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Tag Archives: ANZUS

Staring into the Syrian Abyss

By Allan Patience

The insanity of the proposal that Australia should commence bombing raids inside Syrian territory is beyond belief. Our belligerent prime minister insists that the initiative for this development came from none other than President Obama himself. Other reports suggest that Australia has actually put pressure on America, obliging it to issue an official request to join in the US military’s air strikes against the Islamic State’s (IS) bases across the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Whether it was President Obama or Tony Abbott who is responsible for the Australian government’s sudden interest in staring into the Syrian abyss, the hope is that wiser heads will prevail. Australia has much to lose and nothing of strategic significance to win by expanding its already dubious role in this appalling conflict.

There are four immediately obvious reasons why the Abbott government should resist the American “request.”

First, the current crisis in Iraq and Syria (and it’s spreading to other parts of the Middle East), ghastly as it is in every respect, is overwhelmingly the result of America and its allies’ strategic interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the dark days of George W. Bush’s presidency. For all the allied blood and treasure that has been so recklessly thrown into those conflicts, no end to them is in sight and on any measure their objectives have been routinely ending in failure.

Iraq is now in the grip of several murderous civil conflicts, largely between Sunni and Shiite forces. Afghanistan is an ugly confusion of Taliban and tribal conflicts and increasingly corrupt and malevolent politicians intent on feathering their own nests before the inevitable collapse of their puny government. These have provided IS with myriad opportunities to inject its merciless jihadists across the region, to its enormous strategic advantage.

This is a mess entirely of the West’s making and its only solution is for the West to butt out and leave it to the locals to sort themselves out. Of course this will result in horrendous bloodshed and brutality; but this is already happening and no matter what the West does, it is clearly incapable of stopping it.

Second, by placing itself at the side of the Americans in Iraq and Syria, the Australians are inviting and inflaming the absolutely visceral hatred of actual and would-be jihadists, both domestically and in Southeast Asia (especially in Indonesia and Malaysia). Far from minimizing potential “home grown” attacks from extremists, and from terrorist groups outside the country, our involvement with the United States in what is a doomed strategy against IS will only make things worse for us at home and abroad.

Third, the craven Australian desire to always be seen as a “loyal” ally dependent on the United States reached its use-by date long ago. The ANZUS treaty remains an instrument whose efficacy has always been determined, first and foremost, by what is in America’s interests, not Australia’s. As Malcolm Fraser argued so well last year, it is time for Australia to extricate itself from its “dangerous ally.” Just as Canada has been able to quietly avoid US pressure to join it in most of its numerous military adventures since the end of World War II and the Cold War (e.g., the Vietnam War and the Iraq War), so Australia should be now be aware that its security is not guaranteed by the treaty.

Indeed, increasingly, Australia’s national interests are at odds with the alliance with the US. Given that our security is totally bound up with what occurs in our geo-political region (East and Southeast Asia), our misplaced loyalty to the US (as opposed to being a mature and independent friend) results in our being an awkward partner in our region, not a trusted regional player.

Fourth, the actual cost of the deployment of Australian troops and materiel in the Middle East is an utterly perverse squandering of taxpayers’ funds. The monies should in fact be used for large-scale aid projects in places like Indonesia to counter the appeal of jihadist recruiters while improving Australia’s diplomacy with its neighbouring states to advance moves for finding regional solutions to problems like people smugglers and terrorists.

Australia must not expand its military deployment from Iraq into Syria. It is time to pull back from the abyss. Abbott and his defence and foreign ministers must eschew further involvement in a conflict that has no reasonable end in sight. Indeed diplomatic talks should now be under way to advise the Americans that Australia is withdrawing all of its soldiers and materiel from the Middle East completely.

Who knows, this might even lead to the Americans realizing that its strategies have been, and remain, futile, and that it too should withdraw from the conflict.

Allan Patience is a principal fellow in the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne. He has held chairs in politics and Asian studies in universities in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Japan.

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.