Australia cites China, India, as reasons for a major military buildup

Prime Minister Rudd proposes $72 billion in new spending. US military can't protect it, say analysts.

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Almost two decades after the end of the cold war, a new arms race may be under way in the Pacific. Responding to the expansion of China's military, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sparked a storm of controversy on Saturday when he released a report calling for a $72 billion expansion of the military over the next 20 years.

Among other upgrades, Australia would purchase 100 F-35 fighter jets, 12 hunter-killer submarines, 46 Tiger helicopters, and 100 armored vehicles, while also investing in cyber and electronic warfare technologies, according to the 140-page report titled "Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific Century: Force 2030."

The report cited the threats of North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs, cyber attacks, and piracy, but it points to the rise of China and India as the most imminent concern in the coming years. It also adds that US military dominance is now uncertain and therefore its assistance to Australia is no longer guaranteed.

Although Prime Minister Rudd says he is not anticipating a conflict with China, he insists that his nation must be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Amid the global economic crisis, however, many Australians question the value of a major increase in military spending, which may burden taxpayers.

Since the publication of the report, Rudd has been on the defensive. In a public appearance on Saturday he emphasized that while Australia hopes to maintain good relations with its neighbors, there are very real indicators that power dynamics could change, endangering Australia unless action is taken.

"It's as plain as day that there is a significant military and naval build-up across the Asia-Pacific region, that's a reality, it's a truth, it's there," said Rudd in an Australian Associated Press article. "Either you can simply choose to ignore that fact, or to incorporate that into a realistic component of Australia's strategic assumptions about what this region will look like over the next two decades."

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has blasted the viability of Mr. Rudd's plan, saying that he relies too heavily on the China threat, which he describes as "unlikely and not realistic" given the nation's current relations with the communist state. Additionally, an article in The Age describes the plan as potentially leaving "financial time bombs" for future governments.

The Defense Department has been asked to find $20 billion in savings to help offset the cost of the program. Joel Fitzgibbon, the defense minister, remains confident that the government can manage the cost of the military expansion and says a detailed spending plan will be released next week when the government releases the federal budget, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Despite assurances, there remains widespread skepticism, as almost every Australian news outlet ran a story on Saturday questioning or explaining just where the money would come from. One such report in the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, who pointed to the Defense Department's long history of wasteful spending.

Meanwhile, The Australian reports that Japan has indicated solidarity about concerns regarding China's rapidly increasing military might. Speaking in Perth, Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said the communist state's military expansion policy was an "issue of some concern" to the region.

In China, the official state news agency, Xinhua, took an optimistic view of the proposed buildup, noting it's potential to help Australian economy by reviving industry. The Chinese news agency quoted Rudd saying, "It is good news for industry as many of the new assets will be built locally."

Australia's push for a stronger military force may also be reflective of a growing "fortress Australia" mentality, writes BBC Australia correspondent Nick Bryant in his news blog. Less able to depend on the US for support like it has since World War II, Mr. Bryant writes that "stout self-defence and self-reliance are the watchwords" in Australia now. For many Australians, there is a view that having a better equipped military may allow them to take more independent positions, writes Bryant.

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