The United States
and Australia like to say they have been defending freedom
in many places for years. Yet their achievements as liberators
are not numerous. Since 1945 they have won two wars, drawn one,
lost one, and look like losing two more. Regard for their wars
is diminishing in a growing number of countries. Many Americans
are turning against the war in Iraq. Some 70 per cent of Australians
think the US endangers us, so why are we so little concerned?
John Howard knew that patriotism
and the compliant media would win elections for him. But the
Iraq War was the wrong war in the wrong country. It cant
be sold for much longer as part of a universal fight against
al-Qaeda that makes Australia safe from terrorism. This year,
voters should take a critical look at the American alliance that
got us into it.
Many Australians still expect
the US to defend Australia against attack, not realising that
the ANZUS Treaty doesnt commit us or the Americans to defend
each other unless either country is attacked in the Pacific
and even then we are only obliged to consult in accordance with
our constitutional processes. It offers no guarantee that the
US will defend Australia, nor that Australia will fight in the
The US has never defended
Australia under ANZUS. Indeed, successive US leaders have made
it clear that the US will always act in its own interests, not
those of allies or other countries, and that Australia should
take care of its own defence. On the few occasions when Australia
sought US support over West Irian, Confrontation
in 1963-66, and East Timor military participation was
refused. For our part, Australia told the US in the mid-1950s
that we would not get involved in a war over the Taiwan and the
offshore Chinese islands Quemoy and Matsu.
But it is perilously unclear
what Australia would do if the US became involved in a conflict
between China and Taiwan, or an invasion of North Korea or Iran.
This is because the Prime Minister invoked ANZUS immediately
after the attack on America on 11 September 2001, offering Australian
support for the US anywhere in the world. His unilateral re-interpretation
made us an unequal Treaty partner.
A year later, he asserted
Australias intention to pre-emptively strike countries
in our region suspected of harbouring terrorists. This made it
difficult for Australia to accede to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity
and Co-operation, which binds its parties to non-aggression and
non-interference in each others affairs. In 2005 we did
so, rather than be excluded from the East Asia Summit, but with
reservations to enable Australia to do deputy sheriff duty if
called upon by the US.
The other benefit that ANZUS
is said to deliver is access. This too is questionable.
Access is of three kinds: access to highly classified intelligence;
to defence cooperation and military equipment; and to top American
The value of American intelligence
depends on its quality, timeliness and accuracy all of
which have been found wanting by the Baker-Hamilton Committees
investigation of the intelligence on Iraq. Assuming that al-Qaeda
perpetrated the 2001 attack on America, we must then ask why
US intelligence has given up trying to find Osama bin Laden?
Why did they take so long
to find Saddam Hussein? Why did they bomb buildings when the
people being targeted had left?
Why, if they wanted to arrest
senior Iranian intelligence officers in northern Iraq in March
2007, did they get only junior ones, giving Iran the opportunity
to retaliate by arresting 15 British sailors? How reliable is
their intelligence on Irans nuclear plans?
Two years ago, Greg Sheridan
wrote front page stories in The Australian about Australias
elevation to a level of intelligence access in Washington shared
only by Britain: but the Pentagon has apparently been slow to
deliver on Bushs promise, although Howard has made several
requests for it.
The benefits of defence
co-operation and access to military hardware are equally questionable.
More joint exercises and military expansion could antagonise
Australias neighbours and provoke a new arms race in the
region, with consequences we could not control. Members of the
Preventive Security Initiative originally pushed by the State
Departments John Bolton, link hands around China and North
Korea in a circle whose intent must appear aggressive, whatever
Howard and Downer may claim to the contrary.
Defence co-operation between
the US, Australia, Japan and India will have the same result.
New US bases or joint facilities in
the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, whose
purposes have not been sufficiently explained, make Australia
a bigger target for attack. No future Australian Government that
wants to survive will be able to close them down. Hopes that
the equipment we buy from the United States delivers interoperability
and military superiority might come true, if it is the right
equipment, delivered on time and at the right price, and our
enemies cant match it. But often it isnt and
some of it, the Pentagon wont sell to us, but may sell
to Japan and Israel.
As for access to top officials
in Bushs Washington, that may be have been great for Howard
but it has not come without its costs. Australias Ambassador,
Michael Thawley talked hostile Republican Senators out of pursuing
Australia over AWB, but Democrats in office after 2008 are less
likely to be forgiving.
Too close a relationship
between the Australian Government and AWB and too personal
a relationship between Howard and Bush may damage Australia
even before 2008. The benefits of US access are diluted if US
views are all that the Australian Government wants to hear. As
conservatives do, Howard clings to old friends and old ideas.
Thus, Australias excessive dependency on the alliance endangers
us more than it protects us.
Australia s dependency
spreads to foreign policy, where our capacity for diplomacy is
reduced because Howards views are seen abroad as uncritically
identified with those of Bush. Our latest defiance of international
norms is the refugee swap, with Christmas Island looming as our
Guantánamo Bay. Before its too late, Australia should
develop genuinely independent policies in consultation with our
region, with the UN, and with multilateral trading partners.
If we do not, then as the
damaged Bush Presidency ends and distaste for its policies spreads
even among Americas friends, Australia will be left behind.
For a decade now, we have been unelectable to the UN Security
Council, and in the General Assembly we often vote in tiny minorities
with the US, Israel, Palau and Micronesia.
Experienced critics of Australia
Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohammed were not wrong when they recently
warned that Howard was out of date and that by associating uncritically
with Bush, he made Australia the butt of the worlds ridicule.
Wait for the consequences in the South Pacific.
If success in Asia means
Australia being able to export coal, gas, and uranium to some
of our neighbours, and to discuss with a few others how to fight
terrorists and deter refugees, thats hardly a triumph.
In fact, our dependency on the US permeates trade, where the
bilateral preferential agreement with the US (AUSFTA) delivers
Australia few identifiable advantages, while it withers our capacity
to take other initiatives and our trade deficit with the US soars
to new heights.
Meanwhile, our deference
to the US on climate change endangers Australias environment
and that of the planet. For no good reason, Australia has allowed
the US alliance to foster a national culture of fear and subservience,
deceit and division, xenophobia and militarism. We are still
fighting the last war, and it is taking far too long.
On 4 April 1967, Martin
Luther King made a speech in which he disavowed the war in Vietnam
and dissociated himself from those who in the name of peace burn,
maim and kill. American soldiers sent to do this must realise,
he said, that none of what they were told they were fighting
for was true. The US was on the side of the wealthy and
the secure while we create a hell for the poor. The Vietnamese,
he reflected, must consider the Americans strange liberators.
Forty years later, we are
at it again, with Australia still urging the United States to
stay involved, and still fighting the USs enemies, only
now its in Iraq instead of Vietnam. Now we substitute terrorists
for communists; and cluster bombs, white phosphorus and depleted
uranium for napalm. Strange liberators indeed.
after the 2007defeat
of the Howard government, the incoming ALP government led by
Kevin Rudd fulfilled its election promise to alter strategy by
withdrawal of ground troops from Iraq - but compensating with
a more active role in Afghanistan (and increased casualties)
... arguably in part to demonstrate its continued in-principle
commitment to the Australia-USA alliance. ..... G.Bolton