ALISON BROINOWSKI. The Merkel moment: wherever that works.

If NATO cannot rely on a Trump administration, should Australian leaders not see this as an opportunity to face the facts?  

Angela Merkel’s clarion call on 28 May reverberated, much like the megaphone diplomacy that Australian leaders are often cautioned against using in our region. She sounded it in Europe, in NATO. Having had her phone hacked under one US president, and her views on refugees and climate change derided by another, she said what was previously unsayable: Europe can no longer rely on the US alliance, and ‘really must take our fate into our own hands.’ Diplomatically, the German Chancellor added that Europe’s need to go it alone should be ‘of course in friendship with the United States of America, in friendship with Great Britain and as good neighbours wherever that works.’ But Stephan Bierling, at Germany’s University of Regensburg, declared ‘the belief in shared values has been shattered by the Trump administration’ (

Without implying anything about our part of the world, Merkel laid bare the decision with which Australia, Japan, South Korea and others in our region have been confronted by the Trump administration. Gratitude to the US for World War II and friendship with Americans are important to many of us, but the value of the alliance in her words, ‘wherever that works’ now supersedes the past. Many of our American friends are as appalled as we are about the disastrous tracks down which our alliance is leading us. ‘Shared values’ have ever since the Cold War been cited as if they constitute a safe, underground carpark, even when there’s a flaming inferno above us. But when Americans in the tower above, up to the level of president tell us, cowering below, that we should spend more on defence, and still offer us no unconditional guarantee of security, the unsayable but obvious has to be said. The US won’t defend us, whatever the terms of our alliance, unless it is in their interests. Merkel and Trump have provided us with a moment of truth, a new world order. Even if it is only the latest of many, it is now more urgent.

At such a moment, it would be like getting out of the basement and free of smoke inhalation to hear our leaders announce that we will no longer accept having our enemies identified for us by Washington. A new world order could arrive for Australia if they would take a deep breath and say why we must contribute to a world-wide war on terror, with no end in sight, even if perpetuating it means wreaking havoc on places and people with whom we have no quarrel and inviting their hatred and vengeance against us. If only they would say which of a melee of Islamic radical groups threatens Australia, and how we might deter them. If only they would come clean on who proposed, or offered, Australia’s participation in this war, why, and with what legality. The Merkel moment offers such an opportunity for Australia’s leaders, of both major parties. If they rose democratically to the occasion, we could possibly understand the limitless sums they want to spend on fighting terror, and the danger to which they expose ADF personnel.

Whenever ‘shared values,’ mateship, tradition, freedom and ‘indispensability’ (Julie Bishop, ABC 7.30 29 May 2017) are cited, you can be sure how dubious the other frequently cited benefits of the US alliance have become: intelligence, military equipment, access in Washington. It’s hard to detect what ‘shared values’ count for when Japan and South Korea have refrained from committing troops to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, or Syria. Unlike them, Australia pressed to be invited to go to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. We offered President Obama bases in Darwin and the ‘pivot to Asia’ in the hope that if the US would defend nothing else, it would defend a base. The Darwin and Pine Gap bases we gave them make Australia a nuclear target and prove how fearful and how lacking in independence Australian foreign and defence policy have become. The title of Allan Gyngell’s 2017 book Fear of Abandonment prompts Australians to reconsider our national myth of wartime heroism and ask if we are not in fact a timorous lot, who should take our destiny into our own hands. The Prime Minister’s recent slavering exchange with President Trump revived the myth when (as Blair did with Bush in July 2002) he offered to join the US in ‘whatever war it chose to pursue.’(Richard Butler, ‘Turnbull and Trump: everything is illuminated’/John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations, 19 May 2017). The Foreign Minister, calling the US alliance ‘indispensable’ endorsed the myth (ABC TV 7.30 29 May 2017).

Until now, we have been able to avoid the Merkel moment. But we now have a threat and an opportunity. The threat is that we are already so committed and embedded with the US military that if there were a war in the south or east China Sea, or against North Korea, Australia could not act in our own interests and stay out of it. The opportunity is for Australia to recognise that the US ‘pivot to Asia’ is worthless and that our security relies upon the long-delayed engagement with our neighbours, not upon gearing ourselves up to fight whichever of them the Pentagon decides is the enemy du jour. The US Studies Centre declined my acceptance of their earlier invitation to hear Senator McCain on 30 May. If I had been able to ask him a question, it would have been this: ‘If Chancellor Merkel and NATO cannot rely on the US alliance, what assurance does ANZUS give Australia?’

Dr Alison Broinowski FAIIA, formerly an Australian diplomat, is vice-President of Honest History and of Australians for War Powers Reform.


Dr Alison Broinowski AM is Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1963, lived in Japan for a total of six years, and for shorter periods in Burma, Iran, the Philippines, Jordan, South Korea, the United States of America and Mexico, working alternately as an author and Australian diplomat.

Since leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has received a PhD in Asian Studies from ANU, and has continued to lecture, write, and broadcast in Australia and abroad on Asian affairs and cultural and political issues.

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6 Responses to ALISON BROINOWSKI. The Merkel moment: wherever that works.

  1. Steve Flora says:

    Well observed … decisive times ahead for not only Germany and Australia but many an erstwhile American ally nation between ….

  2. Marty Morrison says:

    A fantastic piece of writing. It’s so obvious that our effort to be under the umbrella of the United States is hopeless… matter what we “give” of our land and our military, there is no assurance of anything in return. As you say, our focus should be in our area. Why we continue to put ourselves out on a limb for the US has always been beyond my comprehension. (….and I was born in the US).

  3. Jim KABLE says:

    Pretty much as I see it, too – and as do many open-eyed and intelligent Australians not entangled in obligations to US “gift-giving”! Thanks for this Alison. The Merkel moment. Indeed. Watching Bush shove his way in amongst other leaders in Europe – his attempts to twist the hand and arm of Macron – even in such tiny matters – one sees the true measure of that man and it is tiny! Yes, indeed – if only we had leaders in this country who were committed to Australia! And not the traitorous mob we have – to put it bluntly. Just imagine how we could build up Indigenous Australia, care for refugees/asylum-seekers, provide the best of public education and public health care – just by repudiating all our WMD contracts with the US right now! And the US Studies Centre prevented you from being there for the fawning all over Sen John McCain. Where is our national dignity – gone along with our sovereignty!

  4. Thank you for saying what many have been thinking but were ignored because they didn’t have Dr Broinowski’s standing: It looks as though the ANZUS use-by date has arrived. The need to build substantial ties with Indonesia and others is more pressing – not too many shared values so the search is for shared interests. Otherwise farewell spending on education and infrastructure in favour of arms.

  5. Tony Kevin says:

    All good sense. Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if Trump through his ineptitude and breach of faith to Europe broke the NATO united camp against Russia, even though Russia-gate is so far blocking his efforts at détente with Putin? i.e., if Merkel and Macron took Europe in a direction of accomm0dation and détente with Russia , freed of the Russophobe Anglo-American incubus? Wishful thinking? Maybe.

  6. “The US won’t defend us, whatever the terms of our alliance, unless it is in their interests. ” And that is in the context of the NATO Treaty Article 5 which is a firm undertaking to come to the defence of fellow members, whereas the much misquoted ANZUST Treaty is only a promise to “consult”.
    I think that the sad truth emerging from your excellent article is that Australia is so desperate to be able to think that the US will come to our aid that few constantly proffer ourselves without even being asked.
    Jim Molan has an article on the Lowy Institute website today that shows the same pathetic delusions that are contained in your quote from Turnbull.
    Did I read you correctly that the US Studies Centre invited you, then disinvited you? Not that any reply from a crazy warmonger like McCain would be worth anything.

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