Australian Government’s Bellicose Foreign Policy
by Peter Symon
The advent of the Howard Government has not significantly changed the direction of Australia’s long-term foreign policy objectives. Circumstances and issues have changed considerably since Federation in 1901 but the main strategic considerations have remained substantially the same, irrespective of whether a Liberal or Labor Government is in power.
In the early 1900s, the British Empire reigned supreme around the world. Britain administered vast colonial possessions — India, Malaya, concessions in China, South Africa, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) and many other territories. Other European colonial powers also held a share — the French in Indo-China and the South Pacific (where French colonialism still persists), the Dutch in Indonesia (then called the Dutch East Indies), the Portuguese in Africa, Macau (part of China) and, of course, East Timor.
Australian Governments looked to Britain for protection in what was seen as a potentially hostile Asia. The objective of the British and Australian rulers was to maintain Australia as a white, Anglo-Saxon imperialist base in the Asia-Pacific region. This objective was clearly stated when in 1901, Senator Staniford, in parliamentary debates on White Australia, said: “Speaking from the imperial point of view, nothing could tend to solidify and strengthen the Empire so much as that we should build up in these southern lands a British race.”
In a pamphlet called Immigration and the White Australia Policy, R Dixon, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Communist Party (as it was called at the time), wrote: “From the standpoint of British imperialism, it was of decisive importance that Australia should be built up and strengthened as a bastion of Empire, as a ‘white’ outpost of British imperialism in the Pacific.”
The White Australia policy had nothing to do with defending the jobs or living standards of Australian workers although it was always justified on those grounds. This false assertion was resurrected by Pauline Hanson only last year. It was also justified on cultural grounds. The fact is that then, as now, employers attempted to reduce the wages and jobs of workers at every opportunity.
The first White Australia legislation was specifically directed against Chinese. This was thought to be too offensive and was then changed to “Asiatics”. This too was thought to be too offensive by Britain which, at the time, was administering a number of Asian colonies. The legislation was then changed to provide for a dictation test in a foreign language as the device to keep out those who for racial reasons were considered to be undesirable.
After the Russian socialist revolution of 1917 the element of class struggle against socialism became a major consideration in the foreign policies of all western governments. The destruction of socialism in the Soviet Union and action to prevent socialist revolutions from occurring elsewhere in the world became the top agenda item.
So, when in the period immediately prior to World War II, Robert Menzies travelled to Nazi Germany and came back praising Hitler and also supported the policies of the Japanese militarists in their aggression against China and the Soviet Union in the East, it was because of these anti-socialist policies. Menzies fully supported the appeasement policies of the British Government before World War II.
Menzies went so far in his appeasement policies that he was prepared to give away the northern part of Australia (the Brisbane line) to the Japanese when they were sweeping south in the early stages of the war in the Pacific. Fortunately, Menzies was thrown out as Prime Minister at this time.
The defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese militarists and the huge boost given to the prestige of the Soviet Union and socialism as a result of its main contribution in World War II led to very significant changes. Revolutions took place in a number of other European and Asian countries.
The Chinese revolution was victorious and established the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The Vietnamese took up arms against French colonialism, Indonesia threw out the Dutch, the British were forced to concede independence to India. In the post-war period the former colonial world all but collapsed.
As a result of the threat to Australia from the Japanese and the inability of the British to protect Australia, the Australian Government and ruling class turned to the United States and in the post-war period the ANZUS treaty was entered into.
But Australian Governments would have nothing to do with the national liberation movements and joined with the other imperialist powers in their attempts to turn back the clock when Australian military forces were sent to fight wars in Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam.
Australia was also a member of the ill-fated South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) which was nothing more than an attempt by the US and other imperialist powers to shore up the collapsing colonial regimes.
The US had become the most powerful imperialist power having profited by World War II while the power of Britain, the Dutch and Portuguese declined markedly.
The US was able to maintain a toehold by occupying South Korea — the only part of the Asian land mass where American troops are still to be found. They also succeeded in preventing Taiwan from rejoining the Chinese mainland and set up a string of military bases in Japan and other islands of the Pacific Ocean. Australia plays a part in this network of American bases.
The strength of the national liberation movements in Asia and the economic growth in a number of Asian countries made it difficult for Australian Governments to maintain the White Australia policy. It was finally abandoned in the late 1950s even though racist sentiments were far from eliminated even at top government level.
The anti-socialism of Australia’s foreign policy remains its basic element and as a junior partner of the US, Australian governments are hard at work to assist the United States achieve its objective of world domination and the re-imposition of colonial status for all the countries of Asia.
To some extent the changed circumstances have called for a change in tactics. Whereas in the past, the imperialist powers simply sent in the armed forces to put down liberation movements and maintain their grip, this is no longer so easy.
While military force remains an option to be used if possible and when necessary, it is no longer possible to just “send in the marines”. However, preparations for military interventions in other countries are going on apace.
The recent Tandem Thrust military and naval exercises in north Queensland practiced the landing of invading forces on other countries’ beaches. The exercises were not about protecting Australian beaches from an invading force for the very good reason that no country threatens Australia.
However, it cannot be said that Australia and the US do not threaten other countries. The press statement about the Tandem Thrust exercises issued by the Australian Government said they were “to provide training in crisis action planning and execution for contingency response operations in the Pacific area.”
Other indications of the priority being given to military preparations include the Prime Minister’s declaration that the military will be quarantined from any financial cuts. Education, health services, universities, scientific research, the ABC, child care centres and many other services are being slashed by the razor gang, but not the military.
Kim Beazley said of Howard’s recent visit to New Zealand that it could only be considered a success if Howard succeeded in selling two more ANZAC frigates to the New Zealand Government.
The United States, as the band-master of the imperialist powers in the Pacific, has knocked together a political and military network intended to contain the increasing economic might of the Asian countries taken collectively and also, they hope, to overthrow the socialist governments of China, Vietnam and North Korea.
This network takes the form of the US-Japan Security Treaty and the US-Australia Security Treaty adopted in 1996 and the Australia-Indonesia Security agreement which is described as an “overlapping bilateral security arrangement”, indicating that it too is a part of the network.
Indonesian leader Suharto came to power on an murderous anti-communist rampage which led to the massacre of at least half a million people. This is not a reason for condemning Suharto but for recruitimg him as an ally in their anti-communist crusade. Neither the Australian Labor Government nor the Liberal Government have any qualms about such a relationship.
Japan has been openly declared to be the northern anchor of the American military and naval arrangements in the Pacific while Australia is declared to be the southern anchor.
As an obvious consequence of these new “security” treaties, it has recently been announced that Japan is being given spy secrets collected by the US Nurrungar base in South Australia. There is a charade in place whereby an Australian staff officer is located at Nurrungar but the reality is that the Americans decided who will receive spy information.
The only worry which disturbs the Australian Government seems to be whether or not the provision of spy information to Japan will upset relations with other Asian countries and whether they will see such an arrangement with Japan as a future threat.
They would be right in considering such a set-up a potential threat. The security treaties, the build-up of military and naval forces and the intense propaganda war which is being launched by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are aimed specifically at upsetting the economic development of Asia as a whole and overthrowing the socialist governments in the region.
There are innumerable statements by various politicians and government advisers which substantiate this evaluation of Australia's foreign policy.
Professor Paul Dibb who is the head of the Strategic and Defence Studies at the Australian National University is quoted in the The Australian (4/10/1994) as saying:
The remarkable economic growth of most Asian countries has brought great stability and interdependence to the region. But it is also allowing Asian countries to acquire highly capable military forces, even though there are no palpable military threats …
We need a rejuvenated US alliance system in the region. It would link together the maritime middle powers and Japan, so that we can counter any expansion of ambitious continental-based powers such as China, Russia and India …
There is an important role for Australia, as the US’s closest ally in the region — and as the middle power in Asia with the most constructive and imaginative regional security ideas …
In September 1994, a so-called “leaders” conference was held between American and Australia representatives. Among the Australians attending were Kim Beazley and Phil Scanlon who was on the board of Coca-Cola Amatil and other companies and a founder of the “Australian-American Leadership Dialogue”.
Another was Dick Woolcott who is an extreme right-wing member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia. He advised Australian Governments to establish cosy relations with the Indonesian dictatorship.
A summary of remarks made at the“leaders” meeting was carried in The Australian (3-4/9/1994).
The paper says Kim Beazley, who was then Finance Minister in the Keating Government, rejected the notion that economic strength had become more important than military strength in the post-Cold War world, arguing that America’s greatest influence in the region came from its forward military deployment.
Beazley is quoted as saying:
It’s critical to Australia’s needs that we emphasise to the US that geo-strategic goals do not depend on what they would regard as desirable economic objectives …
[The] rising GDPs in Asia and a reluctance to adjust the percentage of GDP spent on defence in most of the Asian region nations, will create a situation where the level of arms capabilities will focus American attention at some point during the course of this decade. If that doesn’t focus American attention, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic weapons will.
Phil Scanlon said at the conference:
The aim of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue is to move thinking in the US to a higher plane about Australia. … We’ve been talking about security questions and the trade dimension. Strategic engagement transcends those facets, important as they are …
Australia represents a strategically focused window to the Asia-Pacific for organisations domiciled outside the region, including those in the US …
There is no future in us becoming in five or ten years’ time relegated to the local administrative centre of the South Pacific. There’s no future in that for Australia.
One could hardly imagine more abject nor more bellicose public statements than these. They underline the priority given in Australia’s leading government and business circles to the military option in relations with Asia.
There is no thought of an alternative foreign policy based on peace, all-round disarmament, mutual benefit in trade relations, friendly exchanges between Australia and Asian countries.
Despite the military defeats in Korea and Vietnam, the Australian ruling class is still thinking about and preparing landings on the beaches of other countries together with its powerful ally.
It is a policy of hostility and will inevitably fail. It is already failing.
The Asian region has become the world’s fastest growing economic region. Within about 15 to 20 years China’s economy will exceed that of the US. Asia has already become the largest economic region in the world and will not be pushed around. Its military strength will also be built up unless threats against Asian countries are abandoned.
Independent economic and political structures of Asian countries are growing stronger. For example, the number of countries being included in the ASEAN bloc is increasing.
This year Hong Kong and Macau will be re-unified with the Chinese mainland — a most important development, representing the final elimination of imperialism from the Chinese mainland.
Australia’s failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council is both a setback for Australia and a defeat for the US which strongly promoted Australia for this seat. It shows that the US is not able to get its way on many questions.
Asian nations have held two top level meetings with the European countries on mainly trade questions but Australia was excluded. This has much to do with how Australia is seen among at least some Asian countries and that, in turn, is a spin-off from its alliance relations with the US.
There are rising popular struggles in Indonesia and South Korea — two countries with reactionary, semi-fascist governments that the reactionaries in Australia and the US are counting on. They are becoming unstable.
The death of Deng Xiaoping has been made the occasion for ferocious attacks on China in the hope that its communist-led government can be destabilised.
The fact that if such a destabilisation did occur it would have devastating consequences in terms of economic collapse, famine, unemployment and the likelihood of a massive refugee problem does not seem to worry the leaders of Australia or the US whose policies are as short sighted as they are criminal.
However, the name of the game is world domination for the US (with Australia playing a lackey role) and the preservation of capitalism in a world where economic and political storms are growing rapidly in many countries.
Australia needs an entirely different foreign policy. In the first place, it should be a policy which looks after the interests of the Australian people, recognising that we are an Asian-Pacific nation.
To be independent means to terminate the Australia-US Security agreement, to remove the American bases from Australian territory and to end offensive military and naval manoeuvres directed against Asian-Pacific countries.
Rather than “security” treaties with Japan, the US and Indonesia it would be better to have non-aggression pacts between all Asia-Pacific countries which would guarantee peaceful relations with all countries into the future.
Relations must be based on equality, mutual benefit, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and acceptance of the right of all countries to adopt their chosen social system.
This will require a substantial shift away from the under-pinnings of the foreign policy pursued by successive Australian governments since the beginning of this century. If, however, this change is not implemented soon Australia may well have a rocky road in its relations with many of its Asia-Pacific neighbours.