This is the text of a speech given by Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition, to a conference on the U.S.-Australian alliance at the University of Sydney.
Beazley provides historical context to Australian’s treaty with the United States and discusses Labor’s approach to its future.
Speech by Kim Beazley, Leader of the Opposition.
Last August I had the privilege of addressing another gathering here on the topic of Australia’s defence policy. I said then that Australia’s national security system is founded on three interlocking strategies:
- A defence strategy of self-reliance;
- An alliance with the United States which does not require unrealistic levels of military commitment to our direct defence by the US; and
- A regional strategy of engagement with Asia as a means of ensuring our security with our regional neighbours.
That speech in August last year focussed on the first of this trilogy of interlocking strategies – defence policy. Since then, the Government has issued a Defence White Paper which, in essence, stands in the tradition of defence self-reliance forged in the mid-1980s. Today I propose to deal in more detail with the second element of the trilogy – the Australia-US security relationship. Later this year I hope I will have the opportunity of making a third speech to discuss our need to pursue regional engagement as our core foreign policy imperative.
As we all know, this year Australia and the United States celebrate 50 years of being treaty partners through ANZUS. While our trade, economic and cultural links predate the treaty and remain our closest ties, it is in the field of defence and security that the truly intimate nature of our relationship resides. The strength of our relationship with the US is shared by only two other countries, Britain and Canada. ANZUS is the foundation of our strategic relationship, and to my way of thought it is one of our great national assets as we enter the 21st Century.
Ours is a relationship founded on common values of democracy and freedom, and the rule of law. It is based on interests shared globally and in the Asia Pacific region. We have fought side by side with the USA in all the major conflicts of this century. Our first common bonds forged in war, go back to the Battle of Hamel in 1918.
President Clinton put it best when he addressed the Australian Parliament in November 1996. He said that through our shared experiences, values and history – we both are free nations built across an entire continent – we have a distinct bond: “In one another…we see a distant mirror of our better selves – reflections of liberty and decency, of openness and vitality.”
While celebrating our 50th anniversary year of strategic partnership, we need to analyse where the strategic relationship rests today, and where its future lies. The world is too uncertain a place to do anything less.
The starting point of any hard-headed analysis for me as the alternative Prime Minister has to be, I am sorry to say, the attempted domestic politicisation of the alliance over the last 5 years. For the first time in twenty odd years, the conservatives have sought to make political capital over which side of national political life is supposedly more committed to the ANZUS relationship.
When in political trouble, my opponents seem to be programmed to revert to foreign policy political games. In 1996, the Coalition Government claimed that the alliance needed “reinvigoration” and “reaffirmation”. More recently, Cabinet Ministers have openly talked about the “end of ANZUS” under Labor because of our views on National Missile Defence. I want to come to the detail of that issue later, but for the moment let me simply say that ANZUS will be totally safe under a Labor Government. For good measure, I’ll throw in another pledge: we won’t let the reds back in under your beds.
This year, the Government has sought political advantage by reflexively and uncritically jumping to support US attitudes on missile defence and the Kyoto agreement on climate change. We do not believe these actions are in Australia’s own interests.
Two years ago, we saw a foreign policy farce. John Howard’s characterisation of Australia’s position in the region as a “deputy” to the US – the so-called “Howard Doctrine” – was reported in September 1999. Mr Howard attempted to walk away from this statement. But it shouldn’t have been uttered in the first place. The Howard Doctrine meant Australia would act, and I quote: “in a sort of deputy peacekeeping capacity in our region to the global policeman role of the US”.
The Howard Doctrine gave the impression the Prime Minister was taking the specifics of our engagement in East Timor – which was a UN-sanctioned intervention in respect of universal values – and forging them into a general strategic doctrine modestly named after himself. Within a week the Prime Minister was forced to hand in his deputy’s badge after howls of criticism. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. What the Prime Minister did not do is dispel the impression his words left that Australia is a strategic subordinate of the US.
We don’t need a posse of amateur cold warriors guiding our national security policy. I will not question the strength of the Prime Minister’s commitment to ANZUS. I just happen to think his Government has made a hash of the public handling of the relationship, as it has on so many vital foreign policy fronts.
I fear we are witnessing another train wreck in the making with the PR-driven rush by the Government to seal a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US. It would be tragic if the Prime Minister’s hunger for a strategic monument by which to be remembered – a FTA with the US delivered during his visit to Washington in September – blinded us to the complex issues and interests involved. This rush is all about photo opportunities at the White House. There is no substitute for a careful appraisal of the benefits of a bilateral FTA, within a comprehensive framework of Australia’s trade strategy. It must be looked at in relation to the next stage of advancing APEC, opening global markets, and moving to a new world trade round.
For Labor’s part, we need to focus on the vast potential of our economic relations with the US. This is a wider issue than simply a FTA. Our economic agenda with the US will inevitably include consideration of ways we can remove the remaining barriers to our two-way trade. But we need to have a proper debate about what those barriers might be, and the economic and social costs of removing them, before we go down the FTA path.
Australia’s future relationship with the US will not be well served by a fractious process that immediately focuses on the most sensitive economic and trade issues between our two countries. If elected to office later this year, Labor will continue the work currently being undertaken on Australia’s economic relations with the US. It is possible that this will lead us down the FTA path. But if it does we will ensure that what we pursue with the US complements our regional and WTO interests, and our national policies.
To properly appreciate the contemporary and future value of our relationship with the US, we need to understand where it came from. The origins of the arrangement have to be discerned through the shifts in our foreign policy stances over our century of federation, and in particular how we have viewed external threats, real and imagined.
Before the World War 2, Australian governments lacked the political courage and strategic acumen to comprehend any other defence strategy than dependence on the Royal Navy. It was the reorientation of Australian strategic priorities under Curtin in 1941-42 that formed the real break in our national self-definition.
As I have said before, it is almost impossible from our vantage point in 2001 to understand how revolutionary Curtin’s departure from Imperial Defence was for its time. Would Menzies have done the same if he was still Prime Minister in December 1941? I think the answer has to be No.
The ‘turning to America’ after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was for Curtin not merely a swap of one Imperial protector for another. It was a decisive step towards national independence; towards making our own arrangements to protect our own interests.
The Australia-US security relationship effectively began only a few months after the Curtin Government was sworn in October 1941. In his statement in the Melbourne Herald on December 27, which followed the attack on Pearl Harbour and fears about the imminent fall of Singapore, Curtin famously pronounced:
- Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with United Kingdom.
Between March 1942 and October 1944, MacArthur’s headquarters was located in Australia. US and Australian combat forces fought side by side in the South-West Pacific (although the initial weight of the fighting on the ground fell to Australian troops). Our fleets fought together, including in the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Various critical allied intelligence organisations – particularly signals intelligence, coastwatching, maritime surveillance and special operations – were established. These military-to-military and intelligence arrangements formed the bedrock of subsequent defence collaboration between our nations.
After the war, under Ben Chifley’s Labor government, the intelligence relationship was reorganised into a permanent collaborative arrangement between the US and Australia. This intelligence relationship remains arguably one of the most vital components of our nation’s national security system. At the same time, cooperative security arrangements were also put in place to counter the Soviet espionage threat. Along with these intelligence links, our two navies put in place collaborative arrangements regarding ocean surveillance and allied control of sea lines of communication.
Recently released intelligence reveals why and how quickly Australia and the US moved to establish new post-war security arrangements as close as the ones they had forged in wartime. The recently declassified VENONA intercepts of Soviet cables reveal that KGB operations against former wartime partners such as the US, Australia, Britain and Canada were vigorous and widespread. Chifley agreed to the establishment of ASIO in 1949 specifically to deal with this threat, in the face of reluctance within the Labor Party. As Labor Leader today, I can say that Chifley did the right thing and that the conspiracy theorists – who said there was no KGB threat – were simply wrong. Any lingering denials about KGB operations in the post-war period have been dispelled by the publication last year of the breathtaking Mitrokhin KGB archive.
Nonetheless, for all these post-war defence and security linkages between Australia and the US, the establishment of ANZUS in September 1951 was never a predetermined affair. Of course, Australia’s quest for a security guarantee from the US began before the Menzies government took office in 1949. The US was sceptical about a formal security treaty and was focussed elsewhere. While the US had decided in the aftermath of the World War 2 to play a permanent role in the containment of communism – which saw for the first time the internationalisation of US foreign policy – this was not sufficient to focus its mind on a security treaty with Australia.
For Australia’s part, the key issue of the day was how to deal permanently with Japan. Today it is hard to comprehend – and for the Nintendo generation impossible – that our core thinking on external affairs until the early 1950s revolved around how to deal with the emergence of Japan. Washington was never going to get to first base with Australia on the issue of containing communism in Asia unless it settled our minds on the question of Japan.
Menzies himself found this period of post-war adjustment difficult to make. The locus of strategic power had moved from the capitals of Europe (and London in particular) to the wider North Atlantic sphere, with Washington and Moscow as the new geo-strategic poles which mattered. The days when sitting at the high table of the British War Cabinet meant being at the apex of geo-strategic power were finished. Britain and its Commonwealth had saved the democratic world in 1940-41 – before American, Soviet and Chinese power smashed the Axis threat – but in doing so, it had lost its former place in the world, and its empire as well. British strategic power would never be the same again. Menzies’s world was no more.
It was left to others to see that our interests lay in an alliance with the US. The US wanted a Peace Treaty with Japan to lay the basis for Japan’s economic redevelopment and eventual emergence in the anti-communist coalition. Australia told the US that the price of agreement was a strong security relationship between our countries in the Pacific.
External Affairs Minister Percy Spender drove this issue after 1949. Menzies believed that a security guarantee was both unnecessary and unobtainable (although he wasn’t above claiming it as his own, once it materialised). Spender took the opportunity of Australia’s troop commitment to Korea in 1950 to pursue his concept of a Pacific pact with the US Administration.
He also sought to turn Australia’s continuing Commonwealth connection to advantage. If World War 3 broke out, Menzies planned in 1950 to send three Australian divisions to help the UK defend the Middle East. Menzies’s strategic thinking hadn’t changed much since 1940. Spender opposed this Middle East commitment. But he also knew that the US considered the Middle East to be of great strategic significance. He argued that Australia could only commit to help defend the Middle East if we got a security guarantee in the Pacific from the US. Since there was no significant military threat to Australia in a Pacific Ocean already dominated by the US, Washington was eventually prepared to oblige. Spender was a creative advocate and it was his drive which sealed the deal in 1951.
From the outset, Menzies attempted to model the new alliance with the US into the form of the old Imperial Defence arrangements. That meant cultivating the closest identification of our strategic interests. Australia under Menzies and his successors tried desperately to tie down a US security guarantee.
Initially the US was shy of military commitments in Asia, and unsure that Australian and US strategic interests would always coincide, for instance over Indonesia. But Australia thought that a deeper US involvement in Vietnam would strengthen US strategic and military ties with Australia, and so our Governments encouraged US involvement. As the US became more committed to Vietnam, our political leaders believed this stratagem had worked – that the US was somehow more committed to the defence of Australia because it was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
My political opponent was, of course, in the thick of this conservative game as a young man. We all remember the ABC-TV documentary, The Liberals, showing archival footage of an earnest young John Howard – looking like an extra out of the film The Dish – on a Sydney street corner (circa 1966) arguing the case for Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War through a loudspeaker.
Vietnam was the price we paid for the way in which the US alliance had developed in our national consciousness and the way in which the conservatives had come to interpret threats to Australia in the region. It was the price we paid for the way in which foreign policy was cynically manipulated for domestic political gain.
It was a mistake for Australia. A difficult mistake to avoid, there’s no question about that. In the early phases of the war both Labor and the Liberal Party were agreed on a small Australian commitment. But as the American buildup occurred it became obvious to many Australians that the US was overplaying its hand, investing far too much militarily in that conflict and the devastation to Vietnam was morally unsustainable. It took a while for that consciousness to grow, and it grew much faster in the Labor Party than it did in the Liberal Party. I think that if it had grown a little faster in the Liberal Party, and if the conservatives had not been so intent on manipulating the political process, then the commitment would have been much smaller and the cost to Australia much less.
In addition to encouraging US military commitments in South East Asia, the other way in which the conservatives tried to embed the US into the core of our national security was by offering to host US defence facilities, many of which were absolutely critical to US strategic programmes and operations. The most important of these were the Joint Facilities at North West Cape, Pine Gap and Nurrungar. The establishment dates of these facilities reads like a drum-beat through the 1960s – every three years another arrival: North West Cape (1963), Pine Gap (1966), Nurrungar (1969).
If the truth be told, these facilities were never set up under Coalition Governments as genuinely “joint” facilities. They were, initially at least, US facilities hosted in Australia – albeit with an unusually high-level of Australian knowledge of the most highly-classified details of the facilities’ operations, and of the satellite and communications systems they supported. Unlike Australia, most of America’s allies and friends were simply not given access at this level.
Nonetheless, it would take much effort on Australia’s part before these facilities were put on a fully joint footing. After its election in 1983, Labor pursued a substantial international program in the field of disarmament and arms control, under Bill Hayden. Within a framework of supporting nuclear deterrence on the basis that this is the only credible available arrangement to minimise the risk of nuclear war, Hayden set about the hard task of setting the Joint Facilities onto a platform of Australian national interest. This required patient debate and negotiation within the Labor Party, many of whose members had long viewed the facilities, and the presence of US intelligence agencies in Australia, with the greatest suspicion. He won the argument on its intellectual merits, culminating in my Party’s 1984 Conference.
Hayden’s toil paid off in 1984, when Labor moderated its position on the Joint Facilities, allowing the Government to acknowledge (as announced by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in June 1984) that the Joint Facilities contributed to the deterrence of nuclear war and the verification of compliance with arms control agreements. This provided the base for further changes I pursued as Defence Minister after 1984.
In November 1988, Prime Minister Hawke reported to the Australian people that – in conjunction with the 10-year renewal of the relevant bilateral treaties governing the facilities – Australia and the US had agreed to a more comprehensive basis for ensuring Australia’s full knowledge and concurrence in the operations of the Joint Facilities. Our involvement changed from being based on the reporting to government by a few attached Australian officials to being based on the complete incorporation of Australian personnel at all levels of the operation of these facilities, and greater Australian direct use of the data generated by these facilities. Hawke also made a further public disclosure of the functions of these facilities – something which was carefully negotiated with, and agreed to by, various US agencies.
The Joint Facilities certainly did make, prior to Hawke’s 1988 statement, the vital contribution to the deterrence of conflict and to efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction which previous governments had claimed. But by 1988 they were doing more, due to the evolution of technology, and so more needed to be said about them.
Labor’s major announcements on the Joint Facilities in 1984 and 1988 reflected three things: Labor’s commitment to fuller public disclosure of the activities of these facilities; its determination to increase Australian control over their operation; and its recognition that the Joint Facilities were beginning to support direct Australian national security needs, something which has continued remorselessly to this day. The detail of this whole story is one which will have to await another day – but it is a stand-out lesson in how Australia and the US can constructively transform our bilateral arrangements to meet mutual needs and achieve mutual benefits.
Having put in place their version of the alliance in the early Cold War period – through seeking to engender US military involvement in regional conflicts and offering to host critical US defence facilities – the conservatives throughout the 1950s and 1960s used arguments about the alliance as a stick with which to beat Labor. It was crude, but effective, politics which played into the Labor split and the fear of communism.
Labor of course did not oppose the alliance with the US. In the Cold War, Labor’s view was that the alliance was crucial. This is not to deny that the alliance was a matter of contention within the Labor Party and the labour movement. It was, but the Labor leadership never wavered on the issue. Whitlam argued that it was not the alliance that had reduced Australia to diplomatic and defence dependence: it was the Government’s interpretation of the alliance. How right he was. In 1969, our chickens came home to roost.
The conservatives had wanted to strengthen America’s security commitment to Australia in unrealistic ways. At Guam in July 1969 they got their reward. President Nixon made it clear that America’s strategic commitments in our region were limited to issues involving the central balance of power between the nuclear weapon states.
The Guam Doctrine was not a dramatic change in the long-term direction of US policy. It was an affirmation of a fact which had been obvious for years, and from which we should have drawn obvious conclusions. We should have seen that while we had many interests in common with the US, our interests were not identical. We could not therefore rely on America to protect our interests in every circumstance.
The Vietnam failure did lead to a greater maturity in Australian foreign policy. We were instructed to develop that maturity by the Guam Doctrine, insofar it woke us up to the truth of our strategic circumstances. As a result, Australian foreign policy makers universally accepted that, whatever the character of Australia’s relationship with ‘great and powerful friends’ and with the US in particular, Australia would, by and large, have to make its own way. The alliance with the US was essentially a backstop, as opposed to an all-embracing concern.
It was left to Whitlam and, to a degree, Fraser to work through the initial shock to our system caused by the Guam Doctrine. Seven years later, the 1976 White Paper spelt out the necessity of a self-reliant defence posture. But it did not spell out how it was to be achieved. In fact its sponsor, Jim Killen, did not even believe self-reliance was possible. He thought we couldn’t defend Botany Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
After 1983, Labor finally managed to translate a generally agreed and bipartisan national strategy of defence self-reliance into a concrete approach to defence force planning and military operations. What was hitherto a theory of defence self-reliance finally became under Labor the all-embracing reality underpinning our national security strategy and defence programs.
It was the Labor government’s intention during its term in office that the benefits of the alliance should be laid out in detail and as much of its day-to-day functioning as possible revealed. Having calculated its value, the government was determined that in an era in which American bona fides were challenged after defeat in Vietnam, when features of the Reagan administration’s challenges to the Soviet Union compelled debate, particularly on the left in Australian politics, and when New Zealand read itself out of the ANZUS pact, the public should benefit from a contemporary explanation of the value of the alliance.
I don’t idealise the management of the alliance during our period in government. Alliance relationships produce disagreement as well as agreement. This was, and is, inevitable between unequal players, one highly globally focused, the other focused regionally. Shared opposition to Soviet communism and past memories of kinship in battle were not always so powerful as to override completely the differences in approach. In the 1980s there were a number of incidents and debates which saw us in disagreement with our ally, but there was only one core issue of dispute: Australia asserted a need for defence self-reliance at a time when the US was trying to stiffen its allies against the “evil empire”. It was to Australia’s credit that we asserted the benefits of self-reliance, and to the Americans’ that they accepted Canberra’s position.
These clashing perspectives were hammered out at the 1986 meeting of Australian and US Ministers in San Francisco, probably the most seminal since the inception of ANZUS in 1951. The New Zealand link had been set to one side as a result of that country’s attitude to US naval ship visits. Though what emerged in 1986 left the treaty and its processes intact, it had been preceded by detailed consideration of alternatives by both parties. Some of the exchanges were testy, but they were worked through as both sides recognised that mutual interests did not equate to identical interests.
None of these differences prevented the development of the alliance over Labor’s term in office, as exemplified by the transformation of the Joint Facilities which I have already described and Australia’s contribution to the 1990-91 Gulf War.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Having traversed this history, what is the current value of the alliance and how should we develop it for the future benefit of our two nations and the region in which we live?
As I said at the outset, it is absolutely crucial that all our thinking about our security relationship with the US takes place within the context of the character of our relationship with the region around us. No more important foreign policy issue faces us than advancing our engagement with Asia. Building positive engagement with Asia is a critical element in the task of securing Australia.
The most disquieting feature of the present debate on our national security is the fact that it is being conducted in a foreign policy vacuum. The Government ignores any real consideration of the national security benefits of enhancing Australia’s engagement with the region. Engagement with our region – including seeking security with, not against the region – will be Labor’s highest diplomatic priority.
The depth of our alliance relationship with the US must never become a pretext for inaction on the need to pursue engagement with Asia. Our utility as an alliance partner for the US will, in turn, be enhanced by our engagement with – and knowledge of – the region in which we live. We are a valued source of diplomatic and strategic expertise in a region the US increasingly recognises as being critical to its own interests. We can and should be a partner of both sides of the Pacific.
There is no greater instance of this than Australia’s interest in, and potential contribution to, the US-China relationship. We are an ally and friend of the US and we are a friend of China. We three have a very direct interest in the economic and political stability of the Asia Pacific area. We are all partners in APEC. Australia has a very direct interest in a good relationship between China and the US, and their capacity to enhance regional stability and economic prosperity in the Asia Pacific.
Within the context of engagement with our region, a significant contributor to easing our security task continues to be, of course, Australia’s alliance with the US. Labor values the alliance highly. Its military dimension is fundamentally important to Australia’s security and will remain so indefinitely. I don’t mean in the way the US strategic link is crucial to NATO countries, which consume more US security than they return. The alliance provides Australia with critical military benefits at relatively low cost to the US: unique intelligence; sophisticated weaponry, technology and equipment; logistics, training and operational experience (through exercises and exchanges with units of the US armed forces); defence research, technical cooperation and other defence benefits. Through the practical day-to-day defence business of the alliance, Australia acquires a significant military contribution to its own national security.
That said, Australia cannot and should not structure its defence force directly in relation to our alliance needs. Force planning must be conscious of these needs, not driven by them. We certainly should not structure the ADF on the specific basis of forward defence contingencies, such as conflict on the Korean peninsula, conflict across the Taiwan Strait, and conflict in the South China Sea.
It is simply a canard to say, as Peter Reith does, that a focus on the defence of Australia somehow detracts from our ability to operate further afield if required. As I said last August, a focus on the defence of Australia is a planning tool to aid judgements about how to spend scarce defence dollars and how to fashion our principal defence operating concepts. It is not a straitjacket on our ability to act in relation to our international interests, especially as a strong ally of the US, including in regions beyond the maritime approaches to Australia.
This will become more evident in the future, as the emergence of knowledge-based warfare transforms the military dimension of our alliance. Australia has long relied on the ability to apply advanced technology effectively as providing the principal way to defend ourselves. Today, the information and knowledge revolution is transforming the conduct of warfare, as it is in so many spheres of human activity.
In the years ahead, the revolution in knowledge-based warfare will become even more decisive. Knowledge-based technologies are already transforming the modern battlefield through information systems and smart weapons which strike deep and accurately. Down the track, battlefield advantage will be drawn from excellence in knowledge-based warfare, which allows armed forces to apply greater combat power through the exploitation of comprehensive and real-time knowledge about an adversary, the environment and geography, coupled with the employment of accurate long range strike capabilities.
This capacity is critically dependent on the intelligence and technology accessible through the alliance. Australia already has close intelligence and surveillance links with the US. Our command, control and communications systems are compatible with those of the US. Broadband information systems will increasingly be able to provide “connectivity” between our armed forces at the tactical level. This will generate exceptional capacity for our forces to provide support to one another. This is not a one-way street – as demonstrated by the Collins-class submarines’ outstanding performance during recent Australia-US exercises, to the acclaim of senior US military officers.
Any treatment of the military dimension of the alliance needs to address the question of the ANZUS security guarantee itself. Clearly, ANZUS is not as direct as NATO, insofar as the latter provides an automatic and structured guarantee of US military action in the event of conflict. This is effected by a very high degree of military integration within NATO and massive US military presence in Western Europe.
ANZUS nonetheless specifies that an armed attack in the Pacific area on the US or Australia would be dangerous to the security of both nations and that we would each “act to meet the common danger” in accordance with our domestic constitutional processes. Whitlam best described this in 1973 as a security guarantee “in the ultimate peril”. Whilst this does not commit either of us in advance to specific types of military action, it does set out a clear framework of expectations of mutual support in times if war or warlike crisis.
Whatever reliance is placed in the letter of the treaty, no potential adversary planning to attack Australia could ever assume that its intent, spirit and historical weight would not produce a US military response in the event this was required by Australia. The whole point of Australian defence self-reliance of course is that this threshold would be so high as to be unthinkable in the foreseeable environment.
The contemporary value of the alliance of course goes beyond these direct military contributions to our own security. ANZUS itself plays a role in cementing a stable Asian regional security environment.
Today the United States – through the strength of its economy, the quality of its technology, the preponderance and reach of its armed forces, and its on-going willingness to accept the costs and the burdens of global power – is the primary strategic player in world affairs. Its strategic influence is unique. Its global role – whilst continually challenged, and occasionally checked, and subject to periodic domestic pressure from Congress and the American public – will continue for as far as the mind’s eye can see.
Consequently, the US has a central role to play in the security of the Asia Pacific region. Its military presence in the Western Pacific and in the Indian Oceans is a vital force for strategic stability in the broader Asia Pacific region. The US looks to its friends and allies to help anchor this stability in the region – and they look to the US to remain engaged. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong put it strongly earlier this month, when he said “In the strategic sense, the US is part of East Asia. It has been, and still is, a positive force for stability and prosperity”. ANZUS is important to the US as a part of its network of alliances and close strategic relationships which form the heart of its strategic posture in Asia.
John Baker and Doug Paal have recently argued that the size of the ADF has been based on the expectation of relative strategic stability in our region, anchored as it is by the US presence. This is logical because the US, through its continued presence and commitment to regional security, prevents the achievement of strategic domination of East Asia and the Western Pacific by any single power. Substantial downward adjustment in US military engagement in the region would, consequently, be a cause for concern, both for Australia and others in the region. A US withdrawal to a wall behind Guam, the Aleutians and Hawaii would cause all nations of the Western Pacific and East Asia to have to rethink their own defence frameworks.
Today, a sophisticated view of the alliance sees our interest in it not as an immediate underwriter of our direct security – the conservative fantasy of the 1950s and 1960s. It is in fact an element in sustaining the US’s continued engagement in an inclusive Asia Pacific security community, where nations on both sides of the Pacific can find security and assurance in engagement with one another, not in an antagonistic array of sub-groups and hostile powers. Building an Asia Pacific security community spanning the Pacific is therefore a vital national interest of Australia’s. This will require the development and institutionalisation of common security values in the region, something Australia and the US must strive to achieve.
None of this is to say that our mutual strategic interests will always coincide. Our alliance is mature and strong enough to accommodate differences of view, as well as downright disagreement.
In relation to National Missile Defence, for instance, Labor agrees with the US that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile delivery systems constitutes one of the most serious international security issues facing the world. But we disagree with the possible deployment of a NMD system to counter that threat. Deployment will require a fundamental re-writing or else scrapping of one of the oldest and most important arms control treaties, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The Hawke Government took a highly critical view of President Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) and declined to support it. Just as then, Labor believes that effective efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles require sustained multilateral cooperation and action. A growing number of countries have expressed strong concerns about the adverse implications of NMD. This does not make them any less allies of the US.
Australia should not support or be involved in NMD research, development or trials. Labor’s approach will be consistent with our past stance and our longstanding support for the integrity of the ABM Treaty as a foundation for nuclear arms control and disarmament.
As expected the Government has attempted to play politics on this issue. I said earlier that the Government’s sole enthusiasm for ANZUS appears to be the perceived opportunity it presents to relive the conservative fantasy of having a stick with which to beat Labor over the false question of who is more committed to ANZUS. Foreign Minister Downer has tried to resuscitate this old politics of the alliance by claiming that Labor’s approach to NMD would lead to a closure of Pine Gap and a rupturing of the alliance.
Mr Downer knows perfectly well that Pine Gap’s primary function is not at issue in relation to NMD. He knows that neither major Party would ever contemplate withdrawing support for Pine Gap’s missile early warning role, inherited from the now closed Nurrungar several years ago. He knows perfectly well that the US supports having Australia as an ally providing stability in the Asia Pacific region. He knows that many of America’s friends and allies also have strong reservations about NMD. Minister Downer’s comments this year on the alliance encapsulate everything about this Government’s approach to national security: backward-looking language reaching back to the divisive politics of the past. I note that recent favourable and apolitical comments by senior US officials on Labor’s attitudes effectively undercut any political gamesmanship on this issue.
For the record, I submit that Pine Gap is today probably the central visible everyday element in our strategic relationship with the US. Labor will not compromise any of its present functions – especially in the light of experience which shows that it is possible for an Australian government to skilfully separate deep and legitimate concerns over missile defence from the daily functioning of the Joint Facilities. If Mr Downer hasn’t got the skills to do this, he should get out of the way and yield to someone who has.
Labor’s consistent commitment has been to keep the alliance fresh and relevant to both our countries. We did that in the 1980s, and one of the tasks of the next Labor Government will to redefine the relationship for the next decades.
The management of ANZUS has already passed from the WW2 generation. Over the coming years it will pass from the Vietnam generation. We need to make sure that it is relevant to the next generation of American and Australian leaders. That task is urgent because the force of the alliance doesn’t rest on words on paper. ANZUS is not simply an insurance policy that we keep in our national bottom drawer. It depends deeply and fundamentally on the expectations that the people of both countries have of it.
But you cannot make the alliance relevant if you clutch it like a child’s security blanket. You cannot make it relevant by volunteering to be a Deputy Sheriff in a fantasy game that no-one else is playing. You cannot make it relevant by trying to use ANZUS for domestic political point-scoring.
You can only do it by making sure that the alliance is making a constant contribution to the broad international goals of peace and security that both Australia and the United States share. In the post-Cold War world this means, in particular, the security, stability and prosperity of the Asia Pacific region.
The difference between Labor and the Coalition over the alliance does not lie in the degree of our commitment to it. It lies in the broader ambitions Labor has for Australia itself and in the contribution we believe the alliance, and the strengths it brings with it, can make to those ambitions.
It lies in Labor’s firm conviction that one of the most useful contributions Australia can make to our American ally is by developing our own strong – and independent – relationships with our neighbours in Asia. And by generating ideas, as we did with APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum, that will help to ensure that the Asia Pacific navigates the uncertain period ahead with peace preserved and prosperity growing.
And it certainly lies in our conviction that at all times we best serve our ally and friend by speaking our mind openly, frankly and truthfully.
Drawing these historical and current threads together, what does an action agenda for the strategic relationship look like? The following will be Labor’s priorities for defence and security policies under ANZUS:
- More regular Ministerial level policy dialogue.
- More regular high-level contact between our senior military officers and our senior civilian strategists and planners.
- Increased contacts and exchanges at middle management levels.
- In the area of defence cooperation, Labor is committed to increased joint research and development with the US of knowledge-based defence capabilities and systems; combined doctrine development and common training in knowledge-based war; coordinated military planning; and the development of compatible defence communications, command and data fusion systems.
- Intelligence exchanges which keep pace with regional developments and our mutual interests. Australia must maintain its willingness to contribute to the collection and assessment function in our part of the world.
- Planning for generational change – the management of ANZUS has already passed from the WW2 generation and within a decade will pass from the Vietnam generation. Future generations will have different underlying sentiments towards and understandings of our strategic relationship – generations who think Pearl Harbour and the Cuban missile crisis are movies, and the Vietnam war just a backdrop for the music and images of the Sixties.
- Working with the US on common approaches to developing an Asia/Pacific regional security community, building on the work of Gareth Evans and others with the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum some years ago.
- Beyond this agenda related strictly to defence and security affairs, Australia and the US must work together on opening markets and increasing capital flows, across and throughout the Pacific, and as well as globally. There is presently too much drift on regional and global trade liberalisation, and Australia and the US have too much at stake to sit back and watch the currently still waters.
There is much work to be done by the both of us – but we’ve done more before, and in times of greater stress.
When our sons and daughters reconvene in 50 years’ time to celebrate another half-century of Australia and the US working together, let us work always to ensure that it won’t be as fellow soldiers, but as fellow citizens in a peaceful, secure and prosperous Asia Pacific region.