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Diluted Sovereignty: A Very Australian Example

Australian concepts of sovereignty have always been qualified. First came the British settlers and invaders in 1788. They are pregnant with the sovereignty of the British Crown, bringing convicts, the sadistic screws, and forced labour to a garrison of penal experiments and brutality. The native populations are treated as nothing more than spares, opportunistic chances, and fluff of the land, a legal nonsense. In a land deemed empty, sovereignty is eviscerated.

Then comes the next stage of Australia’s development. Imperial outpost, dominion, federation, a commonwealth of anxious creation. But through this, there is never a sense of being totally free, aware, cognisant of sovereignty. Eyes remain fastened on Britain. Just as the sovereignty of the First Nations peoples came to be destroyed internally, the concept of Australian sovereignty externally was never realised in any true sense. If it was not stuck in the bosom of the British Empire, then it was focused on the enormity of the United States, its calorific terrors and nuclear protections. 

The testament to Australia’s infantile, and contingent sovereignty, is symbolised by the US Pine Gap facility, which is called, for reasons of domestic courtesy, a joint facility. In truth, Australian politicians can never walk onto its premises and have no say as to its running. The public, to this day, can only have guesses, some admittedly well educated, about what it actually does as an intelligence facility. 

Australia’s Defence Minister, Richard Marles, whose views should never be taken at face value, insists that the facility ensures that “Australia and our Five-Eyes partners maintain an ‘intelligence advantage’” while being “truly joint in nature, integrating both Australian and US operations under shard command and control by Australian and US personnel – which I have had an opportunity to see firsthand.” Hardly.

Another example is the annual rotation of US Marines in the Northern Territory. To date, there have been twelve such rotations, carefully worded to give the impression that Australia lacks a US military garrison to the country’s north. In March, Marles claimed that such rotations served to “enhance the capabilities, interoperability, and readiness of the ADF and the United States Marine Corps and is a significant part of the United States Force Posture Initiatives, a hallmark of Australia’s Alliance with the US.”

To therefore have an Australian Prime Minister now talk about sovereign capabilities is irksome, even intellectually belittling. Under Anthony Albanese’s stewardship, and before him Scott Morrison’s, the trilateral security pact known as AUKUS has done more to militarise the Australian continent in favour of US defence interests than any other. 

The logistical and practical implications should trouble the good citizens Down Under, and not just because Australia is fast becoming a forward base for US-led operations in the Pacific.

Last month, President Joe Biden revealed his desire to press the US Congress on a significant change: adding Australia as a “domestic source” within the meaning of the Defense Production Act, notably pertaining to Title III. The announcement came out in a joint statement from Biden and his Australian counterpart as part of a third-in-person Quad Leaders’ Summit. It also was something of a taster for the G7 Summit held in Hiroshima on May 20.

Title III of the DPA “provides various financial measures, such as loans, loan guarantees, purchases, and purchase commitments, to improve, expand, and maintain domestic production capabilities needed to support national defense and homeland security procurement requirements.” It makes no mention about the independence of foreign entities or states which might enable this to happen.

A May 20 joint statement from Biden and Albanese welcomed “the progress being made to provide Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability, and on developing advanced capabilities under the trilateral AUKUS partnership to deter aggression and sustain peace and stability across the Pacific.”

To add Australia as a domestic source “would streamline technological and industrial base collaboration, accelerate and strengthen AUKUS implementation, and build new opportunities for United States investment in the production and purchase of Australian critical minerals, critical technologies, and other strategic sectors.” 

As a statement of naked, proprietary interest, this does rather well, not least because it will enable the US to access the Australian minerals market. One prized commodity is lithium, seen as essential to such green technology as electric cars. Given that Australia mines 53% of the world’s supply of lithium, most of which is sold to China to be refined, Washington will have a chance to lock out Beijing by encouraging refinement in Australia proper. With Australia designated as a source domestic to the US, this will be an easy affair.

Washington’s imperial heft over its growingly prized Australian real estate will also be felt in the context of space technology. Australia will become the site of a NASA ground station under the Artemis Accords. Much is made of allowing “the controlled transfer of sensitive US launch technology and data while protecting US technology consistent with US non-proliferation policy, the Missile Technology Control Regime and US export controls.” Congress, however, will have to approve, given the limits imposed on the Technology Safeguards Agreement.

Australia, as a recipient of such technology, will ever be able to assert anything amounting to a sovereign capability over it. As Paul Gregoire points out, the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations makes it clear that information shared with a foreign entity becomes US property and is subject to export restrictions, though the White House may permit it.

In addition to the announcement, there are also moves afoot to involve Japan more extensively in “force posture related activities” as part of the Australia-United States Force Posture Cooperation policy. That’s just what Australia needs: another reminder that its already watered down sovereignty can be diluted into oblivion.


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  1. New England Cocky

    Scummo sold Australian sovereignty to the USA (United States of Apartheid) for no good national interest reason. Doubtless the next decade will see American multinational mining corporations taking Australian mineral resources without paying any income tax (as usual), the continuation of occupation forces in Darwin to ”oversee American gas interests in the North West Shelf” (and Canberra) while the USAF plays at intimidating PRC China from the Tindal NT air base.
    Australia’s national interests would be better served by dumping the USUKA sub fiasco, declaring Australia as an independent Republic and reclaiming Australia national sovereignty with an Australian borne Head of State then joining the non-aligned states of international politics.
    When a country has the US as an ally why are any other enemies required?

  2. leefe

    Refinement of lithium here in Australia would be a good move, not because of locking China out, but for the employment and technology boost. Maybe Pine Gap could be restructured for it to be done there? Win-win.

  3. Terence Mills


    You are correct – the previous government left a vacuum when they hounded out the vehicle builders from Australia. We now have the opportunity to build a lithium processing industry with a focus on battery production into the future. Ideally we should push some of the major auto manufacturers – US, Japanese and Chinese – to build EV’s in this country.

  4. paul walter

    So nails the fundamental.

    And as Terence points out, so much of Big Game politics, where we are the mice to the shuffling and unheeding globalist elephant in the stall.

    Yep, some see a process, that the mill grinds slow, but we are in a culrural and media bubble that desensitizes with its memes to the extent that the behaviours of someone like Ben Roberts Smith actually comes as a shock to Aussies, and where kids sleeping under bridges doesnt “register”, let alone the gruesome sufferings throughout much the big world “out there”.

    Article of the year and glad at am at a site where truth and reality are not shunned by authors and commentors alike and where evidence is welcomed rather than something to be shunned, lest consideration expose darker truths.

    We are subject to globalised capitalism, not voting participants in/of it.

    I sometimes wonder if there is not going to be an equivalence ultimately, with us in the position of First Australians in 1788.

  5. Clakka

    Just like the complexity principle and the inevitable wobble of gyroscopic rotations, it’s surely a matter of scale and intent.

    Since we could communicate with more than a grunt, history has struggled with conquest and resignation. Since the times of kingdoms, duchies and the like, there have been the great empires, and since their demise there have been more blocs and alliances than you can poke a stick at, including the chimeric Non-Aligned Movement.

    After the bloodbaths of the late 19th century and 20th century, there was a rush of treaties and alignments such as the United Nations, the Arab League and so on and so forth – took many ideological positions, and made a lot of statements but when push came to shove, didn’t really seem to achieve much with the stick, except in the niggling back blocks, and even then completely overlooked annihilations such as in Rwanda.

    We’ve had the Soviet Union, no Soviet Union, the Common Market, the EU, along with a word-salad of interplays, alliances, constructions and deconstructions in Asia, in the main, whether by use of the spear or not, under the auspice of securing of resources and productivity for the betterment of all involved – of course that very much depends upon one’s perspective. Then came that great device, ‘globalisation’, along with much drawing of breath, and pretty soon that self-defeating absurdity, Brexit.

    Despite the noble intentions following the advent of the United Nations and the innumerable treaties and proclamations of sovereignty, it remains a situation of fluidity by convenience. Sovereignty really only exists as a term to established at some fixed point in time, a foundation in a constitution which of course can be changed by the will of the people (ha ha), or by having the stuffing blown out of your territory. Africa remains a case in point.

    Democratic leaders and autocrats come and go, as do militia and mercenaries, it’s industry, resources and management of the economy and jobs for the constituents that make all the differences, and can tip the balance. With the last 40 years of economic and resource madness and mismanagement, the inevitable yet astounding rise of China, the pandemic, and the murderous insanity of Putin, things have got a tad wobbly, and the anglosphere has had to pull up its slipping socks.

    Running around like headless chooks, doing deals and making alliances as quick as you can snap your fingers, and so it must, as the consequences of its failure would have decades of dire economic consequences. With Oz in proximity of the new global centre, we seem to be doing in a measured way what is expected of us. Let’s hope the GOP understands and Uncle Sam can do the same.

    And with a bit of determination and a steady hand, we’ll all get some jobs, clean up the environment and maybe peace will break out …. who knows?

  6. JulianP

    Thank you Professor Kampmark for your critical survey, it is much appreciated.
    It is now beyond dispute that Australian Defence Force commitments in Vietnam
    and elsewhere were done to demonstrate our capacity and competence as an ally.

    However, a trusted and capable ally ought not simply to ask how high it should jump
    when asked to do so by its senior partner, but rather should ask why it ought to jump at all.

    Therefore, in the event of having chosen to jump, (as it has in the past), Australia should
    consider whether it can properly attend its injuries when the exercise comes unstuck
    or fails (as armed conflict with China is bound to do).

    Currently there is no evidence publicly available to indicate a cost/benefit analysis
    of having a steadily growing American base in Northern Australia, nor the likely huge cost to
    Australia of being the launch-pad for an American expedition against China.

  7. B Sullivan

    Imagine the word sovereignty doesn’t exist and you are obliged instead to use the expression ‘power over’, which is after all what the word actually means. You might then realise that you have an obligation to identify what it is that the sovereignty you invoke has power over. For example, Rupert Murdoch undeniably had sovereignty. Over what? The Australian Press. Even those who didn’t work for him were subservient in case they ever depended upon him for employment.

    What did precolonial Australians have power over? Their own lives? I think not. The land determined whether they lived or died, and the land permitted precious few to survive. There are no fertile crescents in Australia to permit the development of true agriculture capable of sustaining populations large enough to develop into civilisations like in other parts of the world and so they remained stuck in the Stoneage and the only sovereignty that existed was the power of the strong over the weak.

    And who deemed the land to be empty? No one. That is a modern myth that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Doubtless it is based on the deliberate misinformation that terra nulius means empty land, or unoccupied land when it actually means nobody’s land, which is a fact readily acknowledged by modern Aboriginals who prefer to believe the notion that the land owned them, rather than the far more absurd notion that land that existed long before they ever did somehow belongs to them. Another historical reality that is currently being cancelled in favour of popular modern myths.

    So what does Australia have power over? It own destiny? Or is it subservient to the power of the United States? Australia pays billions of dollars to the US in the form of a Submarine Tribute. Its Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, had to ask the US, not the UN, for permission to invade the then sovereignty of Indonesia and intervene to prevent the massacre of East Timorese people who had just voted to be independent. If the US had said no, what do you think Mr Howard would have done?

    Australia does not even have the power to be friends with China, because the US insists that China must be contained and provoked and accused and demonised as a threat to Australia that can only be avoided by threatening China with nuclear missiles, which in the absence of those submarines, will doubtlessly be stationed on the Australian mainland. Australia submits to the sovereignty of the US.

    Sovereignty is not a benign principle of justice and human rights. It is a euphamism for the oppression of power.

  8. Fred

    Leefe: You do realise that Lithium production via “hard rock mining” in OZ comes with environmental side-effects. The mineral is extracted from open pit mines and then roasted using fossil fuels. The process requires large amounts of water and releases 15 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne. Waste products are also an issue. We might be the world’s biggest producer but most of it is mined by interests involving Chinese companies and shipped to China. (They don’t need a war to control us.)

  9. leefe


    1) Existence comes with environmental side-effects; the only way to eliminate human environmental “side-effects” is to eliminate the species entirely. The idea is to minimise negative impact as much as is practical.
    2) Fossil fuel use is not necessary; there are alternative sources of energy generation.
    3) The waste products exist regardless of where they are produced. If they’re produced here we can at least directly control how they are stored/handled.
    4) Yes, which is what I am saying should be changed; if we’re mining it and using the finished products, cut out the middlemen and create those end products here, thus reducing the waste and pollution from all that shipping of things overseas.

  10. Douglas Pritchard

    This may not qualify but I found it interesting. In the same ABC news broadcast I learned that the federal government is banning anything representing any nazi symbol. Thats a bunch of guys in a room chewing up tax dollars to come up with something newsworthy.
    At the same time at great cost to the environment, and the tax payers back pocket we are proudly delivering more war toys to the boys in Ukraine where the nazi symbol is displayed with pride. They are in bed with NATO, and the US, and they have values in common.
    We do as we are told by Washington. but there are times when the whole thing is a complete shemozzle, and we do the sheep thing ++.
    Crimes against the environment like pipelines blowing up, and dams falling over, are listed on paper under matters that will be brought before some noddy court in due course, but the matter of most concern is a countries sovereignty. Not peace.
    Give me strength.

  11. Max Gross

    Australia, the LACKEY country!

  12. Steve Davis

    Doug P, thanks for bringing up the matter of our military assistance to a country that is heavily influenced by fascist elements.

    There are some who deny that such fascist influence exists in Ukraine despite this being extensively discussed in the Western media prior to the current conflict.

    Then there’s those who concede the existence of the fascist elements, but deny the extent and significance of that influence and the danger it presents. They forget how parliamentary processes can be manipulated by small but determined minorities.

    The prime example is the National Party in Australia, which wields influence to an extent far in excess of the size of its support base.

  13. Douglas Pritchard

    Steve, I find the whole border thing and flag waving absolutely fascinating. The concept of preserving sovereignty while the planet stalls.
    But in this country we have the Jewish faith constantly surveilling our media just in case we think they are being neglected.
    They emphasize the great big red line between their belief, and the nazis.
    Thou shall not cross it, and we will patrol the border.
    The Ukraine president arrives here, and everywhere else, demanding $`s for his cause, and he is of the Jewish faith, so we know about that.
    Yet at the same time we watch him commanding a brave bunch of lads who display with great pride nazi symbols on their uniforms. The fascist faith is alive and well there.
    Dont we know, or are we so driven by the desire for conflict that not much else matters?

  14. Steve Davis

    Doug, we have not grown up as a nation yet.

    We were well on the way, with Guy Rundle (I think) describing us as the world’s first post-patriotism nation. A great sign of maturity. But along came John Howard, who took us back 50 or more years.

    We are, once again, the lackey country as Max Gross said.

    As lackeys, we don’t necessarily have a desire for conflict, more I think a desire to please, to get a pat on the head. It really is pathetic.

    People think we have no alternative but to align ourselves with a great power, but that is just infantile.

    I wish more of us would look into the details of the Belt and Road trading structure that is now unstoppable, that has countries lining up to join, and which will in time become the central force in global trade.
    People who take the trouble will be surprised at the care, the standards, the maturity of thought that is going into this arrangement. But the stand-out feature for me is the commitment to national sovereignty, non-interference, and the UN Charter, as the basis for the stated aims of mutual respect and prosperity.

    What the Belt and Road aims to achieve is a win-win situation for all, the exact opposite of the current financial system of debt, deprivation and austerity that is causing suffering and conflict around the world. Integration with such a system would remove any perceived need for a powerful ally.

    Fascism and other radical postures flourish where there is deprivation and loss of hope. We cannot rid the world of fascism while we cling to the false promises of a system that promises much and delivers nothing.

  15. Douglas Pritchard

    Steve, You introduce an interesting issue with Belt and Road trading.
    Old age, and general imbecility prevents my mind from realising the consequences of a trading mechanism free from the interference from vested interests based on (perceived) sovereignty
    Listening to Beijing i am tempted to think the population as a whole would benefit from an unrestrained trade scenario.
    This country seems to be constantly constrained by being told what we can trade, and who we can trade with. Yes, the Lackeys.
    Sanctions are applied willy nilly to suit a hidden agenda, and its my belief that this lies at the seat of our being poised for poverty.
    The R word is now here, and its not because we are slacking, or lazy.
    Someone is cleaning up financially, and are these the folk manipulating the trade via our “rules based system”?

  16. Steve Davis

    Doug, in my final comment at Lucy Hamilton’s article “Weaponised Unreality”, I gave a link to a discussion with Professor Clara Mattei, who has just published a book titled “Capital Order — How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved The Way to Fascism”.

    She sheds light on your question, and possibly confirms your worst fears.

    Weaponised Unreality

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