RICHARD BUTLER. New series: We can say ‘no’ to the Americans.

Dec 11, 2016

Australian Foreign Policy; We can say “No” to the US.

We must end the interpretation of the ANZUS Alliance which leads us to accompany the US in whatever interventions it mounts in international affairs, and we must stop misleading the Australian people on the nature of the Alliance.

Our choosing, repeatedly indeed now habitually, to do whatever the US asks of us, leads others to view us as a client of the US, a state without true independence. It reduces respect for us. It does us great harm.

As Dick Woolcott has pointed out, for example, a former Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, now Editor in Chief of the Jakarta Post has described Australia as being stuck in the past:

“It is a monarchy with a Head of State in London and its security arrangements are largely Cold War relics… Australia is out of sync with the emerging geo-political order of Asia today”.

The reasons advanced, by our political leaders, on both sides, for this choice by us, is that our national security demands that we be welded to the US, to the Alliance. This is not a truthful analysis.

Two facts are far more determinant, one political, the other, psychological.

Our leaders have become convinced that to question the alliance would lead to disaster in domestic electoral terms; and, the enduring notion that Australia cannot stand alone, but has always had and still needs a protector, first the British and now in the post-colonial period, the Americans.

There is so much that is wrong with this. We are able to look after ourselves, a well as any state can in non-cataclysmic circumstances, and the notion that another state will in any way jeopardise its security or interests to protect us is nonsense.

The ANZUS Treaty is the basic construct of the alliance. What it, in fact, it provides with respect to the security of its parties is that they:

“ will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific”.

Apart from this provision touching specifically on the Pacific, the Treaty in every other substantive article, repeats the provisions of the Charter of the UN: such as, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for international law.

Our political leaders exaggerate the terms and effect of the Treaty, for the reason mentioned above, and for this purpose, draw on and reaffirm the psychology of dependence, of needing protection, that has characterised Australia’s earlier history and demography, but which is empty of any real meaning today.

In my paper on An Independent Australian Foreign Policy (Pearls and Irritations, 13th May, 2015), I argued that Australia can maintain a productive, mutually beneficial relationship with the US without being supine and diluting our own interests, and principles.

Incidentally, in that paper, I gave as one of the factors supporting our need to pursue an independent foreign policy was the “disarray” within the US polity. I had no idea then, of how that would subsequently enlarge, as has now been demonstrated by the US presidential elections.

We can say “no” to US requests to us to follow and implement decisions made by it clearly driven by its own domestic politics. And, we must certainly reject demands placed upon us to act in places which are distant from our region of immediate political and security concern. Our resources should be applied to our region.

We did this repeatedly before John Howard became Prime Minister and it did not harm us. New Zealand has done it for the past 30 years, when it first rejected US naval visits by ships possibly carrying nuclear weapons. The ANZUS partners are all parties to the Treaty establishing the South Pacific as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. President Reagan had resisted this. We stood our ground, and the US joined.

What has happened to us? Are we condemned to suffer the consequences of John Howard happening to be in the US on 9/11, which he has described in biblical terms; scales falling from his eyes, through a glass darkly, and so on.

Finally, an Australian foreign policy based on the notion of our membership of an “Anglosphere”, so extolled by Tony Blair and John Howard, has no currency in a world in which such tribalism and self appointed superiority is meaningless and so often, destructive.

We need to put Australia first, its interests and principles, an approach which, President Trump may be able to comprehend.

Richard Butler AC was Ambassador to the United Nations, and Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq.

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