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Red Sea Deployments: Canberra Says No

The failure of the United States to convince the Australian government to send one vessel to aid coalition efforts to deter Houthi disruption of international shipping in the Red Sea was a veritable storm whipped up in a teacup. The entire exercise, dressed as an international mission titled Operation Prosperity Guardian, is intended as a response to the growing tensions of the ongoing Israel-Hamas War.

Washington has made no secret of the fact that it wants to keep Iran away from Israel’s predations by deterring any provocative moves from Teheran’s proxies. But Israel’s murderous war in the Gaza Strip is not exactly selling well, and a special coalition is being seen as something of a distracting trick. But even within this assembly of states, the messages are far from uniform.

France’s Defence Minister, for instance, has promised that its ships would remain under French command, supplementing an already pre-existing troop presence. Italy’s Defence Ministry, in sending the naval frigate Virginio Fasan to the Red Sea, has its eye on protecting the interests of Italian shipowners, clarifying that the deployment would not take place as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. Likewise Spain, which has noted that EU-coordinated and NATO-led missions took priority over any unilateral Red Sea operation.

To that end, the Australian government has been unusually equivocal. In recent months, the tally of obedience to wishes from Washington has grown. But on the issue of sending this one vessel, the matter was far from certain. Eventually, the decision was made to keep the focus closer to home and the Indo-Pacific; no vessel would be sent to yet another coalition effort in the Middle East led by the United States.

The sentiment, as reported in The Guardian Australia, was that Australia would reduce its naval presence in the Middle East “to enable more resources to be deployed in our region.” In doing so, Canberra was merely reiterating the position of the previous Coalition administration.

In October 2020, the Morrison government announced an end to the three-decades long deployment of the Royal Australian Navy in the Middle East. Then Defence Minister Linda Reynolds revealed that Australia would no longer be sending a RAN ship to the Middle East on an annual basis, and would withdraw from the US-led naval coalition responsible for patrolling the Strait of Hormuz by 2020’s end.

It was good ground for Australia’s current Labor Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, to build on. In his words, “We’ve actually consulted our Australian Defence Force heads about these matters and with our American friends. That’s why you’ve seen no criticism from the US administration.” When pressed for further clarification about the allegedly inadequate state of Australia’s naval capabilities, the PM simply affirmed the already guaranteed (and dangerous) commitment of Canberra to “the Indo-Pacific, a fairly large region that we look after” with “our American friends.”

The warmongers were particularly irate at the modest refusal. Where there is war, they see no reason for Australia not to participate. And if it concerns the United States, it follows, by default, that it should concern Australian military personnel and the exercise of some fictitious muscle. This slavish caste of mind has dominated foreign policy thinking in Canberra for decades and asserted itself in an almost grotesque form with the surrender of sovereignty to the US military industrial complex under the AUKUS agreement.

The Coalition opposition, displeased with Albanese’s decision, had no truck for diplomacy. Lurking behind their reasoning were script notes prepared for them by the US-Israeli concern that Iran, and its Houthi allies, be kept in their box. “Is Mr Albanese seriously claiming that Australia can assert diplomatic influence over the Houthi rebels?” asked the Shadow Minister for Defence Andrew Hastie and the Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor.

In the Murdoch press, two-bit, eye-glazing commentary on Australia neglecting its duties to the US war machine in distant seas could be found in frothy fury. Here is Greg Sheridan, more cumbersome than ever, in The Australian (paywalled): “We are saying to the Americans and the Brits – under AUKUS we expect you to send your most powerful military assets, nuclear submarines, to Australia to provide for our security, but we are so small, so lacking in capability and so scared of our own shadow, that under no circumstances can we spare a single ship of any kind to help you protect commercial shipping routes – from which we benefit directly – in the Red Sea.”

The Royal Australian Navy, Sheridan splutters, is simply not up to the task. One of its eight ANZAC frigates is almost never in the water. The RAN is short of crews and short of “specialist anti-drone capabilities.” The implication here is evident: the government must, in the manner of Viv Nicholson’s declaration on her husband winning the football pools in 1961, “spend, spend, spend.”

Paul Kelly, another Murdoch emissary also of the same paper, was baffled (paywalled) about the “character” of the Labor government when it came to committing itself to the Middle East. The Albanese government should have been more bloodthirsty in its backing of Israel’s war against Hamas. It dared back, along with 152 other UN member states, “an Arab nation resolution calling for ‘an immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ – a resolution, given its wording, that was manifestly pro-Palestinian.”

What struck Kelly as odd, suggesting the glaring limits of his understanding of foreign relations, was that Australia did not commit to the coalition to protect shipping through the Red Sea because it does not have the naval capability to do so. But armchair pundits always secretly crave blood, especially when shed by others. And to have members of the RAN butchered on inadequate platforms was no excuse not to send them to a conflict.

Aspects of Sheridan’s remarks are correct: Australian inadequacy, the fear of its own shadow. The conclusions drawn by Sheridan are, however, waffling in their nonsense. It is precisely such a fear that has led the naval and military establishment fall for the notion that Canberra needs nuclear-propelled boats to combat the spectre of a Yellow-Red Satan to the north. With a good degree of imbecility, an enemy has been needlessly created.

The result is that Australian insecurity has only been boosted. Hence more military contracts that entwine, even further, the Australian military with the US Armed Forces. Or more agreements to share military technology that give Washington a free hand in controlling the way it is shared. In history, Albanese’s refusal to commit the RAN to the Red Sea will be seen as a sound one. His great sin will be the uncritical capitulation of his country to US interests in the Indo-Pacific.

 

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11 comments

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  1. RomeoCharlie

    Operation Prosperity Guardian? One wonders which wanker dreams up these laughable names for little more than another would-be bloodbath. Thanks Binoy for reading the Australian so I don’t have to. And thanks for pricking the pomposity of its writers.

    And how difficult must it be for spud and his merry gang of warmongers to be reminded it was their decision to pull our ships back from the mid-east. Glad you are there to remind them of that too.

    But still missing Kaye Lee.

  2. Roswell

    Aren’t we all.

  3. Phil Pryor

    A Mister Paul “Smelly” Kelly, an old “on the nose” fossilised primitive scribbler and Merde Dog misfit, is mentioned here doing the usual, that is, one eyed, one sided, no reply utter BULLSHIT about world events we ourselves can investigate. In this he is supported by a twisted mediaeval romanist ratbag and mangy misfit, the odious G Shiteridan, rubbish in ink. One cannot attack them easily, get a reply going, loudly oppose. Dogshit propaganda and lies for LOOT are Merde Dog policy, with a clique, fellowship, tribe and horde of grubbing profiteers who need submissive quiet suckers, and, overexploitation in consumption at the planet’s risk. The accumulating pox of this media maggoting is ruinous, fatal.

  4. New England Cocky

    I think the problem goes back as far as the decision to cut three feet (900mm) off the stern of Gretel before the second America’s Cup Challenge, and the retirement of HMAS Melbourne, Vampire et al under successive feral governments so that the remaining fleet of rowboats could not cross Sydney Harbour on a windless day.

    Just how much has it cost the Australian voters to ”attend” the imperialist aspirations of the USA (United States of Apartheid) in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, all conflicts where only drawing a long bow could any link to any threat to Australia.

    Indeed, Menzies, founder of the LIARBRAL$ party, who resigned his commission in the Australian Army on the first day of WW1, gleefully invited Australia into Vietnam, where the US was defeated ….. and the consequences were destructive for too many fine Australian military personnel.

    Little Johnnie Howard, who has never seen a shot fired in anger despite wearing a flak-jacket when addressing graziers after the Port Arthur massacre gun laws were announced, followed this earlier LIARBRAL$ precedent and committed Australian troops to Iraq & Afghanistan, for twenty (20) years of Budget busting expense for another convincing military defeat of the US led CoWS.

    So this Christmas it is some relief for Australian voters that Albanese has recognised the limitations of Australian military hardware and declined to join this next American imperialist adventure. A political cynic may even conclude that is ”one win out of three” is a good result.

  5. paul walter

    I think it is right that the Fed government hasn’t gone along with this, if only because Yemen has suffered so badly for a decade now because of foreign interference, eg Saudi Arabia.

    An Australian warship sent to the region would be egregious, beyond forgiveness.

  6. corvusboreus

    I also miss Kaye Lee

    She didn’t devote reams of words attempting to absolve Vladimir Putin from any responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of human deaths directly resulting from his voluntary decision to prosecute a war of aggression against his neighbouring nation (with broader threats of thermonuclear strikes)..

    She didn’t go in to bat for ‘important free-speech issues’, like the right of Alex Jones to utilise commercial media platforms to slander the parents of murder victims and call for the assassination of public officials.

    She didn’t besmirch responsible cat owners who impose curfews to prevent their exotic pets from mass-slaughtering native wildlife as miscreants practicing “tortuous enslavement”.

    Yeah, I also miss KLs contributions, she retained a functioning moral compass and actually gave a realistic shit about the state of the natural environment.

  7. Douglas Pritchard

    There was a distinct point in our recent history when we turned on the French, and bent over for Uncle Sam.
    It cost us, but we learned we could say “NO”, and wake next morning to a bright new day.
    A miserable wretch was responsible, and we booted him out so fast for acting the fool.
    Now Albo has taken the reins, and he knows his history. Careful at the start.
    But those who have faith will be barracking for ANOTHER reversal.
    This time we weigh up our alliances in a reasoned fashion, and one fine day inform the USA that we dont want their shonky submarine deal, and we have the ability to build what we need at home.
    Our role is to defend this country, and not to be a party to the next crazy US war.
    The thin end of the wedge just needs to be inserted in the right place, and very soon could be an opportune time.
    The yanks can stand idly by while Palestinians are ejected from Gaza.
    We can do the same when we boot the yanks out of Pine gap.

  8. Terence Mills

    The Saudis border the Red Sea, they have a substantial navy, their oil transits the Red Sea and Suez Canal.
    The Egyptians have an even bigger navy and they control all movements through the Suez Canal.

    Both have declined to join Operation Prosperity Guardian.

    Why is that ?

  9. Kate

    WELL DONE TO THE ALP FOR HAVING THE GUTS AND FORESIGHT TO STAND UP AGAINST AMERICA’S NEVER-ENDING SELF-SERVING AGGRESSION! It we had the gormless, sycophantic war mongers in the LNP mismanaging our nation, they would have jumped at the chance to kowtow to yet another American demand for our nation to get involved in yet another incident of aggression. Ever since WW2, it has ALWAYS taken an LNP regime to get our nation involved in a horrendous war – many of which the West failed to win, eg Vietnam and the genocidal slaughter in Iraq/Syria which achieved absolutely NOTHING but the long-term destabilisation of the whole middle east – and a Labor government to get us OUT of it! History has proven that the unconscionable war mongers in the LNP and a succession of right-wing American governments are all too ready to sacrifice the lives of countless thousands of American lives – and the lives of compliant allies, especially Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders – in their despicable diversionary wars, conflicts and illegal invasions of other nations that are often instigated in order to distract public attention away from the chaos, dysfunction and criminal corruption that they, themselves, have created within their own country!

    The fact that America is prepared to stand idly by watching the reprehensible WAR CRIMINALS in the Israeli regime commit the most heinous crimes: bombing schools, bombing hospitals and literally maiming and SLAUGHTERING innocent, unarmed non-Jewish Palestinians (which, by the way, includes many Christian Palestinians) fleeing from the cowardly carnage, cold-blooded murder and traumatisation of thousands of Palestinian men, women and innocent little children from the Israeli regime’s senseless act of murder, is beyond evil – it is a repugnant WAR CRIME that is not only being encouraged – but also funded – by a huge number of extremely wealthy Jews who reside in New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles!

    Australia has a DUTY to stand up for what is humane, what is decent and what is RIGHT! We must NEVER FORGET that America and the UK were more than prepared to abandon Australia during WW2 – leaving our isolated little nation to be plundered by the onslaught of a determined Japanese army as it marched down the Malay peninsular towards Australia! It was ONLY when Pearl Harbour was bombed, that the Americans decided to intervene in WW2 and join brave, battle-weary Australian soldiers fighting in the Malay Peninsular and in New Guinea to protect America against the ferocious Japanese army marching towards our shores. Thank God, we had John Curtin, the Labor PM in power at the time! That monstrous cigar-chomping traitor, Churchill literally ordered John Curtin to ignore the fact that the Japanese were posing a REAL threat to Australia and Australians and, instead, keep our soldiers in the middle east to fight for the “British cause”! Thankfully, Curtin told Churchill to take a flying leap, refused his request and returned Australians to the Malay Peninsular and New Guinea to fight against the Japanese army who were so savage and predatory, their specially-trained Kamikaze pilots were prepared to commit suicide for the Japanese cause!

    Once again, the ALP are doing what is right and standing up against needless American aggression! This time the American regime have decided to join the WRONG side: the hateful, unconscionable and murderous war criminals in the Israeli regime! Australia must NEVER EVER side with America on this issue!

  10. Clakka

    The typical Oz media narrative on defense, security, economic imperatives and international relations is absurd, xenophobic (if not racist), lazy, arrogant, and mostly drawn from a hackneyed olde worlde imperialist mindset. I suppose making those promulgations presume they can keep the populace dumbed-down for the sake of, per se, the use of us as canon-fodder in the past imperialist ventures.

    The posited notions about AUKUS are ludicrous, and fail to recognize the rapidly changing risks associated with economic / communications scenarios afoot in the indo-pacific, as recently briefly reported in the ABC’s recent doco, Clouds Under the Sea. For sure, there are major undesirable issues to be tackled regarding MLW and HLW, and to that extent it’s an insanity amongst other insanities. At least for the time being, despite ludicrous pumping by Duts & Co, we wont be dealing with waste from major nuke power generation or SMRs.

    Regarding the current Operation Prosperity Guardian, I don’t see any of those mindless ink-pumpers making any constructive commentary on such other important considerations, such as the changing navies in the Pacific. Uncle Sam years ago brought into the operation of its suzerain in the Levant, and now that it’s seriously run amok under the lunatic and incompetent Netanyahu and Likud, we are wise to stay away from it militarily, and the US knows it.

    I am far from a militarist, but understand the importance, and our utter reliance on interdependence of economic structures across the globe, and the criticality of seeking to maintain at least a detente. The current loose-canon actions in Russia / Ukraine and now Israel / Palestine are grave examples of the risks associated with stupidity.

    I do wish it wasn’t so, but it seems to be.

  11. Claudio Pompili

    Thank you Binoy for yet another thoughtful article. I also agree with most writers and their comments. Particularly egregious, emotive, demonising BS is the conflating of Russia’s supposed responsibility of ‘war of aggression’…sounds like the ABC, any USA MSM eg Fox News, or collective West MSM…no mention of NATO expansion, neo-Nazis, indivisible security, Donbass/Lugansk genocide of 14,000 civilians, Russia’s Dec 2021 security drafts etc…oh, of course, it has to be ‘Russian dis-information’ Give me a break and read more widely! eg alternative media scheerpost, collective action magazine, l’antidiplomatico, controinformazione, the cradle, declassified etc

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