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australia-us security relationships in the post cold war years

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Analyse Post-cold War changes in the US-Australian security relationship and the relevance of the security alliance in the 1st century.


This essay is concerned about the post-cold war changes in the US-Australian security relationship and the relevance of the security alliance in the 1st century.


Before we have an analysis of the post-cold war changes in the US-Australian security relationship, we first have a short insight at the historical origins of the American-Australian security alliance. It is a well-known fact that Australia traditionally relied on Britain for protection. However, the Japanese aggression during the Second World War and the failure of Britain of keeping its promises compelled Australia to seek the protection of the United States instead. The latter emerged victorious from the war and also as a superpower. Smith, Cox and Burchill (16,p.54) argued that the catalyst for Australias pursuit of a United States alliance was Japans… defeated Australias traditional protector by destroying British power… as it unleashed United States counter attack, which eventually drove Japan to unconditional surrender in August 145.


Moreover, the end of the Second World War saw the beginning of the cold war with the rivalry between democratic America and Communist Soviet Union in dominating the world. The Australia, New Zealand and American alliance or ANZUS treaty was signed under different perspectives. From the Australian view, the alliance was their guaranteed protection against any future Asian aggressors while the America viewed the alliance as a means of including both countries in combating communism. Smith et.al(16,p.54) maintained that Australia saw ANZUS primarily as reinsurance against… Japan; the USA saw it… as a treaty that would tie Australia and New Zealand into the global effort to contain communism.


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As long as the cold war endured, Australia was involved in helping America fighting communism in countries such as Korea and Vietnam. Australia supported the United States and was quite dependent on its major partner and would not want to offend it so as not to compromise their alliance.


However, the cold war came to an unexpected end in the late 180s with the collapse of communism and the demise of the Soviet Union. Indeed, with no real threat, the American-Australian security relationship was loosened and assumed to a slow decline in importance. According to Dibb(1,p.1) with… the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Australia has become rather less strategically important for the US. This was perceived as one change in the US- Australia security relationship. Also, with the soviet menace out of sight, the United States is reducing its military forces in general. Dibb(1,p.) mentioned that the US… is undergoing a major re-evaluation of its strategic circumstances and force structure with the collapse of… the USSR


The post-cold war era presumed that Australia and its proximate region have become less significant in American interests compared to the cold war era and likewise, Australia is having more engagement with its region, the Asia-Pacific. As maintained by Dibb(1,p.10) Australia is not so important to the US, nor is our immediate region, as it was in the cold war. And as we develop… strategic interests with our ASEAN friends, the US will not be so central in our defence policy.


Furthermore, the end of the cold war led to a new environment in the Asia-Pacific region with new emerging powers. For instance, China is developing its economy and modernizing its army to pose itself as a regional power. India and Pakistan have exploded nuclear devices as well North Korea is confronting its southern neighbor.(Dibb1,p.)


All these new issues create a delicate balance of stability and security in the region and which can be negative to Australian interests. Therefore, the latter is trying to increase the involvement of America in the region as a means of counter-balancing these new Asian powers as well as giving a new purpose to the ANZUS alliance.


It is also noted that with the end of the cold war, Australia is rediscovering the importance of the Asia-Pacific region in terms of trade. Australia has more to gain in dealing with its Asian neighbors compared to its trade transactions with America. Tow(18,p.8) reported, The Asia dimension has played a major role in underscoring the sharpening differences in Australian and American trading agendas.


As a superpower, America has global interests compared to a middle power like Australia. The protectionist measures such as tariffs and Australia does not positively perceive quotas adopted to protect American markets. Bell endorsed that indeed, bilateral economic problems remain the major obstacle to a balanced bilateral relationship between Australia and the US.(Tow18,p.8) Australia is aware that it needs Asia more than Asia needs Australia for its economic well being. The Asian markets account much for Australian exports compared to the American market. Hence, Bell asserted that Australias trade surplus with Asia now exceeds $A10 billion annually. But at the same time, its deficit with… the US exceeded $A1 billion annually.(Tow18,p.8)


Therefore, it is no surprise that there are differences between America and Australia in their approach of the issue of human rights towards the Asian states. For instance, Indonesia had one of the worst human rights records and as sanction, America reduced its military aid to it while on the other hand, Australia continued supporting its military ties with Indonesia.(Brown14,p.117) In addition, the massacre of the people of East Timor by Indonesian troops led to diverse views between Australia and America. Brown 14,p.117) mentioned that the muted Australian reaction to the Dili massacre… stand in sharp contrast to Washingtons tougher line.


Indeed, the post-cold war era, the security relationship is altered as Australia, the minor ally, refused to bow to American pressure in their diverge behaviors towards Asian states. On one hand, as a superpower with global interests, America can bear itself the prices of criticizing Asian states on their human rights records. On the other hand, Australia differed from America as a middle power, which is located in the region and linked to it in terms of economic, and security issues. Indeed, following the American stance will automatically have negative repercussions on Australia. Brown(14,p.118) confirmed the government clearly believes that it is unwise to seize the high moral ground in dealing with the South East Asian states because Australia unlike the US will have to live next door to the consequences indefinitely.


Likewise, in relation to China, Australia refused to condemn the bad human rights records of the former despite American pressure to do so. This is to show that in terms of economic security, Australia followed a different path from America and this difference can affect their bilateral relationship. Brown(14,p.118) declared where Australian interests are at issue, their divergence from those of the United States can only further undermine the relationship.


Nevertherless, the post-cold war era does not necessarily mean that for the sake of economic prospects, Australia will discount its American ties. In fact, maintaining economic ties between Australia and its Asian neighbors can only e pursued in a climate of stability and security. Hence, it is there that Australia seeks to redefine a new role and purpose to its security alliance with America, which will be in the context of balancing any rising Asian power. Dibb(1,p.5) affirmed that … if strategic competitions between Asias great powers should intensify , their peace and security


Could become a casualty… if there were no strong American military commitment and presence in the region.


Australia benefits from its American links as it is well perceived by its Asian neighbors. Albinski(14,p.5) claimed … there is a view in South East Asia that Australias value to the regional community derives in part from its exceptional and continuity access to … the United States. Australia acts as link between America and the Asians states. This issue allowed Australia to follow a self-reliance path and a multilateral approach in resolving conflicts and maintaining international order.


Thus, the post-cold war saw a disinterest of America in the proximate region of Australia. However, the latter tried to give a new dimension to the alliance by enhancing the bilateral relations between the two partners with the AUSMIN talks of 16. In the advent of a dissolution of the ANZUS alliance, Australia has more to lose compared to America. The alliance has been redefined to promote the spread of democracy and market reforms in the region for the benefits of both ANZUS partners. Next, the alliance is perceived to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and guarded against violence to remedy international disputes.(Australia-US joint security decalration16,p.1)


Another post-cold war change between the ANZUS partners is to


Increase the independence of the defensive capabilities of Australia as well as its flexibility and easiness to be deployed with American forces in the event of any crisis occurring in the Asia-Pacific region.


Australia is keen in finding various means to invigorate its security relationship with America. For instance, Australia is willing to share the burden of defence by offering Australian basing and training facilities to American forces as well as renewing the licence of US communication facilities at Pine Gap on Australian territory (Malik1,p.60). According to the Australia-US joint security declaration both countries look forward to a successful exercise called Tandem Thrust… a major step towards the Australian Defense force US pacific command vision for combined operations.(16,p.1-)


The US-Australian security relationship is now concentrating in tackling global problems such as immigration/refugees, terrorism and drugs trade.(Tow18,p.117) Another post-cold war change in the ANZUS alliance is its use to facilitate the integration of Australian identity with its Asian-Pacific neighbors as well as acting as a middle power for the interests of the United States in the region.(Tow18,p.118)


From an American perspective, the post-cold war led to a decrease of its military forces but enough to deter any rising Asian power and promoting democracy and having the Asian markets opened up to globalization. It is under that reviewed American strategy that the location, resources and technology of Australia gained prominence to America, causing a new dimension in their bilateral security relationship.(Tow18,p.118) The post-cold war enabled Australia to speak and act with more confidence though it will not discount its American relationship which is integral to its regional interests and objectives. After all , the post cold war era saw Australia gain in status in the ANZUS alliance from its major American partner.(Albinski14,p.44)


Now, we have a look at the relevance of the security alliance in the 1st century. As we have seen previously, the ANZUS security alliance was created to counter global communism for America and Australia. The post-cold war period saw the elimination of the communist threat and replaced by the threat of an emerging Asian power like China to the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region; thereby defining a new purpose for the US-Australian security relationship.


Indeed, China is politically, economically and militarily increasing its influence in the region. It is somehow viewed as replacing the Soviet Union as the new threat in American perception. In fact, China wants to counter-balance American global hegemony and in achieving so, is adopting economic reforms and modernizing its military power in terms of nuclear arms technology and equipment. This is likely to worry its neighbors along with Australia and America. Furthermore the tension between China and Taiwan in the issue of reunification is a major headache to Asia-pacific stability. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province, which must be reunited within its territory by force if necessary, and an issue of its internal affairs. However, Taiwan is an economic powerhouse, which had American promise of coming to its rescue in the advent of a mainland attack.


America faced a dilemma with both chinas and was seriously put to the test with the 16 Taiwan crisis when China fired missiles in the Taiwan straits, which nearly led to a confrontation between China and the United States. It is in that eventual scenario that America learnt to realize the importance of its security alliance with Australia. Klinworth declared shortly after Chinas missile tests in the Taiwan strait… the Australian- US security relationship became a security partnership for the 1st century. (Tow18,p.15) Australia was also disturbed by the Chinese threat on Taiwan, which could undermine the stability and security of the region, vital for the well being of Australia. The response to that issue was an enhancement of its security ties with the United States thereby demonstrating the relevance of the security alliance in the 1st century. Klinworth granted Australia sought to reinvigorate its alliance with… upgrading of the joint communication facility at Pine Gap and a description of the Australian-US security relationship as a strategic partnership in the 1st century.(Tow18,p.154)


Furthermore, the security alliance between the US and Australia gained relevance in the 1st century as both western countries sought to spread together the concept of human rights among the Asian-Pacific states. There is optimism as democracy has been adopted by Asian states such as South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and The Phillippines. There is still much to do as well as both US and America needed to adopt a low-key approach in integrating human rights in Asian politics as well as respecting Asian cultural values. The security alliance between the US and Australia facilitated the operation of building human rights infrastructure and institutions as each country shared the responsibility. Barker observed …the development of human rights infrastructures… would have to be managed very sensitively by Australia and the United States, with full recognition that their implementation must be on a basis of partnership and mutual agreement.


(Tow18,p.181)


To sum up, it is concluded that the post-cold war period brought changes to the US-Australia security relationship but did not have negative impact. On the contrary it had become stronger than before. It had just been readjusted to fit in the Asia-Pacific regional environment compared to its previous global cold war element. The security alliance between Australia and the US is still relevant as it had been since its formation and will continue as long as the United States is the only superpower of the world.


Albinski, H.S. (14) Australias Evolving American Relationship Interests, Powers& Prospects for Australian Influence, Australian Foreign Policy papers, Canberra.


Brown, G. (14) The decay of Australias American Alliance in Australias Security Issues for the New Century, Australian Defence Studies Center, Canberra.


Dibb, P. (1) The Future of Australias Defence Relationship with the United States , Australian Centre for American Studies , Sydney.


Joint Security Declaration (16) Australia-United States A Strategic Partnership for the Twenty-First Century, Sydney 7 July.


Malik, J.M. (1) Australias Security in the 1st Century , Allen&Unwin, St Leonards.


Smith, G; Cox,D. and Burchill, S. (16) Australia In The World An Introduction to Australian Foreign Policy, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.


Tow, W.T. (18) Australian-American Relations Looking Towards the Next Century, MacMillan Press, South Yarra.





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