Today we will convene in Melbourne for the 25th anniversary of the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. It is an occasion to reflect on the strength and resiliency of our alliance - a bond between two democracies of shared culture, interests, and values - while moving ahead together to advance those interests and values in the years to come.
Consider that American and Australian troops have fought side by side in every big conflict of the past century. In the Asia-Pacific, the U.S. and Australia are standing shoulder to shoulder on issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear program to defending freedom of movement and commerce in international waters.
In Afghanistan, Australia is once more punching well above its weight, with the largest non-NATO deployment of combat troops. Australia has taken a leading role in Oruzgan province and is helping to put the country on a path to providing for its own security by building the capacity of the Afghan National Army and Police. Americans honour the service of our Australian allies and we know it comes with painful sacrifice.
We recognise, as do our allies and partners, that the road ahead in Afghanistan will not be easy - or short. As the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said recently, while the Afghan Government will begin taking the lead on security for some provinces next year, the international community will remain engaged in Afghanistan for years to come to combat violent extremist networks, strengthen the rule of law and promote economic development. This commitment is essential to ensure that the country does not again become a safe haven for violent extremists of global reach.
Today's security environment in Asia presents a new and complex mix of challenges: the emergence of rising powers; the proliferation of dangerous weapons and materials; the age-old scourge of piracy; and the threat of violent extremism. As a Pacific nation, the U.S. is committed to meeting these challenges and defending our interests in Asia. Our future will continue to be tied to Asia's success. This is one reason we are enhancing our defence presence and posture in the Pacific, including the modernisation of our basing arrangements and our air, naval and missile defence capabilities.
We are also practising "forward-deployed" diplomacy, sending our diplomats and development experts into every corner of the region to bolster our relations with partners and allies, regional institutions, and the people of Asia themselves.
The U.S. military partnership with Australia will continue to play a vital role, defending against present threats while preparing for those on or beyond the horizon.
Together, our militaries are keeping the seas safe from piracy, protecting our computer networks and infrastructure from cyber attacks, and finding more effective ways to respond to natural disasters. This week's meeting in Melbourne will lead to the signing of a Space Situational Awareness Partnership Statement of Principles, which we expect will lead to even greater cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Australia is a valuable partner in development of the Joint Strike Fighter, the backbone of our air combat power for the next generation. We also applaud Australia's ambitious plan to enhance its maritime capabilities through the acquisition of new air warfare destroyers and submarines.
The importance of the U.S.-Australia alliance extends to all elements of national power and international cooperation, efforts that will shape a more stable, prosperous region, governed by international norms and the rule of law. Our nations understand the growing imperative for Australia and America to work together, not just bilaterally but also multilaterally, through institutions such as ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and APEC.
Among the greatest tests of our leadership in this new age is our ability to mobilise common action to solve shared problems. So across South-East Asia, the U.S. and Australia are working together with our partners to confront the region's humanitarian, developmental and environmental challenges.
On issues ranging from disaster relief and maritime security to violence against women, we are stepping up our efforts and looking for innovative solutions. Part of that commitment is helping the Pacific Island nations create sustainable economic development, improve healthcare, crack down on illegal fishing and respond to the effects of climate change.
The diplomatic, military and economic ties between our two countries have never been more important - to the security and well-being not just of our own citizens but regionally and globally as well.
Drawing wisdom and inspiration from what we have achieved together, the U.S. and Australia stand ready to confront the challenges of this new century, just as we overcome the threats and obstacles of the last.
Hillary Rodham Clinton and Robert Gates are the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Secretary of Defense.