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Editorial: ANZUS needs a review

By Acting AWPR President, Dr Alison Broinowski

For 70 years, Australians have been told we can be confident that the ANZUS Treaty guarantees our security against attack. Many believe the US protected Australia against Japan in WWII, which it did not. The Treaty of 1952 contained no such commitment.

President Nixon’s Guam Doctrine of 1969 set new limits on what the US was willing to do for its allies, stating that “the United States is going to encourage and has a right to expect” that military defence will be handled by nations themselves.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reaffirmed this in Sydney in 2003, telling Australians that the international system is ‘yours to protect and defend’.

In recent statements, American leaders have suggested that Japan and Australia should defend themselves against China.

In September, on the anniversary of the signing of ANZUS, we can expect the familiar claims about the benefits of the Alliance for Australia to be repeated. But each can be disputed:

  • Intelligence: it was wrong about Saddam Hussein’s WMD and wrong about the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Joint Facilities: it makes Australia a target of attack in US wars and erodes our independence in foreign and defence policy.
  • Access in Washington: all US allies have access, some more so than Australia, which has been described as an ally that ‘always agrees to everything’.
  • Defence against attack: this is not guaranteed by the Treaty. Any such defence would in fact prioritise US combat elements hosted at bases in Northern Australia.

Even if these claims were valid, the Alliance comes with significant costs:

  • Being a US ally, and the operations of US installations in Australia, make us a target for attack.
  • Since WWII, being a US ally has involved us in illegal wars against countries which didn’t threaten Australia.
  • In 2001, John Howard unilaterally extended Australia’s commitment under ANZUS to fighting the ‘war on terror’ globally. He said in mid-August 2021 that he would ‘do it again’.
  • US weapons companies profit from ever-growing lists of weapons bought by Australia which are not for our defence.
  • Threatening the use of force is illegal in international law and contravenes the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
  • The Alliance erodes Australia’s anti-nuclear principles and is used as a pretext for not ratifying the Treaty Against Nuclear Weapons.
  • Australia’s recent anti-China policies, replicating those of the US, result in our economic prosperity being sacrificed to Alliance.
  • The Alliance could be used to involve Australia in a war with China that is not in Australia’s interests, and which would end in defeat or nuclear annihilation.

Seven decades of experience of ANZUS show that:

  • The ANZUS ‘security myth’ leads to repeated excesses and disasters.
  • The US is not a reliable ally, but is prone to overreach, and to erratic leadership.
  • The US repeatedly fights wars without clear strategies, adequate knowledge of the enemy, or post-conflict plans, let alone paying reparations.
  • When Australia sends forces to these wars, our troops’ performance is affected by the lack of clarity about what they are fighting for. This has lasting consequences.

If Australia is not to repeat past mistakes, it is urgently necessary for government to:

  • Conduct a review of ANZUS to make it applicable to the world we are now in.
  • Make it clear to the US that Australia will not join a coalition for a war which is illegal or contrary to Australia’s interests.
  • Establish a democratic process to govern how Australia commits forces to overseas conflict, with a debate and vote in the Parliament before troops are dispatched or weapons launched.

View the ANZUS primer here

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