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Dangerous Allies: Let the US Alliance Debate Commence

Dangerous Allies makes a convincing case for greater Strategic Independence for Australia within the US Alliance, writes Denis Bright.

With the imprimatur of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, this challenge to continued Strategic Dependence on the US Alliance comes with additional research from doctoral research scholar, Cain Roberts. Malcolm Fraser correctly claims that existing joint operational agreements between Australian and US military forces are really a cover for a continuation of Strategic Dependence.

Ongoing joint operations by naval ships from members of the US Alliance in close proximity to China and territorial waters claimed by China from Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines carry immense financial and political costs to Australia.

Dangerous Allies also questions the status of the Pine Gap Communication Base in Australia.

Malcolm Fraser claims that it now has an offensive role within the Alliance in supporting early warning installations in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea against the possibility of missile attacks from both China and North Korea.

Just one miscalculation in regional sabre rattling could drag Australia into retaliatory responses by the US.

In any wider military conflict in Asia, the Marine Air Ground Task Force in Darwin becomes involved as a mobile operational force on the ready.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Lisbon NATO Summit 2010

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Lisbon NATO Summit 2010

The advice from Malcolm Fraser as a seasoned Cold War Warrior should become part of the national public debate in Australia about our continued place in the Alliance.

Malcolm Fraser notes that the text of the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 insisted on the need for national sovereignty before any planned joint military response.

This is hardly possible in an electronic age when threats identified by early warning systems require instant attention.

In a global economy that has been re-energized by the rise of China, potential conflicts exist between compulsive loyalty to the US Alliance against financial losses from antagonizing China.

Using the successful model of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malcolm Fraser wants the benefits of demilitarization across Asia and the Pacific to be considered.

Positive outcomes from sparks of independence in Australian foreign policy are easily identified.

Prime Minister Howard definitely took great strategic risks with his military involvement in East Timor in 1999 with reluctant support from President Clinton.

Previous prime ministers, including Malcolm Fraser himself, were not prepared to grapple with the challenges posed by Indonesian occupation of East Timor in 1975.

Other controversial issues from Malcolm Fraser’s three terms in office as prime minister could be used to illustrate the costs of maintaining Strategic Dependence beyond its use by date.

Such issues are very timidly covered in Dangerous Allies.

Follow-up interviews with Malcolm Fraser might also prompt responses from other senior national leaders who have been at the helm of Australian foreign policy.

Malcolm Fraser as the Custodian of Cold War Secrets

Malcolm Fraser as the Custodian of Cold War Secrets

As a former stalwart of the US Alliance, Malcolm Fraser made arrangements for the monitoring of the accuracy of US MX missile tests after the election of President Reagan in 1980.

Cabinet documents show that RAAF surveillance aircrafts were prepared to cover touch-downs in the Tasman Sea.

The Labor Caucus of Prime Minister Hawke challenged these arrangements but avoided a showdown with the US on this issue. Had this issue not been resolved, Australia may have followed New Zealand’s Prime Minister David Lange to radically qualify this country’s commitment to ANZUS. Prime Minister Hawke was able to re-energise the Alliance through the formation of Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).

The inaugural meeting of AUSMIN in 1985 brought defence and foreign affairs ministers from both countries together on a regular basis.

In the national debate about the implications of Dangerous Allies, Malcolm Fraser will inevitably be quizzed about developments within the Australia-US Alliance during his time as Prime Minister.

Malcolm Fraser’s recommendations are about the future of an Alliance which has evolved and deepened far beyond the textual arrangements of the original ANZUS Treaty. Australians are rarely made aware of the implications of these changes for Australian sovereignty.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard took Australia to global partnership with NATO at the Lisbon NATO Summit of 2010.

All Smiles for the US Alliance in 1985

All Smiles for the US Alliance in 1985

Other historical examples of Alliance Creep need further attention. These issues and others await clarification from Malcolm Fraser and other senior national leaders who are still able to speak out:

  • Did Malcolm Fraser restore visits by US naval ships carrying nuclear weapons and what is the current status of these visits?
  • How did Malcolm Fraser resolve the role of the Pine Gap Communication Base?
  • Were security issues involved in the decision by Sir John Kerr to dismiss Gough Whitlam?
  • Were pressures placed by the US for continued recognition of the Pol Pot Regime after the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from late 1978?

National archives in several countries now cover these controversial issues. There are also new revelations from Wikileaks and Edward Snowden to assist in deepening public debate about the US Alliance.

Malcolm Fraser defends the need for a more proactive Australian foreign policy commencing with diplomatic initiatives to accommodate a peaceful role for an emergent China.

Differences between firm allies have occurred in the past. Their resolution on terms favourable to Australia have been quite beneficial for national security.

Prime Minister John Curtin confronted Churchill to withdraw AIF Divisions from the Middle East in 1942. John Curtin followed with a successful appeal for US commitment to the defence of Australia and the South West Pacific.

MX Away My Friend: MX Away!

MX Away My Friend: MX Away!

Gough Whitlam broke ranks with Strategic Dependency, at least temporarily, to oppose additional deployments to South Vietnam. Some senior ministers opposed the bombing of cities in North Vietnam.

It was Malcolm Fraser himself who insisted on a return to the traditional Cold War relationship with the US. Malcolm Fraser has finally stirred up the possum and this saga has a long way to run if public debate on the Australia-US Alliance continues.

Readers of Dangerous Allies and interested journalists can take up this challenge by asking the right questions of Malcolm Fraser and other national political mentors who have been at the foreign policy helms.

Graphics Available from Online Sources

Dangerous Allies Promotion from Melbourne University Press.


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  1. John Kelly

    Of equal interest, a closer examination of how we became involved in the Vietnam War would also raise a few eyebrows and show Robert Menzies to have been less than honest about the reasons given.We tend to forget, apart from Anzac Day, that over 500 Australian soldiers died in that conflict.

  2. Rob Alan

    ‘Alliance Creep’

    Intriguing term for IMF currency wars, rewarding regime change industry winners with nation debt options. Keating has also noted on abc interviews how the IMF bungled said approach in Indonesia.

    Axis Of Evil went so well, we go Libya. Didn’t bombing civilians to protect civilians go well there? Oh and lets have all slogos onstage for the Asian Pivot whilst watching Ukraine get the inevitable tearing apart treatment.

    And then there’s the American tradition of ignoring the 5% unemployed is a mandatory capitalism rule product is enforced by ponzi immigration to enable blame the 5% mode for doing as they are ordered to do as per capitalist rules.

    Oz Lockheed corporate welfare entitlement, for a well known lemon aircraft is an American tax payer responsibility not ours.

    Fun part is watching Brics grow more secure, going the collaboration approach whist the west competes to the bottom in adolescent feudalism.

    How is it we are not discussing the post petro dollar economy? Outside oZ media it’s obvious the fed reserve is in deep poo poo.

    The msm sponsored not happening files are getting a tad bloated.

  3. mars08

    Australians are rarely made aware of the implications of these changes for Australian sovereignty.

    Like not complaining about US spy agencies collecting slabs of information about the Australian public??

  4. Stephen Tardrew

    It is the one area that Australians are completely ignorant of and the mechanisms behind our agreement to be part of the NSA spy network and all the other US covert operations. Makes you think it may be time to realign ourselves with the bricks. I know it is a pipe dream but the sensible thing for Australia is to play the middle due to our proximity to Asia. We need to remember that the US is not inviolable and its internal ructions could still cause the rest of the world a lot of pain. We really have to step softly into the night and not put all our eggs in one basket. This fawning to the US is a double edged sword.

  5. Rob Alan

    Wonders how it is our pilots are not being asked if they’d prefer T-50s? here’s a link to JSF vs the rest comparison for those interested.

    We don’t have a MIC to protect and Russia isn’t our enemy. Amongst my friends and family who grew up through the cold war period, we still have much rage suppressed, really doesn’t need to be disturbed too much.

    NSA the all seeing, all knowing, all recording mission does open the mind to obvious questions not being asked.

    How many of our law creators have skeletons in their closets, collectively and otherwise on records held elsewhere?

    How many of our law creators are operating under bribe, bluster, blackmail or other wise leveraged into doing as they’re told conditions?

    Is Scott Ludlam the only senator in the room not gone feral on us all?

    Couldn’t care less about blame mode, I’d just like to know is all folks.

  6. corvus boreus

    Rob, as far as I can see, there are 9 honest senators in our federal upper house at the moment. That was the number that voted in the “aye” when a federal enquiry into corruption, and the far less challenging motion of an entitlements, claims and disclosures advisory body to assist pollies and their staffs. Greens mostly. The rest, LNP, ALP and probably most minors voted nay.
    The familiar catch-cry of “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” springs to mind.
    With regard to the broader post and it’s reference to our position in geo-politics, I am currently a little concerned.
    Our northern giant neighbour, not our near archipelligo neighbours, but the big one with the communist military dictatorship at the helm, has been buying up our land, particularly rural property, but also residential, for decades. We export our primary resources to them. We sell them the food we grow, the metals we extract, and the fuels to smelt these metals. Similar was done in the thirties, to Japan when it was led by a military imperialist expansionist regime, by the Menzies administration. Pig iron Bob, he was called. China, always fractious under Maoist-communist rule(Korean intervention, Taiwan, Vietnam, India ,and of course Tibet), are once again making territorial rumblings and grabs for resource islands.
    In Russia, Putin appears to be making some kind of effort to re-unify the former republics into a new union. The turmoil in the Ukraine is mirrored by ongoing tensions and conflicts to the South and north.
    Not to mention certain regional rises in militantly religious fundamentalism, principally, but not solely, islamic.
    Much of this, I believe, stems from the diminishment, and possibly imminent disintegration of the United States. Factionalised two party politics have divided that union to the degree that the current opposition have threatened and implemented shutdowns of governmental business, endangering the international money market and, of course, damaging the domestic product, over issues of domestic healthcare. This kind of thing obviously damages international confidence in their financial security. They are not entirely adverse culturally to fracturing, birthed in revolution and forged by civil war.
    I fear the possibility that an upcoming power vacuum left by a weakened or fractured USA will be filled by tribalistic totalitarianism, both political and religious.

    Ah well, at least it gives me a break from worrying about the state of the biosphere.

  7. paul

    Yes questions do need to be asked. Many people are of the belief that the US will come to our aid automatically but it has many interests in this region. Indonesia is a major interest of the US. It has an interest in Australia having good relations with Indonesia. In a conflict with Indonesia we can not automatically assume US support. Look at the US and its fence sitting in the Falkland conflict. Britain was an ally but so too were Argentina. It played both sides of the fence for quite a while before deciding on Britain. In Asia there is an arms race developing. There should be talks aimed at arms control but for these to be successful China must be included. As things stand Australia is in a difficult position. Its neighbours are arming at an increasing pace. If China can be permitted to take part then Fraser’s goal of demilitarization in the region can be achieved. The issue however is can the opaque character of China be included in such aims. I suppose deals were achieved with the Russians back in the Cold War, so it is not out of the question. Another obstacle is China’s self image as it becomes more powerful. Will it want its armed forces limited if they see themselves as a growing superpower? Its neighbours certainly would but these neighbours are allied with the US or growing increasingly allied to the US. Even Vietnam is drawing closer to the US. Its complicated.

  8. Stephen Tardrew


    Australia is strategic for both he US and Asia. Don’t be fooled Asia is very edgy about China and though they want investment they do not want their dominance. Australia and the US are actually a buffer to China. Its incredibly complex and the China boggy is often overstated to keep the US focus upon Asia. We don’t have military maneuvers with Indonesia just to be good neighbors. Invasion and gorilla warfare are a nightmare that is pushing back intervention. Look at the US in Ukraine. In his well researched book sociologist Stephen Pinker has clearly demonstrated a reduction in violence over the decades and millennia. The military industrial complex is just a big wasteful business that the US dominates in a massive waste of resources.

    Its not just war but the aftermath which does not guarantee success for victor or defeat for looser. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan and the US failures in South America. The Arab spring has worked out well hasn’t it. Whole new ball game that is working its way out in new strategic alliances

  9. mars08

    As things stand Australia is in a difficult position. Its neighbours are arming at an increasing pace…

    That’s the thing about an arms race… it’s very hard to spot where it started. Certainly our invitation to host a bunch of US Marines in the Northern Territory and our violation of Indonesian maritime borders doesn’t help matters.

  10. corvus boreus

    The first documented arms dealer was Oggue the knapper(1st interglacial wars circa 30000 BCE) who provided armaments and munitions to tribes on both banks of the Neander Valley. He may have been following an earlier tradition.

  11. Ali

    It clearly shows the fragile foreign policy of Australia in two key terms of strategic political and military alliance with America and geographical and economic dependency to Asia. There definitely must be a public debate and discourse regarding this and wise move to form a positive constructive move in foreign policy to keep the independence of Australia at stake and maintain its constructive relationship worldwide. Hope to see more awareness in public regarding this

  12. mark delmege

    Gillard and the Fogh of war …hmmm and now she works for a (right wing) US think tank…. left faction they said…just goes to show how mixed up things have become.

  13. Not An After-Thought

    Where is Australia’s commitment to peace and disarmament? It is not compatible with our constant support for the multinational military industrial complex and for an annual defence budget of around $US 700 billion within US Global Alliance Systems.

  14. Alliance Changer

    From his former position as a Cold War warrior, Malcolm Fraser had changed with the times. The Labor Movement however, fears a more critical foreign policy to embrace peace and disarmament. Thanks for this book review to promote discussion about the need for a more independent foreign policy with a focus on peaceful development in Asia and the Pacific. Why do the news networks talk up involvement in distant wars when poverty stalks Timor Leste and PNG right on our doorstep?

  15. Coast@Robertson (Gosford)

    Co-operation with the US and even China in peaceful co-existence needs a new direction. The Pine Gap Base does not help to defend Australia and actually endangers our security.

  16. Rubio@Coast

    Why did Julia Gillard make Australia an associate member of NATO?

    It is Cold War nonsense to claim that Australia is apart of the NATO and the defence of Europe.

    Despite the lapses in geography, associate membership of NATO forces Australia and the US to be on the same page in relation to military responses.

    ANZUS merely demands consultation on military threats.

    Rather than bringing more US troops to Darwin, Australia should demand that China cools its old style diplomacy in the South China Sea.

    Military responses to China which threaten collisions between military planes and ships is not the way for Australia to respond.

    China also needs to pour its economic assistance programmes to help the Philippines and Vietnam out of a return to cold war foreign policies which are a Lose-Lose Scenario.

    Labor needs to be more Whitlamique on such issues.

    The politics of fear do not help our budget repair strategies and justify more eccentric purchases of military equipment from US multinationals.

  17. Julia Gillard@NATO

    Surprisingly, as Rubio claims, it was Labor (2007-13) which strengthened our ties with the USA including rotation of US troops through Darwin, use of Pine Gap for offensive drone strikes and associate membership of NATO, at the NATO Members Lisbon Conference. The Labor Right always supported such ties with the USA as part of premium on the Alliance Deal. Working for change within Labor is so important and the drift of some younger activists to the Greens and Trotskyist Movements only helps the Labor Right as their voices are absent from Labor Forums and Policy Committees. Many of Labor’s political insiders of all factions look to the U.S. Democratic Party for campaigning strategies and are in effect making Labor a Centre Party. Imagine a Left faction insider who actually loves the role of Wall Street in global financialization! But such people do exist behind the scenes within Labor.

  18. Rubio@Coast

    Yes Julia Gillard@NATO, I agree. Why did Australia become an associate member of NATO? Was it because NATO guarantees a more automatic strategic response if we get into trouble over future naval patrols in the South China Sea?

  19. Hawke and Beazley@NATO

    Kim Beazley is still locked into the Alliance politics of the 1980s Era when Bob Hawke formed AUSMIN as a permanent executive arm of the US Alliance to please Ronald Reagan. Australia needs to break out of this out bind and join a more independent New Zealand oiutside the Alliance.

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