Scott Morrison has recently made a trip around the USA. While many in Australia disagree with the methods of President Trump and with Morrison snubbing the UN Climate Summit in New York, it appears from a poll by The Guardian that many Aussies believe we should be attempting to maintain a cordial relationship with the USA, regardless of who sits in the White House.
This is a common viewpoint here; that Australia relies upon the USA for its regional/global security and all steps should be taken to maintain that security alliance. I would instead argue that there are strong historical and strategic benefits to distancing ourselves from our current reliance on the USA.
According to The Guardian, between 72% and 88% of the political constituencies surveyed agreed that it is important for the PM to have a good relationship with the US President, whoever that might be. But what do these numbers actually reflect? Is it because the USA-Australia alliance has produced a positive history of foreign policy? Or because USA foreign policy more generally has proven to be beneficial to the world? Or is there some other factor or myriad of factors that play into the alliance?
The answer can be found in the history of our two nations collaboration since World War 2. The close of WW2 handed an extraordinary economic footing to the USA. It was removed from much of the carnage taking place in Europe until 1942. The December 7-8 attacks on the Philippines (then a USA territory) and Pearl Harbour forced the USA to action, but their location spared the USA from a lot of the devastation while allowing them build up industries (many of them military hardware related) and profit from supplying the allies in Europe.
(It is important to note that the USA-Australia alliance is in no small part based upon the defence from the Japanese that was orchestrated from Australia by the USA after General Douglas MacArthur had to leave the Philippines)
The close of the war propelled the USA to the position of global hegemonic superpower. Their new position allowed and almost encouraged the USA to sit atop the world as its unilateral arbiter of justice and peace (supported by NATO), as any power generally seeks to consolidate rather than disseminate.
Russia was crippled by Hitler’s incursion into its southern regions during the War but during it’s close, it was able to absorb three Baltic states and remained strong enough to occupy several eastern European countries and install/support compliant governments. These countries were united under the Warsaw pact, falling behind what was called the Iron Curtain. China was also in a state of turmoil, with communist forces battling it out with nationalists, resulting in the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China under Mao Zedong.
The West looked on uncomfortably. Communism was something that threatened the order of the world. Beyond deposing traditional land and wealth-owners (something that the West could not tolerate), it was an ideology that appeared to ignore the individual in favour of the whole, thereby licensing horrific means to achieve an end.
The spread of communism therefore needed to be stopped. Korea and Vietnam were the first such battlefields following the war. By the end of 1953 an armistice was signed between North and South Korea, but not before 2.5 million people had been killed.
While the conflict was driven from the outside by the USSR, China and USA at the time, there has been no formal resolution by treaty and North Korea has become one of the most repressive and insular states in the World. In addition to being repressive and insular, North Korea has also been pursuing a program of missile and nuclear development in order to counter the military drills and exercises that are led by the USA on the border with South Korea on a regular basis. While there have been agreements to de-nuclearize the peninsula for years, these have always collapsed, largely due to the unwillingness of Washington to remove its own nukes and forces from the area.
After Korea, a “democratic” government was installed by Washington in South Vietnam in order to try to stop that nation from falling to communism. Australia joined the USA ‘all the way with LBJ [President Lyndon B Johnson]’ in Vietnam and suppressing the peasant revolution there. From 1962, the USA began bombing the supposedly democratic South in order to suppress the Viet Minh uprising there, but in the process devastated the civilian population, the environment and their agricultural land. In 1965, the war was expanded to communist North Vietnam, brutalizing the civilian population and countryside there.
By 1970 the violence had become so horrific, even though the population was shielded from the worst of it, that there was a mobilization of 200,000 people across Australia, demanding the withdrawal of Australian troops. At the close of the war communism had spread across the country, the USA was forced to push its excess military hardware into the ocean to prevent it falling into communist hands.
The Vietnamese civilians suffered most as a result of the war, with some 2 million dead along with 1.3 million Vietnamese forces (both North and South). Vietnam is still recording problems with birth defects and other issues as a result of the chemical warfare deployed. Of the 60,000 Australians sent to enforce White House policy, 521 were killed and over 3,000 wounded.
Australia has also become involved in the Middle East, going along with the deceit of the White House and their dealings in the region. In 1990 we became involved in the first Gulf War to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The problem with this was twofold; firstly Hussein had invaded Kuwait only with tacit support from the USA government; secondly the strength with which the USA military overwhelmed the Iraqi forces was brutal, the Iraqis were much more poorly equipped and exhausted from the recent war with Iran. This isn’t to say that the USA invasion to protect Kuwait wasn’t necessary, only that Australia can keep its distance from wars that it has no stake or involvement in.
In 2001 Prime Minister John Howard invoked the ANZUS treaty in response to the attacks on September 11. The result was our entry into the longest military engagement in USA history, the Afghan War. The aim was to expel the loose coalition of groups called the Taliban and to find Osama bin Laden, who was being given asylum there. The results have been countless atrocities, with the brunt of the war being felt hardest by the poor civilian population. Some of these atrocities took place at a CIA Black Site named The Salt Pit or Cobalt, where torture techniques occasioning death were rewarded. The Taliban currently sits in control of more territory than it has held since they were toppled by the USA.
Not long after our engagement in Afghanistan, in 2003 the Howard government also committed Australian forces to the Iraq war against Saddam Hussein, despite a lack of evidence that he was pursuing any programs toward weapons of mass destruction and huge protests of 600,000 strong at home and millions around the world. Iraq has proved as much as, if not more of a disaster than the Afghan engagement. Certain battlefields, like Fallujah, were left in worse condition (in regard to contamination) than Hiroshima. Again, the burden of casualties has been felt hardest by the civilian population. There have also been instances of torture being used on prisoners, like that at Abu Ghraib and at CIA black sites around the world (though prisoners at black sites are from Terror groups and plots globally).
Western involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan helped to precipitate the crisis with Islamic State in Syria (which was once one of the more secular states of the Middle East). The ISIS group was responsible for atrocious attacks on civilian populations, blowing up historical and holy sites and global terror attacks. They spread fear perhaps more effectively than their predecessor, Al-Qaeda, both due to the seeming ubiquity of the attacks in the west and the brutality of their campaign in Syria and Iraq.
In addition to the above atrocities, the USA has been actively involved in suppressing democracy, overthrowing democratically elected governments and generally causing misery to countries that don’t bend to their will. For at least the last 100 years the USA has been actively interfering in the politics (and occasionally sending troops to) of South and Central America and the Caribbean.
Their incursions include troops in Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico and Haiti. As recently as 2009, the USA overthrew the elected government of Honduras and has been actively seeking to overthrow the government of Venezuela since at least 2002. The White House also provided support to brutal regimes during the 80’s like those in El Salvador, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia that killed and tortured many thousands of people.
Looking within our own borders and defense systems, there are also reasons to begin distancing ourselves from the USA. Like many nations around the world now, Australia is home to US military bases. Many people (though not all), are aware of the facility at Pine Gap, but aren’t really aware of what’s going on there. That’s because there are areas of Pine Gap that can’t be entered by Aussies.
Pine Gap is a facility run by the Australian government (ASIO, Australian Signals Directorate) and USA government (CIA, National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office). Its been sitting out near Alice Springs since the 70’s and has been shrouded in mystery until 2013. No Australian had even been in one of the areas (or has since) until Bill Hayden was given a tour as Shadow PM. In 2013 Edward Snowden leaked his documents about the global surveillance network that the USA had constructed to record data on everybody.
Pine Gap was originally set up to help monitor communist signals being sent in the southern hemisphere (primarily Chinese broadcasts). But it’s uses changed over time as the data collection operation in the USA became more sophisticated and ended up spying on all of us. This is in contradiction to the words of ex-PM Kim Beazley, who once said “we say emphatically that the facilities do not spy on Australia”. Aside from being used to spy on Australian citizens, the installation may also make Australia a target for attack because Pine Gap is an important data feed for the USA military on foreign governments.
But Pine Gap isn’t the only base that the USA has on Australian soil. We have base-sharing arrangements with the USA government around the country as well as hosting exclusive USA military training centres. Across Australia there are almost 50 bases with shared access or are USA military installations. The two most prominent of these are the North West Cape (used for monitoring Chinese and Indonesian satellite communications) and Darwin, where there are some 1500 marines and air-force personnel rotating through on training.
Why is this an issue? For two reasons: Firstly: there is no immediate threat to Australia militarily (this was stated in the 2016 Defence white paper). Secondly: Because our reliance upon the USA for security places compromises Australia’s independence.
Due to our reliance on the USA and their stationing of permanent troops here, Australia is placed in a difficult position if we were to diverge from the security goals of the USA in the future. In a worst case scenario (that is currently extremely unlikely), these troops could be deployed against Australian targets, were the directive from Washington to arise. (While this is an unlikely scenario, the coup against Gough Whitlam, led by the USA, demonstrates that the USA will take action against Australia if pushed)
Closer to the realm of possibility is the idea that Washington could deploy troops from Australian shores against our regional neighbours without consultation from the Australian parliament. This would throw our diplomatic relations with whoever was attacked (and their allies) into turmoil, even making Australia a target. Adding potential tension to the situation in Australia was the leasing of the port at Darwin to a Chinese company. The Chinese government has expressed concern at the USA military rotations coming through the Darwin base while the USA government has decried the Northern Territory government’s lease.
Finally, the dependence on the USA military and it’s hardware producers has resulted in an uncomfortable situation for the Australian military: it cannot defend Australia without the input of American help. And the power of America to help in an emergency situation (like war with China, for example) is waning, due to global reach and expenditure in the trillions on wars in the Middle East.
The situation in the Pacific is changing. China has been active in courting and collaborating with Pacific nations and in building its military. China has also been spending billions worldwide as part of the Belt and Road Initiative that is reviving the old trading routes of antiquity and building new ones to facilitate movement of resources and goods to and from China.
The rapid growth of China, along with a disastrous USA history of challenging international and domestic affairs in other nations to suit its own purposes should prompt some thought about whether we should continue to aid the USA in trying to alter the world in its own image, or try to use diplomacy and trade to nudge the Pacific in a more civil direction, while providing for our own defence.