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Reader riposte: Rudd sees growing cost of alliance

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COMMENTS

12 September 2008 10:41

Robyn Lim, Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland and author of The Geopolitics of East Asia, writes on the Prime Minister's recent speech:

Looks like Rudd has worked out how damaging the neo-isolationist 'Defence of Australia' doctrine has been to our national interests. That near-free riding risks courting the abandonment that we most fear.

We have learned, or should  have learned from our past, for example, that the US does not always see Indonesia the way we do. In 1999 we were hollering for US 'muddy boots on the ground' in East Timor, and the media here were howling 'we are on our own'. Yet the first US instinct was that the US did not have a dog in the fight, and Australia had been saying for years that it was self-reliant and would never ask for US combat support. Duh!

Whatever the outcome of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US is going to take a more discriminating approach to allies. 'We are willing to fight for you only if you are willing to fight for us'. So near-free riding will become dangerous for those who live, as we do, in regions in which the power balance remains unsettled.

Rudd's talking about sea control, not just sea denial, marks a major milestone in the repudiation of 'Defence of Australia', and not before time. Defence of Australia had a particularly devastating effect on the surface navy. Of course, what Rudd doesn't feel able to say is that we need much improved surface navy capabilities if we want to be able to contribute anything useful to US maritime and other capabilities that underpin the regional security on which our peace and prosperity depend. If we can't contribute enough to be useful, the US is going to count us out, and we will be left to shift for ourselves as best we can. 

We would soon end up spending a lot more on defence, and would have to pay other costs as well. Indonesia, for example, is much happier with us as US allies than as 'independent'. Not least because 'independent' might soon lead to an Australia with nuclear weapons, as John Gorton wanted. In other words, Rudd understands that the price of alliance is going up. Few in Australia seem to grasp this.

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