The Guardian • Issue #2073

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom history book launch

Ruth Russell speaking at the launch.

Ruth Russell speaking at the launch.

South Australia: “AUKUS – Nonsensical and may not even come to fruition!” This authoritative observation, made at the recent WILPF history book launch, was greeted with spontaneous applause. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, founded in 1915 at the beginning of World War One, opposed the warmongering of the time and the consequent conscription of fathers, sons, and husbands.

The South Australian branch, as part of its centenary celebration, sponsored the writing of a book detailing the organisation’s history by one of its heroines, Ruth Russell, who has outstanding qualification as a peace activist, including serving as “peace shield” in Iraq, in 2003 at the beginning of a war deceptively based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Special guest speaker at the launch, Dr Daniel Fazio, lecturer in History and Politics at the University of South Australia, provided a detailed historical perspective, entitled from “ANZUS to AUKUS” that encompassed the developing relationship between Australian prime ministers and foreign ministers and their United States counterparts in facing a common enemy at the time in the form of Japan as the initial steps leading the notorious, costly and hastily conceived AUKUS deal, undoubtedly subject to huge cost blow-outs.

During WW2 there was no formal alliance, but it was noted that there was an uneasy relationship between US and Australian soldiers, ironically over the segregation of African Americans and, of course, the Americans “were over-paid, oversexed, and over here.”

It was explained that from 1949 onwards, the rise of the People’s Republic of China led to that nation becoming a key factor in the development of a US-centred Australian foreign policy based on overlapping rather identical interests, leading to the misconception of Australia being the 51st state, despite the relationship being bigger than defence to include education, trade and commerce.

Events in the Americas, such as the American War of Independence, were raised to illustrate how great their impact has been since 1788 when the loss of colonies prompted the initial convict settlement in Australia at Sydney Cove.

ANZUS was initiated in 1951 by the US, and agreed to by Australia at a time when the USSR had moved into North Korea and Manchuria, and when the US did not recognise the new Communist government of China. It was argued that these events produced an overlapping of Australian and US interests, so that ANZUS became a pillar of Australian foreign policy. Although Australia wanted a punitive peace imposed on Japan, the US took a lighter approach in the aftermath of WW2.

In 1954, Australia was informed that any Australian intervention in West Papua would receive no US help. However, Australia joined the US in Vietnam, not understanding that the conflict was more about Vietnamese nationalism that the Communist expansion feared at the time. However, Australia joined the US in Vietnam on a misunderstanding that the conflict was much more about nationalism than Communism in inviting participation.

In 1972 Whitlam preempted Nixon in Australia’s recognition of China.

1985 AUSMIN (Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations) replaced ANZUS with the suspension of New Zealand over the presence of nuclear weapons on visiting US ships.

More recently, in 2005 AUSFTA (Australia United States Free Trade Agreement) came into operation followed by the 2011 “Pivot to Asia” which resulted in 2, 500 US marines being stationed in Darwin. Following the “Trump disruption,” Biden undertook a reaffirmation of US involvement through Five Eyes (US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia), an arrangement for intelligence sharing related to potential flash points, including  issues such as trade, cyber security, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the latter being Chinese territory but never controlled by mainland China.

AUKUS was finally portrayed as placing too much emphasis on militarism rather than diplomacy, a balancing act for  Australia which needs a positive relationship with both the US and China. More broadly, it was concluded that Australia can say no to both the US and the UK as Canada has. In addition, it was agreed that the US was a declining power but would remain influential, indeed powerful, for some time to come.

WILPF is to be congratulated in organising such an informative lecture, and also for observing at the same time the 43rd United Nations International Day of Peace and for their unwavering dedication to peace brought to life in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom The Quest for Peace in South Australia.

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