The Abdication of Australian SovereigntyFeb 18, 2023
Reducing the risk of Australia becoming trapped in an American war in Asia, again, requires the Australian government to give notice now to the United States that it wishes to withdraw from the Force Posture Agreement.
An open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese. February 17, 2023.
The Abbott government’s adoption in 2014 of a Force Posture Agreement (FPA) with the United States cedes control of certain military operations from our territory to the US. And Defence Minister Richard Marles’ recent address to Parliament affirms nothing will change.
The ever-unfolding FPA means Australia is periodically home to US Marines trained to fight in the first Island Chain off China. Darwin and Tindal will host US naval and air assets with nuclear-weapon capability. Soon a new facility able to receive US nuclear attack submarines will be announced, in either Brisbane, Newcastle or Wollongong.
Permitting such forces to reside on Australian territory will direct hostile intent to Australia and diminish the choices available to Australian governments. This will cause planning by regional States to alter, with counter measures directed against Australia, otherwise not entertained. Our security is undermined.
China is one such neighbour affected. A nuclear power able to strike Australia at will. Thus, through the FPA, Australian governments have chosen to risk hostile nuclear attack resulting in execrable loss of life and damage to cities and infrastructure.
Meanwhile our diplomacy is deeply disturbed.
Yet, no Australian government has presented evidence that it has assessed the risks and consequences of adopting the FPA.
Lost sovereignty in declaring war
The loss of sovereign authority extends to the government’s control over declaration of war. If America decides to go to war with China, China would assume the US will employ its forces located here. China justifiably could attack Australia in response to US hostility anywhere. Our government could simply find itself at war with China. It may be deprived even of ability to cease war. Thereby, the FPA cedes supreme authority on one of our government’s most fundamental decisions: to wage war or not.
We have already witnessed an example of this folly. Former defence Minister Dutton most likely was influenced by knowledge of the FPA when announcing, in November 2021, that it would be “inconceivable” for Australia not to join the US should Washington decide take action to defend Taiwan. In inferring that Australia would have little choice in that war-decision, and not exposing the entrapment in the Taiwan/FPA nexus, the former Minister’s careless regard for frankness and for sovereignty is laid bare.
And Minister Marles is little better. His speech asserts: “any decision to go to war or to use Australian territory or assets in an armed conflict remains solely a decision for the Commonwealth Government of the day”. Which shows how little thought this government has given to the predicaments which could now be visited upon Australia.
Government holds that sovereignty is intact
In the FPA the government claims that sovereignty is preserved – by a policy.
The purpose of the FPA is given in Article II as:
- Through the consultation framework of Article III, this Agreement provides the necessary authorisations for the United States to conduct mutually determined activities under the Force Posture Initiatives in, from, or through Australia.
Sovereignty is addressed in Article III by;
- In recognition of Australian sovereign interests, the Parties shall consult in accordance with conditions and requirements under this Agreement…..
- The conditions and requirements for consultation shall ensure that relevant mutually determined activities are conducted in accordance with Australia’s policy of Full Knowledge and Concurrence (FKC), where applicable.
In the earlier establishment of US facilities such as Pine Gap, Australian governments claimed that sovereignty is preserved through the FKC policy, whereby the US volunteers information on activities followed by the consent of Australia. This is said to ensure Australia’s supreme authority is preserved over intelligence and related activities “on, from and through” its territory.
That claim is made again with the FPA. However, the two agreements cover activities which are chalk and cheese.
The nature of the activity conducted within the existing facilities (essentially information) is distinct from military operations against a powerful State. Military operations are unpredictable. In situations of tense strategic manoeuvre, Australia cannot be assured of avoiding damaging outcomes by a policy purporting to proscribe activity of foreign military platforms. No policy can ensure that military outcomes are as intended on missions under foreign command, whether on, from or beyond our territory.
And in the mere act of agreement governments could be ceding sovereignty in some cases. The policy of FKC is a fig leaf.
Is loss of sovereignty warranted by threat?
Arguably, if facing extreme insecurity a State should consider ceding some sovereignty temporarily. But Australia is under no threat of attack. China is mentioned constantly, but China has not expressed intent to attack Australia. Nor does it possess the means for conventional assault. Official intelligence reports in the US show that China’s military priority is its periphery:
“the PLA… sets its sights to 2027… [to modernise] the PRC’s armed forces. If realised, this… could give the PLA capabilities to be a more credible military tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to wield as it pursues Taiwan unification” (US Intelligence Community Threat Assessment 2022).
“The PRC aims to restrict the United States from having a presence in China’s periphery and limit US access in the broader Indo-Pacific region. … the PLA is increasingly able to project power into the Philippines Sea and seeks to strengthen its capabilities to reach further into the Pacific Ocean” (US DoD Report to Congress 2022).
Northern Australia is 5,000 km from China’s force development priority areas. It would be fanciful for an Australian government to plan for threat of conventional assault on our territory, and high-intensity warfare, with China, in the near term. Most likely is that China could be forced into nuclear strike on Australia’s territory, that being its only means of countering attack from US forces based here. Against which Australia is utterly defenceless.
Minister not serious
We have already noted Minister Marles’ inability to discern when Australia’s sovereignty is compromised. A security-minded government would display genuine sensitivity to infringed sovereignty. Marles’ speech does the opposite, resorting to cunning language, straw men and semantics to conceal reality. His claim that “A fundamental principle underpinning these activities is longstanding bipartisan policy of having no foreign bases on Australian territory” presumably rests on some rarefied definition of a “base”. When everybody knows that US troops and weapons platforms are, and will be increasingly, located on Australian territory and be able to operate on, from and through Australia under foreign command and control.
How to proceed?
It is openly acknowledged that the US government has chosen to confront China militarily for its own geostrategic reasons, in a broad strategy to suppress competition from China. That is a sovereign choice of the US. But Australia has no treaty obligations to join that conflict.
Nor could Australia make more than a minor difference anyway – adding little to the potent forces and bases which America and Japan are building proximate to China. For Washington the common notion of “winning” would barely be relevant. So long as China is being reduced, the US goal would be met. Time would be in Washington’s favour. To the extent that its allies carry the burden, America profits.
As a friend of the US, Australia should be counselling for constructive initiatives with China. Concurrently, our government must recapture its sovereignty foregone in the Force Posture Agreement.
Reducing the risk of Australia becoming trapped in an American war in Asia, again, requires the Australian government to give notice now to the United States that it wishes to withdraw from the FPA.
Percy Allan AM, Chair Evidence Based Policy Research Project (2018-2022). He is also a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology Sydney. He was formerly Secretary, NSW Treasury and Chair, NSW Premier’s Council on the Cost and Quality if Government.
Dennis Argall Former Australian ambassador to China, counsellor and acting minister Washington, former head of the research group in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library.
Mark Beeson was formerly Professor of international politics at the University of Western Australia, Murdoch University and Birmingham University. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Technology Sydney and Griffith University.
Alison Broinowski AM is a former Australian diplomat, author and academic. She is President of Australians for War Powers Reform.
Richard Broinowski AO formerly an Australian diplomat, manager of Radio Australia, adjunct professor at Universities of Canberra and Sydney and President of AIIA NSW, now a writer and public commentator.
Julian Burnside AO KC is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author.
George Browning was Anglican Bishop of Canberra Goulburn 1993 – 2008. He founded the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture Barton ACT. He was president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network 2013 – 2022. He is now its patron.
Annette Brownlie is the Independent Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) chairperson and Queensland representative.
Scott Burchill Honorary Fellow, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Deakin University
Derek Burke, State Committee member of People for Nuclear Armament (South Australia) in the 1980s; Currently member of IPAN (Independent Peaceful Australia Network) National Coordinating Committee; Convener of IPAN-SA; Member of No Nuclear Submarines (South Australia)
Richard Butler ACis a former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, United Nations weapons inspector, and a former Governor of Tasmania
Joseph Camilleri is Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, Convener of Conversation at the Crossroads, and Co-Convener of Saving Humanity and Planet Earth (SHAPE).
Jocelyn Chey is Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and UTS. She formerly held diplomatic posts in China and Hong Kong. She is a member of the Order of Australia (AM) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
Nick Deane, Peace activist. Convenor of the Marrickville Peace Group.
Denis Doherty, teacher, long time social activist. Coordinator of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign.
Ralph Evans AO is a former management consultant and head of Austrade.
Rachel Faggetter studied modern Chinese history at McGill University, taught English in Beijing in the early 1970s and was a foundation member of the Australia-China Council.
Andrew Farran is a former diplomat and legal academic, widely published on defence and foreign policy including trade, and has had extensive interests in the wool and sheep industries.
Stephen FitzGerald is a Distinguished Fellow at the Whitlam Institute, UWS, and an Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture, UWS. A China Specialist, he was Australia’s first Ambassador to the PRC 1973-1976, and has held many China-focussed and Asia-focussed positions in academia and for government since then. He was a founding Director and then Chair of the Museum of Chinese in Australia.
Mike Gilligan worked for 20 years in defence policy and evaluating military proposals for development, including time in the Pentagon on military balances in Asia.
Bruce Douglas Haigh is an Australian political commentator and former diplomat.
Michael Hamel-Green is an Emeritus Professor in the College of Arts, Business, Law, Education and IT, Victoria University Melbourne. He was previously the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Education and Human Development at Victoria University Melbourne. He has published widely on nuclear-weapon-free-zones, nuclear non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, multilateral negotiations, disarmament and community development.
Barry Jones AC was Minister for Science 1983-90 and is a Fellow of four of Australia’s five learned academies. His book What is to be done was published in 2020.
John Lander worked in the China section of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the lead-up to the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1972 and several other occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. He was deputy ambassador in Beijing 1974-76 (including a couple of stints as Chargé d’Affaires). He was heavily involved in negotiation of many aspects in the early development of Australia-China relations, especially student/teacher exchange, air traffic agreement and consular relations. He has made numerous visits to China in the years 2000-2019.
Cameron Leckie served as an officer in the Australian Army for 24 years.
Jeff Lawrence, National Secretary LHMU (now United Workers Union) 1990-2007, ACTU Secretary 2007-2012, Deputy President Fair Work Commission 2013-2017.
Colin Mackerras (Officer in the Order of Australia, Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities of Australia) is a specialist on Chinese history, musical theatre and ethnic minorities, as well as Australia-China relations and Western images of China, and has published widely on all those subjects. He worked at Griffith University from 1974 to 2004 and has been a professor Emeritus at the University since retirement.
Aran Martin Executive Director, Global Security Foundation. He was previously CEO of the Future Business Council and a Research Fellow at the Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne and the Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University.
Gavan McCormack, FAHA, Emeritus Professor, Australian National University
Michael McKinley is a member of the Emeritus Faculty, the Australian National University; he taught Strategy, Diplomacy and International Conflict at the University of Western Australia and the ANU.
John Menadue AO is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Pearls and Irritations. He was formerly Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet under Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, Ambassador to Japan, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and CEO of Qantas.
Hannah Middleton co-founder Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition, Convenor Sydney Anti-AUKUS Coalition
Bevan Ramsden Ex Telecommunications engineers and TAFE teacher; long time peace activist and advocate for Australia’s independence; member of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) and editor of its monthly e-publicaton Voice.
Stuart Rees AM Professor Emeritus Univ. of Sydney, former Professor of Social Policy & Social Work, former co-director Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies, Director Sydney Peace Foundation.
Mike Scrafton was formerly Deputy Secretary in the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, senior Defence executive, CEO of a state statutory body, and chief of staff and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence.
David Solomon is a former legal and political correspondent. He has degrees in Arts and Law and a Doctorate of Letters. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2009-2014.
Richard Tanter works with the Nautilus Institute, and writes on intelligence and strategic questions. Richard is a former president of the Australian board of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and was professor of international relations at Kyoto Seika University from 1989-2004.
Brian Toohey has been a journalist for 50 years and written or co-written five books. The latest is Secret; The Making of Australia’s Security State.
Kellie Tranter lawyer, researcher and Chair of the Independent & Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) People’s Inquiry: Exploring the case for an independent and peaceful Australia.
Brian Walters AM QC is a prominent Melbourne barrister, writer and advocate for human rights and the environment.
Sue Wareham OAM National President, Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia); Secretary, Australians for War Powers Reform