News National Australia-NATO deal tackles new challenges

Australia-NATO deal tackles new challenges

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart. Photo: AAP
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Australia will look at new ways to work with NATO in the Indo-Pacific under a fresh deal.

The partnership was signed after Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Sydney on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds says Australia’s agreement with NATO is freshened up every two years and the latest version has a greater focus on the Pacific region.

“We are looking at new areas to work together in the Indo-Pacific,” Senator Reynolds told reporters in Sydney.

Australia also plans to work more with NATO on issues such as access to rare earth elements, which are critical for military technologies.

Mr Stoltenberg said the relationship between Australia and NATO is particularly important as new challenges are emerging.

“The more unpredictable and challenging the security environment is, the more important it is that we stay together, work together, stand together and protect a rules-based world order,” he told reporters.

“That is the purpose of the partnership between Australia and NATO.”

He stressed the deal is a framework, which will prompt concrete activities in the coming years.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has spent the past three decades building partnerships with non-member countries in a bid to improve the way military forces operate together and manage crises.

Australia contributes around 300 personnel to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, as well as funding for Afghan defence and security forces.

Mr Stoltenberg also plans a series of meetings with Australian foreign and defence officials in Canberra on Thursday and will speak at the Australian National University.

NATO represents 50 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and half of the world’s military might.

The visit comes as Australia is weighing up a US request to provide military ships and aircraft to help protect commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.

Britain announced on Monday it was joining the US mission after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker two weeks ago in apparent retaliation for the UK detaining an Iranian vessel it said violated EU sanctions imposed on its ally Syria.

The NATO head said the issue is worrying the alliance.

“We are extremely concerned about the situation in the Strait of Hormuz and our allies are also concerned about the destabilising activities of Iran in the region – its support for different terrorist groups, its missile program,” he said.

Mr Stoltenberg earlier in the week told a forum in NZ a more assertive Russia was putting the global rules-based order under pressure.

China’s role and influence is also a sign of increasing global power competition, he argued.

The fight against Islamic State was not over, he said, although significant progress had been made in reducing the terrorist organisation’s scale and influence.