Wandering China

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Slavish devotion to the US a foreign policy folly for Australia [The Age]


Australia’s former foreign minister Malcolm Fraser goes against populist ideas to offer a pragmatic view of how Australia should stand in the tug and war between America and China – ‘In defence of her homeland, China would have the capacity to sustain casualties far beyond that of the US. As a result of such a conflict, the US would be required to withdraw to the western hemisphere. We would be left a defeated ally of a defeated superpower without a friend in our part of the world. There are many who would then regard Australia as a prize.’

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Slavish devotion to the US a foreign policy folly for Australia
Malcolm Fraser
Source – The Age, published December 14, 2010

To participate in a conflict with China is totally contrary to our interests.

LET me make one thing clear at the outset. I am in favour of the ANZUS treaty, but I am well aware of its limitations. It creates an obligation to consult, but no obligation to commit armed forces on one side or the other. In this respect, it is quite different from NATO, which provides a firm commitment to defend any member country under attack.

We now know that Australian ministers or prime ministers have given commitments to the United States that have been secretly withheld, probably from their own government and certainly from the Parliament.

The idea of partnering the US in a war with China, which comes specifically from Kim Beazley’s reported comments, is the ultimate example. A war over Taiwan would be an absurdity. The idea that we should participate in such a conflict is unconscionable and totally contrary to Australia’s interests and indeed to Australian security.

We know Beazley has always had great affection for the US. There is nothing wrong in that, but when it clouds judgment and submerges our own national interest it becomes dangerous. Australia and the US have many interests in common, but we are a separate nation with our own national concerns.

I suspect President Barack Obama, whom I greatly admire, has learnt that there are very real limitations to the effective use of military force. Allegedly overwhelming military power was not able to win in Vietnam even though at the peak the US had about 600,000 men committed. Everyone was so fed up with the tragic consequences that when the US claimed that South Vietnamese forces had been trained to defend themselves and that America could withdraw with honour, there was great relief. The claim was not challenged even though it was known to be false at the time.

The same process has been at work in Iraq. The idea of establishing a viable democracy there is still open to serious doubt and effective government has not yet been formed many months after an election. The military and civilian deaths in Iraq amount to a most horrific cost for a most dubious outcome. Yet it is claimed the job is done.

In Afghanistan the time scale for withdrawal has been set. The same formula is applied. Afghans are being trained to defend themselves. NATO will be able to withdraw, with the job completed. But we know a significant percentage of those trained by the US fade away. Do they go back to their villages or do they join the Taliban?

In each case, military victory has not been achievable – largely because an alien power has been seeking to establish a system of government foreign to that country’s traditions.

The US is the predominant military power but there are practical and effective limits to the use of that power. The US has not given enough attention to diplomacy and multilateral arrangements. These are the effective means of establishing a secure world. Obama is seeking to lead America back in that direction but is severely hampered by the legacy he inherited.

In defence of her homeland, China would have the capacity to sustain casualties far beyond that of the US. As a result of such a conflict, the US would be required to withdraw to the western hemisphere. We would be left a defeated ally of a defeated superpower without a friend in our part of the world. There are many who would then regard Australia as a prize.

Our political leaders need to learn to look at long-term realities. The decline in American economic power has already begun and cannot be reversed without an economic revolution of which the US is not capable. China’s economic rise will continue. America’s superior military power will endure probably for decades, but its limitations in pursuit of its national objectives will increase.

The challenge for Australia is to recognise the reality of this world. To learn to live with a superpower whose overall impact is declining and at the same time to pursue close relationships with a power whose influence will continue to grow.

We need a more coherent and confident sense of ourselves. We don’t have to choose between America and China, but America needs to understand that on several issues Australia’s national objectives will not coincide with hers. This has been so in the past but over the past 15 to 20 years we have become too compliant, too subservient in the false belief that that would create security for Australia.

A more independent Australia can do much if she works effectively with other countries such as Canada, Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. A loose coalition of middle powers can carry significant weight.

What I am saying is not particularly new for Australia. When China was shelling offshore islands close to Taiwan in the 1950s, the US moved its Pacific fleet in or close to the Taiwan Strait, and invasion of Taiwan from China was then feared. That likelihood is now increasingly remote. But in the middle of the 1950s, only a year or two after the ANZUS treaty had been signed, then Australian prime minister Robert Menzies told the US that if it went to war with China over Taiwan, Australia would not be part of it. Menzies had a longer-term understanding of the necessity of Australia’s future than has been shown by any current leaders.

The US President cannot go to war unless both houses of Congress have passed an appropriate resolution under their war powers. It is time Australia adopted the same practice.

Malcolm Fraser was prime minister from 1975 to 1983.

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Filed under: Australia, Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Influence, International Relations, military, Politics, Strategy, U.S.

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