The defence and foreign ministers of Australia and the US will use a major meeting this week to deepen military ties.
Opportunities for Australia’s special forces troops to keep training with their US comrades once they leave Afghanistan will be explored by the two allies in Sydney this week.
Australia will host the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) on Tuesday, bringing together the foreign and defence ministers of each nation for important talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel will meet Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston on Monday for a discussion ahead of the main event the next day.
The signature event will be the signing of the Force Posture Agreement reached by US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Tony Abbott in June.
It sets out the legal framework for the presence of US marines based in Darwin, currently at 1150, but set to rise to 2500, and allows the US to expand military assets over the next 25 years in Australia beyond the troop rotation.
This could include closer cooperation on ballistic missile defence systems, an item discussed at past AUSMIN meetings and one that will feature this year as well.
Also on the agenda will be ways for US and Australian special forces soldiers to continue training exercises together once both nations have withdrawn from Afghanistan.
America will shift its military mission in the war-torn country to an advisory role at the end of this year, while Australia ended combat operations in 2013, but with Mr Kerry in town, attention may shift to affairs beyond Australia’s back yard.
For weeks, Mr Kerry has been spearheading efforts in the Middle East to broker a lasting ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and has been talking tough on Russia over the downing of MH17.
The latter tragedy has gripped Australia and with no end in sight to the conflict between separatists and Ukrainian forces around the crash site, it’s likely to be discussed in depth.
The AUSMIN talks also are an opportunity for Australia to showcase its enviably close alliance with the global superpower and number-one ally.
Australia strongly endorses the Obama administration’s rebalance strategy towards Asia and the Pacific, known as the “pivot”, and sees itself as a trusted partner in the region.
“Most allies of the United States would want to be in that situation,” University of Sydney Associate Professor Brendan O’Connor told AAP.
However there’s always the risk such displays of camaraderie can antagonise China.
The territorial dispute in the East China Sea between China and Japan – a strong ally of both the US and Australia – won’t go unmentioned at AUSMIN.
Prof O’Connor suggested there were benefits in Australia taking a more collective approach to diplomacy outside its traditional focus on one-on-one ties with stronger partners.
“In the end, you end up serving their needs more than your own,” he said.