AUSTRALIA’S TROUBLING RELIANCE ON AMERICA

When it comes to Australia (and in general), opinion of Mike Lyons certainly matters

With Mike Lyons

Throughout Australia’s history, this Nation has always relied on a great and powerful protector. First it was Great Britain, but by the end of World War II, Britain’s economy was in tatters and so Australia turned to the USA which by then had become the mightiest country in the world. As Allan Gyngell observes: “The motivating force of Australia’s international engagement has been fear of abandonment”.[ii] Today, the question is whether it is in Australia’s “National Interest” to continue with this reliance.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Gallipoli

In 1915, Australian troops, headed for Gallipoli to meet the threat posed to British interests. According to the Australian War Memorial, the Gallipoli operation cost 8,141 Australian deaths. Despite this, it has been said that Gallipoli had no influence on the course of the war.

Singapore

On 15 February 2022, Australia remembered how 80 years earlier, in 1942, at the fall of Singapore, British-led forces surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army. 8000 Australians perished.

Korea

In the final days of World War II, America divided the KoreanPeninsulaat the38th parallel. Five years later it became the first of America’s failed modern wars. Truman was unshakeably opposed to Communism. According to the Australian War Memorial, more than 17,000 Australians served during the Korean War. 340 were killed and more than 1,216 wounded.

Vietnam

Kennedy believed that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow. Prime Minister Harold Holt assured the American president that Australia would go “allthewaywithLBJ”. 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam and 521 died. The strategic assumptions which lay behind Australia’s engagement in the war were flawed. Although Vietnam became Communist, the rest of the region did not follow.[iii]

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Afghanistan

In October 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, the US under Pres George W Bush invaded Afghanistan. On 31 August 2001, the last American soldiers lifted off from Kabul airport, ending the 20 year war, the longest in US history. An estimated 241,000 people have died as a direct result of that war.[iv]

Iraq

The US invaded Iraq in 2003, after accusing Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction. None were found. At its peak in 2007, the US had an estimated 170,000 troops in Iraq.

ANZUS

The ANZUS Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the US came into force in 1952. In 1984, the Treaty began to unravel when New Zealand (demonstrating its independence) declared its country to be a “nuclear-free zone”. Consequently, the US and New Zealand no longer maintain this security relationship.

Notably, New Zealand and China have recently upgraded their trade deal to further promote trade and investment to a higher level. The agreement includes measures on environmental protection, believed to be the strongest such measures to which China has committed in any free-trade agreement. [v]

The ANZUS Treaty provides that each party “will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened in the Pacific”. ANZUS is nothing like Article 5 of NATO which provides that an attack on any one member is regarded as an attack on all of them. According to Gareth Evans, the alliance is only there to support America’s position in Asia, not the other way around, and the USA will only put itself in harm’s way under the Treaty if it sees its own interests directly threatened.

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The Menzies government entered the Vietnam war with the aim of keeping the US involved in the region so that when Australia needed the ANZUS umbrella, it would be available. “The idea of the payment of a premium on an insurance policy became the most powerful metaphor in Australian public life”. It would be a tragedy for Australia if, one day, it calls upon its “insurer” to pay up, and its insurer repudiates the policy! Today, despite the noise from the US and its allies in relation to Ukraine, they have made it clear beyond doubt that they will not engage in military action.

Reliance on USA

During World War II, the USA did not respond to Winston Churchill’s desperate pleas for intervention in the face of an existential threat from Nazi Germany. The Americans only entered that war after they were attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour.

The Australian government has been criticised for adopting US foreign policy as a template for its own foreign policy. Prime Minister Turnbull spoke of his commitment to support Trump in North Korea saying that Australia stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the US and that the nations were “joined at the hip”.

As at 2020, the US controlled 800 military bases in 85 countries outside the USA (including in Australia). However, the thought of finding a foreign base located in the US is unimaginable.[vi] Just imagine the US reaction if Russia (or China) was to establish a military base in America’s near abroad, in Cuba, Mexico, or The Bahamas!

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Jimmy Carter, at 94 years of age, describes the US as the “most warlike nation in the history of the world”.

Australia’s former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser expressed the belief that Australia’s relationship with the US had become a paradox. This is what he said:

“Our leaders argue that we need to keep our alliance with the US strong in order to ensure our defense in the event of an aggressive foe. Yet, the most likely reason that Australia would need to confront an aggressive foe is our strong alliance with the United States. We need America for defense from an attacker who is likely to attack us because we use America for defense!”[vii]

The real danger for Australia is that the USA, relying on Australia’s “clingy relationship” will call upon Australia to join with USA in some future, misguided foreign venture, just as Australia has done in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Where, one might ask, do Australia’s national interests lie?

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