The Alliance: Deeper thought required urgently

Feb 19, 2018

This is not the time to deepen our commitment to the alliance and, become ever more involved in the US’ imperium and need for enemies. We need to think freshly about our international relations and security. The recent Foreign Policy White Paper, constructed by Julie Bishop, was depressingly free of any such fresh thought. The new US Ambassador clearly sees his role to ride shot gun on Australia’s  military role in the Alliance.

John Menadue is right. Our continuing, indeed apparently deepening, commitment to our alliance with the US, requires that we deny facts which, rationally, should point us in the opposite direction, because of the dangers it poses to us. (Pearls and Irritations, 8th and 9thhFebruary, 2018)

The mind-set of the US and key military/industrial/ intelligence sources of influence over its policies and actions, have seen the comprehensive militarization and repeated failure of both.

The US’ need for an enemy has become neurotic and expanding. It now designates Russia and China as permanent adversaries, with whom any prospect of accommodation is rejected. This is the logic of a militarized foreign policy.

On Russia, the US has betrayed it by expanding NATO to Russia’s borders and in its new nuclear posture review, it has deviated from the fundamental understanding it had with Russia, that nuclear weapons were for deterrent purposes only; and, thus should never be used in a first strike.

The US has announced, in its 2018 Nuclear Policy review, that it now has a policy of initiating use of nuclear weapons, in battlefield situations and implies such use against Russia and, the incredible notion that any such limited use could be contained

On China, the US has encircled it with a string of substantial bases and, naval deployments in the Western Pacific, allegedly in response to China’s actions to strengthen its overall military, particularly naval capabilities, and it’s construction of islands in that region, judged to be contrary to the Law of the Sea treaty.

Competition amongst major powers is hardly novel and its pointless to pretend it can be abolished. What has real point, however, is measures and communications amongst them which seek to ensure that there are no dangerous mistakes and, when they look like occurring, are addressed and mitigated.

The current mood in the US seems to reject any such, wet thinking. Indeed, they seem to be spoiling for a fight. To say this is to simply call upon the evidence of their military threats to others, particularly DPRK and Iran; in addition to Russia and China; and, upon the public discourse in the US.

On the latter, it is deeply relevant that recognition of the US’ role in the 1953 coup in Iran, removing the democratically elected government and the carpet bombing and napalming of North Korea in the 1950s, is simply excluded from any popular level discussion of the origins of Iranian and North Korean hostility towards the US. Clearly, in US public discourse, the proclaimed enemies of the US are not permitted to have rational reasons for their concerns about US conduct.

But, the overwhelmingly most important manipulation of the facts of US behavior in world affairs, in the modern period, has been with respect to Vietnam. This even exceeds in importance the lies that were told to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

It is now acknowledged that the US public was comprehensively lied to about Vietnam: the reasons for the war; the conduct of it; the outcome of it. Nothing can alter the fact that the US was defeated in Vietnam; and, this is the problem.

The Vietnam debacle became a massive domestic trauma, responsible in no small measure for the current phenomenon of public distrust of government and politics. This should have led to a determination in the political parties and amongst other relevant participants in the public discourse, to ensure that there is no repetition of such flagrant abuse of the facts. But it has not. Indeed, the opposite has occurred. That is, a deepening US determination to wage wars and win them. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, on the basis of fabricated intelligence, was the next largest case in point.

It is relevant to any consideration of how Australia has conducted its affairs under the alliance, that we embraced the US’ fabrications: Menzies on Vietnam, Howard on Iraq.

We have accompanied the US in every one of its military expeditions since the Korean War, claiming that to do so was an alliance obligation, and supporting every false argument, justification, given by the US for its actions.

The Whitlam government withdrew Australia from the Vietnam conflict immediately following its election in 1972. That caused some fury in Washington and as Alison Broinowski has recalled, (Pearls and Irritations 13th February, 2018) led to the appointment of a trusted professional diplomat to the job of US Ambassador to Australia, to take charge of the relationship with Whitlam.

Last week, Trump named the Admiral Harry Harris, currently in charge of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii  to become US Ambassador to Australia; another professional appointment. But look at his profession; running wars. He is obviously appointed to ride shotgun on Australia’s military role in the alliance.

Its now 25 years since the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, a period in which it was earnestly hoped that new levels of international cooperation would be struck; the much anticipated peace dividend.

That did not occur for the principal reason that the US declared that it had “won” the Cold War, and a unipolar world, led by the US had emerged. Rejection of Pax Americana, spread quickly, strongly encouraged by a western ally, France.

Clearly, we now live in a determinedly multi-polar world, tied loosely together by a fairly elaborate set of UN Charter rules and Treaties; with no single power predominating. Perhaps predictably, its principal opponent has now become the US with its declared self-centered nationalism; “America First”, that it is the “ exceptional country”: a claim recognized by no one.

The substantive meaning of the US’ notion that it is the exceptional country, is that international law does not apply to it. This fact is visible in the US’ refusal to join a range of widely supported international treaties and agreements and under the current US administration to abrogate international commitments entered into previously.

Every country’s foreign policy reflects, strongly, domestic concerns and ideologies, not simply perceptions of their international environment.

In the case of the US, as John Menadue has analysed accurately; its policies are shaped not simply by its understanding of its interests and that of others with whom it competes, but significantly by its religiosity, its belief in its mission in the world, as well as by the deep material interests of its military industries.

Its no exaggeration to see this potent mix as dangerous and flawed. It has led to repeated failures. Simply, the US has won none of the wars it has initiated, by choice, since the end of the Second World War, and its expeditions have led to wider conflicts, today, most notably in the Middle East, and, to the serious expansion of terrorism.

What it has done has threatened the “rules based system” and led to a revival of precisely the sort of power based competition between major states that gave us the two major conflicts of the 20th century, the abolition of which was precisely what the establishment of that system was designed to end, through the Charter of the UN.

In conventional international relations theory, an important distinction is drawn between status quo and revisionist powers; with the implication that the latter are a source of instability.

Current US attitudes assign revisionist intent to Russia and China. But surely, under Trump and current US policies as advanced in its two new policy papers: on national security and the nuclear posture; the US deserves the description of being elementally revisionist.

Australia’s stance of being “joined at the hip” with the US identifies us with US revisionism and makes their enemies Australia’s enemies. This is serious, especially given our integral role in US nuclear weapons architecture.

The Australian institutions, including our leading political parties and corporations who support this stance, argue that this affords us protection.

That view: rests on the continuation of the tendentious notion that we cannot protect ourselves alone; sidelines the maintenance by us of an effective regional diplomacy, particularly in our relations with key states such as China and Indonesia; neuters the real contribution we can make to defending the “rules based order”; and, exposes us to increased levels of danger, precisely those we say we seek to avoid by having a “great and powerful friend”.

Our obligatory participation in the British imperium did us great harm. It is essential that we do not repeat this under the US imperium. We are vastly more able, self reliant, now than we were at the time of: the Boer War, and, in 1914-18.

We can design a far more respectful relationship with the US than that of reliable lackey. They, and Admiral/Ambassador Harris might find such a development not to their liking. But it could even prove to be positive for them as it becomes increasingly clear that; US imperialism is ineffective, perhaps on the way out, or implies terrible wars for its continuation.

Like it or not,they will need to think again about how they conduct their relations with states who have their own interests, don’t want Pax Americana, but are prepared to work with an America that acknowledges the need for cooperative solutions to shared problems, arrived at in ways consistent with international law.

A key danger we now face, and US commentators and some politicians are aware of this, is that as Trump goes down, he may seek to divert attention from his fall by initiating a major war.

Under present thinking in Canberra, we can be expected to join him. We need to think again, now.

Richard Butler AC  former Ambassador to the United Nations.


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