The Need for an Independent Foreign Policy for Australia is Now Urgent

Anzac signing, 1951

By James O’Neill*

Australia has just marked the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS treaty, an agreement that links the United States, Australia and New Zealand. On this anniversary it is appropriate to ask what benefit the alliance actually offers to Australia. In theory, the treaty provides that in the event that one of the three is attacked, then the other two will come to its aid. That raises the immediate question, who is likely to actually attack any of the three?

The United States is possibly the most likely of the three to be attacked, most probably by an angry nation that has itself been the object of United States military intervention. There are a large number of possibilities. Since the end of World War II, the United States has been involved in military conflict, in one form or another, in more than 70 countries.

That conflict has ranged from outright invasion and occupation, as in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan in this century alone, to more surreptitious invasions as in the cases of Libya and Syria. In the cases of those countries that are invaded, the United States always has an ostensible reason, however flimsy and ill-founded those justifications may be.

In the case of Iraq, it was the alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction”. That turned out to be a complete fiction, discovered immediately after the invasion. It did not prevent the Americans from continuing their occupation. They and their Australian allies are still occupying that country, 17 years later, and despite a demand from the Iraqi government that they should leave.

As has been widely publicised in recent weeks, the Americans have finally been discharged from Afghanistan. Justification for that war was also a lie, the alleged the role of Osama bin Laden in the attacks on New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001.

Osama bin Laden died of natural causes at the end of 2001, yet we were subjected to a fictional story about him being tracked down and killed years later, with the body buried at sea. Dumping the body has the perfect excuse of it never being available for inspection, something that would have destroyed the whole story. Even if the United States version of events were true, and Osama bin Laden was the reason for the invasion of Afghanistan, it hardly justifies a continuation of your occupation for more than a decade longer.

The truth of the matter is that these United States military adventures are always carried out for reasons other than the real one. The manifest lies told to justify these military escapades has never deterred the Australian government from committing Australian troops to the American cause. It was true in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In the case of Vietnam, there was at least one Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, not prepared to tolerate a continuation of Australia’s commitment to that military misadventure. In withdrawing Australian troops as one of his first acts as prime minister, Whitlam gained the everlasting dislike of the Americans. Together with their agent, Governor-General John Kerr, the Americans worked tirelessly for the overthrow of the Whitlam government.

That experience had a salutary effect on the Labor Party who has never dared to pursue a policy in Australia’s interests if it conflicted with the United States aims. Recent revelations of the degree to which Prime Minister Bob Hawke was in fact beholden to United States imperialism should come as no surprise. No Labor leader since Hawke has shown the least inclination to charter an independent Australian foreign policy. The present Labor leadership cannot be relied upon to charter an independent foreign policy for Australia in the event, as seems likely, that they win the next federal election.

Rather than celebrating the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS treaty, therefore, it should rather be a time for genuine reflection and the asking of some serious questions. For example, from whom exactly is this country protected. Indonesia has never shown the least interest in a military conquest of Australia. There are those who will instinctively answer China, but again, where outside the fantasy life of some mainstream media hacks is there any actual evidence that China has the least interest in invading Australia? China’s preoccupations lie elsewhere, including advancing the interests of its Belt and Road Initiative, currently with economic ties to more than 140 countries (but not including Australia), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which is arguably the most important political grouping in the world today.

The frankly pathetic attempt by the United States to cobble together an anti-China alliance with a quartet of nations (along with Australia, India, and Japan) is doomed to miserable failure. India is a member of the SCO, and in a recent meeting of the Eastern Economic Forum (4th September 2021) prime minister Narendra Modi referred to Russia’s President Putin as his “dear friend” which says a lot about any Indian involvement in an attack on Russia’s close ally China.

Rather than tying itself to a declining power, Australia needs to look to its regional neighbours to forge closer economic and political ties. A look at a map shows where Australia lives in relation to the world, its geography matched by its trading relationships, with China and Japan accounting for more than 60% of Australia’s exports.

The United States alliance, rather than being a shield, has become a burden. It is long past the time when the relationship was reappraised.

*Geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at


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