Unlike Indonesia we are outsourcing our defence to a foreign powerAug 4, 2023
Did colonialism ever die? Distant major powers are making life-and-death decisions that will impact Indonesia, ironically on the eve of the Republic’s 17 August national day celebrating Soekarno’s 1945 proclamation of independence from three centuries of Dutch rule.
The pith helmets have gone, but the baseball caps are ever-present along with a few slouch hats.
At the hoopla commissioning in Sydney of the American warship USS Canberra in July a funnel emblem of a stars and stripes kangaroo was displayed. There was no image of the American Eagle draped in the Australian flag. Presumably, that would be considered offensive.
The ship was built in Alabama two years ago. Its homeport is San Diego, 12,000 km from the NSW capital, but it will saunter around Southeast Asia. The splash with the coat hanger backdrop was all cheers and waves, but the superstitious will have qualms.
The first carrier of the name was the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, lost at the Battle of Savo Island in the Solomon Islands in August 1942.
Some reports claim the Japanese missed the Australian ship which was then mistakenly hit by torpedoes fired by its ally, the USS Bagley. Almost 100 Aussies were killed and an equal number wounded.
The past few weeks have been good for soft walks with big sticks. US handouts reported that the Canberra show also launched Talisman Sabre the ‘biennial US-Australia military exercise promoting cooperation and interoperability’.
Involving 30,000 uniforms and claiming to be one of the world’s largest joint military drills, it was supposed to ‘deter potential aggressors, and foster military diplomacy.’ This is not to be confused with civil diplomacy where negotiators don’t come armed.
Another razzle-dazzle was AUSMIN, the 33rd Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, billed as ‘a dynamic alliance relationship … which reflects fundamental shared interests and objectives.’
The duopoly advertised this hit as based ‘on a bond of shared values, …a partnership of strategic interest – premised on a common determination to preserve stability, prosperity, and peace.’
The parade of these ideals was in Brisbane where the talk was not about the Atlantic which washes the US East Coast, but the Indo-Pacific.
This term was also concocted far away, by the 19th Century German general and academic Karl Haushofer as ‘an organic and integral space primed for political consciousness.’
For those who prefer the visual to the verbal, here’s an illustration:
The sharp-eyed will note that the zone doesn’t include Europe or North America and only Capricornia in Australia. The centre is the Indonesian archipelago; the world’s third-largest democracy wasn’t at the top table talking about its plans for peace in the region, just as it wasn’t consulted about the AUKUS nuclear-powered subs in 2021.
The AFR reported that AUSMIN decided that ‘American intelligence analysts will be embedded within Defence’s spy agency in Canberra, and northern bases expanded to accommodate US aircraft … in response to China’s growing threat to regional stability.’
No qualification, like ‘alleged’ in the report. Former World Bank aid engineer Barry Trembath who’d worked in China, dared to ask on this website: Is China really a threat to us, or the US economy?
The ABC added that the analysts (aka spies) will ‘scrutinise the moves of states like China, Russia and North Korea in the region.’
No mention of Indonesia but it’s bound to be included as we have a record in this zone of distrust. In 2015 the then president was former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a staunch Australophile until he learned Canberra’s clumsy spooks were tapping his phone and that of his wife Kristiani Herawati.
More chocolate sprinkles; We’re also going to be allowed to make missiles with design help from US manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
The SMH reports this ‘ambitious plan’ will let us export to the US and maybe other countries. We’ve already agreed to place launchers in Northern Australia so we should soon be putting Aussie / US weapons in the tubes.
Whether they’ll be painted with roos draped in Old Glory is yet to be revealed.
Does all this mutual back-slapping guarantee that the US will rush to help should we get involved in a conflict that doesn’t worry Washington? Here we have experience:
In 1999 after the East Timorese had overwhelmingly voted for independence from Indonesia, Jakarta-backed militias started killing and plundering as Australia set up a peacekeeping force.
John Howard appealed for US troops but was rejected by Bill Clinton. The PM continued to badger and eventually the President relented.
In an ABC programme, Hugh White, a former deputy Secretary of Defence recalled:
‘We wanted airlift, we wanted logistics, we wanted some very specialised kinds of intelligence support, and we wanted a kind of an over-the-horizon deterrent presence from the US. They gave us all of those.’
That was last century when the US had a Democrat in the White House.
Next year Indonesians will elect a new president. Often leading the polls is disgraced former general Prabowo Subianto who struts atop the pro-Army right-wing Gerindra (Great Indonesia) party and is ever-sensitive to snubs.
Like the current leader Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo he’s been close to Beijing which last year invested more than $5 billion compared to around $2 billion from the US.
Since first elected in 2014 Jokowi has met Chinese President Xi Jinping eight times face-to-face, but Donald Trump and Joe Biden only four times.
The New York Times reported Tom Lembong, a former Trade and Investment Minister under Jokowi saying China was ‘by far’ the number one trading partner, foreign investor and source of international tourists before Covid, adding:
‘Many Indonesian business and political elites believe that China is the relevant superpower and the US is in relative decline — and, geographically, far away’.
The issue of Taiwan is a minor concern for Indonesia which since 1948 has maintained a ‘free and active foreign policy and does not side with world powers.’
That’s not Australia’s position. It’s clear we’re outsourcing our defence to a foreign power that could next year elect a raving loony as its leader, brilliantly described in The Atlantic as ‘an existence unmolested by the rumblings of a soul’.
In his term, Trump rubbished foreign alliances and sought to bring US troops home. It’s always worth remembering the narcissist can access the nuclear codes to launch Armageddon, and doesn’t have to ask us for permission.
Would we back the US in any war over Taiwan, fire missiles across Indonesian airspace, sail our warships through their archipelago and infuriate our neighbour’s 275 million citizens?
And if they retaliated, would Washington rush to aid Canberra?
As another commentator cleverly wrote – ‘Australia is not a real country – it’s a US military base with marsupials.’
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