Explaining the Bush Administration’s Stumble in Australia
Mr. Siracusa is Reader in American Diplomacy, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.The Bush administration has irritated many allies with its aversion to treaties, especially the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. Mr. [Richard] Armitage, however, raised hackles as he singled out a treaty that the administration is partial to: the Australian-New Zealand United States Treaty, or Anzus, a mutual defense pact signed at the start of the cold war....
Blending what Australians interpreted as condescension and old-fashioned militarism, Mr. Armitage declared:"I'm not sure all our friends here in Australia understand the significance of an alliance to Americans. It's not a matter of political convenience or economic interaction, although some of that, inevitably. But for us, an alliance is an obligation, if necessary, to fight and die for each other."The New York Times, August 26, 2001 The heart of the modern Australian-American security relationship has been the ANZUS Treaty, or what is left of it after the nuclear-sensitive New Zealanders pulled out of it in the 1980s. ANZUS--the Australia-New Zealand-United States Security Treaty--was signed at San Francisco on September 1, 1951, ratified by President Harry S. Truman on 15 April, 1952, and entered into force two weeks later.
Conceived in close connection with the conclusion of a"soft" Japanese peace treaty, and contrary to historical charges of subservience on the side of the junior partners, the ANZUS Treaty was negotiated only after much tough bargaining. The main source of contention was, paradoxically, the bipartisan determination of Australian leaders on both sides of politics to establish a binding security relationship between their country and the United States and the bipartisan resolve of American policymakers not to embark upon anything of the kind. Put simply, Canberra wanted strategic reassurance that America would come to Australia's aid in her next time of troubles; Washington wanted cooperation, an opportunity to take advantage of the island continent's unique geographical position in the Western Pacific, as well as the overall political position in South-east Asia. Neither got exactly what it wanted.
In any case, Coral Bell, who was in the Department of External Affairs at the time, recalled that"for the decision-makers in Canberra, the original interpretation was that the rationale of the treaty should be seen as 90 per cent security blanket against revival of Japanese ambitions in the Pacific, and 10 percent insurance policy against possible future Chinese expansionism." ( See Chapter 2 in Joseph M. Siracusa and Yeong-Han Cheong, America's Australia: Australia's Amercia. )
Even then, all the tactical skill in the world would have been unavailing against the ironbound intransigence of American Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Special Ambassador John Foster Dulles had not the Chinese intervention in the Korean War made it urgently desirable for the United States to conclude a peace settlement with Japan without positively estranging its vociferous supporter in the South Pacific. In a real sense, then, Mao Zedong was the true godfather of ANZUS, making good all the groundwork first of Herbert Evatt and then Percy Spender. The ANZUS Treaty finally was pried out of Washington despite the misgivings of the State Department and the firm resolve of the Joint Chiefs to keep contact with the Australians and the New Zealanders on defnse matters as superficial as possible.No one in 1951 could have conceived of the Australian-Amercian partnership as a"locked step relationship," as claimed in the 1970s.
Still, it was a great achievement on the part of Australia, whose people had shown themselves during World War II and the onset of the Cold War, to be an extremely independent, tough-minded people."It is a grave undrestimate," recalled former Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies in an unpublished interview he gave in America in 1969,"to think that we could be lapdogs for somebody else. We can be a positive nuisance when we want to be."
The devil was always going to be in the detail. According to Article IV of the treaty,"each Party recognized that an armed attack in the Pacific on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declared that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its own constitutional processes." Since then barrels of ink have been spilt on the actual meaning of those words. Most of them have highlighted the supposed differences between the presumed vague language of ANZUS and the Three Musketers' language of the NATO alliance. The ensuing debate would have been news to Truman or any president since.
In a news conference in April 1951,a reporter asked Truman if the clause in question would mean that an attack on one would be considerd an attack on all. Truman was unequivocal:"It would be similar to the guarantes that are in the NATO Pact. They will be modelled on that treaty, That is what is to be conveyed here."
Nevertheless, the worth of ANZUS has ben the subject of much debate in Australia, producing assorted schools of criticism over the years. Critics on the left as well as on the right have at one time or another called into question both the price and/or willingness of America's determination to come to the aid of Australia either in a conventional or nuclear capacity. The intellectual left in the university and media have long suggested that the price was probably too high, at least in the sense that Australia was contractually committed to go to war with America whenver and however it was attacked in a vast area never really defined. Others made the case that in paying their"insurance premium" Australians contributed substantially more to ANZUS than they go out of it, though few doubt that the greatest benefit has been of an intangible character-a sense of help in future danger. It has also been argued that ANZUS might one day simply be rendered irrelevant as it was unlikely the U.S. would ever again be engaged in a war in Southeast Asia in which case it necessarily follows that Washington would have little need of Australia.
For all the criticism of ANZUS, the American connection has consistently obtained 70 per cent approval ratings in the polls, even during periods of controversy. Not even the perennial criticism regarding the jointly-operated satellite bases-- and now the role they will play in Bush's National Missile Defense System--has failed to make a dent. The Australian public, while in no way hankering to become the 51st state of the Union, has clearly enjoyed the status and benefits of being an American ally, almost as much as the American public has enjoyed the status and benefits of being Australia's ally.
For Washington, in this post-Cold War era, Australia comprises the"southern anchor" of America's Asia-Pacific security arrangements (with Japan as the"northern anchor"), astride both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, intermediate between Californa and Southeast Asia. As for Australia, a middle power at the southern end of the world, any defense treaty with the United States, could always find its own justification.
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