Two nations 'should go beyond training focus'

(Above) Troops from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Australian Defence Force during a preview of Exercise Trident at Freshwater Bay in Rockhampton, Queensland. (Below) Another scene from Exercise Trident.
A preview of Exercise Trident at Freshwater Bay in Rockhampton, Queensland.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

A  Lowy Institute paper - to be released today - on Australia's new pact with Singapore says both countries should seek to further expand defence ties beyond the emphasis on providing "real estate" for Singapore training.

Titled The Lion And The Kangaroo: Australia's Strategic Partnership With Singapore, the paper examines the potential for future cooperation.

It says Australia and Singapore are natural partners because of "commonalities in outlook and capability that are also unmatched elsewhere in the region". It also says both are "odd men out" in the region and have faced frustrations in their attempts to build enduring partnerships in South-east Asia.

"While Australia and Singapore do not have identical threat perceptions, they share a 'common strategic outlook', on concerns from Islamist terrorism and cyber-vulnerability to managing great power competition in Asia," the paper says.

"Beyond its national security and defence resources, Singapore also has the enabling capacity to serve as a hub for Australia's growing security interests in South-east Asia, including counter-terrorism, just as it does in the economic sphere."

Authored by Dr Euan Graham, director of the institute's international security programme, the paper says the closer engagement should promote active cooperation. Singapore could be invited to join more Australia-United States exercises and Australian air force detachments could be invited to train with Singapore air force units.

"It is therefore important for Singapore to embrace bilateral defence engagement with Australia while Canberra is actively looking to thicken its military partnerships in South-east Asia," the paper adds.

It says deeper military ties would provide a "subtle way" for both nations to limit their dependence on military interaction with Malaysia.

The paper says the closer military relationship comes amid recent "scrutiny" of Malaysia's commitment to the 45-year-old Five Power Defence Arrangements involving the three nations, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

This follows Malaysia's "unprecedented cancellation of a scheduled air exercise in late 2015 for reasons that remain unclear".

"Moreover, as the capability gap widens between Malaysia and the rapidly modernising armed forces of Australia and Singapore, it will be less able to keep up with their higher-end military interactions," the paper adds.

Jonathan Pearlman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Two nations 'should go beyond training focus''. Print Edition | Subscribe