CAVAN HOGUE.  Canada, Australia and the USA

Jul 12, 2019

Canada tries to differentiate itself from the USA but because of its proximity and similarities this is not easy. Australia has the opposite problem: we try to find similarities. Canada’s geography makes it easier for it to defy requests to get involved in US wars but Australia has the opposite problem. We have to shout to be heard which is why we get involved in wars we should keep out of and votes we should change. But the world is changing and we have not kept up with the changes.

Canada and Australia have much in common but also many differences particularly in their external relations and their approach to the USA. Canadians call the USA the revolting colonies (pun intended) but they are in fact saturated by US media and culture even more than Australia. They even refer to the people south of the border as Americans although surely Canadians have as much right to that term. They do have Quebec and the French language which is important in many ways but the further west you get the less it matters. Canadian diplomats and others complain about the pressures on them from the US and a Canadian Ambassador in Mexico once said he told the Mexicans that the only problem between Mexico and Canada was the USA .

Australia is also saturated with US news, propaganda and influence. However there is one fundamental difference between the two countries in the relationship with the US. Canadians know that for reasons of geography they will never be abandoned militarily in their hour of need. Australians on the other hand are not as important to the Americans. This means that it is much easier for Canada to stay out of their neighbour’s ill-advised aggressions in the Middle East and elsewhere. Canadians try to stress the differences and seek a clearly different identity whereas Australia has to shout to be heard. We do not have the same unstated guarantee and look for similarities to the point where we proclaim the nonsensical 100 years of military mateship. Because of our adherence to the insurance policy argument we must keep paying premiums and join up when asked in order to show that we are loyal little allies who cannot be abandoned.  So long as we see the need for support which is not guaranteed against a threat which is not defined we are stuck with this approach even if there is no certainty that it will work. If you look at the history of our relationship with the US since WW2 we have given far more than we have received.

However the world has changed and the old certainties are disappearing. It is not just Trump, dangerous as he and his courtiers are. The US is a wounded lion who sees its position as King of the Jungle threatened by a challenge from a rival growing in strength. Australia is likely to face demands for support against China. We may also face similar demands for a Bolton/Pompeo inspired attack on Iran.  Anyone remember that film about Dr Strangelove? Without a fundamental change in our politicians, media and populace  we will remain stuck in this rut. Nobody seriously asks what the threat is? Why would China or anyone else want to invade Australia? Why would the US come to our aid if it was not in their interests to do so? The answer is that we are a target as a US proxy so the Alliance is more of a threat than a protection.

Cavan Hogue is a former Australian Ambassador.





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