In the event of war between the USA and any other nation in our region, Australia could not avoid involvement, because of its alliance with the USA. That is the reality we need to address. To avoid the possibility of war, an independent foreign policy for Australia is urgently required. Mr Trump’s presidency only adds to the urgency.
Since President Trump’s inauguration, there has been a noticeable spike in commentary about the increasing risk of a war in our region – a war that could involve the USA and China or North Korea. As things stand, it would be impossible for Australia to avoid involvement in such a war. That is a reality that we must urgently confront.
In our region we can see concern over North Korea’s growing military might (and corresponding antagonism from the USA, South Korea and Japan); tension between Japan and China over the Daioyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and tension in the South China Sea, the major trade-route where China is constructing facilities on reclaimed islands. The background to all these points of tension is the USA’s ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific, which involves a substantial build-up of US military assets in the region.
What is actually going on amounts to a regional arms-race. Think-tanks and academics now openly discuss the possibility of war between China and the USA. Checking the map shows that US military facilities form a chain that almost encircles China.
How does this affect Australia?
The answer is simple and was expressed very clearly by late ex-PM Malcolm Fraser in his book ‘Dangerous Allies’. The fact is that there are US assets on Australian soil that are of such military significance that, in the event of hostilities, no enemy of the USA could afford to leave them untouched.
For example, Pine Gap plays a crucial role in US surveillance and communication. It would be a prime target for attack. Secondly, the US Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), stationed in Darwin, is designed to project US power. Furthermore, under the buzz-word ‘interoperability’, Australia’s defence forces are ever more closely integrated into the military forces of the US. An Australian warship is part of the US Seventh Fleet and an Australian general is deputy commander of the US Army in the Pacific. Australian and US forces conduct massive, biannual joint military exercises (Exercise Talisman Sabre, due to start again this July). Much of the weaponry used by our forces originates in the US (the prime example being the F35 Joint Strike Fighter). Our ADF’s internal communications make use of American-controlled systems – meaning that the US could, if it found it advantageous, shut them down. It is arguable that Australia cannot now conduct its own military operations unless the US approves of them.
No wonder that Barack Obama, who visited Australia in 2011 to announce the MAGTF, said, when addressing Australian troops, “You can’t tell where our guys end and you guys begin…” This blurred line between American and Australian military forces means that any potential enemy of America is also, automatically, the potential enemy of Australia. The same blurred line extends to Australia’s foreign policy – witness the manner in which Australia has boycotted UN discussions on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Our nation has a misguided obsession with the US alliance. The unfortunate consequence is that we are, by default, gaining enemies where we need have none.
To summarise, Australia’s so-called defence is largely determined by the interests of the USA. The perversely named ‘Australian Defence Force’ (ADF) has not been deployed to defend Australia in the more than 70 years since WWII. Yet in the same period it has been engaged in numerous hostile actions in countries distant from our own, that posed us no threat – in every case alongside US forces (think Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.)
From this perspective, Australia has given away its independence and compromised its defence. In what is coming to be known as ‘Fraser’s paradox’, we think we can rely on the USA to ‘protect’ us, when the only reason we need that protection is because we host such important US military assets. The ‘protector’ is the reason we need ‘protection’. This bears a striking resemblance to a protection racket.
There is not much that is new in the foregoing argument. However, the emergence of an unpredictable president of the US, Donald Trump, has raised the stakes. The recent missile attack on a Syrian military airfield (surely an act of war) and the movement of a US battle fleet to South Korean waters give the situation heightened urgency.
What is to be done?
A radical re-assessment of Australia’s defence and foreign policies is necessary. Continuing on the present path is leading the nation into very dangerous waters.
As a step in this direction, the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN*) has issued a statement entitled ‘Keep Australia out of US Wars’, which was published on May 6. It states
”We believe Australia’s military alliance with the US, involving the complicity of successive Australian governments in US global military agendas, undermines Australia’s peace security and sovereignty.”
The statement demands less spending on all things military and the diversion of public funds to socially beneficial activities. It argues that the people must take control of foreign policy and review the presence of US forces.
The statement was published with the names of 350 concerned individuals and organisations, who supported it and contributed to the expense of placing an advertisement in a national newspaper. These included three Senators; 3 Sydney Peace Prize winners; the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW); the MUA, and numerous prominent academics and legal figures. The total number of people expressing support (including via Facebook) has now reached over 3,500.
The full text, and facility for indicating support and making a donation, can be found on IPAN’s website http://ipan.org.au/#/ , under ‘Statements’.
For the present, war in our region is just a possibility. As events unfold, though, that possibility appears to be growing. However far off war might be, now is the time to speak out about it and stop its’ approach. One way to do that is offered by adding your name to the list of those who support IPAN’s statement.
*IPAN is an expanding national network composed of diverse community groups – all of which support the causes of peace and independence for Australia. IPAN came into existence in response to the deployment of US marines to Darwin. It has grown in strength and numbers ever since.
IPAN aims to:
- Promote an independent Australian foreign policy;
- Oppose the establishment of foreign military bases in Australia;
- Provide information etc. to help people participate in making decisions about Australia’s security;
- Build links with other people and organisations in our region, who are campaigning for peace.
Nick Deane is a retired public servant and concerned citizen. His academic background is in Sociology. He is the current Treasurer of IPAN.