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Gillard in Congress: Call and response

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COMMENTS

9 March 2011 15:36

Wars make, remake and unmake alliances.

Julia Gillard's speech to Congress early tomorrow morning, Australian time, will be about 60 years of alliance history, but it will also offer a glimpse of Australia's understanding of how Iraq and Afghanistan shapes the future of the alliance. Consider Gillard's speech as one element in a call-and-response dialogue. What are the US alliance pressures she has to hint at if not necessarily confront'

Two big thoughts about what Australia is hearing from Washington will be in the works. Call them the 'two Nos': no more Iraqs or Afghanistans, and no extra cash for the US military.

The history of ANZUS demonstrates how wars work their will on what the words of an alliance actually mean. Iraq and Afghanistan will be turning points in the same way as the end of the Cold War, Vietnam, Korea and the war against Japan.

Those earlier inflection points were fundamental for Australian strategy. The Pacific war shifted Australia's eyes decisively from Britain to the US. Korea marked the formal creation of the ANZUS alliance, and the Asia focus of ANZUS forced Australia to plan its military future in Asia, not in the Middle East in support of British strategy. Defeat in Vietnam and the Guam Doctrine then produced the decisive turn towards defence of the Australian continent in Canberra's assessment of its alliance responsibilities.

In Washington, the combined effect of Korea and Vietnam was to create a working law: never again put soldiers into an East Asian land war. Iraq and Afghanistan mean that Vietnam syndrome now has broader application. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates expresses this sharply and directly: 'Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.'

You don't have to wait for the US Posture Review to discern the Iraq-Afghanistan impact on future US planning. As Hugh White has been doing, you merely need to read the speeches and evidence that Robert Gates has been producing on such issues as a firm withdrawal date from Afghanistan and the future shape of the American Army. The Gates oeuvre will form much of the context for the alliance call-and-response in Gillard's speech.

The biggest No in all this is 'no new cash for the military'. Cashing in on closure in Iraq and Afghanistan will be just one part of a sour and surly decade for the US economy. The drawn-out combat with the US deficit must mean curbs on the combat forces. The psychology of this will be as important as the budget cuts, especially if the best result the US can get in Iraq and Afghanistan is not to have lost.

All this means that Gillard will be upbeat and optimistic about the future of the alliance without being too specific on how it will have to change.

Photo by Flickr user Bob Jagendorf.

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