Australia-US Alliance Series: Week 2


The State of the Alliance

By Rawdon Dalrymple

Australians are less preoccupied with this matter than at any time since WWII. Those who attach high importance to the alliance with the United States are reassured that it is being actively cultivated by both partners. Those who have sharp ideological reservations about it are proportionately fewer.

Australians seem to feel less vulnerable than in the past. We are no longer The Frightened Country depicted by Alan Renouf. No doubt there is lingering fear of terrorism but the prophylactic against that is effective Australian efforts — internal and with our neighbours — and is not just made in the USA. Since at least 2000 Australians have felt more confidence in our place in the world. It is partly a matter of critical mass, partly a matter of good economic times and partly the absence of any readily manifest threat to our security.

Thanks to Bill Leak.

Australians still like the reassurance of the alliance. Any government that showed indifference to it, let alone flouted it, would be punished. It will have to be reconciled with increasing engagement with Asia, and that is now well understood in Washington.

The flaw in Australia’s near-complacency is the erosion of the traditional vulnerability we felt as small and remote nation. Until well into the twentieth century we conventionally thought Australia would grow to at least 50 million. There are good reasons for doubting whether half that number would be able to control Australia’s destiny through the middle of this century. And no alliance is immutable or permanent.

Shared but not identical interests and values

By Peter Gration

For more than half a century, our alliance with the United States has been the cornerstone of Australian defence and foreign policy. It has given us a rather loose and imprecise but nevertheless comforting promise of support should we ever come under attack. More importantly, we have received great practical benefits over many years through our privileged access to American intelligence, military equipment and technology. If a small and isolated country like Australia is to have an alliance-relationship, who better than with the world’s only superpower?

Nevertheless many thoughtful and patriotic Australians are questioning the value of the alliance and the directions in which it seems to be taking us. The very closeness of Prime Minister Howard and President Bush seems to have led to a new obsequiousness on our part, and an apparently uncritical acceptance of US proposals and positions. This tends to put us at odds with much of the rest of the world, which are becoming increasingly uneasy with American policies and actions. It has also taken us into situations clearly inimical to Australia’s interests, e.g. the catastrophe of Iraq, our rejection of the Kyoto Protocols, and our enthusiastic endorsement of the dangerous US policy of pre-emptive war.

Concerned Australians also note with some trepidation the US’s demonisation of Iran perhaps as a prelude to military action, their attempts to involve Australia in the US’s containment of China, and the publicly expressed, albeit unofficial, American expectations of our military involvement in a US war with China over Taiwan.

What is to be done?

Clearly severing the alliance, even were it possible, would be neither in Australian nor American interests and is not an option. Rather I suggest that both Governments once more approach the alliance as a relationship between two sovereign countries with many shared but not identical interests and values.

We Australians should:

– recognise that in foreign affairs the US acts in its interests alone;

– understand that American neo-conservatives believe in the deliberate use of US military might to further US global interests;

– never forget that an Australian Government’s first responsibility is to defend and pursue Australian interests, not American. We will be a better alliance partner if we sometimes disagree, and explain why; and

– not fall for our own or American propaganda.

Demystifying ANZUS

By Garry Woodard

Despite the rhetoric of governments, alliances survive on mutuality of interest. ANZUS requires demystification for us to assess it objectively.

Few realise that America was ready to abrogate ANZUS in 1974-5 if Australian ministers breached confidentiality about the functions of the joint-bases, which had their origin in the Menzies government seeking to compensate for US criticism of Australia’s low expenditure on defence.

There are robust and weak aspects to the alliance. For example, the US facility at Pine Gap remains a two-edged alliance asset as Australia might have to exclude it from the US missile defence program if the US uses it to apply pressure on China.

China and of course Taiwan raise issues with the alliance. Australia urgently needs to clarify that Taiwan is, and always was, excluded from ANZUS, as public opinion demands. This is part of the perennial problem of persuading the US that ANZUS gains if Australia is not typecast as deputy sheriff in its regional role.

But could the ANZUS guarantee of access to advanced military technologies or intelligence cooperation ever be put at risk?

Access to military technologies will remain available so long as the Pentagon continues to envisage Australian Special Forces having a key role in the ‘Long War’ on terrorism. However, we should ensue that our role is confined to Asia, broadly defined to include Afghanistan. Without restraint, in its global role, ANZUS makes us look like a hyperpower’s Gurkhas.

Intelligence cooperation is regulated by the UKUSA alliance. It pre-dates ANZUS, and is multilateral, including Canada and New Zealand. Although the US is inevitably and uncomfortably dominant, it is highly resilient, surviving East Timor and Iraq. Australia has always paid its way.

In addition to the potential for problems involving China, ANZUS could become acrimonious if Australia falls into a Vietnam replay in Iraq, damned by America if it rejects a larger security role in a civil war and damned by public opinion if it accepts, making Australia a bigger target for Muslim fundamentalism.

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