Australia launches symbolic show of naval strength in strategic Indian Ocean

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Australia plans a symbolic naval presence in the strategically sensitive Indian Ocean, traditionally an area to which Canberra has given low priority. The Australian government has announced it will initiate naval patrols of the Indian Ocean and naval goodwill visits to nations in the region, probably including Kenya, Tanzania, and Mauritius. (There are no plans for cooperation with South Africa, which also faces the Indian Ocean. Canberra remains implacably opposed to Pretoria's apartheid policies.)

The patrols will be more symbolic than a deterrent. Only one ship has been allocated initially. Its patrols will be limited unless there is an increase in the Navy's next budget allocation later this year.

Nevertheless, the Australian gesture has been welcomed as an expression of interest in regional stability from a source other than the two superpowers, which watch each other suspiciously in this part of the world.

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Australia is the dominant economic power in much of the South Pacific. Along with New Zealand and the United States, it has managed through diplomatic and economic pressure to ensure that the many small independent island nations in the region have rebuffed Soviet overtures for naval access to their ports in exchange for large-scale technical aid. (Australia, New Zealand, and the US are defense partners in the ANZUS treaty signed in 1951.)

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