MELBOURNE, Australia, Nov. 7, 2010 - Asia’s security environment presents a new and complex mix of challenges that make the U.S.-Australia alliance as critical today as any time in its history, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in a jointly by-lined opinion article published in an Australian newspaper today.

“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,” they wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in advance of the 25th anniversary Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations here.

During the Nov. 8 summit, Gates, Clinton and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with their Australian hosts, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defense Minister Stephen Smith, to chart the way forward for their longstanding alliance as it works to shape a more stable, prosperous region in light of current and emerging threats and challenges.

“Today’s security environment in Asia presents a new and complex mix of security 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,” the secretaries wrote.

“As a Pacific nation, the United States is committed to meeting these challenges and defending our interests in Asia,” they continued. “Much as it has for the past century, America’s future will continue to be tied to Asia’s success.”

This, they explained, is why the United States is strengthening its defense presence and posture in the Pacific, including modernizing base arrangements and air, naval and missile defense capabilities. At the same time, the United States is forward-deploying other elements of its national power: diplomats and development experts who are working throughout the region to bolster relationships key to long-term security.

Gates and Clinton noted the challenges the United States and Australia share beyond their immediate horizons, in Afghanistan. They praised Australia which “is once more punching well above its weight” as the largest non-NATO contributor of combat troops, with the lead role in helping the Afghan army and police in Uruzgan province build capacity.

“We recognize, as do our allies and partners, that the road ahead in Afghanistan will not be easy – or short,” the secretaries said.

They noted with agreement Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent statement that even after the Afghan government starts taking the security lead for some provinces next summer, 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 Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for violent extremists of global reach,” Gates and Clinton wrote.

Meanwhile, the secretaries noted that the U.S.-Australian alliance continues to adapt to better address age-old challenges and confront new ones – a subject to be addressed during the summit.

Gates and Clinton noted improved collaboration in counterpiracy, cybersecurity and disaster response, among other areas. Today, they and their Australian hosts will sign a new Space Situational Awareness Partnership Statement of Principles that will promote closer cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“The U.S. military partnership with Australia will continue to play a vital role, defending against current threats while also preparing for those on or beyond the horizon,” the secretaries wrote.

But the importance of the alliance, they said, extends beyond military power. It includes all elements of national power and international cooperation needed to foster a stable, prosperous region governed by international norms and rule of law, they noted.

Gates and Clinton emphasized the need to work multilaterally as well as bilaterally, building partners throughout the region and helping enhance their capabilities so they can work collectively to tackle regional challenges.

The secretaries called the ministerial an opportunity to reflect on the alliance’s strength and resiliency through its history and to help shape it for what’s ahead.

“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,” they wrote.