American Ambassador Comments on the U.S.-Australian Alliance
June 30, 2001
This is the text of remarks by Ambassador Edward W. Gnehm, Jr. for the conference "The U.S.-Australian Alliance in an East Asian Context" at the University of Sydney.
Professor Albinski, Minister Reith, Opposition Leader Beazley, distinguished guests, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to say a few words today on a subject that you might imagine is dear to my heart, the Australian-American alliance. For the past year it has been my privilege to participate on a daily basis in the workings of ANZUS. This has been one of the most rewarding tasks in my career in the Foreign Service. I have therefore listened with great interest to the observations on the alliance which U.S., Australian, and regional experts have offered these past two days. They have given us much food for thought.
For my part, I would like to offer a number of brief observations based on my experience of the practical working of the alliance:
First, It is based on a solid foundation of common values. Australians and Americans share a common faith in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law that is fundamental to our sense of who we are. It is this common belief which gives our alliance such broad support among our publics. If it didn't exist, it is hard to see how we could have come through the vicissitudes of the past 50 years in such good shape.
The U.S. concluded other treaties of alliance at about the same time as ANZUS. Those with democratic nations such as Japan and our NATO partners have withstood the test of time. Others -- and I'm thinking, for example, of the CENTO project in the Middle East -- turned out to be tactical partnerships with narrow, authoritarian elites and were short-lived.
Second, the treaty matters. Values are not enough in themselves. The U.S. does not enter into alliances lightly. I can speak from my own career experience here. When nations seek a formal security guarantee from us, we think very carefully before giving one and only do so if we are genuinely prepared to honor our word. We have not forgotten George Washington's advice on entangling alliances, and prior to the end of World War II we did not enter into them at all. Circumstances have changed, but it's safe to say arrangements like ANZUS remain exceptional.
The fact we have a formal agreement between our two nations changes fundamentally the way we interact. It gives us the confidence and the incentive to share our most sensitive secrets. This in turn enables us to act together quickly and decisively.
Our intelligence cooperation is well known. It gives the two governments a common fund of knowledge and goes a long way to explaining why the U.S. and Australia act in concert so often. It is not -- as I so often hear it said -- a matter of one nation following the other's lead but rather a function of the fact we have a common database and can both see what needs to be done. I can assure you that our two governments do not follow each other blindly.
Somewhat less well known are our daily exchanges of military expertise and information. Exercises like the just-completed Tandem Thrust attract public attention but there is much more that does not. Not only are there many smaller exercises, but we also attend each other's staff colleges and exchange officers among equivalent units. More than 80 American service personnel are currently detailed to Australian units in all branches of your defense force, and an equal number of Australians are detailed to equivalent U.S. units. Most important, we share sensitive defense technologies. U.S. assistance to the Collins submarine project is one recent example that attracted public notice. It is in the U.S. interest that our ally has a highly capable military, and that we can operate together quickly in an emergency.
Third, the ANZUS Treaty is not directed against any other nation. Unlike NATO, which was formed in response to the Soviet threat and spent 40 years planning to repel a Soviet ground attack against West Germany, the U.S.-Australian Alliance has never been targeted against a particular enemy.
Fourth, the alliance engages us in the Pacific region. There are, from time to time, voices warning that the U.S. is withdrawing or more pointed advice that we "go home." Well, we are home in the Pacific and there's no where to withdraw to - when your most populous state is in the Pacific as are other parts of your national territory. Therefore America's national defense is inexorably tied to security in the Pacific. The ANZUS treaty clearly states its purpose is to prevent aggression in the Pacific region. It forms part of network of alliances and international organizations that link Australia and the U.S. to Asia. Australia participates in the Five Power Defense Arrangement with Malaysia, Singapore, Britain, and New Zealand. The U.S. has treaties of alliance with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. We both participate in APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum, and I can tell you from experience much of the dialogue between Canberra and Washington concerns Asian issues.
These alliance relationships parallel broader economic and personal links. Australia's trading relationship with Asia is well known, and that continent is a major source of immigration for this country. The picture is not so different for the U.S. Our most recent census found more than 20 million people of Asian descent residing in the U.S. Trans-Pacific trade is almost twice as large as trans-Atlantic trade and growing twice as fast. The U.S. is the largest trading partner of most of Asia's big economies. This trade in turn has had a profound impact on the United States itself. Over the past 50 years, there has been a steady drift of population to the Pacific seaboard from the eastern states. California has for many years now been our most populous state.
Fifth, the alliance is relevant and will remain relevant far into the future. I say this as a direct response to media commentaries I've seen which suggest the alliance has passed its use-by date. To prove the point we need only ask ourselves a few simple questions. Are there no threats to our common values? Are there no leaders in the world who might be tempted to see strife and chaos as in their interest or who are willing to use any means no matter how violent to maintain their power? The sad answer to all these questions is unfortunately clear. It is certainly clear to the Australian people. A recent opinion poll I saw showed that almost 80 percent of Australians believe the alliance is still relevant -- a figure by the way which has remained almost unchanged for a generation. Certainly, at a time when Australian troops are still on duty in East Timor, and U.S. troops with our NATO partners patrol an uneasy peace in the Balkans and keep watch in Kuwait, we must conclude regretfully that there are still dangers to the world's peace and security.
Fortunately, I am confident that ANZUS has a bright future. I have had the good fortune to tour this country extensively over the past year and have been deeply impressed by Australians' loyalty, common sense, and profound commitment to democratic values -- virtues I believe Americans share. My countrymen are very lucky to have allies as good as you, and I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you. I am confident that my successor in fifty years time will be able to stand before a gathering similar to this and toast a century of U.S.-Australian partnership.