Australian Foreign Policy/ Foreign Affairs

The American- Australian alliance

In response to Donald Trump’s rise to the Presidency, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, claimed it was time for Australia to withdraw from its alliance with the United States.

“The foreign policy of Australia is basically we have tag-along rights to the US”, he said.

“It’s time to cut the tag. It’s time to get out of it.”

Contrastingly, John Howard who as Prime Minister followed America in sending Australian troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, stated that he does not see the US- Australia alliance being disturbed under a Trump administration.

Surely, a pragmatic mix between these 2 viewpoints would be most appropriate for future Australian involvement with the United States.

First, it is worth considering America’s constructive global contributions.

Despite its many imperfections, the US has been the most stable, fair, and equitable global superpower the world has ever seen. If America shared the same imperialistic approaches that every other great power prior to World War 2 possessed, considering the nation’s immense strategic and military capabilities, the entire world would be an American colony.

Besides from America’s remarkable restraint in comparison to other past powers, it has also fought on the right side of modern history’s defining conflicts.

As without American involvement in World War 1, World War 2 and the Cold War, democracy in its present form would simply not exist.

For this, Australia and every nation across the world, owes the United States a tremendous debt of gratitude.

However, American involvement overseas has been far from squeaky clean, and Australia has followed the United States into every one of its military adventures since World War Two, regardless of their consequences.

Whether it be in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan, Australia has provided military support to America in a number of its morally questionable conflicts.

This is the conventional wisdom of Australian leadership maintained from Menzies to Abbott: to follow the United States into whatever conflict it becomes embroiled in, in order to appease relations with the powerful juggernaut.

While this action is understandable given the lingering legacy that ‘yellow peril’ instilled in World War Two, as a modern nation of 2016, I would hope that our foreign policy has became more complex.

Thus, in future scenarios under President Trump or in any other yet to be determined circumstances, Australia should seek to depart from its previous role as American puppet, while continuing close relations.

This could be achieved by reaffirming Australian commitments to the United States in areas of intelligence, trade, military bases, eliminating the Islamic State in Iraq, supporting American action at the UN and on the global stage more generally.

Our historical ties and cultural similarities to the United States, makes such action a natural suit.

However, our nation must draw a clear line, should US military adventurism again gain support. While we should stay open to assisting US military action overseas, such policies should not be taken without contemplating the specific circumstances first.

For example, bombing the Islamic State in Iraq would be a case in which the use of Australian force in step with the United States, is desirable.

However, the deployment of Australian troops is another issue altogether.Such action should only be considered if the United States, or our shared allies in Japan or South Korea, finds themselves invaded by another country.

This criteria should be an absolute red line and guide to future Australian engagement with the United States.

Dissenters might state that an all encompassing Australia- US alliance is a requirement of adequately deterring would be invaders. However, there are various problems with this narrative.

First, the 2016 world that we live in, is a place where international law and norms are overwhelmingly respected. The UN despite all its flaws, is a genuine mechanism for ensuring the sovereignty of states. Likewise, the nature of conflict has significantly evolved since World War Two. Major conflict commonly occurs along tribal, inter- state lines, rather than between sovereign states. In addition, war has become as much about soft power, (winning the hearts and minds of a nation’s inhabitants and the world), as it is about economic and military might. In modern times, no nation could take rogue foreign action and then hope to have any future chance of success in our globalized world.

The changed climate of the global politics aside, Australia has hardly been a favoured target of foreign invaders. True, Australia fought a bloody conflict against Japan during World War Two. And yes, at the time of war, Japanese invasion of our nation appeared imminent. However, we now live in an era bereft of the war time propaganda and related pressures, so we are better positioned to sensibly analyse the true geopolitical circumstances of the time. So while Japan had imperialistic motives during this period, the incredible vastness of our continent, and the remarkably desolate nature of our Northern infrastructure at the time, indicates that a potential Japanese invasion of our country was always unlikely.

Given that our country has never been, and remains unlikely in the near future to be invaded, we should pursue a more withdrawn, while present relationship with the United States.

Engaging in foreign wars within nations not relevant to our own, serves our country no substantive interest. And when assessing the consequences of many Western- led interventions in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, often well- intentioned military action can prove harmful to the countries they occur in.

However, even if one were to argue that Australia is threatened by potential Chinese or Indonesian invasion, there are underlying issues in the basis of current alliance with the United States.

The ANZUS treaty, signed in 1952, forms the bedrock of our alliance with the US. And while the treaty is a collective security agreement which provides us with US military presence, it does not provide absolute guarantees on aiding one another in the event of conflict.

Whilst Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insists that a “commitment to come to one another’s aid” is at the heart of the ANZUS treaty, the agreement does not definitively compel the United States to provide Australia with military assistance, should our country be attacked.

Of course, Australians would like to think that the United States would always honour our historic commitments, but politics and circumstances can always change.

So the merit for Australia in acting as an American doormat in military interventions, when the existing alliance cannot even guarantee our own security, is minimal at best.

However, these sensible adjustments to the alliance should not be confused with radical calls for abandoning the US, as Paul Keating and the Labor Left have so vigorously advocated.

5 thoughts on “The American- Australian alliance

  1. I hold Australia in high esteem and I’m grateful for the friendship that they have with us and we with them. I enjoyed the article. Thank you for the brief, yet substantial, history lesson.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, we certainly are grateful, but at the same time we should steer away from US nation building. On a positive note, Trump appears to be less keen on this so this is a good thing. Thanks for your comment.

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