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
"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
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
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.