Cynics note, we have leverage with the US

Despite any change in governments, American-Australian relations are likely to stay close, writes editor-at-large Paul Kelly ("The Australian")


The prospects are strong for Australia-US ties to retain much of their intimacy from the Bush-Howard era, according to the recent senior director on Asia at the National Security Council, Michael J. Green. In an interview with The Australian this week Green discounted any radical shift in US policy under the Democrats, documented the precise instances of where John Howard had influenced US policy and signalled US support for Australia's stance on China.

Asked how future US leaders would view Australia's role in Iraq, Green was unequivocal: "I think the answer is as a loyal ally. And I mean that. I don't think the 'too' charge is out there. There's one or two partisan Democrats who've complained that Australia and Japan had been too loyal, but it's a small fringe, very political and self-serving.

"When you ask the majority and mainstream Democratic political leadership, (Nancy) Pelosi, (Carl) Levin, people like that, they appreciate what Australia has done. It has had an impact. I'm asked a lot what would happen if Australia pulled out of Iraq, would Kevin Rudd be invited to the White House? I think the answer is yes because the alliance is too strong and the national interests too great."

But Green has a sharp warning for Australia: don't misread the direction of US policy. "It would be a mistake to read into our domestic debate about Iraq the idea that US policy will shift in a fundamental way at the next election and that Australia's political system should adjust pre-emptively to that," he says.

Although there will be policy changes, they should not be exaggerated. "I don't believe the US is just around the corner from dramatic changes in Iraq," he says. "Most Americans do not want a precipitious withdrawal if it's going to lead to chaos. I think after our election there will be more continuity than discontinuity in US policy. If the Democrats win, a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama Pentagon will be populated by national security realists."

It is an obvious message for Labor. "Look at Vietnam, it doesn't happen that way," he says of the dramatic shift concept.

Green highlights Australia's 10 to 20-year defence procurement programs that constitute "a recipe for strong inter-operability" with the US. They will drive deeper intelligence assessments and military doctrines.

As for the political bonds, Howard related to George W. Bush as "no other foreign leader", but Green predicts political ties will be strong whether "you have Clinton and Howard or John McCain and Rudd".

From his insights as a White House adviser, a Japan expert and a student of the US's Asian alliances, Green sees Howard's policy as a model.

"When I lecture the Japanese about alliances I point to Australia as the example Japan should emulate," he says. "Alliance theory goes back to Thucydides when the smaller Athenian allies had this dilemma: it's the classic one of entrapment or abandonment. Japan faces it, Australia faces it. If you're too close, the danger is you get entrapped and taken for granted, but if you try too hard to achieve autonomy, when you're in trouble you can't count on the hegemonic power."

Green argues that Howard and Alexander Downer have played the alliance skilfully, in effect entrapping the US into Australia's own designs.

"The fact that American presidents, Republican and Democrat, expect Australia and the UK to be on board means there is a high political price in the US if you lose Canberra or London, a very high political price," he says.

"There are specific policies in the Bush administration that were Australian ideas and that got a hearing and moved forward because of the quality of the alliance."



Pressed for examples, Green lists six, from his own involvement or observation. "One was the opening of military ties with Indonesia," he says. "That was an Alexander Downer to Condoleezza Rice discussion. I was in that (US) fight internally and I think the Australian connection was one of the tipping points because Australia had credibility on this issue."

He argues Howard and Downer pushed the point and Bush responded.


"I think the trilateral security dialogue (US, Japan, Australia) was an Australian idea," he says. "A number of us, Rich Armitage, Jim Kelly and myself (US officials) had argued for some time that we needed a strategic dialogue with Japan. The Howard Government was rethinking the role of Japan as well, with Downer and Ashton Calvert (a former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade chief), a great Japan hand. This resonated with Armitage and Rice."

Green sees the trilateral dialogue as a significant strategic event, one consequence being to encourage the internationalists in Japan to succeed with their more activist foreign policy.

 Third and most obvious was Australia achieving a free trade agreement with the US.

Fourth, Green nominates Bush's decision in 2002 to take the Iraq issue to the UN Security Council.

Although Tony Blair was the main influence on Bush's decision, "at a significant level John Howard's view did help push it forward".

Fifth, Green nominates Australia's role in encouraging the US on Asian regional architecture. "Downer came to Rice and the NSC about this early, in the summer of 2001 pre-Iraq," he says. Rice favoured institution-building in Asia and the US followed this theme in several ways: backing APEC further into security issues, the six-party talks over North Korea and the trilateral security dialogue.

These directions flowed in part "from talks involving Downer, Rice and Colin Powell".

Sixth, Green lists the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6). "This was a classic case where the US, frankly, was floundering," he says. The White House and US Department of State began bilateral dialogues on climate change with Australia and Japan.

The White House embraced the AP6, "but at its core in terms of the intellectual work" were the Australia-US discussions.

The examples Green gives are a commentary on Howard, showing where he tried and where he declined to exert influence.

From his experience in the Bush administration within the Asian hemisphere, Green says: "Australia had access and influence to shape our policy debate in a way that nobody else did except perhaps Japan and to some extent the (South) Koreans on peninsula issues."

Finally, on China, Green offers a sophisticated view of US thinking that will reassure Australia. He says the Australian media misjudges US policy and argues "we don't have a containment policy". The US, rather, seeks to "balance China with our alliances. We hedge and we shape our military, so if we have to we can deter or dissuade China."

"We don't need an Australian explicit commitment for the defence of Taiwan," Green says. What the US wants from Australia, along with Europe and Japan, is to send the signal that "a Chinese decision to use force over Taiwan would fundamentally change the relationship".

This is an American view in harmony with Australia's present bipartisan position.

Paul Kelly - The Australian, 7 May 2007 ...,20867,21816721-12250,00.html