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Australia’s Strategic Bubble: Denial in the Face of Changing Geopolitical Realities

36 7 9
11.01.2019

The next election in Australia is expected to be held on a date between March and May 2019. If two years of opinion polls are a reliable guide, the Opposition Labour party is expected to win comfortably. It should present an opportunity for a fresh start in Australia’s foreign and defence policies. That is unlikely however to be the case.

The leader of the Opposition and likely next Prime Minister Bill Shorten (assuming the current interim prime minister actually survives until the election, which is by no means a foregone conclusion) has given no indication in speeches or policy documents that a future Labour government would do other than follow the policies of past decades. (The spectre of the 1972 US-UK coup casts a long shadow).

There are a number of reasons why that is neither a viable policy option, nor is it in Australia’s national interest to remain wedded to the policies of the past.

The essential basis of Australia’s defence policy and its foreign policy corollary was set out in the 2016 Defence White Paper. That document is remarkable for its capacity for delusional thinking and a false historical narrative, as well as having an inability to anticipate radical changes in the geopolitical and strategic framework, notwithstanding that those changes were clearly discernible well in advance of the White Paper’s publication.

Under the heading ‘Strategic Outlook’ for example, it states support for a “rules based global order which supports our interests” (p19). The United States, it says, “will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades” (p43). Australia’s alliance with the United States “is based on shared values and will continue to be the centerpiece of our defence policy” (p46).

The ANZUS Treaty provides the formal basis of Australia’s defence relationship (p123). It (the Treaty) “obliges each country to act to meet the common danger” (p123).

Taking the last point first, what the treaty actually provides (Article III) is that “the parties 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.”

Other provisions in the ANZUS Treaty provide for any measures taken by the parties to be referred to the United Nations Security Council. The parties undertake (Article I) to settle any international disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the UN Charter.

Since the treaty was signed (1951) and came into force (1952) Australia has been part of a........

© New Eastern Outlook