GEOFF MILLER. ‘G5-Eyes’: a very strange economic grouping.

According to a report in The Australian of 8 June Treasurer Frydenberg has “led the push” and succeeded in establishing a series of “regular and formal” economic dialogue meetings among the countries that make up the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing group.

The dialogue is to develop “a coordinated strategic economic response to the COVID-19 crisis”. This is an extraordinary expansion of the group’s role. From Australia’s point of view it is a very strange grouping within which to hold important economic discussions, omitting as it does both the EU and Australia’s very important Asian economic partners, including China, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

The “Five-Eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement grew up during the Cold War to share intelligence, particularly signals intelligence, about the Soviet Union. It was carried out by very specific, and very confidential, agencies in each country, and was almost never referred to in public. In the last year or two, however, at whatever instigation, its existence has become much more publicly and frequently referred to, with some meetings of senior representatives of the members quite fully reported in the media. Some of this reporting has tended to describe the “Five Eyes” arrangement as if it were a policy-making body, something it has never been—although, of course, the provision of intelligence can be a means of influencing a recipient country’s policy decisions.

As a grouping its membership bears the marks of its Cold War origins; it also evokes the “Anglosphere”, a concept which has been touted from time to time. It does not reflect the current disposition of global economic weight and influence, omitting as it does both Europe (except for Britain) and Asia.

The Treasurer is quoted in The Australian article as saying that “these meetings will be an opportunity to swap notes about the various economic initiatives each country is undertaking in response to the crisis”. But, of course, this is an odd grouping to study when it omits countries like Japan and South Korea, which have coped with the crisis very well, and includes the US and UK, neither of which has coped well from either the health or economic point of view. Both the G20 and APEC, of which we are members, are more inclusive.

Another rationale for the inception of these new meetings is given in the report. It says that “the agreement (to hold regular economic meetings) is seen by security experts as a hardening of the alliance between Western democracies in response to China, and the elevation of the Five Eyes alliance…..as central to a post coronavirus world”.

If this is the real rationale for the Treasurer’s initiative it seems an extraordinary thing for Australia to be advancing. Within the Five Eyes grouping the United States is by far the largest power, and it will undoubtedly have the major say in discussions and any recommendations that emerge. Yet the US under President Trump is locked in an immoderate struggle with China, which is our largest trading partner and takes 30% of our exports. Australian academic and media commentators are united in saying that in the future we should not simply rely on either the United States or China, and should rather think for ourselves and enhance self-reliance, working with our Asia-Pacific partners in ASEAN and beyond.

For years there has been criticism that Australia’s foreign policy is increasingly being seen too much through a “national security” lens. This present initiative seems designed to look at our important and established international economic relationships through the same valid but limited lens. Also for years, the worst-case scenario for the future has been seen as one in which the world becomes split into two competing camps, separated in connectivity, technology, economic activity and world views, with one side led by the US and one by China, each having little contact with each other. As a world trader we have joined in seeing this as the worst case, but this latest initiative by the Treasurer will make it more rather than less likely.

Geoff Miller is a former Australian diplomat and government official.

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Geoff Miller is a former Australian government official and diplomat.

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8 Responses to GEOFF MILLER. ‘G5-Eyes’: a very strange economic grouping.

  1. Avatar John Beswick says:

    Interesting that the prime mover in this appears to be Josh from Treasury which suggests the motivations are more financial than trade orientated. Oz is particularly sensitive to Capital Outflows in any financial crisis amplified by the disruptive effects of Covid. It remains to be seen to what extent the London and New York financial markets continue to dominate global financial flows. I agree with Geoff Miller that at some point Australia will have to reconcile with where its trade, economic, diplomatic and ultimate security interests rest, you just hope it will not be a hard landing.

  2. Avatar Martin says:

    It is very hard to maintain pure independent, Australian is fall in US trap and so many politician rightwinger too. Beliefing only Yourself is right, the strongest and could bullying unnecessaryly creating own enemy, it not being loyal to 5 Eyes Ring. We have to look our own way to survive as a mature country (As an Adult human being). China or Russia wouldn’t dare to attack Australia, as we are in 5 Eyes group, beside we hosting so many US Instaltion and equipments. I am hoping a better thingking for next move, revive our economy for next election.

  3. Avatar Michael Flynn says:

    The history of the 5 Eyes was US interests first then UK Canada Australia and NZ in intelligence and national security. International peace and security must be about more than this lens. To add an economic lens and the restart after the pandemic is to expand beyond what secret security does. What matters is the policy direction from Government and the implementation by the APS in the public interest.
    Here Australia has work to do that is not fixed by marketing to win the next election. We should aspire to be a good global citizen for all. We have an opportunity to link up with China while an ally of the USA.

  4. Avatar Garry Woodard says:

    “Extraordinary… very strange”. Geoff Miller rightly finds little sense in the concept, reported to be an actuality, of an economic grouping of the US and the “old” Commonwealth (excluding South Africa).

    The original intelligence cooperation grouping, UKUSA (unfortunately the A does not stand for Australia) was a British initiative to strengthen its hand in areas where it was competitive with the US in a desperate attempt to re-establish the World War II Atlantic or “special” relationship.

    If there is indeed, as reported an Australian initiative for five-power economic co-operation, does it represent a similar desperate attempt by Australia to influence the economic policies of the predominant power which is acting self-indulgently and destructively? This will not end with Trump,, as we are watching the playing out the Great American Proletarian Cultural Revolution. The circumstances, as Miller points out, call for a different set of international partners, in which Australia would be far from primus inter pares.

  5. Avatar Melissa Conley Tyler says:

    Excellent analysis, Geoff. It’s not in Australia’s interests to paint itself as more interested in an imagined Anglosphere than in discussions with its region.

  6. Avatar michael lacey says:

    We are still under the neoliberal Neoconservative global mantra and it is dying!

  7. Conspiracy theory abounds since Trump becomes the President of US in 2016 and he sneaked in not by popular votes any way. China after 40 years of opening up have helped so many people out of poverty and enjoys shared peaceful development, harmony and prosperity with millions and millions of peoples in China and the world. The achievement has been properly recognised by United Nations. She suddenly becomes his devil communist target for his previous electioneering and now his coming November election. His appeal to the extreme right, tolerating people like KKK to stir up racial trouble has badly divided his nation as shown by recent riots and protests. His failure in managing COVID 19 crisis in US is obvious but he tries to turn it to his advantages by smearing China left right and centre and blames China for all his ills.
    Now he tries to export his conspiracy theory to whoever he can round up from his Allies that China is evil and cannot be trusted and sadly Australia is one who he has baited. We all are still waiting for him to produce any substantiated evidence that China is the devil causing all his incompetence as US President.
    The advice given by Henry Reynolds in :The American Alliance: More incantation than inquiry. P&I 9 June, warning us to be careful in following what Trump wishes us to do for him can be dangerous for our own national interest.

    Geoff Miller’s advice to our Government: ” For years there has been criticism that Australia’s foreign policy is increasingly being seen too much through a “national security” lens. This present initiative seems designed to look at our important and established international economic relationships through the same valid but limited lens. Also for years, the worst-case scenario for the future has been seen as one in which the world becomes split into two competing camps, separated in connectivity, technology, economic activity and world views, with one side led by the US and one by China, each having little contact with each other. As a world trader we have joined in seeing this as the worst case, but this latest initiative by the Treasurer will make it more rather than less likely.” should be also taken seriously.

    By Henry Reynolds | On 9 June 2020

  8. Avatar Richard England says:

    The Anglos are drawing their wagons into a circle, in a last bid to fight off the future.

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