The US-funded ‘think tank’ pushing Australia towards war

Jan 27, 2022
Chinese New Year, Melbourne, 2014
(Image: Flickr/Chris Phutully)

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute is irrationally hostile towards China and has unprecedented influence over Australian defence policy.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” is a lexicon, introduced by Sir Walter Scott in the poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field (1808).

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) should absorb the message. For the past five years it has been deceiving and dissembling over China’s intentions in the region. Donald Trump and his acolytes got it going with substantially increased funding from the US government and arms manufacturers that saw profit in raised levels of tension. Trump thought he could bully China into allowing an uncompetitive America regain lost markets.

The Australian government also provides funding to ASPI on the basis that it gives independent advice to government. It has the status of a quango: the government appoints its director, which, with its unusual funding arrangements, makes it anything but an independent “think tank”. As a source of advice, it has the government’s ear. It has direct and privileged access. On strategic policy formation it has supplanted DFAT and Defence. It advocates greatly increased defence spending.

It is a conduit for hardline US policy towards China. It has become the stalking horse for US think tanks and agencies. It undertook research into the alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. It alleged genocide, which has been resoundingly disproved, but not before it got legs in the Murdoch press. It has claimed with the use of satellite photos, presumably provided by the CIA, that millions of Uyghurs are kept in high-security detention centres undergoing political indoctrination and re-education. This was a report prepared by what is termed the “International Cyber Policy Centre” of ASPI.

An independently funded investigation, “The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Uyghurs for Sale Report: Scholarly Analysis or Strategic Disinformation?”, by analyst Jaq James, says that “given the frequency of dubious arguments, unsupported and overplayed claims, poor-quality sources, lack of balance and completeness and questionable academic integrity standards, it is submitted that ASPI intentionally produced a piece of strategic disinformation propaganda”. The James investigation comprehensively dismantled the ASPI report, bringing into question the morality and veracity of the ASPI undertaking. Why did it do it?

ASPI has been strident, some might say irrational and unbalanced, in its criticism of China over Taiwan. It has appeared as if it is trying to outdo its benefactor, the US, in seeking to impress. Quoted by Alan Macleod in MintPress this month, John Pilger says:

“ASPI has played a leading role – some would say the leading role – in driving Australia’s mendacious and self-destructive and often absurd China-bashing campaign. The current Coalition government, perhaps the most right-wing and incompetent in Australia’s recent history, has relied upon ASPI to disseminate Washington’s desperate strategic policies, into which much of the Australian political class, along with its intelligence and military structures, has been integrated.”

There is no issue that ASPI has sought to involve itself in that does not bring into question its judgment. It ran with the conspiracy theory that the Chinese government was responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan and subsequent cover-up. In its report “The Great Covid Cover-up”, ASPI wove a tale of a worldwide collusion to hide Covid’s origins and to cover for China.

ASPI has given enthusiastic support to AUKUS, conveying the impression it was in at the inception of the idea. AUKUS is probably the most ill-advised arrangement that Australia is seeking to get involved in since allowing the United States to establish Pine Gap. The purchase of nuclear-powered submarines with a delivery time of 30 years was said to be the driver behind AUKUS. I doubt it; it was more likely a smokescreen for setting up Australia as a forward US military base for confrontation with China. Talk of new submarines has been allowed to slide, replaced with discussion on the logistics of home porting US submarines at HMAS Stirling and Darwin. There is discussion on basing a variety of US combat aircraft in the Northern Territory, greatly expanding the US military base in Darwin to take an extra 6000 marines and their families (and in the process forcing the First Armoured Regiment to vacate its barracks and move to Edinburgh in South Australia).

Recently Australia purchased the M1A2, a heavy tank unsuited for operations in this region. It is said the purchase is designed to allow the training of Australian crews for deployment with the US in the Middle East and Europe. Australia has scrapped its still operational fleet of helicopters and will replace them with US choppers. Australia will manufacture tank ammunition and missiles and probably other materiel to be determined by the US. It seems major decisions relating to the ADF insofar as they relate to joint operability and the northern defence posture are being influenced if not directed by the US. Pine Gap is undergoing an expansion and refit to prepare it for the enhanced defence posture planned against China.

AUKUS will give the US unprecedented control over the ADF. It will run all operations directed against China. Those operations are likely to be similar to those deployed against the Russians during the Cold War. The possibility of miscalculation leading to a “hot” war are high. Australia could find itself at war without parliament and ministers even knowing about it, far less giving permission. This will have the effect of placing Australia on a permanent war footing.

To illustrate how unbalanced the thinking has become, the former director of ASPI, Peter Jennings, recently advocated in The Australian that Australia purchase the US B2 stealth bomber – there are only 21! Australia needs a stealth bomber as much as it needs ASPI.

Under AUKUS the US is likely to demand the ability to monitor and control aircraft and shipping within a pre-determined exclusion zone, probably centred on Darwin. The north of Australia will be placed on a heightened state of defence readiness. The British involvement in AUKUS is unlikely to survive the election of a Labour government. British involvement is nothing more than a half-cocked, messy, post-Brexit imperial Tory fantasy.

I recently commented in an interview with NetPress that:

“ASPI has supplanted the Department of Foreign Affairs in advice to the government. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, (Marise) Payne, is really very weak, and has been bypassed. So ASPI is feeding straight into the prime minister’s office on matters of foreign policy, particularly as it relates to China … This is part of the militarisation of Australia and the Australian public service.”

It is extraordinary that a foreign-funded “think tank” has such privileged access and power within government. Organisations with a hint of Chinese government funding are investigated and taken to the cleaners. Make no mistake, the US is a foreign power. It will say and do anything to advance its interests. A recent example is the US picking up the trade that Australia has lost to China.

For reasons best known to itself, Twitter recently partnered with ASPI. This consolidates a relationship under which Twitter closed more than 170,000 accounts in 2020 on the recommendation of ASPI. These accounts were regarded as dangerous because they bolstered the Communist Party of China or played down the harm alleged by the US and UK against the Uyghurs. This is a dangerous development given how ideologically positioned ASPI is on the right and how irrationally hostile it is towards China as it seeks to please the CIA and State Department.

ASPI is an important player in helping to prepare Australia for war with China. US arms manufacturers, most Republicans and conservative Democrats are working themselves up to unleash the dogs of war. They want it. They are conditioned for it. It is the only way they know how to “resolve conflict”, which in this case is the challenge to their global economic, military and political power. They do not understand diplomacy, they don’t know the art or how to practise it. Their diplomacy has always been backed by military power.

In short, the collective American psyche, reinforced by the major US power structures, has resolved to take on China. It is not a matter of if, but when. That’s what America wants to do. It has made up its mind. It is gunboat diplomacy with aircraft carriers. And ASPI is doing all it can to lock Australia into the US agenda, irrespective of the cost.

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