In the annual AUSMIN talks with their US counterparts next week, Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne should make more offers than requests. The US needs help, and it's in our interest to make help available.
Especially after the debacle of the exit from Afghanistan last month, US officials could surely do with encouragement from a supportive ally rather than begging from one that wants to put more burden on them.
Above all, as Washington struggles to find a way to face down China militarily, we should offer more access to our territory. And we should tell the Americans we'll pick up the bill (or the check, as they would say).
Where we do make requests, we should seek more access to advanced US weapons.
Australia's geography wasn't much use for basing forces in the Cold War. We were too far from the Soviet Far East, so our main contribution was to host facilities for collecting and sharing military information.
China is closer to us than Russia is, but even in the first decade of this century, when careful observers could already see a Chinese threat looming, the distances were still too great. It's far less efficient to project firepower over 4000 kilometres (the distance between Australia and China's main objective, Taiwan) than 600 kilometres (the range from US bases in Japan).
In 2021, even with China having moved 1000 kilometres closer to us by building bases in the South China Sea, projecting firepower in that direction from Australia is still inefficient. It nonetheless looks increasingly necessary for the US, as China builds up its ability to destroy enemy forces and bases near its territory.
So Dutton and Payne should tell US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken that if it's helpful for northern Australia to host US forces - whether permanently, for exercises or just in a crisis - then we're putting out the welcome mat.
This should not be phrased as begging for help, along the lines of "Please come and protect us" - though the Americans would well understand that it's in our interests to have them here in case we're threatened.
Under a 2011 agreement, we already have up to 2500 US marines coming to the Top End each year for exercises. Larger numbers were discussed before the agreement was signed, and Dutton and Payne could mention we'd now be happy to have more.
I'm not sure the US would want to concentrate more of the Marine Corps here, however. There's more flexibility and safety if its units are kept dispersed.
The more likely US priority for northern Australia is long-range airpower - wielded by B-52 and B-1 bombers and P-8 Poseidon maritime patrollers, plus supporting tankers and surveillance aircraft.
If the US wants to send them, we should be willing to expand the Royal Australian Air Force's northern bases to take them - building more and longer runways and extra taxiways, parking space, weapon storage and fuel tanks.
Australia should also be willing to support aircraft, weapons and other equipment the US wants to send here, says Stephan Fruehling, a defence specialist at the Australian National University. In the Cold War, European countries equipped their forces to fix US Army vehicles, for example.
When we agreed to take the marines, we disgraced ourselves by making the US pay for facilities on our territory that they would need. Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, recalls US officials' annoyance at our stinginess; they were then struggling with severe budget cuts.
Our key northern air base, RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory, is now being upgraded, in part to support US aircraft for exercises. And we're again making the US pay for some of the work.
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This sort of thing must stop. These are our bases, and US use of them is important for us. We must pay.
We should offer the US access not only to Tindal. Missile attack can put an air base out of action - for hours, days, or even weeks - so alternatives are needed, and each facility must be robust. Even for our own aircraft, it's time to begin upgrading the other northern air bases - at Darwin, on Cape York Peninsula and near Derby.
Fruehling has previously suggested making arrangements and buying equipment so the RAAF can operate from dispersed civil airfields up north, too.
If Washington is interested in our air bases but worried that they're basically unprotected, we should be willing to move ahead with a program for buying air-and-missile defence systems that could guard them.
Now is a good time to offer more use of our territory and to take on some of the US's burden in facing China, notes Fruehling. Washington happens to be conducting one of its occasional reviews of where it should locate its armed forces around the world.
As for requests we might make at AUSMIN, these should include getting access to technology that would not only improve our forces but also make them better for helping the US. We could, for example, ask to buy non-nuclear ballistic missiles the US is developing to make China think twice before trying to conquer Taiwan.
This is advanced technology that the US may be reluctant to share. But from its point of view, if we buy some of the weapons then more will be available on this side of the world - deterring China a bit more.
And such ballistic missiles are just the sort of equipment that we need to foist onto the Australian army as we try to drag it away from its obsession with preparing to go back to the Middle East with tanks and suchlike.
- Bradley Perrett was based in Beijing as a journalist from 2004 to 2020.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.