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How does the decline of the US as unquestioned security guarantor make Australia’s place in Asia more complex?

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With the United States as Australia's security guarantor since World War II, Australia was shielded against foreign aggression during the Cold War. America became Australia's protector because the country needed help against Japan during WWII. Today, Japan is a quintessentially peaceful nation, and the Cold War is over.

In 2020, where would a potential threat to Australia come from? The answer is China. However, Communist China has not been extremely aggressive. It fought in the Korean War, on its border, for ostensibly defensive purposes. It also had a brief border war with Vietnam in 1979. Today, China is most aggressive in the South China Sea, and Australia does not have a direct claim to that area. Overt Chinese aggression towards Australia seems highly unlikely. Moreover, Australia and China have an important trading relationship.

The main reason why the US is a less reliable security guarantor is the presidency of Donald Trump. For example, he has declined to publicly pledge the US to defend NATO allies under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. If Trump were to be defeated in November 2020, his successor would likely reaffirm American security commitments—including those to Australia. Therefore, Australia may be wise to wait and reevaluate its security situation in 2021.

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