The meeting between Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles was more of a family reunion than a strategic summit.
The two men met in the Pentagon to discuss what Austin called the “unbreakable alliance” between the two countries. The two met in Singapore last month. The Pentagon meeting comes on the heels of the NATO Summit in Madrid, where Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with alliance leaders including President Joe Biden.
“For decades, our two great democracies have been bound together by shared history, our deep friendship and our common values,” Austin said. “And the United States and Australia are both standing strong to counter Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”
Austin chairs the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and Australia is a member of that group channeling materials to Ukraine to help defend itself. “I’m grateful for Australia’s leadership in supporting the Ukrainian people as they fight for their lives, and our freedom and our democracy,” he said.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine challenges the rules-based international order in Europe, and China is challenging the order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Both Austin and Marles said they were particularly saddened by the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They called Abe a champion of the international order and said he had done much to strengthen the Indo-Pacific’s security, stability and prosperity.
Abe’s vision for the region is under attack. “Today that vision faces some major challenges,” the secretary said. “China’s disruptive and destabilizing actions threaten to undermine our values, our interests and our shared conviction that all states should be free to choose their own paths without coercion or intimidation.”
The two leaders look to discuss several ways to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific. The secretary said he is proud of the work that the United States and Australia have done to make the alliance stronger and more capable.
Marles said the global rules-based order is being put under a pressure not seen since the end of World War II. The Russian attack on Ukraine – though thousands of miles from Australia – is a concern to the nation. He noted that the invasion challenges Australian principles and Australian national interests. He said this is why Australia is “the largest non-NATO contributor to their assistance.”
China “seeks to shape the world around it in a way that we’ve not seen before,” Marles said. He noted that China is also engaging in a huge military build-up, “that is a very significant phenomenon, which presents enormous challenges to both of us.”