Permanent friends? Historical reflections on the Australian-American alliance
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Permanent friends? Historical reflections on the Australian-American alliance

This paper is the best short history of the Australia-US alliance. In this paper Peter Edwards AM places the alliance in historical perspective and considers the challenges faced by the alliance in the post-September 11 world.



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Key Findings
  • US alliance has been a cornerstone of Australian foreign policy throughout the 20th century.
  • However, despite the importance of the alliance to Australian security, Australian public support for the alliance during the presidency of George W. Bush was unstable.
  • Australian politicians and institutions should actively work to maintain the alliance as a fruitful relationship delivering for both partners and communicate this to the public.

Executive Summary

This Lowy Institute paper by Peter Edwards AM examines the history of the Australian-American alliance from the Australian welcome to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet in 1908 to the relationship between John Howard and George W. Bush. Peter Edwards charts the shifting dynamics of the alliance through different periods in Australian-American relations, including the Second World War, the 1960s and Vietnam, and the challenges of the post-Vietnam era. He discusses the intensification of the alliance in the wake of September 11, 2001, and considers John Howard’s role in strengthening the military, intelligence- sharing, diplomatic and economic dimensions of the relationship.

However, Edwards introduces a word of caution, asserting that ‘the alliance should not be seen as totally secure in the esteem of governments and public opinion’ in either country during the foreseeable future. Drawing on statistics provided by Lowy Institute polling, Edwards argues that the Australian public’s good opinion regarding the US alliance during George W. Bush’s presidency was surprisingly unstable. As such, Edwards emphasises that the public will need assurance that Australia’s close relationship with the United States, including its trade relationship, is in accordance with Australian interests. He argues that Australian institutions, both public and private, should play a role in maintaining the US alliance as a fruitful relationship that ‘delivers positive returns on the political capital invested’ and should communicate these returns to a public audience. 

The Paper can be downloaded here.