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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 13:47 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 13:47 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Renting a defence force?



6 June 2011 11:52

Peter Layton writes:

I realize that Marcus Burke is simply being provocative in his suggestion of renting the US DoD's 'guaranteed' protection of Australia, but there are some issues hidden in his and John E. Angevine's claim about Australian military luxuries.

The US builds it defence forces to advance American national interests; it does not build them to advance Australian national interests. Similarly the US will use its defence forces to advance American national interests- although sometimes both our interests happily coincide.  When they do not, America will wish us luck and pursue its own national interests, whether in crafting free-trade agreements or in responding to troubles in East Timor. The corollary though is that America also expects Australia to look after our own national interests first and foremost; America will not do this for us, especially if it disadvantages America.

The UK during the Cold War was America's most important ally; so important it alone was an integrated part of the war plan to wage nuclear war, the SIOP. Even so, in the matter of the Falklands, US and UK national interests did not coincide and the US advanced its national interests independently. America could have avoided the Falklands war happening altogether with some well-chosen words or the deployment of a carrier battle group between Argentina and the Falklands but, worried about the Soviets making gains in Latin America, choose not to. America certainly provided assistance but in a fight between a very close democratic ally and an authoritarian unpopular military government, America under Ronald Reagan choose to sit it out. British Defense Secretary Sir John Nott famously remarked: 'It is a frightening thing that our greatest ally is not wholly on our side.'

Australia's pseudo-realists decry it, but alliances at their core are arrangements of mutual advantage. When it is in American national interests, US support will be fulsome; where an issue is not in America's national interest less so. It is amusing to talk of renting the US DoD, or to say basing some US forces here (just as in the UK) is 'the' answer, or that Australia has the wrong force structure for American needs, but at the end of the day national interests will out. The US does not have allies for 'grins', because it especially likes some countries, or to provide a service to, but because these alliances are in America's carefully considered own national interest.

If I may be allowed a last indulgence concerning renting. The US rebelled in 1776 against Britain under the banner of 'no taxation without representation'. The British had recently fought a global war that finally completely finished off the only real military threat to the North American colonies. Trouble was Britain ran up a huge debt and one solution adopted to reduce the deficit was to tax the very people who had gained the most: those rather wealthy Americans. A sort of 18th Century user pays principle. Those who now espouse 'market-based solutions' should remember the American catch cry. Would those foreigners paying for a larger US defence force expect some real control over US defence policies for their (foreign) dollar?!

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