Partnership in the Pacific: U.S.-Australia Cooperation and Asia
Zachary Abuza, Senior Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace
Michael Evans, Head, Land Warfare Studies Centre Royal Military College of Australia
Thomas-Durell Young, Program Manager, Center for Civil-Military Relations Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey
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After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Australia's government invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time?50 years after its signing?to support the United States against terrorism. By this and other moves, Prime Minister Howard has enhanced ties with Washington. Still, Australia is "America's most important, yet continuously ignored and underrated, formal ally," according to Thomas-Durell Young, one of the speakers at this June 1 Asia Program event.
Looking back at the history of Australian foreign policy, Young pointed out that for decades Canberra has striven toward self-reliance in security affairs?to an unrealistic degree, he suggested?and suffered persistently from "fear of abandonment." He described Australia's "flirtations" with Asia and its (rather unsuccessful) efforts to overcome an unfortunate image as "a condescending white European nation." He praised the Howard government's move toward greater strategic cooperation and interoperability with Washington, since "the argument that Australia is capable of defending itself is nonsense and nor is this situation likely to improve."
Michael Evans* agreed with Young that Australia has been wise to enhance its alliance with the United States. He contended that this has not led to neglect of Asian ties. On the contrary, Australia's regional standing has improved as the result of closeness with Washington. However, he described Australia as "odd man in" and "odd man out" in Asia?somewhat like Turkey in Europe. Australia's values and history as a liberal democracy distances it, to some extent, from other Asian countries except Japan. And the recent intense controversy over Schapelle Corby's conviction ("Australian's O.J. Simpson case") has aggravated tension between ordinary Australians and Indonesians, and will undoubtedly affect policy.
Be that as it may, the Australians are increasingly active in Indonesia, especially in counter-terrorism, Zachary Abuza maintained. Canberra has helped to train Indonesian police, funded a counter-terrorism center, and assisted in the detention of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members. He pointed out that while Asians do not trust Australia fully, they tend to see it as more benign than the United States. In a sense, Australia has played "good cop" to the United States' "bad cop," and has been more effective than Washington in encouraging human rights in such places as Vietnam and Burma. Moreover, the low-level sectarian violence that plagues much of the Asia Pacific is of great concern to Australia, while it barely registers on the U.S. radar screen.
All three speakers indicated that the U.S.-Australian partnership is on strong footing and will probably survive both countries' current leaderships. The grounds for its continued strengthening are too vital to ignore.
* Michael Evans spoke on his own behalf. His views were not necessarily representative of the Australian government.