Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, who also serves as his country's defense minister, stressed the importance of the alliance system in the Indo-Pacific region after a meeting in Hawaii.
The two discussed their unwavering commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and the challenges to that ideal.
Both Australia and the United States are dedicated to the premise that all countries should be free to choose their own destinies. Further, the international, rules-based order is based on the idea that nations should respect international laws and resolve disputes peacefully, Austin said.
"These shared convictions run deep, and they are the foundation of our unbreakable alliance," the secretary said. "The region and the world face a growing challenge from autocratic countries attempting to change the status quo through threats, coercion and provocative military activities and even naked aggression," Austin said. "We're deeply concerned by China's aggressive, escalatory and destabilizing military activities in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the region."
Nations around the world are uniting to oppose Russia's unprovoked and cruel invasion of Ukraine. "The United States and Australia are united in opposing actions that threaten peace, stability and the rules-based international order," he said.
Both Austin and Marles agreed the conversation between the two leaders was productive. They discussed the steps needed to enhance deterrence and strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific. "We talked about enhancing our interoperability and expanding our operations and advancing our on-going posture, force posture initiatives," the secretary said.
Marles said the two leaders talked about ways to deepen defense industrial base cooperation.
They also spoke about Australia, the United Kingdom and United States trilateral security pact that will pave the way for Australia to acquire nuclear submarine technology and for the three nations to cooperate on other advanced technologies. Marles thanked all those involved in working on the pact and said Australia is still on track to announce the way forward on the submarine acquisition process in the first part of 2023.
Australia is part of the coalition to help Ukraine in its fight for sovereignty against Russia, Marles said. His nation also sees increasingly aggressive Chinese efforts to "seek to shape the world around it in a way that we have not seen before," he said.
The freedom of navigation in the East China Sea and South China Sea and around Taiwan is "fundamentally important to Australia's national interests," he said.
The men discussed the U.S. Marine Corps rotation to Darwin, Australia, "but we want to look at other ways in which we can build upon American force posture and doing that in cooperation with Australia," Marles said.
Marles said at the heart of the meeting is the strategic alignment between the United States and Australia. This has always been the case, "but has never been greater than it is right now," he said.
The U.S.-Australia alliance is one part of the U.S. alliance network. "Our allies and partners bring significant capability, and — not only in terms of what they bring to the fight, but the access, basing rights — all of those things contribute to our overall effort," Austin said. "Quite frankly, it's what our adversaries worry about most — our ability to work together with like-minded partners and allies. That really magnifies our warfighting capability."
Alliances and partnerships are critical to deterrence. "That's why you've seen us work hard to strengthen partnerships and alliances in the region," he said.
Marles also commented on the importance of alliances. "Our alliance with the United States is completely central to our national security and to our world view, and the alliance has never been more important than it is now," he said, adding the vast majority of Australians support the treaty with the United States.
"Looked at more broadly, the observation I'd make is that America is a country which does alliances," Marles said. "What that means is that America is a country that works with others and seeks to work with those in the global community, which says everything about the United States role as a global leader for countries around the world who share a commitment to the global, rules-based order."
Marles said the U.S. system of alliances is profoundly important. "It is the 'edge,' and it matters deeply," he said. "It matters deeply in terms of providing security."
Following the meeting, Austin invited the deputy prime minister to the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, submarine docks where they toured the USS Mississippi. The Mississippi is a nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarine that's armed with cruise missiles.