Since the election of Donald Trump, there have been two main approaches in Australia regarding our relationship with the US. The first is backing away from them entirely and reconsidering how we interact with an increasingly erratic global superpower, and the other is the argument whereby all of Australia will be prone to imminent security risks should we so much as cough without American protection. One aspect of this is discussing how relevant the ANZUS Treaty is.
Reading the book Island Off the Coast of Asia by Clinton Fernandes, it is evident one can boil down Australian foreign policy to two simple points. The first is that we always picked the winning side of any conflict, regardless of the morality of it, so long as it protected or advanced our interests. The second is the innate desire to have our voice heard in strategic and global discussions. This meant recognising the shift in global power from the fading British Empire to the US’ swift rise.
Before World War 2, the Australian government did everything it could to please the UK as it was their source of security. When England’s global image began to decline in the post-war period, Prime Minister Robert Menzies instantly switched focus over to the US. After much convincing, and contributing to the carnage of the Korean War, the ANZUS treaty was set in 1952 and continues to this day. (Despite being named ANZUS, New Zealand has very little involvement.)
Since then, almost every major global conflict that the US has been involved in, recently Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia has committed troops to aid them. But ANZUS was never meant to send us on imperialist missions across the globe at Washington’s behest. Percy Spender, the man who achieved this diplomatic feat, envisioned a Pacific counterpart to the NATO Treaty. Instead, what Australia got was a relatively dud deal that gave much more than it received.
For one, there are US military and SIGINT bases in Australia, including the controversial Pine Gap station near Alice Springs. The US has countless bases across the globe, and access to a number of Australian facilities, yet Australia has nowhere near comparable access to the US. Second, while Article V of the treaty covers the Pacific and territories held by each member state (as well as ships and armed forces there), Australia’s anxieties extended to the Indian ocean, which received no mention.
One could suggest, with some truth, that as the decades have passed Australia and the US have extended the agreement in spirit. Australia, certainly, has lent itself to numerous conflicts that, ideally, we would not have even considered joining. But the government’s desire to keep ‘a place at the table’ when global decisions are made ensure we are at Washington’s command. Although there have been no serious threats to our security, however, should one arise the US has no obligation under ANZUS to intervene or assist us.
It could be argued that the US would come to our aid if we requested it, but unless it directly affected the interests of US imperialism it is a grey area. Bases, like the one in Pine Gap, were agreed to by Australia to keep the US invested in our security – they would have a stake in our safety. But this has not given Australia much influence on the global stage as the masterminds behind it intended.
Rather than forge a bond of mutual respect and reliance, Australia has simply become another arm of the US machine – wherever they go, we go, and whatever their interests are, we adopt them. Australia is by no means a global player, just a convenient friend in the South East Asia region. As Fernandes points out, only 1% of the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks referred to Australia, and Australia’s share of the global economy is the same. He also mentions Trump’s references to Australia on Twitter, appearing only 9 times since he was elected out of the tens of thousands of tweets posted (as of March 2018). By now we might be in the double-digit range – yay us!
The only reason I bother mentioning Trump, as using him for the argument against ANZUS is simply too basic to go into (obviously we need to reconsider out approach to him), is because a part of our nation’s kowtowing to the US has been the claim that our leaders worked closely together. Trump’s America, and most certainly Trump himself, “for all Australia’s efforts” (as Fernandes puts it) pays little heed to anything we do or say.
So what would a modern day ANZUS treaty look like? While maintaining diplomatic and economic ties to the US are certainly necessary, our subservient military ties are not. I have written before about the need to close down US bases like Pine Gap, and have not been afraid to condemn Australia’s involvement in international conflicts under US guidance. From Korea to Iraq, our aid has made us complicit in the crimes committed by the US and only served to exacerbate tensions.
Instead of blindly following in the footsteps of empire after empire, Australia has the potential to become an international voice for peace. Rather than spruik plans to become an arms dealer to terrorist governments, we should instead be pulling troops out of America’s wars and calling our ally out for their crimes. Australia’s security would be better served by distancing ourselves from one of the most explosive US administrations, lest we become a target is whatever future wars we are inadvertently dragged into.
There are more means than just militarism to show our commitment to allies – it is about time Australia, or indeed any nation, to consider exploring them.
Liked this? Read The “National Security/Interest” Myth
Previous piece: US Election Interference