• Corporal Joshua Bock, crew commander of Rheinmetall’s Boxer CRV, during Exercise Chong Ju.
    Corporal Joshua Bock, crew commander of Rheinmetall’s Boxer CRV, during Exercise Chong Ju. Defence

ASPI has released a report, authored by yours truly, exploring opportunities and limits for Australia to deepen its security and defence ties with European countries following the UK’s exit from the EU.

In the report, I argue that the like-mindedness between Australia and Germany bears great potential to increase cooperation.

More collaboration would secure Australia’s influence in a post-Brexit EU and allow both countries to jointly take on a leadership role to demonstrate their commitment to the challenged international rules-based order.

Both countries, however, will need to leave ‘“common path dependency” when it comes to strategic thinking in order to adjust to current and future global security issues, even when faced with competing regional priorities and resource-constrained environments.

Cooperation on security is as important as trade and cultural exchanges, and there is potential for deeper cooperation in cybersecurity, space security, intelligence and information sharing, as well as for strengthening military ties and defence industry partnerships.

In the report, I argue that a major opportunity exists to “jointly identify and develop counterterrorism measures to protect energy and other critical infrastructure.

“Both countries use whole-of-government approaches, including foreign policy, domestic policy and defence policy in their cyber policy, so they should also collaborate to share solutions.”

Moreover, I also argue that Berlin’s experience with the Russian government could advance Australia’s understanding of Russia’s global actions and ambitions, whilst Canberra’s expertise in understanding how the Chinese state is using its growing strategic and economic power could be highly valuable to Berlin.

Australia will also need to make better use of its limited diplomatic resources across Europe, especially in regards to strategic thinking and defence planning. This, I argue, could be achieved by assigning specific areas or themes to each embassy.

With Brexit approaching, Australia needs to assign additional defence and defence industry expertise to diplomatic missions across the continent. Regular reassessments would then allow Australia to determine where further defence personnel might be located.

In the report, I note that “military-to-military relations need better linking and development, which will require a change in the culture of engagement.” This requires a commitment to regular officer exchanges.

Canberra must also consider providing further rotating opportunities to “ensure the build-up of skills and understanding among European partners, as the officers’ acquired insights could be shared with other European countries.”

There are, of course, limits to deeper collaboration. Large-scale German–Australian military exercises are unlikely because of time and resource constraints. However, both sides should continue to increase their participation in regional exercises and periodic ship visits. This would allow Germany to advertise its defence industry capabilities throughout the region and participate in potential future freedom of navigation operations.

This may also facilitate greater contact between German and Australian defence industries, allowing for new global logistical chains and joint exploration of new export markets. As the EU’s Common Defence and Security Policy features initiatives open to non-EU members, there are major opportunities for Australian defence industry to collaborate with German and European partners.

Australian companies focussing on niche capabilities and contributing partial systems would be the best chance for German-Australian industry cooperation, with particular potential for Australia in space and UAVs.

In short, commitment to each other will be necessary to face the challenges of today and tomorrow. Both states have unique capabilities and knowledge of mutual benefit; relations ought to become closer in a changing world and a changing Europe.

Note: Jacqueline Westermann regularly comments on European and Russian security. In addition to her research for ASPI’s International Program, she has also been working with The German Marshall Fund of the US’ Warsaw office and the Moscow German Newspaper.

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