DFAT and touching the void: A case for establishing an Australia Council.

Ben Moles

This opinion piece has previously been published by On Line Opinion, and for her contribution to that piece I wish to thank Alex Oliver for her time and comments. An updated version of the original piece appears below, which includes a number of suggestions from my colleague, Guy Roberts of the University of Melbourne- to whom I also wish to extend my gratitude.

In a piece I’d previously written, which questioned the utility of Australia claiming the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as our own, I acknowledged that Australia simply isn’t doing enough in a regional and global diplomatic/cultural context. This is yet more proof that DFAT is simply over stretched and under resourced (The Lowy Institute’s Alex Oliver has consistently warned that underfunding may invite unexpected peril). Even as the latest Defence white paper looks to plant itself in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ Asian Century, there is no sign that DFAT will have sufficient funding to meet this objective. With every developed nation scrambling to engage the Global ‘South’, there is a real danger that Australia might get left behind. One short-term, cost-effective way to triage the situation is through cultural soft-power. In this sense, building an Australia Council (modified and modelled on the British Council) might well provide an effective platform to project Australian economic and diplomatic interests – even if it is no substitute for an adequately funded DFAT.


Beyond the official Australian diplomatic missions stationed abroad, Austrade currently facilitates trade and investment initiatives, promotes the Australian Education sector, and, in some cases, provides limited consular services. Less well known is DFAT’s International Cultural Council that focuses purely on the promotion of Australian arts and cultural exchanges.

So why an Australia Council? Simply put, Australia needs to increase the breadth and depth of its global footprint; to spread across all nations and seep beyond the capital cities and consulate addresses. DFAT doesn’t have the resources to do this, leaving a void – and an opportunity – in our current foreign policy thinking. An Australia Council (modelled on the British Council) might offer a low cost temporary solution, and provide a foundation for more substantial future investments in soft-power diplomacy; an Australia Council could touch and fill that existing void.

Created in 1934, the British Council’s ongoing activities creates international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and builds trust between them worldwide.” Essentially it is tasked with promoting British culture, language and business around the world. In diplomatic speak it is a ‘quango’, an independent not-for-profit (albeit 1/3 government funded) charity with a 2011/2012 turnover of £739 million.  Unlike some parts of the British Establishment, the Council has effectively embraced the information age, with wide ranging social media engagement and proactive use of IT and youth culture. Joseph Nye would consider the Council a fine example of ‘soft-power’ projection: a means of positively and effectively promoting ‘Brand UK’ around the around.

Of course, the British Council has not been without its critics; creating an Australian Council should indeed consider these issues, as well as acknowledging Australia’s own unique needs. Essentially, examining the British Council gives Australia the opportunity to learn, adapt and create something far more effective and competitive.

For example, the results driven organisational culture that emerged (and largely stymied) Britain’s public sector departments in the mid 2000’s, wherein short-term results and public accountability became paramount, form the core contemporary criticism of the British Council. The problem vis-à-vis the British Council was the expectation that measurable ‘analogue results’ (think of the eye-rolling ‘Key Performance Indicators’) be extracted from a ‘digital age’ cultural agent.  Essentially, the operating environment and soft-power goals of the British Council are unique; the metrics of its success are not, and should not, be immediately measured in binary terms, but by appreciating the Council’s longer-term, and broader-focused impact across multiple areas of cultural, diplomatic and social engagement over time.

Accusations have also been levelled against the British Council that it directly and aggressively competes with the UK’s language training sector; in some areas holding a monopoly that excludes the very industries it claims to represent.  In reply, the Council attempts to justify such behaviour as a result of Government funding cuts and a subsequent need to shore up its finances in order to sustain and promote its broader objectives. While these funding cuts might imply a decline in its overall significance and standing in Whitehall, they have been in line with other austerity measures and should  no means indicate the irrelevance or impotence of the British Council. Transcending the bureaucratic contextualisation of KPIs and inputs/outputs, some commentators recognise the work of the British Council represents “One of the great bargains on the Treasury’s list”.

On the global stage, the British Council is certainly not alone in the soft-power/public diplomacy work. A plethora of nations have recognised the benefits of cultural ‘sexiness’.  Examples include the Goethe-Institut, Alliance-Francaise, and even the comparatively recent Confucius-Institute. In this context, Australia’s Walkabout Pubs don’t quite cut it for global cultural recognition – nor do other examples of Australia’s relaxed contribution to global cultural activities. Jokes aside, the soft-power efforts of other countries is highlighting Australia’s public diplomacy deficiency, further strengthening the case for establishing an Australia Council. Essentially, if others can and are doing it, why aren’t we?

What would the Australia Council do? Similarly to its British counterpart, it would promote Australia across the region, and strengthen host state links and ties with Australia across culture, education and business. Where there is a need, and where Australia is currently absent, the Council could touch and temporarily fill the void. The Australia Council could also act as a facilitator (a node between Australian Embassies/Consulates and the public) and be established as a first point of contact for those locally who have an interest in Australia and visiting Australians with local inquiries, potentially relieving some of the burden from Australia’s already under-strain Embassies and Consulates.

Who would it do it? From a pragmatic, cost-benefit analysis, the cheapest and most enthusiastic ambassadors of the council would be Australian tertiary students and graduates. Generally, they are capable, enthused, and culturally-proactive while possessing relevant skills, keenness to work and a hunger for Resume relevant work experience. Many Australian students already take a gap year before, during or after their study, thus creating a fertile, pre-seeded environment for quick, decentralised, oak-tree-style Australian Council creation. Furthermore, International students/graduates returning home from Australian universities could also provide a potentially rich resource for engagement, as they possess valuable local knowledge and networks and all-important language skills. What better ambassadors for the lucky country, than youthful, open-minded and idealistic young people?

Australia Councils could be run on minimal full-time staff, predominantly consisting of recent graduates to keep costs low, creating and utilising an internship program to satisfy its other specific work requirements and needs. Having been an intern myself, I know many students/graduates would jump at the chance to take part in such a program – perhaps receiving a minimal per diem to cover basic living costs (which factoring many of Australia’s potential target countries, wouldn’t be much) or would even be happy to cover their own costs to get there (DFAT already offers some such internship opportunities under similar conditions) and the charitable status of such an enterprise would mean interns would be volunteering – negating work visa requirements. Perhaps a logical progression would be, over time, the nomination a full time Australia Council employee, at each Australia Council, and create Honorary Consuls of them, enabling them to take on more consular service duties. The key point to remember is independence – although the Australia Councils could be an extension of Australian foreign policy in terms of cultural, diplomatic and economic engagement, it should not be an organ of the state (few things would so effectively kill the entrepreneurial, idealistic volunteerism upon which the scheme would be fuelled than the dead hand of official bureaucracy!).

How would such an enterprise be funded? Similarly to the British Council. The British Council receives less than one third of its funding from British Government grants. The Australian Government would have to do likewise. A mix of revenue from commercial activities and sponsors/benefactors should be the primary focus.

Creating a network of Australia Councils could be a potential win-win situation: As an auxiliary to official engagement, an Australia Council would support and enhance the pursuit of national goals – serving at a second, third or fourth tier of international engagement. The Australian Government would see Brand Australia, and Australia’s diplomatic soft-power ‘reach’ expanded ‘on the cheap’. Council sponsors would get to positively promote themselves through sponsorship association; the host state would have a new outlet for establishing closer links to Australia at no incurred cost to itself; and students/graduates would have an opportunity to gain valuable ‘real life’ beneficial work experience. Doing so would achieve, in the short term, many of the benefits of an actual diplomatic mission to a country, at a fraction of the cost, and in places where (funding considered) Missions would not be likely to exist.

There are, of course, a plethora of such soft-power activities in place, including the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, the social entrepreneurial Language Connection and even the venerable Colombo Plan itself. The Australian Government, having recognised the benefit of such activities in and of themselves, should embrace the opportunities that a broader, global, proactive engagement driven Australia Council could create. The Australia Council would support, not supplant DFAT; it would be a little something directed in the right place, and would certainly be better than the non-engagement that exists in so many critical places of the world. At the very least, the case for establishing an Australia Council exists and warrants further investigation.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles


Australia in the Asian Century: Up, up and to where, or just mostly hot air?

Ben Moles

The eagerly awaited ‘Australia in the Asian Century white paper’ was launched last week, throwing a visual marker (a balloon if you like) to show Asia we are both here and know that Asia is there. One hurdle, the lack of funding required to implement even the most basic of the reports 25 recommendations (or to do what is really necessary, and go further still), has been its major criticism (there exists a plethora of excellent analysis on both the Lowy Interpreter and ASPI’s The Strategist that dissects the report itself and explores its implications). What hasn’t really been picked up on and what to a greater extent trumps this issue is that without popular public support that would enable this (the required funding) to happen; the Australia in the Asian Century concept/balloon is likely to return to Australian soil just as quickly as it went up.

So what’s the problem? Ultimately, this is an issue concerning momentum and desire (or capacity and will), you can’t launch a hot air balloon and once up attempt to replace its burners with tea-light candles and expect it to remain aloft for too long, nor will you get very far if the people you’re attempting to take up simply don’t want to go. Will and capacity will continue to hold Australia back and so for the time being, Australia is likely to remain (to a greater extent) a spectator to the Asian Century, as it unfolds around us.

So what about capacity? In Australia, domestic politics is ‘King’ and a return to surplus the desired ‘jewel in the crown’. This, for the foreseeable future and under the current Labor government (an extant obsession in-part because the Coalition opposition are unlikely to allow them to forget their promise to ‘return to surplus by 2013’) will remain both the central focus and restraint on Australia’s fiscal capacity, preventing the government from doing more even if they genuinely wanted to.

So what about will? The bottom line is that (generally speaking) a large number of Australians simply don’t care enough about what happens beyond Australia’s shores- it is important to note that I am not suggesting this is a uniquely Australian issue.The Australia in the Asian Century white paper, a report that will mostly have been read by the ‘already converted’, will have made little to no impact on this key group, the ‘so what-ers’. The people who read the report are very likely the same people who helped contribute to its creation or are international relations/foreign affairs ‘wonks’ (like you and me) already, and have a good idea what is happening and what needs to be done. The white paper will have had minimal impact, if any, on the majority of people whom make-up Australian society and it is this group that essentially needs convincing.

So what? Education and Asian literacy were highlighted as key determinate factors in translating Australia’s Asian Century vision in to a reality, and so well they should be. However, education doesn’t simply begin and end in the class room. The greatest challenge (and something that will continue to hold Australia back unless otherwise addressed) is the need to communicate, educate and convince the large ‘so what-ers’ group as to the opportunities (what’s in it for them) and risks associated with the ‘Australia in the The Asian Century’ concept; the greatest risk being that ‘we’ simply miss the boat the opportunities and fall short of making the necessary transition from being an Asian Century spectator to Asian Century player.

So what next? The Australia in the Asian Century concept has been launched, how long the idea remains aloft will ultimately be determined by funding. Convincing the ‘so what-ers’ is the solution, I’m convinced of it. This is achievable. How this is achieved, well that’s a whole other story.

Ben Moles completed a Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney last year and was recently an International Security Program intern at the Lowy Institute. (bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles

Portuguese Potential: A different understanding of Australia’s 21st century global role vis-à-vis America and China.

Guy Roberts

The challenge of accommodating ‘China’s Rise’ into the US-backed international order has proven frustrating for policymakers and academics alike.  Given Australia’s lively debate about the relevance (and suitability) of the ANZUS Treaty in the face of this rise, there is a useful historical example we can explore to see how Australia may maintain its safety and sovereignty.

Those arguing for a closer relationship with China suggest the current authoritarianism will remain (or somehow transform into a democratic regime) without disrupting China’s global commitments or potential.  Essentially, China will be benign.  Therefore, maintaining ANZUS will prove an opportunity cost for closer Australian/Chinese engagement (ignoring the riddle of why a ‘benign’ China would punish Australia for the ANZUS treaty).  The opposing view is that China will be authoritarian and ‘belligerent’ – growing power will be translated into adventurism (recall Imperial Germany).  Incidentally, neither argument truly addresses the third possibility; that China might at any moment collapse into civil war – essentially ‘breaking’ (as has occurred to authoritarian regimes from the French Revolution to the Arab Spring).  The point is that even China’s Government does not know which path the country will take.  So whether China proves benign, belligerent or broken, Australia must develop a position of engagement that maximises opportunity and minimises risk.

In this context, a given factor is that the United States – an off-shore balancer – will play the same self-interested role of maintaining regional stability (on the world-island) that Great Britain played (on the Continent) for centuries.   It is not in America’s interests to see an unfriendly hegemonic challenger rise in Asia any more than it was for Great Britain to see one rise in Europe – whether that challenger was Phillip II’s Spain, Napoleon’s France or the Germanys of Wilhelm or Hitler.  This is already acknowledged as America’s global strategy – as proved in Europe in WW1, in Asia in WW2, and globally in the Cold War.

Given this, how should Australia chart her course – between an unpredictable China and an off-shore America?  This is far from a Scylla/Charybdis decision.  Our interests lie with our fellow democracies and our opportunities lie in the wise exploitation of that interest – the same reason why many of China’s neighbours are scrambling to re-claim ties to America.  So how can Australia best position itself?  An example can be found in the relationship between Portugal and Great Britain.

Figure 1: Mutually beneficial relationships between a ‘Strategic Toehold’ and an ‘Off Shore Balancer’

If Great Britain was the off-shore balancer of Europe, then Portugal was a European minnow – small, peripheral, even more vulnerable to hegemonic threat than its insular ally.  It was in Portugal’s interests to foster a relationship with Great Britain and this relationship was cemented in the Treaty of Windsor, signed in 1386.  This Treaty is still in place.  This is to say Great Britain and Portugal share a 626 year old (bar a short-lived dynastic union with Spain in the 1600s) alliance, which has weathered centuries of generational, institutional and structural change.  It has lasted because of mutual strategic benefits – even when faced by threat or temptation from continental challengers.

The alliance has acted a security guarantor for tiny Portugal, most importantly during the Napoleonic Wars – when all of Europe was dominated by Imperial France.  The Lines of Torres Vedras helped protect Lisbon from the France, and was an essential toehold for British forces to keep up the fight against Napoleon.   In WW1, Portuguese forces fought with the allies on the Western Front, and although neutral in WW2, Portugal leased the Azores to Britain, and also helped keep Franco’s Fascist Spain from joining the fight.  Thus, from the Middle Ages onward, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance helped protect a distinct Portuguese identify and nation-state from the unpredictable challenges of the continent – even when faced with far more belligerent and aggressive powers than modern-day China.   Portugal had an off-shore security guarantor; Great Britain had a continental redoubt for any grievous security challenge.

Australia should think like Portugal.  We are of Asia, though we stand at its furthermost point.  The rise of an aggressive hegemon would devastate our interests.  Even a benign regional hegemon could – potentially – threaten our prosperity.  Thus, just as the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty proved mutually beneficial throughout centuries of continental Sturm und Drang, an ongoing relationship with the United States will prove equally beneficial to Australia, regardless of whether 21st century Asia develops well or ill.  The commitment of America to the Asia-Pacific has been tested and proven during the 20th century. To spurn such opportunity at this point is, essentially, like driving onto a freeway without plugging in a seatbelt!

Australia should embrace a ‘Portuguese Posture’ toward America, as a national safety measure and even the bedrock of our global engagement –it should prove a given in our relationship with both China and America.

Guy Roberts is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.  His thesis examines the ‘China Policy’ of President George W. Bush. He can be emailed at robertsg@unimelb.edu.au

Australia in the ‘Asia-Pacific’, ‘Asian’ or ‘Indo-Pacific’ Century: Great, Greater, and yet Greater-still Expectations?

Ben Moles

“Sometimes the wildest notion, the most apparently impossible idea, takes such a firm hold of the mind that at length it is taken for something realisable… More than that: if the idea coincides with a strong and passionate desire, it may sometimes be accepted as something predestined, inevitable, foreordained, something that cannot but exist or happen!” Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ has recently slipped into the lexicon of Australian policy makers et al, in quiet supplement to the ‘Asian Century’ and the ‘Asia-Pacific Century’ that went before that, with relative ease and with little questioning as to what this semantic shift actually means and achieves. But is there very much utility, from an Australian perspective, of defining ones region and thus strategic interests in such increasingly broad terms?

There are some at Australian International Policy think-tank the Lowy Institute, a long term advocate of the term, that certainly believe so. However, this could be more in keeping with Lowy’s mandate to promote Australia Internationally- with the term placing Australia in the spotlight and geographic centre of these two oceans and vast region, cementing Australia’s identity and role as a potential key actor in this emerging epoch- and there is nothing particularly wrong with wanting to do that; yet I would suggest that there is limited utility in defining Australian interests so broadly. We should remember that ‘it is wise to look forward yet foolish to look further than one can see’. With two definitive Australian Government White papers to be released over the coming year, ‘The Asian Century White Paper’ and the ‘2013 Australian Defence White Paper’, I wonder how our region and strategic interests will be characterised and to what extent this dictum will be remembered.

The ‘Asia-Pacific Century’, ‘Asian Century’ and now seemingly ‘Indo-Pacific Century’ are terms that have been introduced to the common vernacular and superseded to define ‘our’ region and Australia’s place within it. I find this problematic on two fronts: on both temporal and spatial planes.

On a temporal level a Century is an attractive quantifier of time because it allows for the acceptance and acknowledgement of much to do whilst dangerously allowing for much time in order to set about doing it. Looking ahead too far fosters complacency, detracts from the sense of urgency required to ‘get the ball rolling’ now, and distracts one from the opportunities that currently exist under our noses- an inescapable problem with looking too far ahead is that you miss the extant opportunities, and risks, in front of you. Furthermore, we are acutely aware of the problems inherent in trying to make predictions regarding the short-term future (<5-10 years), so why continually look so far ahead?

Spatially or geographically: if you accept the broad concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, and there would be many that would fall at this first hurdle, it would be hard to refute the importance of what happens both on land and within the maritime domain encapsulated by its vast boundaries (from the shores of East Africa to the western seaboard of the United States). However, what is of primary importance when defining our own region and area of strategic interest is our ability to influence and shape what happens within that region, an ability to shape those interests and create favourable outcomes.

Australia has grappled for many years now with both defining what it wants and determining how it can achieve it within our near-neighbourhood, a recognised necessary-evil to overcome raised by Donald Horne as far back as 1964 in ‘The Lucky country’ and more recently by Michael Wesley in 2011 in ‘There goes the neighbourhood’(in which Wesley also defines Australia’s region as ‘Indo-Pacific). If we cant decide what we want and how we can exert influence in-order to achieve it within an area at relative close proximity to us, I wonder how do we then plan to project it further afield in accordance to our increasingly greater defined areas of strategic interest as characterised by the moniker ‘Indo-Pacific’?

There are three primary factors important to determining where Australia’s actual ‘general’ region of strategic interest is and what our strategic interests should be and they are: geography, capacity and will. Geography is an absolute and pertains to where we are and whom and what is within proximity to us. Capacity relates to who we are and what we have. Will is what we want- and to a certain extent how much we want it. Finally, the realisation of limitations imposed on us by these three factors, geography, capacity and will, should determine what we can do and where we can do it, or what our region of strategic interest is (and its limits) and what our strategic interests are (and there limits). Factoring these variables into our strategic calculus, we can then rationally and realistically recognise what is possible and thus set about achieving it, through the converging of both means with ends.

Key to exerting influence and creating favourable outcomes is presence and presence credibility. Two core tools that enable states to project this successfully are reflected in both the strength of their diplomatic representation (and overseas presence), and military strength and capabilities (including actual and perceived ability to have and sustain overseas presence). Geographically characterising and increasing Australia’s strategic region to the wide expansive theatre of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ would require quantum shifts, on both these fronts, in both will and capacity; two things that prima facie under the current environment look unlikely to happen.

Australia, on comparative global terms, is diplomatically under-represented sitting 25th out of 34 OECD states on a comparison of overseas diplomatic networks. DFAT’s budget remains modest and despite recent gestures made in the right direction, looks set to remain so for the foreseeable future. With deep cuts to the Australian defence budget, debate rages on as to defining the ADF’s core capabilities and what we want and expect the ADF to do with them; a shrinking defence budget shouldn’t precipitate increasing expectations on the ADF and increasing the perimeters of the region within which we expect it to successfully and credibly operate.

It is sometimes a far easier endeavour to determine what something isn’t rather than what something actually is. Australia, as much as we might like it to be, certainly isn’t an ‘Indo-Pacific actor’ nor is the ‘Indo-Pacific’ our strategic region, what is lies much closer to these shores; there is clearly still confusion and a need to determine and define exactly what that area is. In addressing this question and in seeking an answer we must assess and consider our geography, capacity and will, recognise our limitations and remember and heed the advice: that it is indeed wise to look forward but foolish to look further than one can see. In so doing, we might discover that the answer, and it might very well begin with Indo…, sits under our very noses.

Ben Moles completed his Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney last year and was recently an International Security Program intern at the Lowy Institute. An edited version of this post appears here on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s ‘The Strategist’. (bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles

ANZUS – A skilful and necessary exploitation of America

Guy Roberts

It’s no insight to say there’s a debate in Australia about the nature and necessity of our alliance with the United States.  This has been going on for decades, but was kicked into high gear by Hugh White’s 2010 ‘Power Shift’.   Ben Moles, Andrew Kwon and Jerry Hofhuis have all commented on this blog about the US/Australian relationship.  Other big fish have also spoken – Prime Minister Gillard wowed the US Congress, Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser made an elegant contribution at the 2012 Whitlam Oration.  Yet too often there seems to be a focus on what we give (which is comparatively little) to what we get (which is comparatively much).

Debate about the relationship is a good thing – but the only logical conclusion is that the ANZUS alliance is incredibly useful and beneficial to Australia – it gives us access to US decision makers, it gives us security, and it also (frustratingly for America) gives us quite an enjoyable bit of a free ride.

This is not to say we shouldn’t continue to examine the relationship both constantly and critically – but this should include recognition of the concrete advantages of the relationship, and not just the intellectual imperfections or imbalances that some commentators complain about, or view it as a zero-sum card game with the wrong partner, against the inevitability of Sino-hegemony which some strategists (wrongfully) predict.

Access: America takes Australian individuals, ideas and interests seriously.  If we feel something is serious enough to talk about, then they will listen.  But remember, the idea that Australia can ‘teach’ America something about Chinese engagement is a little patronising (Since ’79, three of the US Ambassadors to the PRC were actually born in China).   What Australia can do best is to drop the right comment in the right ear at the right time.   To paraphrase Churchill, if America does the right thing after exhausting all other possibilities, then the task for Australia is to help steer America there more quickly and conveniently than would otherwise be the case – to the benefit of Australian interests.  Fraser’s autobiography gives one example, when a word in the ear of Reagan’s Vice-President triggered a realisation that a planned US apathy over the Argentinean invasion of the Falklands would render Margaret Thatcher so furious with betrayal that she would have made De Gaulle look like Lafayette.   During the Bush era, words were said that helped America appreciate the risk of being seen as the anti-Islamic Crusader of Bin Laden’s propaganda (perhaps not as successfully resolved as Fraser’s example, but it could certainly have been far worse!).  Picking up a megaphone and shouting the obvious is crude – but having a serious talk off the record can get results.

Thus, we should appreciate that our words count, and that a discrete and sophisticated Australian Word to the American Wise can and does help steer America toward more effective and successful policy goals.

Security: America provides a security guarantee to Australia and the region – a guarantee that has been tested time and again.  In the 1950s it protected Taiwan and South Korea from communist occupation.  It went into South Vietnam for the same reason (and arguably bought enough time for more southern countries to shore up their own anti-communist defences).  In the 1980s it worked in Afghanistan, and has of course been involved with many countries in the region.  America has proven itself – and even if Clinton might have apparently almost fumbled the ball over in East Timor, Indonesia still knew what was what.

As Authoritarian China continues to rise, and its future remains unknowable (to itself, if not to those predicting the inevitability of democracy ), and the PLA plays its own in-country game, the guarantee of a liberal-democratic rule-based friendly powerful off-shore balancer is self-evidently a good thing.  After all, if Andrew Kwon is correct, and Australia ‘needs’ an alliance with the powerful…why did we choose America in ’41, and not Japan in ’39?

Free ride: The problem of this security guarantee is that it let many countries relax – why should you do the heavy lifting on your security when America will always step in for you?  America’s response to this altitude was the Guam Doctrine of President Nixon.  Richard Armitage’s recent call for increased Australian Military spending is very much in the same vein – and perhaps equally in vain.  As Hartcher noted, “The rotating deployment [of US Marines in Darwin] provided a level of assurance that gave the government an excuse to cut the Australian defence outlay”. It did indeed, and quite an adroit step it was!  Australia has an amazing level of access to the US machine – both in military hardware and intelligence data.  Our alliance gives us a phenomenal bang for our buck – and we need to calibrate our spending to make sure we don’t take too much for granted.  Thus, given America’s self-interested commitment to regional stability, the call by some Australian commentators to draw away from America and pursue an ‘independent’ foreign policy strikes me as self-indulgent blather.   Australia would look like a rebellious and snotty-nosed teenager making a scene – pursuing an ‘independent’ foreign policy in the full knowledge that America’s presence means nothing can seriously go wrong.

Free rides are free rides, and Australia should not increase defence spending just because America feels slightly used.  But at the same time, scorning the alliance for the sake of Canberra’s ego would put us out in the cold for no gain at all!

Overall: With contemporary China alternating between cranky and belligerent and cranky and insecure, maintaining a snug alliance with America makes sense – to us, and to all the regional countries that are scrambling to strengthen their own ties with the USA.  When the Chinese Foreign Minister declares “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact”, (can you imagine the opprobrium if a US Secretary of State had said that!) then we should straighten our backs and walk with pride by America’s shoulder.  Given that  America has many more years of bearing the leadership burden – Robert Lieber, Robert Kagan and a recent New York Magazine article all point out America’s many regenerative strengths – we should welcome the fact that our alliance is in such good shape – and that it serves Australian interests so such an effective and efficient manner.

Guy Roberts is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne.  His thesis examines the ‘China Policy’ of President George W. Bush.

ANZUS Entrapment: it’s about not leaving IN-donesia-OUT

Jerry Hofhuis

Ben’s call for a reconsideration of the US alliance is timely and necessary. But as a basic tenet of Australian foreign policy, it is unlikely the next Australian government will take a revisionist approach to ANZUS. Rather, the Australian government should look at what it can do, and that is to improve its strategic relationship with Indonesia.

Australia, as Ben rightly observes in his article, is unquestioning of the ANZUS alliance. But to question the US alliance in Australian politics would be as conducive to a ‘pollies’ career as questioning the need to ‘stop the boat people’; as a matter of political survival, it does not happen.

In the 1950s, fearing abandonment as a European country in an Asian region, Australian leaders were adamant about securing US support in case of attack. With few economic ties to its near-neighbourhood to speak of, the opportunity cost of Australia being alienated from its neighbourhood was acceptable.

The main risk in Australia’s unquestioning commitment to the ANZUS alliance today—as Ben points out—is that it offers Australia little flexibility in adapting to new realities in a rapidly changing neighbourhood. While it maintains strong economic ties with the United States and Europe, the main recipients of Australia’s exports nowadays are Asian. Politically, however, the ANZUS treaty remains all-important to Australia. As Ben points out, it is central to Australian identity, as a close relationship to the US affords Australia ‘middle power’ stature.

As such, questioning the US alliance is a noble but vain effort. It is a cornerstone of Australian foreign policy: a given, not a variable. From a policy perspective, Australian leaders will have to look elsewhere for options to secure Australia’s future.

Look North

Australia’s relationship with its nearest and most influential neighbour is what really needs change.  A healthy and robust relationship with Indonesia could cement Australia’s role and place in the Asian region. As Hugh White has pointed out, Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is still based on the conception that the latter is a ‘poor and weak country’ with headlines dominated by issues of Australian drug smugglers, Indonesian people smugglers, and cattle.

The facts paint a different picture. Politically, Indonesia is a key ASEAN member. Militarily, it is the dominant Southeast Asian naval power. Economically, it is on a trajectory that will see it passing the likes of Italy and Britain in the next two decades.

A good place to start transforming the relationship with Indonesia is in fact with the US Marines rotating through Darwin. Indonesia was actually not all that baffled by the announcement last year that the US would start rotating Marines through Darwin. One Indonesian diplomat recently suggested that the visit to Darwin by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was in part to signal his consent or even endorsement; SBY went on to  suggest Indonesian involvement in US-Australian military training.

The Geopolitical Impetus

While on a growth trajectory to greater power, Indonesia is and will remain a weakly governed state. With over 17,000 islands spread over almost two million square kilometres, Indonesia’s geography will always inhibit strong centralised administration. As such, Jakarta will always carry existential concerns over the state’s territorial integrity. Australian assurances over this would go a long way.

Such assurances could come in the form of joint coastal and oceanic patrols. Between Indonesia and Australia lay highly strategic waterways. Joint patrolling in the Indian Ocean along Indonesia’s maritime boundaries would carry mutual benefits in terms of security. It would reduce the porousness of Indonesia’s boundaries, and assure it that Australia is committed to Indonesian security.  For Australia, more maritime patrols would increase the ability of the Australian Navy to interdict unauthorised vessels before they reach Australian territory—an easy sell at home.

The US Marines in Darwin could play a role in this. The US Marine Corps (USMC) has strong ties with the Indonesian Marine Corps dating back to the founding days of the Korps Marinir or KorMar. Currently restructuring towards a more amphibiously-oriented structure, the Australian Army enjoys long standing ties with both the USMC and KorMar.

While I’m not suggesting the Australian Army and USMC start patrolling Indonesia’s coastline in conjunction with KorMar, intensive three-way training will not only serve as an effective confidence building measure between nations, but also help the Indonesian Marines develop and strengthen core-capabilities, which will help improve Indonesian security—which would be positive for Australia too.

In 1994, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating quipped that “no relationship offers greater potential, on the social, the cultural or economic fronts, than this one with Indonesia.” He went on to warn that if Australia were to ‘fail to get this relationship right…the whole web of foreign relations is incomplete.” Unbeknown to most Australians, this belief led Keating to sign a security pact with Suharto, the wording of which was in fact very similar to the ANZUS treaty. The Indonesians tore it up in 1999 in response to Australia’s stance on East Timor. But Keating’s words still hold true. The difference is that, today, Australia stands to gain far more from positive relations with Indonesia than it has in the past. Strong ties with Indonesia will cement Australia’s role and place in the region in terms of both security and economics.

Jerry Hofhuis recently completed a Master’s Degree at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. He may be contacted at ghof3560@uni.sydney.edu.au

The Perils of Continuing an Unquestioning ANZUS Alliance Reliance:

Ben Moles

ANZUS has been the cornerstone of Australian security policy and the foundation upon which Australian identity has been built for the past 60 years. However, Australia must rid itself of the fear that to say no to the US would be the ruin of the ANZUS alliance, when saying yes without critically analysing and questioning the demands being made on Australia, could lead to Australia’s own ruin.  

Forward to the past: Alliances have remained a cornerstone of international relations for millennia. The offensive realist paradigm characterises the international system as anarchic, stating that in absence of an international arbiter: states seek to maximise their power through achieving relative gains in pursuit of attaining hegemony. However, not all states possess the capabilities necessary for competing. The cost of internal mobilisation is too high a burden for many states to carry alone and in a competitive international environment, where the ultimate duty of the state remains to maintain sovereignty and state survival, states will seek to balance the power of hegemons, or those with hegemonic aspirations, through the formation of alliances until power equilibrium is achieved, or so balance of power theory posits.

However, Stephen Walt observes that balance of power doesn’t adequately explain the formation of modern alliances such as those extant under the US San Francisco system, of which ANZUS is a part, and claims that “It is more accurate to say that states tend to ally with or against the foreign power that poses the greatest threat.” Walt claims that states seek to balance threats, not power. The most important threat that states calculate against, of which he lists aggregate power, geographical proximity, and offensive power, is aggressive intentions.

Back to the future:  The ANZUS alliance is central to Australia, both in terms of identity and security and has been since it was signed in 1951. ANZUS is integral to the construct of Australia’s Asian identity; it remains the foundation upon which is built Australia’s status as an Asia-Pacific ‘middle power.’ Australia’s connection to the US, and some believe influence in Washington, bestow upon Australia a standing that enables Australia to ‘punch above its weight’ in regional affairs.

From a security perspective, Australia places great faith in the belief, although it has never been tested, that if Australia were ever attacked the US would come to its aid. In recompense, or the price paid for maintaining this safety net- if you like, Australia has been and remains in PM Julia Gillard’s own words “…an ally in war and peace, an ally for hardship and prosperity, an ally for the 60 years past and an ally for all the years to come.”  However, great danger exists in continuing to walk down the path of ANZUS alliance reliance without surveying the current and rapidly changing strategic landscape that surrounds us. It would be extremely foolhardy to believe the path to a secure and prosperous Australian future in this rapidly transforming geopolitical region within which Australia sits, will be as easy to traverse advancing into the future as it has been throughout our recent past. A more nuanced government approach will be required, one characterised by creative policy dexterity. Australia needs to progress cautiously and should seriously begin to question its policy of ANZUS alliance reliance.

In a move seen as strengthening the ANZUS alliance, in April 2012 the first 200 US marines arrived in Darwin and this will eventuate in a rotational troop deployment of a full 2500-strong Marine Air Ground Task Force to Australia. The move was initially announced when president Obama visited Australia back in November 2011. The ANZUS alliance receives bi-partisan political support in Australia and is furthermore, largely supported by the Australian public. In a recent Lowy Institute poll, 74% of people asked were in favour of up to 2500 US troops to be based in Darwin. Interestingly 46% were in favour of allowing more US troops to be based in Australia; a number that increased to 51% if Indonesia or China objected to the move.

So, what was the reaction of Indonesia and China to the news of US troops being deployed to Australia?  It was largely one of bafflement. I have sat in on many roundtables and work-shops of late, where it has often been said that it wasn’t the substance of the message that drew the ire of Beijing and Jakarta, but the delivery. I don’t think this is entirely correct, I believe it was both and the failure on behalf of the delivery stems from not really understanding the true implications of the message (or what the message actually was entirely) and how, more importantly, it might be interpreted by others within the region. Here, Australia certainly slipped up.

The US asked Australia to base/rotate US troops in Australia. Prima facie, this appears a low cost initiative for Australia to agree to and engage in that would enhance the ANZUS alliance and strengthen Australian security. However, Australia failed to ask, or fully understand the implications of, how might this be interpreted and be seen by others? Yes, it strengthens the alliance (two allies working side by side deepening and demonstrating their commitment to one another is natural and nothing new) but what is it that has altered, where is it that balance equilibrium has been lost that means there now exists a need and requirement for basing/rotating US troops on Australian soil when there previously was none? Ultimately this is a question of balance, which returns us to a theme this piece began with. What is it the alliance seeks to balance? It isn’t power because in both latent and military terms the US remains the regional preponderant power. Is it then threat? If so, who is the threat and where is it originating from? Despite protestations stating otherwise, it was and remains clear to many whom that perceived threat is.

Stationary in the present: Australia is now very much on the strategic radar of China. Australia now grapples with balancing a desire to be noticed with the consequences that stem from the actuality of that desire being recognised. At the moment Australia appears to be dangerously band-wagoning with the US at a time when many regional states are hedging, thus drawing not only the attention of China but also that of other regional states. China is not a threat to Australia and even if it ever were, does anybody seriously believe that the US would go to war with China to protect Australia. Former Australian PM Malcolm Fraser, with a firm grasp and understanding of realpolitik, certainly doesn’t. I believe, in accordance to Lord Palmerston’s dictum, that this would very much be dependent on the perception of US interests at that moment in time, and it could never be said with any degree of certainty that US interests would align with those of Australia, irrespective of the loyalty and permanence of Australia’s friendship. At the very best, or worst, the policy of ANZUS alliance reliance represents one of hope, but as Richard Armitage, a former US Deputy Secretary of State under George W. Bush, has noted before- hope is not a policy at all.

Before Australia walks down the path of allowing US Carrier Strike Groups and Virginia Class submarines to berth/rotate out of Western Australia (an unthinking decision that could easily be arrived at considering Australia’s Defence budget cuts and the perception of large public support for the alliance), or inviting increasing numbers of troops to rotate through Australia, questions must and need to be asked of the alliance and serious eventualities must be considered. The most obvious that springs to mind is in the instance that- for whatever reason- Australia wants US troops off Australian soil while the US wishes to remain- this would certainly signal the end of the alliance. As the US increases its military presence in Australia- without being asked to, the US will only ever leave when it wants to and when it wants to would most likely be the time Australia needs its alliance partner most, a US exit under such circumstances would, at the very least, signal the end of the alliance…

Finally, and certainly something to think about. Quentin Crisp- the British playwright once warned on the matter of relationships “It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.”

Perils certainly exist in continuing Australia’s unquestioning ANZUS alliance reliance.

Ben Moles completed his Masters in International Security Studies at the University of Sydney last year. (bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au). Follow on Twitter @bwmoles