The ANZUS treaty may be the cornerstone of modern Australian Security Policy, but it is by nature more of a reflection on Australian identity than a foundation. The article “The Perils of Continuing an Unquestioning ANZUS Alliance Reliance” by Ben Moles was able to provide a nuanced opinion on the alliance and the foibles it may hold for Australia, but it failed to consider certain complex issues surrounding the alliance and Australia which makes it difficult for things to be done differently.
There is nothing to fear, but fear itself Ben touched on the concept of fear as a principal force in dissuading flexibility in Australian strategic thinking. However the fear present in Australian security rationale is systemic and has played an intricate component since pre-federation (1901). The Australian identity is something which is difficult to define, but among the aspects to stands out is an underlying fear of isolation and encroachment. Geographic and even political isolation throughout Australia’s short history has served to consolidate these innate concerns and is best highlighted by Geoffery Blainey’s book title ‘The Tyranny of Distance’. Thus this brings me to my point on the psychological role of the alliance in the Australian psyche.
I agree with Stephen Walt’s premise that states seek alliances to balance threats, but for Australia it transcends this purpose; The ANZUS alliance serves as Australia’s principal means to “keep calm and carry on”. Though one can be critical in saying that this justifies Australia’s reliance on the ANZUS alliance, this should not be narrowly applied to the US as Australia has never truly been without the constant presence of a “great and powerful friend” in defining its security policy.
Lessons from the past The unique history of a state often plays a greater part in dictating how it will conduct itself when faced with uncertain circumstances. As such states often seem to undertake counterintuitive action amidst rapidly evolving environments. Hence this brings me to the point on the appeal of the familiar over the unknown. A universal characteristic shared from states down to the individual is applying a methodology which is familiar rather than one which is necessarily more efficient or logical. This pattern of behaviour is often consolidated by repetition and more importantly vindication.
In the case of Australia, the familiar is the maintenance of a close relationship with the superpower of the day; this Modus Operendi is both tried and tested and reflects Australia’s own historic development. Unsurprisingly the reaction of being asked to consider redefining a pattern of behaviour which not only appears to be working but also fundamental to self-identity is often met with apprehension and perplexity.
Irresistible Force The influence of precedence and psychological issues aside, the most complex and tangible issue that Australia faces when considering any change to its ANZUS obligations is its institutions. An often underestimated and overlooked factor when considering the ANZUS Alliance is the pervasiveness and influence of institutionalised US-centric behaviour. Though ANZUS is a military alliance its viability hinges on the active participation of several major departments in the Australian government; Apart from the obvious case of the Department of Defence, The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, The Treasury and The Attorney General’s Department would be but a few of the departments involved in making ANZUS work.
To have so many departments in all levels of government from Strategic to Operational (if we follow the Gyngell-Wesley model) means there is considerable disincentive for any sitting government to consider any change due to the financial burden of minuscule alteration and the greater strain of reforming an entrenched system. Therefore if we consider the combination of a nascent propensity towards familiarity coupled by a collective institutional psyche geared towards instinctive US-centric behaviour as well as a streamlined and well-rehearsed whole of government system, it makes the consideration of alternative policies considerably difficult.
Andrew Kwon is a 2012 graduate with a Masters in International Security from the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. (firstname.lastname@example.org)