February 15, 2002, Newsletter Issue #69: Australian Defense History

Tip of the Week

The system of national defense employed by Australia, dates from the integration of the separate colonial forces following the country´s federation in 1901. A small amount of compulsory military service (strictly within Australia) was introduced in 1911. The Royal Australian Navy received its first ships in 1913. Australians were on active service with the Royal Flying Corps in World War I (1914-1918); the Royal Australian Air Force was not established until 1921. Australians twice rejected compulsory military service during World War I, yet volunteered in huge numbers out of proportion to the small population.
The first enemy attack on Australian territory was the aerial bombing of Darwin by the Japanese early in World War II (1939-1945).
Australian forces have taken part with distinction in the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Sudan campaign (1897-1899), the Boer War (1899-1902), World Wars I and II, the Korean War (1950-1953), the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), and the Persian Gulf War (1991). Conscription was reintroduced for home defense during World War II, then in the postwar years until 1960, and again in 1965 to support the Vietnam effort. Public outrage over the Vietnam War caused conscription to be abolished once more in 1972.

In 1998, the Australian armed forces totaled 55,200. The army numbered 25,200; the navy, 14,200; and the air force, 15,800. Although small, the armed forces are equipped with modern weapons.

With the United States and New Zealand, Australia was a signatory of the ANZUS Treaty (1952) for mutual defense and support in case of attack. When New Zealand refused in the mid-1980s to allow ships capable of nuclear attacks to use its ports, the United States suspended defense obligations with the country. The Australia-United States alliance under ANZUS remains in full force, and Australia also maintains its own defense agreements with New Zealand.

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