Correspondence with the Minister

Marise Payne
Sen Marise Payne, Minister for Defence

A glaring deficiency in the 2016 Defense White Paper is the lack of any serious engagement with scholarship that questions the ‘US-Australia Alliance = National Security’ equation and its evident risks. This is quite extraordinary given the devastating impact of US involvement in the Indochina Wars (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos)1 and more recently the US invasion of Iraq and the de-stabilisation of Middle Eastern countries that has fueled sectarianism and the rise and spread of extreme jihadi groups like ISIS.

MPG has corresponded with Senator Marise Payne, Minister for Defence, pointing out the flaws in the ‘US-Australia Alliance = National Security’ equation. One of these letters was sent in January, another in March. In May we received a reply from Mr Angus Kirkwood (Acting First Assistant Secretary Strategic Policy in Department for Defence). In response to this letter, MPG wrote directly to Mr Kirkwood on June 10, 2016.

MPG’s main contention is that Angus Kirkwood’s response is essentially a re-statement of the Defense White Paper’s questionable assumptions and its reliance upon wishful thinking.2 It appears that the Minister and departmental officials prefer to avoid contending with inconvenient truths relating to the intensified alliance with the US.

2016 Defense White Paper

The main strategic thrust of the 2016 Defense White Paper was summed up by Peter Jennings (Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and head of the White Paper’s advisory panel) in these words: “It is clear that an up-gunned alliance relationship with the United States is Australia’s primary response to the increasingly risky strategic environment emerging in our wider region”. The “risky environment” of course refers to a more assertive China and its island building activities in the South China Sea.3

Contrary to the claims of US-Australia Alliance supporters such as Peter Jennings, however, MPG argues that these activities are substantially a response by China to being encircled by hostile military bases and surveillance networks. It is estimated that the US has over 800 military bases around the world, many of them surrounding China including those in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia. These military bases in the Asia-Pacific are hostile bases designed to contain China.4

MPG has long argued against the notion that Australia’s security is best served by the ANZUS alliance, let alone an intensification of ties with the US military which the Defense White Paper supports.

Participating with the US in its wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq has hardly served Australia’s security interests. Nor does the hosting of the US Marine Air-Ground Task Force in Darwin enhance our security. This Task Force may serve to bolster US hegemony in our neighborhood, but this is far from being synonymous with Australia’s security interests. On the contrary, its very existence, along with provocative “freedom of navigation” exercises, only serve to dangerously ramp up tensions with China. There would be no real winners in provoking a war with China, least of all Australia.

What needs to be done?

In contrast to both the Coalition and Labor Party, MPG argues that Australia needs to re-build its reputation in the Asia-Pacific region by establishing an independent, informed and consultative foreign policy and by asserting its strategic independence.5

In support of this goal, the Federal government should hold an independent inquiry in order to determine:

  1. The extent to which so-called joint facilities such as Pine Gap, Nurrungar and North West Cape have become integral to a great variety of American offensive capabilities including its drone assassination program;
  2. The degree to which this military integration, including the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in Darwin, compromises Australia’s security and sovereignty;
  3. In the light of the findings revealed by (1) and (2) and the threat posed by ‘nuclear deterrence’, delineate a credible plan for how Australia could rapidly achieve a self-reliant defence policy.

1. Anti-war protestors, especially in the early ’60’s, were opposed to the US war on South Vietnam which destroyed South Vietnam’s rural society. Those that opposed this atrocity were condemned as defenders of North Vietnam. Official accounts at the time asserted  that the war was a conflict between South Vietnam and North Vietnam and that the United States and its willing ally Australia had intervened to help the South. The truth is that the US invasion of South Vietnam, directed largely against the rural population, began directly in 1962 after many years of working through mercenaries and client groups. Unlike the real history, there is no such event in American history as the attack on South Vietnam. This falsification of history is still upheld in official accounts of the war in Australia today. Refer to ‘The Legacy of the Vietnam War’, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Paul Shannon, Indochina Newsletter, Issue 18, Nov–Dec, 1982, pp. 1-5.
2. Refer to Hugh White’s criticisms of the 2016 Defense White Paper in ‘Defence White Paper fails to deal with the strategic risks we face in the Asian century’, SMH, 1 Mar 2016. For example, White argues that it “offers no new or credible analysis of the immense changes now under way in the strategic regional order, and no new or credible proposals to respond to it.”
3. Peter Jennings, ‘The 2016 Defence White Paper and the ANZUS Alliance‘, Security Challenges, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2016, pp. 53-63.
4. Hamish McDonald, ‘The Wired Seas of Asia: China, Japan, the US and Australia’, (Introduction by Richard Tanter), The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 22, 2015.
5. Refer to the post ‘US alliance and the movement to ban nuclear weapons – Labor’s role?’ for arguments in favor of an independent Australian foreign policy.

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