Australia Slow to Learn From the Lessons of History

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by James ONeill, New Eastern Outlook:

Australia will hold a general election no later than May of this year. According to the opinion polls, it should be a victory for the Labor Party. They have consistently held a lead over the governing coalition of Liberal and National party members for a considerable period of time, the last opinion poll published less than one week ago showing them with a commanding 10-point lead.

Last Sunday morning, in a widely watched television program, Insiders, the leader of the Labor Party was interviewed. It may be fairly said that he acquitted himself well. What was astonishing however, was that he was not asked a single question on his party’s foreign policy. Had he been asked, it is likely that Labor’s foreign policy was largely indistinguishable from that of the coalition government.

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There are a number of possible reasons for this reticence. One is historical. The Labor government of 1972–75, that of Labor leader Gough Whitlam, distinguished itself by demonstrating a foreign policy independent of the United States. That included withdrawing Australian troops from the Vietnam war. This was a decision that infuriated the Americans who, together with the Conservative government of Britain, plotted to overthrow the Australian government.

That overthrow was achieved in 1975, aided to no small degree by the governor general of the time John Kerr, who unknown at the time had close ties to the United States government. He was undoubtedly acting under instructions in engineering the demise of the Whitlam government.

Ever since that time, no Australian government has moved away from United States foreign policy objectives. Australian troops were committed to the first United States led war against Iraq in 1991, and the much longer lasting war against the same country that began in 2003 and continues to the present day. The Iraqi government in fact demanded that all foreign troops should leave their country at the beginning of 2021. After a brief period of panic, Australia took its cue from the United States and refused the demand that they should leave.

Australia similarly followed the United States into its war against Afghanistan, commenced in October 2001 following the attacks upon the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre towers. Afghanistan was accused of sheltering Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the attacks. Bin Laden always denied responsibility. The United States invaded Afghanistan following the then Taliban government’s refusal to hand bin Laden over to them. The Taliban, not unreasonably, asked for proof of bin Laden’s involvement. That was never forthcoming.

Afghanistan was then invaded, with the United States and Allied troops, including Australia, remaining there until August 2021 when they withdrew ignominiously. The United States has retained approximately $9 billion of Afghanistan’s money, and has refused to release the money to the new government. To say that the government of Afghanistan is desperate for those funds would be an understatement. Not a word of criticism of the US actions has been heard from the Australian government, nor the Opposition that is likely to take its place in May.

More recently, Australia cancelled an order to buy French built submarines. The circumstances surrounding the cancellation were a disgraceful example of deception and outright lying. The French president, Emanuel Macron, when asked about the circumstances stated he did not think he was lied to by the Australian government, he “knew”.

The Australian government’s decision to buy United States and British atomic powered submarines in lieu of the French ones reflects a number of points. First, it was a clear manifestation of Australia’s allegiance to the two powers, as part of a new arrangement known as AUKUS, reflecting the initials of the three countries.

The actual terms of the purchase have not been settled, and that is not expected for at least a year. We are told that the first submarines will be delivered up to 2 decades hence. They are clearly designed to fill a role as part of the United States “containment” of China. The strategic thinking behind the decision demonstrates just how much Australia

is linked with contemporary developments involving China. The Chinese have made, and are making, enormous strides in developing its own naval fleet, including submarines and ships designed to hunt down and destroy submarines.

That Australia is expected to play a role in any containment strategy against China demonstrates how utterly out of touch Australia’s military planners are with world developments in general and the role of China in particular. China already has more than 140 nations signed up to its Belt and Road Initiative. In 20 years’ time, when the Australian submarines come into service, the number of members of the BRI will be even greater. They include most of Australia’s neighbours, including New Zealand, Indonesia and several islands states in the South Pacific. They have not bothered to conceal their concern at the Australian move which they clearly see as destabilising the region. All of them have significant trading relations with China and they do not take kindly to any steps that threaten those links.

It is also idle to suppose that China itself will not take increasingly firm steps to control the invasion into what it sees as its territorial waters in the South China Sea by hostile foreign navies, of which both the Americans and the Australians are clearly perceived. Given the importance of China as a trading partner over the past 30 years, such overt hostility by the Australians is clearly self-defeating.

All of these developments have been met with a stunning silence from the Labor Party. To the extent that the maxim that silence implies consent applies, it must be assumed that the Labor Party is fully on board with both the plan to purchase these submarines (at not less than $70 billion) and their intended deployment in hostile actions against what is, at least for now, Australia’s largest trading partner.

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