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Defence

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 War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Vietnam War (1959-1975), the Persian Gulf War (1991), the UN engagement in East Timor (1999-2002), and the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan (2001-2002). 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 2004 the Australian armed forces totaled 52,872. The army numbered 26,035; the navy, 13,167; and the air force, 13,670. Although relatively small, the Australian armed forces possess some of the most modern weaponry in the world.

Given Australia’s relatively small and isolated population, the maintenance of good relationships globally and with its major trading partners is considered vital to its national security. Security in the Asia-Pacific region is a particularly high priority. Australia has therefore been regularly and intimately involved in international and regional forums, and is a signatory to a number of international agreements with defense-oriented implications. With the United States and New Zealand, Australia was a signatory of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951 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 that 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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