Armed Neutrality: an alternative, principled defence policy to safeguard an independent Australia, keep us out of wars and promote peace- Part 1

May 11, 2021

Australia’s defence policy has for decades been based on dependence on a foreign power with foreign policy subservience to it. This policy has led Australia into disastrous wars and with the establishment of their military bases on our soil, led to loss of our sovereignty. Would an alternative defence policy based on armed neutrality help us regain our national sovereignty, safeguard continental Australia and promote peace? 

Australia’s current defence policy, based as it is on dependence upon a foreign power, is rooted in a lack of self-confidence and fear that we haven’t the capabilities and numbers to face military threats on our own. The ANZUS Treaty, concluded in 1952 between the U.S, Australia and New Zealand, supposedly gave Australia an assurance that the U.S. would come to our rescue in time of need. The Treaty did not actually give any such guarantee, as many writers have pointed out.

The ANZUS Treaty reinforced in the Australian political and military elite a belief that to ensure the United States would indeed “come to our rescue in time of need”, Australia should constantly ingratiate itself with the U.S, reflexively support its foreign policies and participate in its wars, irrespective of their morality or whether there was any real threat to Australia, as an ‘insurance premium’. This slavish obedience to the U.S has resulted in Australian soldiers lives being sacrificed in U.S wars of aggression such as those in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, countries which posed no military threat to Australia or the U.S and were not in the ANZUS Treaty geographical commitment area of the Pacific. These wars did not have the sanction of the United Nations and were therefore illegal. They have caused immense devastation to the people and civil infrastructure of the countries invaded, with millions of lives lost and millions more forced to flee as refugees. In another shameful blot on our national conscience (if we have one), when some of these refugees tried to find a new and peaceful life in Australia, our governments locked them up in ‘detention centre’ gaols, often with no indication of when they might be released or where they might be sent.

To further ingratiate itself with the U.S, in the 1960’s our then-government allowed the U.S. to set up military bases in Australia such as Pine Gap Satellite Communications Station near Alice Springs and the North-West Cape nuclear submarine communications station in WA, both of which are crucial elements of U.S war fighting capability. In 2014 the Force Posture Agreement was concluded between Australia and the United States, allowing up to 2,500 U.S. marines to be stationed in Darwin under the U.S Indo-Pacific Command and to take part with the ADF in annual war games. This agreement also gives the U.S military and its contractors unimpeded access to our airports, seaports, RAN and RAAF bases.

The policy of dependence on the U.S has resulted in loss of our national sovereignty and means that enemies of the United States automatically become enemies of Australia, making us less, not more, safe. It also makes us complicit in the war crimes resulting from U.S wars of aggression. In the eyes of our regional neighbours we are increasingly seen not as a peaceful country and a good neighbour but as the lackey of an arrogant, aggressive U.S. superpower.

Has the ANZUS treaty really saved us from any military threats? The short answer is NO. In the 69 years since it was signed no real military threat directed at Australia has emerged. We would have been quite safe without it and would not have been dragged into disastrous U.S wars of aggression against countries in our region which posed no threat to us.

So shouldn’t we be asking: “Are there alternatives?” Could we adopt an alternative defence policy which would not involve a military alliance with a major power and which would enable us to defend ourselves while allowing us to pursue peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with our neighbours and keeping us out of needless wars?

Dr Albert Palazzo is the Director of War Studies in the Australian Army Research Centre, which is a part of the Australian Army Headquarters. In a paper published in 2018 he argues that; “The era of Australian dependency on a great power partner as a security policy is coming to an end and that of armed neutrality is beckoning…..What is unfolding is an oft told tale, one that has been played out many times in human history, of a rising power’s challenge to the existing order that the established power had created. It is a completely normal and predictable outcome of the shift in the power balance between China and the United States, one that is moving in China’s favour… This paper has two objectives. The title identifies the first – to advance armed neutrality as the most suitable security policy to manage future risks……. Australia’s future security policy will need to accommodate the challenges of China and of climate change……Either of these threats on their own would be sufficient to necessitate a re-examination of Australia’s security policy. Together they mandate it.”

In 1984 the late David Martin wrote a scholarly and comprehensive work entitled “Armed Neutrality for Australia”. He collaborated in the writing of this book with a range of defence, academic, diplomatic and military experts, both from Australia and overseas.

I quote from his introduction:

“A healthy nation, confident in itself, manages its affairs in conformity with its long term interests. It will seek to fashion policies to ensure its survival as a free, prosperous and peaceful community, taking account of its physical location and the quality and quantity of its human and material resources. It will also respect the legitimate aspirations of other nations. This book aims to show that the best policy for Australia is armed neutrality. It accords with our needs and our geographical position. Shaped to our means, it would be viable both morally and in practice. It would let is establish stable and mutually beneficial relations with other countries, especially our neighbours. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, during his first inaugural address – “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none”.

He goes on to say of  neutrality: “Neutrality, properly so-called, exists only in time of war” and goes on to quote the former Austrian Chancellor Dr Bruno Kreisky on principles to be observed by countries which consistently seek to practise neutrality.

“1. Such a country cannot join military alliances in peacetime. That would destroy its ability to be neutral in time of war.

  1. It must allow no foreign military bases on its soil. They would diminish its freedom of action, or rather non-action, in wartime.
  2. It must accept no obligations, political economic or other, which would impair its neutrality in wartime.”

He goes on to say: “In Articles 1-10 of the Hague Convention of 2907, it is laid down that the territory of a neutral power is inviolable. Belligerents must not move troops, munitions or other war supplies across it…..  But a neutral state may resist by all legitimate means, even with force, attempts to violate its neutrality. This would not be a hostile act on its part. Neutrals are not expected to turn the other cheek……It follows and is generally acknowledged that neutrals, and in particular permanent neutrals, accept as binding that they must be physically prepared to defend their independence- their freedom. This is intrinsically part of their neutrality.”

Is neutrality or armed neutrality practiced by any countries at present?

The answer is yes.

Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland practice or have practiced neutrality or armed neutrality in varying degrees.

A second article, Part 2, considers the feasibility, implications and costs of Australia of implementing armed neutrality as an alternative defence policy.

IPAN (The Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) has launched a Peoples’ Inquiry into the costs and consequences of Australia’s involvement in U.S.-led wars. Submissions are welcomed from all sections of the community; see https://independentpeacefulaustralia.com.au

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