What's happening at the
Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 05:26 | SYDNEY
Monday 19 Feb 2018 | 05:26 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Australia's alliance choices



9 July 2012 09:45

Peter Layton's comment on the US alliance is below. But first, here's Malcolm Davis, who posted this on the Lowy Institute's Facebook page:

This is a really great piece in the SMH. I've immediately assigned it for this week's reading for my students doing my 'Strategic China' at Bond University. I think it highlights the spectrum of issues confronting Australia's strategic planning community as we approach the 2013 White Paper. Both in terms of balancing a complex (and ever more challenging) triangular relationship between China and the US, as well as our own strategic choices as to what it is we want to do with the ADF.

I don't believe we can have the luxury of choosing to be either a maritime power focusing on making a contribution to US and other allied operations in the Western Pacific or Indian Ocean region vs an expeditionary land power designed primarily for peace support and stabilisation operations in the South Pacific. Ultimately, as a responsible regional actor we have to do both. That means the government has to be convinced of a need to increase spending and here Hugh White is spot on.

Our parlous level of spending is indicative of a government which just does not get the big issues. It's the job of the strategic policy community in the Department of Defence, as well as in the broader defence academic and think-tank community, to get the message across, or watch Australia shrink to be little more than a small actor and ultimately a potential liability to our US partners in a crisis.

Peter Layton:

It seems tempting to place Andrew O'Neil's and Malcolm Cook's as the only alternatives to the ANZUS alliance debate but maybe there are less traditional ways to think about this.

During much of the last decade the 'over there' crowd prevailed. This side thought that Australia providing small tactical level forces to participate in a minor way in the American-led wars of the 2000s would strengthen the alliance. John Cantwell may express on ABC his concerns over this realpolitik, but the alliance did strengthen. Our politicians had more frequent meetings with American politicians (including a farm-stay), higher quality operational-level intelligence was shared with Australia and the ADF became more popular in the Pentagon.

But recently from another direction, the 'over here' side emerged. With much presidential publicity and considerable fanfare the United States now has a base in northern Australia. Of course not a real base, just troops on rotation just like those in South Korea albeit with different time rotational periods. But it is perceived by all as a base regardless; to use an old metaphor, if it looks like a duck...

With US troops safely home-ported it does though suggest that all sides have now accepted that strand of Defence advice that holds that Australia can't defend itself, it needs superpower help. All sides have now accepted this, it seems, and accordingly outsourced the Defence Of Australia. If so, some people will say that maybe Australia now doesn't need to be as fast to do the 'over there' approach of deploying tactical level forces to American wars. The arguments will go that no one was too sure if that 'guilt trip' approach would really work in some future conflict if we needed American help anyway. And others will say that, this way, when the American Administration changes and all our old friends leave to become beltway bandits, we will still be important to the next crowd, as we host a base. And of course, the clincher perhaps, although few will verbalize it, is that with Darwin implicitly now safely defended by the USMC the Australian Defence budget can be reduced.

The 'over there' crowd worked assiduously to strengthen the alliance and the 'over here' crowd jumped on board and today wholeheartedly agree. Left and right are as one, it seems. To be deliberately provocative: the alliance is now not just the centre of the Australian defence universe, it has become the whole universe; it is the whole of Australian defence, or at least that whole that counts. And everybody is happy with a more robust alliance.

Everybody except for Lowy's James Brown, it seems: 'Yet recent developments in ANZUS engagement seem to have been very much US-led and Australian endorsed. Perhaps we're not articulating what is possible in the alliance, right at the time that we have the best chance of seeing our national interests met.'

James makes an interesting point. If we are all joined up to be a small part of the large American project, do we have an interest in influencing the American project or do we just accept it as it is? Could we? Should we? Maybe, maybe not; there are arguments both ways. And if we wish to influence America, who and in what way?

You may also be interested in...