Wall Street Journal on March 7, 2015 reported on Australia having to decide whether to buy Japanese, French or German attack submarines to replace its aging Collins-class vessels. An open competition where the best product wins is generally desirable for such purchases. But this case should involve considerations beyond the traditional measures of price and performance. A deal with Japan could bring the two navies into closer cooperation. Excerpts below:

The French and German designs offer impressive capabilities, and the manufacturers have more experience in foreign military sales than the Japanese. But Japan’s Soryu submarine is an existing, proven performer operating in the Asia-Pacific maritime terrain. It also represents Japan’s desire to deepen its security relationship with Australia so that the two countries’ militaries can operate together seamlessly.

Japan chose Australia for its first attempt at a major weapons sale as part of its effort to build up collective self-defense relationships in the Asian and Indo-Pacific regions. This is no accident. Japan’s offer of the Soryu represents tangible proof that Japan considers Australia to be as important a security partner as the United States. It appears Japan’s intention is to use the submarine sale to cement a trilateral relationship with Australia and the U.S.

China has also alarmed both Japan and Australia with its expansive and unilateral territorial actions in the East and South China Seas. Its island-building campaign in the South China Sea not only ruined vast expanses of pristine coral reefs but also upset the region’s security equilibrium. The military airfields and naval-support facilities that Beijing has built to back its overreaching claims have been cloaked as civilian settlements.

China is moving full speed ahead in its military and territorial expansion across the islands that separate its coastal waters from the Pacific Ocean. As China threatens weaker neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam via naval units, coast guard and a militia of fishing vessels, the weak response of its neighbors has failed to convince Beijing to modify its behavior.

Japan’s leaders instinctively understand China’s long-term strategy and are preparing themselves for a worst-case eventuality. If unchecked, China will not back down and will eventually lay claim to and take possession of the entirety of the so-called “nine-dashed line” around the South China Sea. It will pick off one nation at a time in its quest for hegemonic dominance.

A united front is required to ensure the peace and security of the region. The foundation of that united front is a trilateral security alliance between Australia, Japan and the U.S.

Mr. Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Mr. Smith is a lecturer at Macquarie University and retired captain in the U.S. Navy.

Comment: A trilateral security alliance between the United States, Japan and Australia is of great geostrategic importance. There is an urgent need for greater pro-Western cooperation in the Pacific Ocean area. The alliance could be the backbone of a larger Pacific Ocean Treaty Organization (POTO).


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