almost paralysed by disunity. Policy elites from both sides of American politics aspire to make the Indo-Pacific the primary geostrategic focus yet policy detail and tangible action is slow to emerge.”
Prof. Jackman said bipartisan US support for its alliance with Australia remains unwavering and the bipartisan American consensus that China is a major problem persists unchanged. At the same time, however, “there is little indication Americans are convinced the Indo-Pacific is the priority region for the US government compared to Europe and the Middle East,” Prof. Jackman said.
“Furthermore, isolationist American beliefs have steadily increased from 28 per cent in 2019 to 40 per cent at the end of 2021 while a plurality of Americans are simply unsure whether any of their alliances make them safer. This sentiment and the ubiquity of US political paralysis and dysfunction should not let Australians rest easy.”
Prof. Jackman said the United States lacked the national unity that leaders of Australia’s defence and diplomatic establishment view as critical ingredients of national defence.
“The implication for Australia is clear. While the US alliance remains Australia’s single most valuable strategic asset, Australia must continue to rapidly evolve its own capabilities, resilience and autonomy,” Prof. Jackman said. “Realising the potential of AUKUS to contribute to Australia’s security and prosperity will require unrelenting focus and attention in Washington, cutting through domestic political division, bureaucratic inertia, vested interests and the many competing demands for the US attention and focus.”
State of the United States: Biden's agenda in the balance is now available for download.
To book a briefing with one of the report authors, please email us at email@example.com
Biden’s agenda in the Balance reveals a nation deeply divided, increasingly isolationist and pessimistic, undergoing substantial democratic backsliding and at risk of more. Specifically:
- Democratic backsliding has resulted in the United States no longer ranking in the world’s top 30 liberal democracies.
- Those who voted for Joe Biden in 2020 are now just as pessimistic about the future of the United States as they were during the Trump administration, while the Republicans’ preferred candidate for the 2024 presidential election overwhelmingly remains Donald Trump.
- President Biden's approval ratings, currently in the low 40s, are indistinguishable from President Trump's at the same point in his tenure in office. It is almost certain that Democrats will lose control of at least the House of Representatives in the November 2022 midterm elections.
- The United States faces deep partisan disagreements as to what problems America faces at home and abroad, let alone how to address them. Only half of Americans are satisfied with their democracy – compared to nearly 80 per cent of Australians.
Policy recommendations for Australian decision-makers include:
- Security: Australia should seek from the United States a clearer articulation of long-term US objectives vis-à-vis China, more focused efforts to empower regional allies, substantial investment in a more distributed and resilient Indo-Pacific force posture, an acceleration of defence industrial and export control reforms, greater engagement with Southeast Asian countries at the presidential level and presidential leadership against domestic protectionism.
- Domestic and foreign policy: Integrating the domestic economic agenda with industrial and technological cooperation with allies will remain one of the administration’s biggest challenges going forward. Australia should leverage AUKUS for institutionalising pathways to deepen Australian integration within the US defence industry. Ultimately, the United States should bolster allied coordination and seek to remove structural impediments to the US innovation system that would help the nation and its allies to better compete across a wide range of fields with China.
- Economics: Canberra will need to continue more of the heavy lifting on regional trade developments, as it has done since the Trump administration left the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Australia should actively shape the two major trading blocs that currently lack US participation – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the successor of TPP – by making them as attractive as possible to potential US, not to mention Indian, membership in the future. This will require closer coordination with the region’s other economically developed states, such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Australia should also support the Biden administration’s yet to be released “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework”.
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