The Guardian • Issue #2079


The Echidna Strategy: Australiaís Search for Power and Peace

by Sam Roggeveen

The Echidna Strategy: Australia’s Search for Power and Peace.

Sam Roggeveen is Director of the conservative Lowy Institute’s International Security Program, and used to work for the Office of National Assessments, Australia’s peak intelligence agency. His book The Echidna Strategy argues that the AUKUS alliance isn’t in our interests. He’s been congratulated far and wide for being conservative but standing against AUKUS. Does he deserve such praise?

The book’s argument runs as follows:

1. Australia ought to be more or less non-aligned in its approach to diplomacy – it should be able to sever the alliance with the United States, question the US “rules-based order,” or possess the desire to do so when necessary.

2. War – defence-spending – is theft.

3. The US will eventually lose interest in its Asia strategy and will have to retreat from its bid for influence in Asia. Thus we ought to be an Echidna: unthreatening, but spiky to touch, friendly to our immediate neighbours (Indonesia and the Pacific Islands) in order to halt China’s influence in the region.

The first two points one can agree with, but the third is mostly wrong. Roggeveen’s tactic is to underplay the role of the US, in order to play up the basis for Australia downgrading the alliance. Realistically one must do it the opposite way: the basis of our attachment to the US has to be played up in order to grasp how difficult it will be to shift the alliance at all.

The US maintains its iron grip on this continent, and is not about to let go. Its aims in the region are just like those in other regions: expansionist. We have no “post-American” strategic order; all signs point to the fact that in the age of AUKUS the fundamentals of US ‘resolve’ are stronger than ever and point a path to war. The US does not want a multipolar world. It seeks a unipolar world; with one power dominant over all.

Roggeveen does not recognise what other commentators have pointed out: it’s precisely because US capitalism and its place in the capitalist world order is in decline that these attacks on China and its attempts to destroy the balance of power are growing.

US fear of China has an economic premise. It fears the prospect that socialism heralded as a success would then show up the failure of US financial capitalism. Roggeveen doesn’t account for the fact that the success of the Chinese economic model is also perceived as a threat.

While the Chinese economic model has indeed ‘won,’ we cannot underestimate the extent to which the US will try to undermine its success using whatever means possible. This includes the claim that China’s rapid rise is not attributable to socialism, despite Chinese success emerging from the country maintaining its grip on the commanding heights of the economy and managing social productive relations in a planned way, not the privatisation of all assets or following the IMF at every turn. Roggeveen makes this common mistake in his assessment of the state of the Chinese economy; ignoring the role of infrastructural planning and regulatory oversight in China’s development. China did not defeat poverty by privatising state assets.

Roggeveen severely underestimates the information war waged against China. If you aren’t sure about this, type ‘China’ into the Western internet and try to find one article that isn’t about hype and fear. Enter ‘military bases by country’ and look at real statistics: the United States has over 1000 military installations, on every continent; China has one. You can’t approach this topic without addressing the problem of distortion and hype in Western media.

It’s a deep anti-communist project at the heart of US long-term geostrategy towards China, with a history that goes back to the American politician and diplomat John Foster Dulles. Dulles came up with various plans to “strangle” socialist countries in the 1950s. Nothing has changed since then. What we have now is a New Cold War fought on at least three fronts; military, financial, and media. The basis of all this is imperialism. By turning a blind eye to how, as Marx also said, nations can get rich at the expense of other nations just as one class can get rich at the expense of another class, Roggeveen rules out explaining the terms of our present outside the caricature of nations as pieces on a chess board playing a game among themselves. Roggeveen doesn’t address the deeper problem of nations and classes, and how these two play their part in the grand dialectic of world politics.

That said, if foreign policy actors on the Australian side took the better aspects of Roggeveen’s argument seriously, our attitude would be very different indeed. We would have a government that treats China with more respect, that participates in the Asia-Pacific as a partner, not a moralistic overlord, that scraps AUKUS and ends the US alliance, that fashions a defence force dedicated to the people of Australia rather than the plundering of foreign nations, that recognises for good that its aims are not expansionist but centred on trade and development. More importantly we’d have a better shot at maintaining peace in our region and the world. To quote Roggeveen: “All of us in the West, but especially the US itself, have become so used to defining US national security in wildly expansive terms that we no longer notice how unusual it is. But no country needs this much security, so a correction is inevitable.”

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