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What I’ve been reading

July 8th, 2007

National Insecurity: The Howard Government’s Betrayal of Australia by Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews, which follows up their earlier book How to Kill A Country, an attack on the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The hyperbolic titles of these books are not to my taste (though they may help to sell books). The books themselves are less strident than the titles would suggest, and raise issues that should be debated more. Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews take a left-nationalist perspective on Australia’s relationship with the United States, seeing the Liberal party and the Howard government in particular as representing a segment of the capitalist class that benefits from an alliance with US Republicans at the expense of Australia as a whole including workers, domestically-focused business and Australians in general considered as citizens of a putatively independent country.

Before examining this claim, I think it’s worth making some factual points that ought to be common ground to most of us

First, since World War II, Australia has followed the US line in foreign policy more closely than any other country (maybe there are some unimportant statelets who’ve been closer, but I’m not aware of them).

Second, the Liberal party has generally favoured an more complete identification of Australian and US interests than Labor

Third, among Liberal governments, the Howard government has gone further than any other in this respect[1}

Fourth, the Howard government has, since 2000, aligned itself strongly with the Republican Party and the Bush Administration, and explicitly against the Democratic Party.

The first question this raises is whether it is a good thing for Australia to support US foreign policy as closely as it has done since World War II. There are a number of arguments in favour of this, but none I think that really stand up

(A) we might consider gratitude to the US for saving us from Japanese invasion in World War II. As we discussed a while ago, however, it seems clear in retrospect that Japan had no more desire or capacity to conquer Australia than it did to conquer and occupy the US. Japan wanted to knock us out of the war and would probably have attacked and occupied parts of Northern Australia if its forces had not been defeated. But, had we signed a separate piece with Japan, the US would have faced exactly the same risk, of Japanese attacks on the US West Coast. So, our alliance in World War II was that of partners in a fight of importance to both, not a rescue of Australia by the US.

(B) from the perspective of national interest, we might regard uncritical support of the US as insurance premiums for US protection against some future invasion threat. But for most of the Cold War, European countries faced far greater threats than we did, and relied more directly on the US. Yet none of them, not even the UK, felt the same need to follow the US line on all issues.

(C) it might be argued that the US is the main force for good and deserves our support. Granting that the US role has been more often beneficial than not, it’s easy to point to cases where most people in the world, and even in the US, came to the conclusion that US policy was mistaken. It makes no sense to suggest that we help the US by supporting its policy even when it appears to be in the wrong.

What’s even clearer is that identification of our national policy with that of a foreign political party is a very bad idea, and one which, as Weiss, Thurbon and Mathews say, puts the government that follows such a policy in direct conflict with the national interest.

1. Arguably Harold “All the way with LBJ” went as far, but residual attachment to the British Empire mitigated this a little).

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  1. Hermit
    July 8th, 2007 at 21:43 | #1

    Tellingly the government is spending billions on military machines well suited to northern hemisphere invasions..68 tonne tanks, heavy lift transporters and mini aircraft carriers. When US power wanes this might prove unwarranted. Seeing the mineral boom on 60 Minutes suggests Australia’s best ploy is to keep feeding the Asian giant. A decade from now Australia might be doing relatively better than the US and somewhat inclined to cut them loose. This sentiment is now being echoed in Canada over NAFTA and natural gas.

  2. melanie
    July 8th, 2007 at 22:23 | #2

    Granting that the US role has been more often beneficial than not…

    I find this hard to grant, especially if I think of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, the Philippines and some others. In my view a more accurate way of putting it would be “Maybe there were some cases in which the US role was beneficial…” Maybe also (more likely) there were some cases in which the intentions (albeit confused and surprisingly ill-informed) were good. Mostly, however, post-WW2 US policy has been a disaster in terms of promoting peace, justice or democracy. Many young Americans do, however, seem to believe that the Soviet Union somehow had the wherewithal to threaten them. Sigh!

  3. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 02:12 | #3

    Pr Q says:

    (B) from the perspective of national interest, we might regard uncritical support of the US as insurance premiums for US protection against some future invasion threat. But for most of the Cold War, European countries faced far greater threats than we did, and relied more directly on the US. Yet none of them, not even the UK, felt the same need to follow the US line on all issues.

    Pr Q is falling for an obvious fallacy here, in positing the strategic equivalence of AUS with the EU to US national security planners.

    In the case of EU the US had an obvious national interest in preventing totalitarian control of the worlds industrial heartland and font of civilization. The EU is the greatest prize on earth. Thats why they fight World Wars over it.

    So the EU did not have to offer anything much in the way of “uncritical support” to the US in order to obtain US security guarantees and resources. Apart from co-operation in the staging of bases and installations.

    In the case of AUS, the US does not have an obvious interest in preventing alien control of our nation. We are small fry. So AUS has to offer something of value to the US in order to obtain US security guarantees and resources.

    That “something” is AUS’s regular support for US military ventures. Its called “the favour bank”, a kind of longtitudinal reciprocity. You scratch my back now and Ill scratch your back later.

    The “favour bank” is not just notional. Howard called in favours and had to give out markers to induce the US to assist AUS in the pacification of ETIMOR. Without which the ADF would have been hard-pressed, esp had the TNI decided to have a go.

    This AUS-US intervention achieved alot in terms of reduced ETIMOR bloodshed, political stabilisation of INDON and strengthening of AUS’s regional position.

    AUS’s support of the US in Iraq is direct payback for US support of AUS in ETIMOR. Which has not cost us much in blood or treasure so far.

    This event validates the “insurance premium” theory of AUS-US defence again. At least in national interest terms.

    I make no comment on the ultimate morality of such machiavellian moves. Beyond saying that AUS is a largely moral state which implies a moral duty to defend its interests.

  4. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 02:43 | #4

    Pr Q says:

    So, our alliance in World War II was that of partners in a fight of importance to both, not a rescue of Australia by the US.

    This implies that Australian citizens would not have considered a Nipponese occupation of Northern Australia and the installation of a Vichy-style govt a massive wound to the territorial integrity and a malignant threat to the political security of Australia. Not to mention a devastating blow to national pride.

    Perhaps “rescue” is not the right word for US’s assistance in averting this colossal disaster. But the US certainly saved a pretty large part of our bacon by clipping Nipponese wings at the time.

    Also, Pr Q should admit that his conclusions about Nippon strategic intentions towards AUS are speculative. Nippons strategic plans were always up for grabs, depending on which clique had the upper hand in the General Staff.

    It is true that the Nippon Army were more interested in taking a bite out of Russia and China than AUS. But the Nippon Navy was hot to trot to invade AUS.

    And its not as if the Nippon military was not up to the task on the whole. It had knocked out most of Asia’s nations by that time, not to mention British and American imperial forces. And overun most of China.

    It was the US’s defeat of Nippons naval and aerial forces in the battles of Coral Sea and Midway that finally ruled out a Nipponese invasion of AUS.

    So we owed the US a Big Favour for saving a large part of our hide.

    I guess Pr Q will have to try a more oblique flanking attack if he wants to whittle away Howard’s legacy. All these frontal assaults just wind in bloody futile repulses.

  5. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 02:50 | #5

    melanie Says: July 8th, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Mostly, however, post-WW2 US policy has been a disaster in terms of promoting peace, justice or democracy.

    Yes, that is so right. Thats why the post-WW 2 era of US hegemony will go down in history as the worst time ever, a period of unremitting war and poverty.

    The complete failure of the US military alliance structure in NE Asia and NW Europe to prevent those states in those regions from descending into anarchy and chaos and evetually being swallowed up by totalitarian powers was especially distressing at the time.

    Cripes, GW Bush has been the biggest boon to the Left since the Great Depression and McCarthyism. If he did not exist Chomsky would have invented him.

  6. jquiggin
    July 9th, 2007 at 06:46 | #6

    Jack, we’ve been over the rewriting of history as regards East Timor quite a few times. The US was not in the least eager to help us there, despite (or maybe because of) the recent precedent of Kosovo, and the help it gave was modest. I’m not going to fight this one out again.

    As regards WWII, as I said the first time, all your points apply to the US. Had they left us in the lurch, they might have been fighting on their own West Coast. The alliance between us was one of mutual defence.

  7. July 9th, 2007 at 08:33 | #7

    the military value of playing suckerfish to the usa is not the central question.

    what counts is the economic value. the iraq adventure might simply have been undertaken to preserve the awb contract.

    there may be psychological aspects as well: by welding the liberal party to the american war machine, the libs can expand their base among the ‘reds/terrorists under the bed’ voters by magnifying the fear and providing a cure.

  8. July 9th, 2007 at 11:37 | #8

    Any realistic appraisal of the Japanese chances in WWII (particularly that made by Admiral Yamamoto, for example) shows that Japan would never have been “fighting on [the US] West Coast”. No chance. It was never even in the Japanese battle plans to do so. The historical record is quite clear on this.

  9. July 9th, 2007 at 11:52 | #9

    Andrew – What was the perception by Australians and the US at the time?

  10. July 9th, 2007 at 12:02 | #10

    Australia was certainly in fear of invasion. The US, at least in the senior levels of government (where it counts), knew it could not occur.

  11. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 12:09 | #11

    jquiggin Says: July 9th, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Jack, we’ve been over the rewriting of history as regards East Timor quite a few times. The US was not in the least eager to help us there, despite (or maybe because of) the recent precedent of Kosovo, and the help it gave was modest. I’m not going to fight this one out again.

    Well I am because I think it is important to set the record straight.

    Pr Q seems to be heavily invested in denying or minimizing the scale of US military assistance to INTERFET. It seems that he needs to do this in order to strengthen his case for weakening the US-AUS alliance. He is free to air his views on this but they have to be controlled by facts.

    He is wrong on the facts. A Marine amphibious assault carrier is not a “modest� military contribution. More important was the US’s logistic support and the diplomatic message it sent to rogue officers in the TNI contemplating coups and insurgencies. The DoD official view is that there was a strong possibility that the ADF would have failed in its mission without US military support:

    Although the U.S. presence was not obvious in terms of troops on the ground, it was critical to the success of the mission, …There can be no doubt that the political leverage it provided … and the substantial logistical, communications and intelligence support that only the U.S. military could provide enabled INTERFET to ‘box above its weight.’

    INTERFET was only made possible because the U.S. was able to provide the participants with strategic-lift capabilities,…If the U.S. had been heavily committed elsewhere, INTERFET might not have been able to deploy as quickly or even at all.

    It is cheeky of Pr Q to accuse his critics of “rewriting history� when the official history flatly contradicts his revisionist view. Proper credit to Howard for securing the US alliance at that critical time also seems to have been flushed down the Leftist memory hole.

    Pr Q says:

    As regards WWII, as I said the first time, all your points apply to the US. Had they left us in the lurch, they might have been fighting on their own West Coast. The alliance between us was one of mutual defence.

    There was a pretty massive assymetry in the “mutuality” of this “defence” alliance. I think Pr Q is pulling our leg again as regards the likelihood of a Nipponese attack on the West Coast of the US.

    The most significant Nipponese attack on mainland US was the release of a swarm of fire balloons which killed a half-dozen people in a family “when one of the children tried to recover a balloon from a tree…and it explodedâ€?. The other two Nipponese attacks on mainland USA were on Oregon where “the only damage recorded was to a baseball field’s backstop.â€? And Santa Barbara where “no casualties were reported and the total cost of the damage was estimated at approximately $500.â€?

    During this scary time for the US’s West Coast Darwin was bombed a mere 64 times.

  12. jquiggin
    July 9th, 2007 at 13:21 | #12

    AR & Jack, you’re both missing my point. Obviously, Japan was not in a position to attack the US in the circumstances that prevailed at the time. But, had Australia (and NZ I guess) agreed to a separate peace, the US wouldn’t have had any substantial base west of Hawaii. So, the US commitment to defend Australia was a matter of self-protection, not altruism, as of course was our decision to ally with the US, even at the expense of “traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom”. In fact, as this piece notes, the US didn’t give Australia large-scale assistance until after MacArthur was defeated in the Phillipines.

    To quote MacArthur in 1942, from the same source, ” … though the American people were animated by a warm friendship for Australia, their purpose in building up forces in the Commonwealth was not so much from an interest in Australia but rather from its utility as a base from which to hit Japan.” This was an entirely sensible statement of the US interest.

    As regards DoD and Timor, MRD. As the advocate of Machiavellian policy, Jack, you can scarcely expect anyone to be impressed by “official” statements that are obviously in line with official interests.

  13. July 9th, 2007 at 13:52 | #13

    If we were truly honest the section of the war fought to protect Australia was a sideshow in the context of the war in the Pacific. The US strategy to defeat Japan, particularly after Midway, was an island hopping one, based not from Australia but from Hawaii. The fact that Hawaii is not more to the west than Australia is irrelevant given how far south Australia is. Hawaii is (from a quick glance at a map) closer to Japan than we are.
    The fall of Australia would have been (IMHO) irrelevant to the defeat of Japan.
    I think MacArthur’s speech in 1942 can be regarded as “official” in the same way as the last line of your comment.

  14. July 9th, 2007 at 14:33 | #14

    it’s interesting that ozzies didn’t they could defend their country against japan with an ocean for a moat, while the swiss were willing to meet the much more formidable wehrmacht with nothing between them but pride and courage.

  15. July 9th, 2007 at 14:53 | #15

    And all the banking resources of the Western World.

  16. Hal9000
    July 9th, 2007 at 16:49 | #16

    Jack and Andrew seem successfully to have deflected the discussion into sterile ruminations on hypothetical histories. What I take to be the central thesis of Prof Q’s piece is that, as other nations have shown, US military protection and economic cooperation is available without resort to the supine and sycophantic position adopted by Australian regimes. By the same token, slavish obedience to Washington is no guarantee of support if the US judges its interests lie elsewhere – just ask General Galtieri.

    To be provocative, the question in the light of recent US military defeats in Lebanon and Iraq is whether the obsolescent US military umbrella is worth the candle in terms of the ‘hello boys’ position it seems Australia is required to adopt. Like the enormous Dreadnoughts that bankrupted capitalist economies in the 1920s and 1930s, the wars the even more massively expensive US military was designed to fight simply aren’t being fought any more.

  17. July 9th, 2007 at 17:01 | #17

    I would disagree that our relationship has been “supine or sycophantic” but these words, as you know, are not provable or otherwise, which is why you use them in this context. Like Jack (I presume), I would dispute the “as other nations have shown” bit. Where and which nations precisely, Hal? Find me a country as far out of the way as we are, with roughly equivalent population and similar security guarantees as we have.
    On Galtieri – even after an unprovoked and populist invasion of the sovereign territory of an ally as long-standing as the UK the US hesitated and gave no real overt support. Substantial parts of the State Department actually urged either a strictly neutral stance or even support for him.
    The last bit is, as you say, purely provocative.

  18. July 9th, 2007 at 17:53 | #18

    There’s a circular logic in the reliance on great and powerful friends. We run the risk of getting involved in global conflicts because we’re perceived as being allied with Great Britain/USA, therefore we need a close alliance with Great Britain/USA to protect us from global threats.

    If Australia had adopted a completely independent foreign policy after Federation it could have stayed out of both world wars, Vietnam and sundry other engagements. In truth it has never been the subject of any serious external security threat. If we had committed ourselves to a co-operative partnership with Indonesia with half the effort that we have applied to the US relationship our security, including freedom from the fear of terrorist incidents, might now be the envy of the world.

    Hindsight’s a wonderful thing and I’m not suggesting that such a policy was remotely possible in the circumstances of the time. However it would be nice to see some rational reconsideration now, starting with an evidence-based discussion (not ‘debate’) about the implications of abandoning any ‘special’ relationship with anyone at all.

  19. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 21:37 | #19

    jquiggin Says: July 9th, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    AR & Jack, you’re both missing my point.
    …the US commitment to defend Australia was a matter of self-protection, not altruism, as of course was our decision to ally with the US,

    I dont doubt that the both US and AUS defence establishments were animated by institutional egotism rather than altruism.

    The debate is not about whether this relationship is a deal, it is about what kind of deal is being struck. I am saying that our “enemy threatening” situation is logistically expensive. And our “ally bargaining” position is not all that valuable (compared to say NW EUROPE). This explains AUS’s chronicly beholden posture to the US.

    AUS, unlike the US, faces real threats to its territorial integrity from potentially hostile mega-states on the East Pacific rim. And AUS, unlike NW Europe or SW Asia, is not a vital strategic interest to the US.

    Pr Q’s claim that the US would have faced imminent threat of an attack on its West Coast if AUS had fallen into the JAP sphere of influence is a bit of a stretch. AUS was the headquarters for South West Pacific Command, one of four US Pacific Commands. A JAP defeat and control of AUS would have allowed the Japanese to take over the South Pacific. But it would not have given them force projection capacity accross the East Pacific, let alone the ability to attack the West Coast of the US.

    The JAP strategy was always to force the US out of the West Pacific, not put JAP into the East Pacific. This was too much for all but the most fanatical naval militarists.

    THe AUS-US military alliance has always been one of grossly unequal contributions and extractions. THe US put in the lions share of military input and AUS got a much more desperately needed strategic output.

    Our strategic vulnerability from East Eurasian enemies and our strategic dispensability to North America/Anglian allies, and AUS’s strategic principle of seeking enduring military alliances with “great and powerful friends” is irresistible. That is why AUS sucks up to the US so much when they need a friendly face on-board their occasional military ventures.

    Pr Q says:

    As regards DoD and Timor, MRD. As the advocate of Machiavellian policy, Jack, you can scarcely expect anyone to be impressed by “official� statements that are obviously in line with official interests.

    I am not impressed by either Right-wing officialism or Left-wing revisionism. Both, as Pr Q would agree, are suspect if there is evidence of a political agenda.

    Ad hominum attacks on staff reports are credible in sofar as staff is not. But staff reports in this case jell pretty well with subsequent statements by senior officers in the field and scuttle-but from the OR’s. In any case, the ADF has a good professional reputation. If Pr Q wants to impugn it then he risks putting my nose out of joint.

    The old military saying is intellectuals talk strategy, lieutants talk tactics and generals talk logistics. My take on INTERFET is based on observations of staff officers grappling with potentially insurmountable logistical problems and a judicious selection of rumours mongered by diggers.

    Brigadier Wallace was in do doubt as to the way the ADF logistical cookie was crumbling in ETIMOR.

    KERRY O’BRIEN: What did East Timor show up, in a nutshell?

    JIM WALLACE:…it showed that we didn’t have the logistics capacity that we needed to support a force, even in low-intensity conflict, over a sea-air gap.

    It showed up the fact that we didn’t have the depth in the force.

    We had four battalions at the time and we deployed three.

    That’s no depth at all.

    Particularly, when you consider that that fourth battalion has to be ready to deal with other contingencies that might come up.

    Is Brig Wallace parroting the “official” line too? His argument is consistent with the staff report showing the critical nature of USMC logistical support to the success of INTERFETs mission.

    The USMC provided an amphibious aircraft carrier with heavy helicopter lift capacity to support INTERFET. The door prize goes to the first person who guesses the relationship between this provision and Howard’s subsequent kow-towing to the US. Hint: we owe them Big Time.

    Pr Q does not seem keen on facing the fact that INTERFET was a damn close run thing. What pulled AUS irons out of the fire was US logistical and diplomatic support.

    And what turned that around was Howard’s all out arm-twisting offensive to raid the US-AUS favour bank. Not that I am accusing Pr Q of conveniently air-brushing out Howard’s achievements.

    Which is why we are now in Iraq. As I pointed out before the invasion.

    Quid pro quo.

  20. jstrocch
    July 9th, 2007 at 21:39 | #20

    Shorter Strocchi: The US alliance costs us bugger all. And it gives us big benefits.

    But the US military-industrial complex should be avoided like the plague.

  21. Hal9000
    July 9th, 2007 at 22:02 | #21

    ‘The US alliance costs us bugger all.’

    Joint Strike Fighter (a lemon that keeps on getting slower, heavier and less capable as its price soars into the ionosphere) $12 billion and counting.

    Abrams tanks (second-hand!) (useless in any conceivable regional conflict) $2 billion and counting.

    Yep. Bugger all.

    And to paraphrase the Mastercard ad…

    Loss of national pride – priceless.

  22. themeda
    July 10th, 2007 at 00:41 | #22

    jstrocch is right: “The US alliance costs us bugger all. And it gives us big benefits.” However the policy is a continuation of the interwar policy which I think grew out of the Imperial relationship with UK. 60000 diggers died in WW1, so Oz thought it wouldn’t have to spend to defend itself. The Singapore debacle wasn’t enough to change that policy, Oz just batted its lashes at Uncle Sam. As for the alliance, it is interesting to speculate on what would have happened had the Japanese not attacked Pearl Harbour. The US of A would not have, I think, intervened in the Japanese takeover of Oz. And it was after all quite happy to take every penny and pound at full value it could from the UK, and make that country pay full price, something the UK only recently finished doing. Our intervention in Iraq, as pathetic as it is, is cheap insurance which is not going to be worth one jot if one of our near neighbours gets cranky enough to attack us. We still haven’t learnt from Singapore and the interwar years, and as long as no one reads the ANZUS Treaty, no one will.

  23. gordon
    July 10th, 2007 at 10:30 | #23

    RE: Prof. Quiggin’s and Andrew Reynolds’ comments at #12 and # 13, the “bases” theory was, I think, on the minds of Govts. and senior military at the time, as evidenced by the great efforts the US made to supply Chiang Kai-Shek in China – that, too, was a base to attack the Japanese. It didn’t work, but the fact that the effort was made indicates to me that in the early stages of the Pacific War, the US was glad to assist anybody fighting the Japs.

  24. jstrocch
    July 10th, 2007 at 18:30 | #24

    Hal9000 Says: July 9th, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Joint Strike Fighter (a lemon that keeps on getting slower, heavier and less capable as its price soars into the ionosphere) $12 billion and counting.

    Abrams tanks (second-hand!) (useless in any conceivable regional conflict) $2 billion and counting.

    Yep. Bugger all.

    I agree that Howard seems to be hell-bent on a military procurement shopping spree for big-ticket capital items of dubious military value in our region. He appears to be like a kid in a chocolate shop when the big arms salesmen come a knocking.

    If Hal900 actually went to the trouble of reading what I wrote he would have noticed that I beat him to the punch on this.

    jstrocch Says: July 9th, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    But the US military-industrial complex should be avoided like the plague.

    I am not an uncritical fan of the AUS-US alliance or John Howard. But the onus is on the critics to prove that this combination has done a poor job in maintaining AUS national security over the past decade.

    So far, apart from some speculative counterfactualing, they have barely laid a glove on him. All the criticism of Howard’s defence policy has been about potential, rather than actual, problems.

  25. John Mathews
    July 10th, 2007 at 21:28 | #25

    It’s great to see some discussion of our new book in the blogosphere, and I’m grateful to John Quiggin for that. He may find the titles of our books not to his taste, but they are meant to raise alarms (rather than sell books). And his ‘factual points that ought to be common ground to most of us’ are indeed alarming if you have any sense of pride or ownership in your own country.

    Unfortunately the debate, which is stimulating and focused, has concentrated on the issue of Australia’s security interests and whether these are served by nudging closer to the US. It got bogged down a bit on the question of Japan’s military goals during the Pacific War, and whether it did or it did not wish to invade Australia. But as anyone who has read Andrew Ross’s definitive treatment of this issue would know (Armed and Ready), the Japanese forces were divided not only in their strategic goals for the East Pacific and Australia’s role in it, but even more significantly over Australia’s preparedness for an attack. And here we come to the nub of our book. Andrew Ross makes a compelling case that Australia warded off a full-scale Japanese attack precisely because Australia was armed and ready. For several years through the 1930s the Australian leadership had been playing a deceptive game with the British to look as though we believed their claims to be able to defend us and stop all attackers at Singapore, while at the same time we were building our own military and industrial strength through a policy of self-reliance. It was this industrial self-reliance and the capacity it gave us to build aircraft, tanks and munitions that was the real deterrent for the Japanese – and incidentally was our major source of support for Macarthur and the US.

    This brings me to the topic of our book, which is actually about Australia’s capacity to provide for itself today, and the undermining of this capacity by a federal government that seems to see our interests served in all things by relying on the US. Our book is not an attack on the US, but on an Australian government that downplays and betrays the Australian interest at every turn in favour of the interests of a foreign power.

    We set out this argument through five case studies, going back over the full extent of the Howard decade, and involving 1) the abandonment of our rural industries and in particular an attack on our pork and beef industries in favour of their US competitors; 2) a singe-minded determination to wreck Australia’s world-class blood supply system in order to hand it over to a US company; 3) endless over-riding of established military procurement channels to favour US suppliers such as Lockheed-Martin and Boeing; 4) abandonment of any form of Australian self-expression in culture and the arts; and of course 5) the utter abandonment of any Australian capacity in renewable energy industries in order to slavishly follow the US lead in claiming that ‘global warming is just a theory’. Each one of these issues is serious enough in itself but in totality the postures adopted by the government fully justify our claim (whatever the hyperbole’) that this is a betrayal of Australia.

    We would invite comment on this central claim of our book, rather than on the peripheral issues associated with Japanese strategy during the Pacific War.

  26. Ernestine Gross
    July 10th, 2007 at 23:15 | #26

    John Mathews,

    I should say up front that I haven’t read your book as yet. I am responding to the invitation to comment on your description on the central claim of the book.

    It seems to me your cases (1),(2),(4),and (5) are examples of ‘globalisation’. If this is a reasonable interpretation, then the central claim of your book is that ‘globalisation’ entails a ‘betrayal’ of a country. The tensions created by the notion of ‘globalisation’- in the sense of ‘one market’ – for the economic and social policy functions of governments of sovereign countries is a theme that sprang up almost as soon as the term ‘globalisation’ popped up. It is a theme that is central to Vernon’s 1977 book, “Storm over Multinationals�.

    On the other hand, there are many examples in history showing links between the promotion of international trade by some countries, the spread of multinational firms with headquarters in these countries, and political and military alliances between sub-sets of countries. Your cases would seem to fit this picture too. One might call this a biased form of globalisation – so far the only empirically observed form of ‘globalisation’ I know of.

    Call it globalisation, biased globalisation or betrayal of a country, the way I see things is that there is a ‘world-wide’ realisation that environmental externalities can no longer be ignored and the pipe-dream of ‘one market’ (and its associated ‘key’ phrases) is going to come to an end in the very near future. Perhaps this will ease the above mentioned tensions (and detailed industry economics will become popular again). This leaves the political-military alliances; a subject about which I am ignorant when it comes to details.

  27. Hal9000
    July 11th, 2007 at 17:08 | #27

    “If Hal900 actually went to the trouble of reading what I wrote he would have noticed that I beat him to the punch on this.”

    Fair cop, Jack. You got me bang to rights.

    The trouble is that JWH and Co. seem to believe that earning US military-industrial customer loyalty reward points is part of the game. Why do you suppose they think this?

    Meanwhile, “But the onus is on the critics to prove that this combination has done a poor job in maintaining AUS national security over the past decade.” NZ has adopted an alernative policy, and I fail to see how NZ national security has been any less than ours. And it hasn’t involved outsourcing sovereign policy to a foreign power run by a gang of cynical crooks, either.

  28. liz thurbon
    July 13th, 2007 at 10:28 | #28

    Ernestine Gross
    Thank you for your thoughts on the central claim of our book. I certainly agree that increasing levels of economic integration may pose challenges for the traditional policy functions of governments. However, external market (and political) pressures are only peripheral to the various policy shifts we document in the book – external pressures alone cannot account for these shifts. Indeed what makes the policy shifts we document so surprising is not merely the fact that they all demonstrably undermine Australia’s interests (commercial, military, social), but that the Howard government was NOT forced by any stretch to effect them. To at least some degree, the policy arenas we discuss – related to the security of the national blood supply, defence procurement, energy security, quarantine controls, and protection for cultural industries – are protected under/ exempted from international agreements. For example, in relation to the national blood supply, it is internationally recognized that countries have the right to strive for and maintain national self-sufficiency. It is internationally recognized that countries have the right to establish and maintain quarantine controls appropriate to their disease (or disease free) status. What is so surprising – and therefore what we try to explain in the book – is the fact that the Howard government itself has vigorously pursued – and in some instances initiated – the security-diminishing shifts we document. It would be excellent to hear your thoughts (and the thoughts of other bloggers!) on our explanation for the government’s behaviour when you’ve had a chance to read it.
    All best, Liz Thurbon

  29. July 13th, 2007 at 12:00 | #29

    I just want to pick up on one point you made – on Singapore. A careful read of the historical record would show the reason why it was not defended properly – a shortfall in Australian funding. From the books I have read Australia committed in the early 1920s to funding the building of proper defences for Singapore as part of our national security. The seaward defences were built first but, due to the depression and a change of government the landward (Malay side) defences were never built.
    The reason the Brits were blamed is simple – Curtin could not blame his own party for the decision to can the build.
    Liz Thurbon,
    Ernestine and I have long standing disagreements about globalisation, so I expect her to put a differing view to mine, but I believe the government is acting here not to diminish security but to increase welfare. The gains from trade are clear at all levels, from the individual to the international and are supported by both theory and evidence.
    On these grounds the bias must be to reduce impediments to trade as far as the scientific evidence allows – with the burden of proof lying on those who would seek to restrict.
    To me the fact that we, as a sovereign nation, are allowed to restrict trade under international treaty is neither here nor there. If the evidence is such that to allow trade in an item would be very harmful to this country we should restrict it – even if by treaty we may not. On the other hand, even if we are allowed to restrict trade in an item but there is little or no evidence that doing so is needed we should allow it.
    To say that any government should ban or restrict something merely because we can (although I appreciate you are not making that argument) would be, to me, to argue that we should cut off our own noses to spite our faces (and apologies for the cliché).

  30. liz thurbon
    July 13th, 2007 at 13:38 | #30

    Andrew, I certainly agree that freer trade can be enormously beneficial – indeed, in our previous book How to Kill a Country, one of our main critiques of the Australia-US FTA was that many aspects of it were aimed at protecting entrenched US monopolies and restricting freer trade (in agriculture, IP intensive industries, government procurement etc). In National Insecurity, the policy shifts we are critical of are in no way aimed at promoting ‘freer trade’ (although they might be sold in that way to the Australian public). For example, in defence procurement, we are critical of the government’s proclivity for ‘buying American’ even when there are safer, cheaper, technologically/operationally superior alternatives (which are often Australian too). The government’s ‘buy American’ bias is hardly about ‘freer trade’ , nor is it ‘welfare enhancing’. In energy too, our argument is that the government has been actively suppressing the development of the renewables sector in order to protect the entrenched monopoly of the non-renewables sector – again this is hardly about creating ‘freer markets’, nor is it ‘welfare enhancing’. Now one might argue that, in the name of freer trade, we should open Australian blood fractionation services to foreign firms – as the government promised to do in the Australia-US FTA and as it has been trying to deliver ever since. But not even the most ardent advocates of the benefits of free trade would suggest that ‘market openness’ should come at the expense of the security of the national blood supply. Australia is one of the few countries to have approached self-sufficiency in blood supply, and our national blood supply system is one of the safest and most respected in the world. And self- sufficiency in blood is an internationally recognised and promoted goal. We have had two government-funded Reviews of our blood supply and fractionation system (one chaired by Sir Ninian Stephen) – debating the question of whether we should alter this system and open the market, and both reviews (the most recent last year) concluded firmly that we should not – than liberalising fractionation services would increase the risk of contamination without delivering any meaningful economic benefits. And yet the government promises the US in the FTA that it will open the market anyway – and is still trying to push through the changes (over fierce state opposition). ‘Welfare enhancing’ policies? Not economically, not socially… so the question remains… why??

  31. July 13th, 2007 at 14:04 | #31

    Liz Thurbon,
    I cannot claim that I am in any way expert on our national blood supply so forgive my apparent ignorance, but why would openness come at the expense of security? Is foreign blood necessarily any worse than Australian?
    I would have thought that arranging diversity of supply, with appropriate safeguards in place as to its quality, would have improved the security of supply.
    I see no reason why self-sufficiency in blood is any different to self-sufficiency in food.

  32. jquiggin
    July 13th, 2007 at 14:41 | #32

    I did a lot of work on blood supply back in the 90s and its been a long-standing policy failure. The Labor government privatised CSL at a giveaway price, then locked itself into a highly unfavorable supply contract. Allowing supply from the US has huge problems because of paid donors there, who have a strong incentive to evade quality controls.

  33. liz thurbon
    July 13th, 2007 at 15:10 | #33

    we are not simply assuming a that openness is likely to risk security and is therefore too great a gamble – this is the explicit conclusion of both the Stephen Review (2001) and the Flood Review (2006) which make compelling reading if you are interested. We cover the relevant sections of these Reviews in chapter 6 of our book. The Howard govenrment has ignored both. We also examine the record of the foreign company that has been waiting on the sidelines for entry to the Australian market – and it’s safety record is less than impressive.

    The idea that the government is locked into unfavourable supply contracts with CSL is a widely held belief, but it is not supported by the evidence. When the Department of Health moved to shorten CSL’s contracts in 2002 on the basis of the assumption that the govenrment was not getting “value for money”, there was much controversy, and the decision was referred to the Australian National Audit Office for investigation. The ANAO found that the Department of Health had no evidence whatsoever upon which to base its claims of ‘insufficient value for money’ . Indeed, they found that the government had been benefitting from gradual price DECREASES under CSLs two tier pricing arrnagement between 1996-2002. Moreover, the Joint Public Committee for Accounts and Audits found that:

    “current Australian plasma product prices were substantially less than the corresponding prices on European and other commercial markets – on the face of it, good value for money” (cited on p. 207 of our book).

    There is simply no evidence to support the claim that the government does not enjoy value for money from CSL, or that CSL is more expensive than its international counterparts.

  34. liz thurbon
    July 13th, 2007 at 15:21 | #34

    I should have also noted – of course we are not suggesting, by any stretch – that “foreign blood” is not as good as “australian blood”. It’s about the way in which blood is collected overseas (as John mentioned in his post, in the US, the issue of paid donations is a big problem, and that’s why importing blood is seen as a risky business) – and also the question of how to effectively regulate the offshore fractionation of Australian blood by foreign firms – for which the govenrment has been trying to gain approval. Many of the foreign firms involved in this business have very poor safety records. That’s the concern. It’s not about “foreign” vs “australian” blood. The point is – the Australian system is world class in terms of safety, security and value for money. Our welfare would not be increased by changing this system. That’s the conclusion of the two reviews.

  35. July 13th, 2007 at 15:27 | #35

    If the CSL and the other providers are delivering plasma (and presumably the other blood products) cheaper than overseas prices then, surely, openness will not change where the supply is coming from – and therefore there is no issue. Additionally, if the safety record is “less than impressive” then convincing the state health authorities and others to buy the products would be very difficult – again, no problem.
    Presumably the Feds have no power to force people to buy a more expensive, less safe product.

  36. liz thurbon
    July 13th, 2007 at 15:52 | #36


    If opennesss will not deliver any benefits in terms of price or safety, then why pursue openness as an end in itself? Isn’t openness supposed to be a means to an end? (‘welfare enhancement?’).

    In the case of blood, the Stephen’s Review also detailed a number of significant economic costs associated with the entry of a new player in the Australian fractionation market – which might be one reason to avoid ‘openness for the sake of openness’. (we summarise the costs on p. 204 – I won’t type it out here).

    But I guess the question really comes down to this – why does one pursue openness? To increase economic and social welfare, or as an end in itself despite economic and social risks (and in the absence of any forseeable benefits).

    In my view, openness is desirable to the extent that it facilitates some economic or social goal. Openness for the sake of openness I don’t really understand.

  37. Ernestine Gross
    July 14th, 2007 at 20:50 | #37

    Liz Thurbon,

    Thank you for expanding on your book in response to my initial comments to your co-author, John Mathews. In the meantime I’ve read your book. I can’t say much more than what I have said already because politics, which is really the main content of the book, is not my area of interest.

    To indicate the difference in backgrounds, I would not call the content of chapter 7, “Political Strategy and Political cringe�, an explanation but rather a set of sociological-psychological hypotheses.

    Best wishes, E.G.

  38. July 14th, 2007 at 21:33 | #38

    I view interaction, economic or otherwise, as a positive freedom. Why should a government (or anyone else) be able to tell me that I cannot do what I wish in the absence of any evidence that what I do will harm others?
    If I, for some reason, decide that I want to import plasma from the US, in the absence of evidence that this will harm others why should anyone be able to prevent me from doing so?

  39. Ernestine Gross
    July 15th, 2007 at 10:04 | #39

    Andrew Reynolds, I don’t think you have read the book.

  40. cacofonix
    July 31st, 2007 at 15:42 | #40

    Hi Liz Thurbon and John Mathews,

    I have nearly finished reading your book. On the whole very good, but I am dubious about some alternatives to fossil fuel tath you support, particularly bio-fuels, which are causing the clearing of rainforests and prices of grain to go up.

    I have written my own review at http://candobetter.org/node/96 admittedly with holes not having completed the book. (I was inspired to write the review by Cate Molloy’s media release copied to http://candobetter.org/node/97

    Also, I have taken the claims made about Australia’s preparedness in 1941 at face value although I haven’t yet been able to read Andrew Ross’s “Armed and Ready”. I have got into an argument at http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?discussion=860 over this claim, but can’t proceed any further until I am able to read Ross’s book.

    Please feel encouraged to help out on Online Opinion.

  41. cacofonix
    August 13th, 2007 at 00:21 | #41

    Most interesting readin on page 36 of Andrew Ross’s “Armed and Ready” referred to in “National Insecurity”:

    The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation “succeeded in making front-line miltary aircraft in Australia, although this was not achieved until 1942 with the Boomerang aircraft. From Leighton’s point of view the Australian aircraft production industry could have been ready for the Second World War if 16 years had not been wasted between 1920 and 1936. And the only reason his objective was not realised was because of Austraian Conservative governments’ stubborn belief that the industry would emerge from within private industry.”

  42. August 26th, 2007 at 10:39 | #42

    The following threads on Online Opinion may be of interest:

    Can Australia ever be self-reliant for national defence?, started by myself, and

    Does Australia have a bomber gap?

    I have adapted the following from the former:

    This revelation that Australia succeeded in deterring the Japanese from invasion in March 1942 even before their defeat at the Battle of the Coral Sea raises a number of important questions:

    1. Why has Australia’s proud history of technological and industrial achievement been allowed to have been forgotten?,

    2. Why has Andrew Ross’s groundbreaking work been largely ignored?, and

    3. Why is it that this Government, supposedly the one which best has Australia’s defence at heart, has chosen to turn its back on our proud history and, instead, has discriminated against both Australian and European defence equipment suppliers in order to make Australia dependent upon inferior and more expensive equipment supplied by the U.S.?

    I can only conclude that it actually suited the predominant section of Australia’s current ruling elite, who John Howard now serves, to have allowed Australia to have been turned from an advanced industrial nation that it was in 1945 into what it is today – an economic basket case which achieves the false illusion of prosperity by digging up and exporting to the world its climate-changing non-renewable mineral resources and by flogging its real estate on the world market.

    The former requires effort, whilst the latter delivers easy money to those who are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of fellow Australians and future generations.

    To conclude, I think Mathews, Thurbon and Weiss have done a fantastic job in having written “National Insecurity”. It is possible to find fault with the work here and there, but it would be very difficult not to produce such a work in such a timely fashion without the odd shortcoming. I urge everyone to go out and by a copy now.

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