ALISON BROINOWSKI. The trust deficit in Canberra.

When Marshall Green was sent by Richard Nixon as Ambassador to keep a close eye on Gough Whitlam, some said his was the first serious American appointment in our history. Harry Harris, for different reasons, may turn out to be another.

It came as no surprise to know that Harry Harris is to succeed John Berry and Jeffrey Bleich, both friends of Obama, as US Ambassador to Australia. Bleich, a California lawyer, spoke In Brisbane late last year at a Griffith Integrity event, deploring the decline of truth and the rise of militarism in public life. We are unlikely to hear such sentiments from Admiral Harris, who like the military appointees who surround President Trump, has life-long experience in giving but also obeying orders. If loose lips sink ships, Admiral Harris has never personally lost one. But on several visits to Australia he has made no secret of what the US expects of us militarily in the South China Sea.

Julie Bishop may have trouble explaining to him her reservations about that, and about Australia’s dealings with Iran and Syria. Marise Payne may present the opposite view. Defence grows exponentially, while the Australian foreign service is a political mendicant, as is the State Department under Rex Tillerson. The Ambassador-designate is sure to be warmly welcomed by the Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove, by former Ambassador to Washington Kim Beazley, and by the military-industrial-security enthusiasts who swarm in Canberra. When Marshall Green was sent as Richard Nixon’s Ambassador (1969-73) to keep a close eye on Gough Whitlam, some said he was the first serious American appointee in our history. Harris, in quite different circumstances and for different reasons, may turn out to be another (Canberra Times FEBRUARY 10 2018. President Donald Trump nominates Harry Harris for Australia ambassador).

Harris has won a long string of decorations during his naval career of 40 years, ending as commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. In that capacity he knew Australia well, leading the American side in Operation Talisman Sabre. On his visits here he was widely reported as accusing Beijing of creating a ‘great wall of sand’ with its militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, and of being the ‘owner of the trust deficit’ in Asia. His appointment as the first US Ambassador from the military to Canberra makes clear the agenda Washington has in mind for Australia.

Harry Binkley Harris Jr. (born 1956) is different in other ways. He is the first Asian-American to become an Admiral in the US Navy, and is its highest-ranking Japanese American. He was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a father who was a chief petty officer on the US Yokosuka naval base. Harris’ later enthusiasm for the pivot to Asia and for ‘push-back’ in the South China Sea may be cultural as well as national. In breaks from his naval career, he graduated in 1992 with a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. As an Arthur S. Moreau Scholar, he studied international relations and ethics of war at Oxford, and received Master of Arts in National Security Studies in 1994 at Georgetown University where he was a Fellow in the School of Foreign Service. His wife Bruni (Brunhilde Kempf Bradley), is a 1984 US Naval Academy graduate and former Navy commander.

After Australians in Canberra have explored these connections with Ambassador Harris they may then inquire about his time as Commander, Joint Task Force Guantanamo from 2006, when the deaths of three Muslim prisoners were reported as suicides. Harris said he believed what they did was ‘not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us’ (Wikipedia, ‘Admiral Harry Harris’). He ordered an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), whose heavily redacted report was published in August 2008 (Main article: Guantanamo Bay homicide accusations. Main article: Guantanamo Bay detention camp suicide attempts). A legal report criticised inconsistencies in official accounts of the deaths and suggested gross negligence or an attempted cover-up of homicide, which may have been due to torture under interrogation.  On 18 January 2010, Harper’s Magazine published a story suggesting the men had died as a result of accidental manslaughter due to torture. This was backed by an NBC News investigation, based on an account by four former guards at Guantanamo Bay.

The Ambassador is likely to be more forthcoming about what the US and President Trump (who condones torture) expect of Australia. If so, he will expose the dilemma at the heart of our foreign and defence policies, the ‘trust deficit’ most of our leaders prefer not to discuss. So here are some more questions for him. The Prime Minister has said we are joined at the hip to our US ally, but can we rely on an indebted and over-extended America to defend us? If we can’t, should we not stop pleading with the Americans to ‘stay involved’ in the region? If neither we nor the US can prevent the rise of China, what would a war with China achieve? Isn’t more diplomacy and less militancy the answer?

©Alison Broinowski

Dr Alison Broinowski, formerly an Australian diplomat, is Vice President of Australians for war Powers Reform and of Honest History, and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.




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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3 Responses to ALISON BROINOWSKI. The trust deficit in Canberra.

  1. Michael Flynn says:

    More questions for HE Harry Harris. Should Australia attend the Prep Con in 2018 for the 2020 NPT Review ? Both the US and Australia are parties to the NPT treaty but have not welcomed ICAN or the proposed UN treaty to ban weapons. He could read the book by Daniel Ellsberg published in 2017 about US war planning in our region: any change?

  2. The three “suicides” one night when Harris was in charge at Guantanamo are exhaustively examined in Joseph Hickman’s “Murder at Camp Delta” (2015).
    His thesis is that the three unfortunate captives died under torture, viz. being forced to swallow rags.

  3. David Maxwell Gray says:

    There are realistic scenarios of future military threats or conflicts in our region under which our great and mighty ally, the USA, when considered as an ally in the defense of Australia, would present as America Lite.

    The USA is grossly over-extended around the world and almost certainly will progressively struggle to afford the geographical extent, complexity and extraordinary costs of its imperial positioning. It has proven over decades since the Second World War that their decision makers, probably dominated by the professional military/defense voices, and influenced overmuch by lobbyists from the military/industrial complex, are very poor at analysing and planning for its many wars, especially their aftermaths. This is despite the fact that they have many very intelligent, prescient analysts in their academia and maybe think-tanks, but not necessarily in the decision-making positions of power. I cannot help thinking of Daniel Ellsberg as an historical example. I had read the Pentagon Papers earlier in my life, but later came across the Ellsberg Paradox when studying “decision theory”. He was/is a very smart person.

    Australia should adopt a more mature stance, redesigning its military training, technological configurations and defense strategies to fit an approach where we preference straight defence of our nation. This would assume that the USA will not prove the immediate and convenient answer to our defence, given than it may well be drawn simultaneously to give priority to conflicts on the other side of the globe. This may well be entirely legitimate from a USA perspective.

    The implications of this needs to be thought through, and not just by gung-ho members of our own military and the lobbyists encouraging their spending. We also need to include, in the decision process, historians, economists, operations researchers/mathematicians, and other deep thinkers! A non-“USA-centric” spending pattern for defence may well be vastly different from that recommended by our American ally mainly for their strategic convenience, rather than our needs. One example might be: rather than to spend ridiculous billions on large submarines apparently yet to be specified and designed (mostly offshore) at least some of those funds could be used to develop our own innovative technologies for design and manufacture of small underwater unmanned vehicles which detect enemy submarines and some other such vehicles which have attack capabilities. They then could provide – probably at much lower cost – a defensive network for the more strategically important parts of our very large coast. We need a network that does not rely on the USA for its effectiveness, maintenance and resupply. We need a posture towards our Asian neighbours and friends generally, and to the PRC specifically, which is not overtly aggressive but palpably defensive.

    There are many other implications of strategies which give priority to locally-oriented defense and local expertise and manufacture, including backing away from some of the wildly expensive planned future expenditures on big toys (Joint Strike Force fighters?). Not least of these is a mature, in-depth, culturally-nuanced understanding of our Asian neighbours and of China. This understanding should arise through a broadly-based and much more numerous development of people steeped in the language and culture of these other countries, positioned in our diplomatic, defense, public service and commercial/industrial organisations. This “soft defense” through understanding, through communication , through business inter-dependencies can be more powerful than military posturing, and the use of threats of force.

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