What I’ve been reading
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).