On-line Oinion | 26 February 2007
US Alliance a distinct liability for Australia
By Klaas Woldring
Australian Governments and the Australian public should finally wake up to the fact that the US Alliance is not just of no value to Australia but, worse, has become a distinct liability. A foreign policy based on a position of strict neutrality would be a vastly superior option for Australia.
The outmoded ANZUS Treaty itself doesn’t commit the US to anything in the way of defending Australia. It was concluded at the onset of the Cold War period. The reasons for it have been overtaken by events long ago. The follies of US foreign policy since World War II, with which Australia is often associated at its peril - Vietnam and Iraq being prime examples, have resulted in a de facto colonial relationship, not a partnership of equals. It negatively affects Australia’s independence.
It has negative ramifications in our own region, at the UN and for Australia’s standing internationally. The unspeakable subservience of the Howard Government to an American president, whose incompetence is beyond dispute, has brought this dysfunctional situation into sharp focus.
Those who say that this uncomfortable episode will soon pass are wrong. The Iraq disaster may pass, eventually, but the US Alliance is a liability regardless.
Instead of arranging for yet another US base in Australia at Geraldton, this time for spying, costly military and intelligence co-operation should be ended as soon as possible. Rather than begging the Americans to stop assisting their farmers with massive subsidies the Australian Government should subsidise Australian farmers, matching those of the US, and out compete them.
Why not end the pandering to the US multinationals? We don’t need them. All these issues have been raised when the discussions for the US FTA took place. In fact one of the major reasons why the Howard Government went into Iraq was to secure this useless US FTA.
The US plutocracy has become a massively negative society in environmental behaviour. Taking our cue from the US on environmental decisions, leaving the courageous Al Gore campaign aside, would be laughable.
Finally, US cultural imperialism is destroying Australia’s unique national identity. Australian voters wake up. We want to be an independent Australian Republic, not a US colony. Let me elaborate on some of these points.
The Free Trade Agreement with the United States
The early drive for the FTA (2002) came from the Australian US Free Trade Agreement business group (AUSTA). AUSTA, the principal lobby group, stated on its website that it “seeks deep integration” with the US economy and argued that “the benefits would be felt especially in the areas of manufactures and investment”. At a time when the subservience of the Howard Government to the US’s military adventurism was already a growing concern to the nation did it make sense to foster further integration? AUSTA certainly thought so. They claimed:
The Points in favour: an FTA strengthens the long-term strategic relationship with the United States; Australia cannot afford to assume that the defence relationship will be enough to maintain strong ties with the US in the long term; the US is now using Free Trade Agreements as measures of special relationships.
There seemed to be no notion at all that the defence relationship itself could be a liability. AUSTA described itself as a “Business Group which represents 30 members, including most peak Australian industry bodies - BCA, MCA, AFGC, AIG, ACCI as well as most of the largest companies doing business with or in the US, across agriculture, manufacturing, services and mining, to lobby for an FTA”.
The Australian Labor Party pushed for a Senate Inquiry as much of the early negotiating had gone on in secret, in the same fashion as the earlier (2001) negotiations for the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) were — unsuccessfully — conducted.
The US FTA secrecy had come to light after the refusal by the Howard Government to make public David Trebeck’s Report, which was to have been released in September 2002. This Report about the cost and benefits of the proposed free trade deal, commissioned by the Government, was suppressed according to the ALP. Spokesperson Craig Emerson claimed, “the Government didn’t like the figures and ordered a further analysis”.
Subsequently a Report on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimated that the benefits to Australia from the US FTA would be $ 9.9 billion over 20 years. That would amount to a mere $26.05 per person per year. Common sense suggests that it would be ridiculous to bargain away Australia’s sovereignty for such a “benefit”.
Perhaps this desire on the part of Howard’s constituency to please the US answers the question why it possible for an elected PM to send Australian troops into Iraq without an electoral Mandate, Parliamentary debate, Parliamentary vote, Plebiscite or Referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition by the Australian public. Amazingly, the Australian Constitution allows a virtually dictatorial decision like that to be made without any such approval.
Large numbers of critical economics and finance journalists argued against the US FTA, for example, Gittins, Colebatch and Toohey. The ACTU, the umbrella group AFTINET representing about 80 well known community groups, several academics and progressive political parties, fought a long campaign to stop the FTA but, in the end it passed with the support of both major parties after a couple of amendments insisted on by the ALP, just before the 2004 election.
The warnings on the negative effect on Australia’s sovereignty and cultural identity were ignored by the major parties, presumably all to the greater glory of, or perceived need for, "the Alliance".
Several authors have published short critical accounts of the US FTA although the effects will take time to be noticed by the general public. Although both governments claim that spectacular benefits will flow to each country none of these academics accepts that. They do concede that Australia lacks the leverage in Washington to extract greater benefits for Australia from such deals. A. Capling in All the Way with the USA: Australia, the US and Free Trade, and L. Weiss, E. Thurbon, and J. Mathews in How to Kill a Country: Australia’s Devastating Trade Deal with the United States, convincingly confront the over optimistic assessments by the Howard Government and its lobbyists.
The obsolete and meaningless ANZUS Treaty
What about the continuation of the essentially obsolete ANZUS Treaty? How does it sit with Australia’s extensive overtures and trade negotiations with China, already a substantial trading partner? Even the Americans themselves are questioning the usefulness of the Treaty now.
A remarkable interview by the ABC’s Eleanor Hall with Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute threw up some candid questions and answers (ABC The World Today, August 17, 2005).
On the eve of the annual Australian-American leadership dialogue (August, 2005) this Washington based analyst and former advisor to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s called into question the relevance of the United States-Australian Alliance.
While the Australian Government has consistently talked up the importance of the Alliance to both the region and Australia’s relationship with the US, he claimed “the Alliance is outdated and is no longer in the United States’ strategic interests”. Bandow described an emerging China as “the most important issue confronting the region”, but said in this context there are dangers for Australia too in maintaining the formal alliance with the United States. He directly criticised Prime Minister John Howard’s approach to dealing with security in the region. Hall asked:
One of the key strategic goals, if not the strategic goal from the Australian perspective is the alliance is there to keep the US involved in the Asia-Pacific region. How does that sit from a US strategic perspective?
Well, the problem is it’s hard to see why the US should keep a very strong military presence in the region in the coming years. South Korea clearly can defend itself in conventional terms against North Korea, Japan could do much more to help promote stability in the region and the US is very involved elsewhere. I mean, the US has taken on enormous responsibilities in the Middle East. So I think that given the change in the region - that is America’s friends have grown much stronger, while the threat of hegemonic communism is diminished - there really is not a good argument for the US keeping that strong military presence there.
What about China?
Well, the question frankly, for both parties, is how to deal with China. Does Australia want to turn itself into a perceived enemy of China by being part of some kind of alliance of containment against China? And the question is does the US want to follow that policy as well? I think that the rise of China is the most important issue for East Asia, but it’s not at all clear to me the countries in the region will want to be part of a kind of a containment policy even if that’s what Washington wants to do.
Not surpringly, the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson came out strongly in support of the Alliance just recently. He claimed that that "there is no denying that the partnership works" (February 20, 2007). What does "works" mean here really? There is no proof of that in his article whatever. The fact that the major parties support the Alliance, in different ways, and that a majority of Australians "support" it is no proof either.
One could argue that national security has actually been put in jeopardy in recent years as a result of the US Alliance. Australia would be far better off pursuing a foreign policy of neutrality. In the absence of that experience the Henderson’s claim that the (unequal) partnership "works" is plainly spurious, another example of His Master’s Voice.
Environmental Behaviour in the US: the nuclear power debate revisited
As a society that uses huge quantities of energy and oil, with a Government that refuses to sign the still modest Kyoto Treaty, could the US be a model for Australia? The answer surely is NO but to advocate that the solution for the US is to import yellow cake from Australia is preposterous, yet this is no doubt on the mind of Mr. Howard and his uranium mining exploration constituency.
A persistent and passionate critic of American foreign and environmental policies is Dr Helen Caldicott, an Australian who in her 2002 book The New Nuclear Danger warns, again, against the madness that emanates from George W. Bush’s military-industrial complex.
Her extensive experience in the US, in educating Americans about the dangers of nuclear energy and weaponry, is well known. Given the new commercial voices that are again raising the prospect of uranium mining in Australia under the moral rubric that “the world needs our nuclear energy”, no matter how costly, inappropriate, unnecessary and fraught with danger, her book has proved very timely.
In July 2005 the Howard Government ruled, over the head of the Northern Territory Government, that new mines could be started there again to boost lucrative uranium exports.
Dr Caldicott’s book provides material, which demonstrates also that Australia is taking “its marching orders from Washington”. A list of outstanding examples of PM Howard’s subservient relationship with America is provided for good measure.
The conclusion surely must be that Australia’s has reached a “fork in the road”! The answer is to go it alone and end the US dependency. There is no sound argument left to persist with the Alliance based on the ANZUS Treaty, the content of which is not even known by the current US Ambassador.
Those who say that Australia cannot be defended (Dibbs, 1980) should think again. Defence is not just a military activity. Sound international relations in the region are far more effective than military hardware. Australians should realise that a preference for a neutralist foreign policy is NOT an anti-American position. It is a pro-Australian position, nothing less.
Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.