Australia, neighbors to shore up defenses

Australia is moving to breathe new life into its Southeast Asian defense commitments at the same time it is working to beef up its military cooperation with the United States.

Its aim is to revitalize and introduce more regular multi-national land, sea, and air exercises in Southeast Asia under the somewhat atrophied 10-year-old Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDa).

Australian sources say the five-power agreement -- signed by Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia -- should be revived to strengthen regional defenses in light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. The other countries have Asian defense commitments at the same time it is working to beef up its military cooperation with the United States.

Its aim is to revitalize and introduce more regular multi-national land, sea, and air exercises in Southeast Asia under the somewhat atrophied 10-year-old Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDa).

Australian sources say the five-power agreement -- signed by Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia -- should be revived to strengthen regional defenses in light of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. The other countries have responded positively.

The initiative follows Australian efforts to cement military ties with the U.S. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has offered the US a base for its Indian Ocean naval fleet either at Cockburn Sound or Perth in Western Australia. The two countries also are discussing the possibility of basing nuclear-armed B-52 bombers at one of several Australian airfields, presumably to counter growing Soviet military influence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean.

The FPDA pact originally was signed to "fill the vacuum" left when Britain decided to withdraw its forces "east of Suez." Since then, there has been only one major multinational exercise. Held a decade ago, it involved about 35,000 men. Irregular exercises have been staged, but they have been only low-key, bilateral naval and air power.

Singaporean Air Force pilots have been training in Australian planes, and each year groups of about 150 Singapore soldiers work with troops in areas such as Townsville and Queensland, according to an Australian source. Mr. Fraser apparently wants to expand this.

Teams of high-level officials are expected to be sent to Singapore and Malaysia to elicit more cooperation.Despite the talk of five-power maneuvers, major emphasis is expected to be placed on the idea of three-power exercises among Australia, Malayais, and Singapore.

Still, there is some disagreement over what purpose all this serves. One prominent source in the region argues that five-powerr manuevers in the Malacca Straits near Malaysia and Singapore would be largely irrelevant to Cambodia.

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