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Southeast Asia’s Security Landscape

Lessons for the ADF

Australian Army Occasional Paper No. 17
Plain map of South-East Asia displaying red and blue dashed route lines, and yellow spots.

Executive Summary

Australian policymakers have long recognised that the resilience of Southeast Asia, as a region bordering the nation’s northern approaches, is fundamental to Australia’s national security. In the past 10 years, Australia’s relationship with the region has developed substantially, as economic and diplomatic interests converge to provide leaders on all sides with the opportunity to expand the scope of relations. This strategic environment has fostered the creation of development partnerships, economic agreements, and comprehensive strategic partnerships. Yet, despite rapidly expanding ties, Australia’s relationship with some countries within Southeast Asia, including principal states like Indonesia and Malaysia, is increasingly characterised by strategic divergence due to the growing rivalry between the US and China.

This report examines how the Australian defence community, with its extensive array of networks in Southeast Asia, can best engage the region in the years ahead to ensure that the past decade’s gains are not lost. In assessing how defence engagement between Australia and the region can best transpire, this paper assumes that Australia’s defence relations with Southeast Asian states are best served when there is a convergence of interests. To assess where convergence lies, the paper analyses the most pressing security challenges facing Southeast Asian states in the next decade. It makes a case for deepening defence cooperation in the maritime, cyber, and non-traditional security domains. While most states in Southeast Asia are becoming more resilient, officials across the region still identify internal security concerns as the most pressing security challenges. The paper makes recommendations to ensure that security relations between Australia and Southeast Asia deepen by broadening capacity building, improving awareness of the regional maritime domain, and expanding information sharing within cyberspace and the maritime domain.