“We have significantly diminished our capacity to act as a separate sovereign nation by the way we have committed ourselves to American purposes […] the most likely reason Australia would need to confront an aggressive foe is our strong alliance with the United States. We need America for defence from an attacker who is likely to attack us because we use America for defence. It’s not a sustainable policy” (Malcolm Fraser, Dangerous Allies, pp. 257-8).

In this quote from his 2014 book, ‘Dangerous Allies’, former Australian PM Malcolm Fraser declares that Australia’s commitment to United States (US) is unsustainable and threatens Australia’s sovereignty (Fraser & Roberts 2016). In exploring this quote, I contend that despite US support for Australia through the Pine Gap intelligence facility, Australia has jeopardised its national interests, security, and economic partnership with China through its devotion to US foreign interests. Under the ANZUS treaty, Australia has compromised its ability to pursue its own foreign policy objectives through its adoption of the US agenda. This alliance has, however, proved beneficial for Australia, as US support through Pine Gap facilitated the success of Australia’s liberal foreign policy agenda in East Timor. However, the US’ militarisation of the facility places Australia at a significant security risk. Through co-opting the US-led Huawei ban and asking for an inquiry into the Chinese origins of COVID-19, Australia has harmed its relationship with China. This deteriorating relationship has led to the growth of US military presence in Australia, which in turn compounds the problem, putting Australia at an even greater risk of Chinese aggression. Military dependency on the US is unsustainable for Australia, as an expanding US military presence within the region restricts Australia’s capacity to facilitate an economic relationship with China.

Australia’s support for the US-led invasion of Afghanistan under the ANZUS treaty illustrates Australia’s neglect of its international liberal ideals and its support for the US offensive realist agenda. Signed in 1952, the Australia, New Zealand, and US Security Treaty (ANZUS) has facilitated a strategic alliance between the three states. However, ANZUS has most notably fostered Australia’s commitment to US interests (Australian Treaty Series 1997). Article 5 of the ANZUS treaty states that an attack on any member state is an attack on all. This provision has allowed the US to garner Australian support for interventions that lie beyond Australia’s international liberalist agenda (Australian Treaty Series 1997; Henderson 1995, 60). International liberalism is founded on the principles of maximum prosperity and minimum conflict to facilitate international cooperation (Henderson 1995, 60). Contrastingly, the US has historically adopted an offensive realist ideology, utilising military interventionism and aggressive external behaviour to pursue state interests (Wohlforth 2008, 134). Through its membership to the ANZUS alliance, Australia has diminished its ability to pursue an international liberalist agenda through its adoption of US offensive realism and intervention campaigns (Henderson 1995, 60; Wohlforth 2008, 134). This support is most notably reflected through the US international military invasion of Afghanistan. Following the events of 9/11, the Bush Administration instituted the War on Terror through ordering an invasion into Afghanistan in late 2001 (Foster 2013, 48). Australia provided support under the ANZUS alliance. As of 2019, Australia has deployed over 34,500 operations personnel and 1,550 troops into Afghanistan, 41 of whom were killed (Veterans SA 2019; Australian Government Department of Defence 2014) The financial cost of Australia’s operations in Afghanistan amounted to roughly AUD$10 billion (Parliament of Australia 2012). The adoption of US offensive realism and commitment to ‘American purposes’ facilitated Australia’s support for the US-led invasion (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322; Wohlforth 2008, 134). The ANZUS treaty worked not only to influence Australian support for the invasion, but also led to a shift in the Australian foreign ideology from harmonious to militaristic (Henderson 1995, 60; Wohlforth 2008, 134). This ideological commitment reflects Fraser’s claims that Australia has inhibited its ability to ‘act as a separate sovereign nation’ (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322). Moreover, the commitment to US interests is the prominent reason Australia would be required to engage militarily (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322). The support for the US invasion of Afghanistan under the ANZUS treaty has worked to mould Australia’s foreign policy objectives around the US interest both ideologically and practically.

In providing intelligence and logistical support through Pine Gap, the US contributed to the success of the Australian intervention in Timor-Leste, however, the facility has become heavily militarised as Australian interests increasingly superseded by the US interventionist foreign policy objectives. Under a United Nations peacekeeping mandate in 1999, Australia deployed over 11,000 troops into Timor-Leste to protect the Timorese population from pro-Indonesian paramilitary violence following a successful vote granting Timor-Leste independence from Indonesia (Cotton 2001, 127; Cotton 2004, 116). The US assisted the Australian operation through providing strategic assistance through the Pine Gap facility in Alice Springs (Cotton 2004; Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2016, 42). The US aligned signals intelligence satellite, ‘Orion’, over Timor-Leste to monitor communications and survey the activity of Indonesian militias (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2016, 42). However, this example is one of the few rare instances whereby the alliance with the US has enhanced Australia’s ability to act independently (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2016, 42; Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322). The militarisation of Pine Gap has allowed the US to exploit its alliance with Australia to serve its own objectives, regardless of Australia’s interests (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2015, 7). Once a facility intended to gather surveillance and intelligence, Pine Gap has morphed into to a US military complex (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2015, 7). In 1967, the founding chief operator of Pine Gap asserted that the facility would remain a strategic hub and that ‘no serving military officers or men’ will be deployed at the site (Cooksey 1968, 13). This held true until 1990, when a group of US and Australian defence personnel occupied the facility ahead the US-led Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2015, 7). Through the US’ militarisation of Pine Gap, Australian interests are increasingly driven by ‘American purposes’ (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322). Despite once being pivotal to the success of the Australian forces in Timor-Leste, the militarisation of the Pine Gap facility places a strong emphasis on the US foreign policy agenda, diminishing Australia’s capacity to act independently (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322).

Australia’s commitment to pursuing the US agenda is unsustainable for Australia’s economic stability as it jeopardises relations with China. Australia exists within a diplomatic limbo, as the country struggles to promote its economic relationship with China whilst maintaining cultural and strategic ties to the US. Australia’s economic survival is strongly dependent on trade with China. In 2019, Australian exports to China amounted to US$103 billion, 2.3 times more than Australia’s second largest trading partner, Japan (Trading Economics 2020). However, Australia’s preference for its cultural ties to the US over its economic partnership threatens its relations with China amidst the ongoing US-China trade war (Dziedzic 2020a). In May of 2018, the Pentagon banned the sale of Huawei devices on US military bases, releasing a statement affirming that the devices pose an ‘unacceptable risk’ to department security and intelligence (Kaska, Beckvard, & Minarik 2019, 8). In August of 2018, Australia acted on US security concerns by prohibiting the company’s devices from operating on the Australian 5G network (Remeikis 2020). Angering Chinese officials, Australia continues to fall victim to Chinese-led cyber-attacks throughout 2020 (Taylor 2020). Two former Australian government officials claim that the attacks are in retaliation for Australia’s Huawei ban (Taylor 2020; Dziedic 2020b). Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Australia and the US jointly drafted an international investigation into the origin of the outbreak. Directly challenging Chinese sovereignty, the proposed inquiry further disrupted Australia-China tensions (Dziedic 2020a). In May of 2020, China responded by banning Australian beef imports and imposed an 80.5% tariff on imports of Australian barley into China for the next five years (Dziedic 2020a). Both the COVID-19 investigation and Huawei ban illustrate Australia’s tendency to follow the US interest. In siding with the US, Australia’s ties to China are deteriorating (Taylor 2020; Dziedic 2020b). Reflecting Fraser’s analysis, Australia’s perpetual adherence to the US interest is the prominent factor for the intensifying Chinese aggression against Australia, increasing the likelihood of Australia having to ‘confront an aggressive foe’ (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 351).

Extending further into the dispute, the potential for a Chinese-led military attack on Australia looks increasingly likely due to Australia’s reliance on the US for defence and the expansion of US military operations in Australia. In 2020, the US has boosted its investment in the Australian military amidst rising tensions between the two allies and China (Head 2020). In February of 2020, the US sponsored a $1.6 billion Australian military infrastructure project to expand the Tindal air-force base in the Northern Territory (Head 2020). This upgrade provides extra operating capacity for US bombers, including aircraft capable of nuclear weapon delivery (Head 2020). The expansion of the Tindal base and increased US military operations in the Northern Territory enhances the likelihood of Chinese aggression against Australia in two ways (Macmillan & Greene 2020). Firstly, the growing US military presence in the Asia Pacific may be perceived as US military aggression, leading China to conduct pre-emptive strikes against Australia to ensure regional stability (Macmillan & Greene 2020). This reflects Frasers statement that Australia is at a greater security risk due to its reliance on the US for defence (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 335). Secondly, growing tensions between China and the US may lead Australia into conflict against China, as military operations are likely to be conducted from Australian military bases and coordinated via the Pine Gap facility (Ball, Robinson, & Tanter 2015, 7). In this instance, Fraser highlights that its commitment to the US interest is the primary reason that Australia may have to confront China militarily (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 335). This strong commitment to the US interest ‘is not a sustainable policy’ for Australia, as it is likely to jeopardise both national security and its economic partnership with China (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 335). Australia’s recent military expansion amidst tensions with China illustrates the subordination of Australia’s international liberal foreign policy ideology to the offensive realist doctrine of the US (Henderson 1995, 60). Moreover, Australia’s US favouritism reflects Fraser’s statement of Australia’s commitment to ‘American purposes’ (Fraser & Roberts 2016, 322). Relying on the US for defence places Australia at an increased risk of Chinese aggression amidst a US-China trade war, which in turn enhances US presence in Australia leading to an unsustainable cycle that threatens Australian security and economic prosperity (Dziedzic 2020).

Australia’s commitment to US interests severely restricts it ability to pursue its own foreign policy objectives. The alliance with the US has led to the indoctrination of the US foreign interest into the Australian agenda. Despite its success in providing logistical and strategic support to Australia forces in East Timor, the US has largely utilised its alliance with Australia for personal interests. Consequently, Australia has jeopardised both its ties to China and its own national security. Military dependency on the US is unsustainable, as it restricts Australia’s capability to pursue its own international liberalist agenda.

References:

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