Pew published a thought provoking piece of research this week. Included in the report were the two graphics below:
You can read the full report on the Pew website. There are many interesting threads to pull at here (for example: what country is missing from South Koreans’ perceived sense of threat?), but what caught my attention are the opinions of the Australian public. There are five countries on this list that America has signed some sort of mutual defense treaty with; of the five, none are less confident in the Americans than the Australians. Australian doubts should not be too surprising: America’s ability to fulfill its defense guarantees in the West Pacific is a actively debated topic in both the Australian press and the Australian think tank world. Arguments that Australia needs to prepare now to go it alone, that Americans would be unreliable in event of war, that American military capabilities are incapable of defending Australia (or America’s own forward operating bases) against Chinese aggression, and that so-called Chinese ‘aggression’ is mostly an American plot anyway are easy to find.
Some of these claims are stronger than others, but given how common these sentiments are it is not surprising to see them leak down into general public opinion surveys. My question is not “why do the Australians doubt us?” but “why is everybody else so much more confident than they are?” Why are the Filipinos so confident in their American alliance when by any measure you might choose—American troops stationed in the country, shared military experience, cooperation between the armed forces or security services and the Americans, the strength of the bilateral relationship as a whole, the American public’s fondness for the country in question—the Aussies have it so much better, yet still doubt? What assurances do the Canadians, Japanese, South Koreans, Filipinos, and Israelis (who are not even party to a mutual defense pact) have that the Australians do not?
I do not have an answer to this question, but I am interested in finding one. If you have a good hypothesis to explain what makes Australia different, sound off in the comments below.
 Laura Silver, “U.S. is seen as a top ally in many countries – but others view it as a threat,” Pew Research Center (5 December 2019).