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Pacific Islands Society

PO Box 632 | Ebensburg, PA 15931 | USA

843.271.6891 ph web
Domestic Non-Profit Organization
Australia: Strength on Strength
with America
Guest: Kim Beazley
Published: April 12, 2012

In announcing the new basing agreement in
Darwin, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke at
length about China. Given that former Australian
Prime Minister Paul Keating, in whose cabinet
you once served, came out deeply critical of the
Australian government in allowing Obama to
make such a speech before the Australian
parliament, there was obviously some tension.
Was the government itself at all unhappy with his
speech? And, how do you respond to domestic
opposition regarding the strengthening of
military cooperation with the United States?
Finally, at a higher level, do you feel that the
Obama administrations policy approach is
minimizing Australias diplomatic options?

Australia has no criticism of Obama's speech we
liked it. The Australian government thought that it
was a very good speech that needs to be properly
understood. You are never going to get 100 percent
agreement in any democracy. There are always
angles from which to attack policy, and folks do.
And that is all part of the political debate.

Im concerned about getting across the complexity
and depth of American thinking on these things that
provides the proper basis for interpreting what the
president said in his speech. There is that level of
complexity and depth, as I indicated previously.
Knowing that is what informs the speech, how can
we possibly object to it?

The decision (to strengthen military relations with the
U.S.) was well received in Australia. There are
critical elements, which I think emanate from a pretty
old-fashioned view of the global economy, which
focuses primarily on the trade of goods. Certainly,
China has moved into the position of being
Australias number one trading partner. But, it isnt
as big of a percentage of our trade as the Japanese
in the 1980s, nor is it exclusive.

Furthermore, if you decide to make who Australias
trade and investment partner is central, then it must
be said that the United States is overwhelmingly our
number one trade and investment partner. Australia
has enormous sums under management. We are the
fourth largest in the world with $1.8 trillion. Its
increasing exponentially, and in 15 years it will be at
least $4 trillion to $5 trillion. And, the overseas
component of that is overwhelmingly going to the
United States. So, in a sense, we trade goods with
China and we invest with the United States. And the
United States is the principal investor in Australia.

The second reason why I am critical of the criticism
is because its a mistaken view that this can
somehow or other be interpreted as the containment
of China. Its a completely erroneous interpretation,
but its out there, isnt it?

Those are the minority criticisms. They are there.
But, overall, the public reaction has been very
positive. The government has already been quite
clear that this is just a work in progress. This is what
we have already agreed to, but there are other
discussions going forward on other forms of
cooperation as well. In situation normal, we talk
about these things all of the time. It has never been
a quiet alliance. It has never been about one activity
that has gone on for years and years. Its constantly
evolving, and if you look to the future you have to
say that will continue to be the case.

Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | April 12, 2012
Hugh White has argued that the Obama Doctrine
mirrors the geostrategic and political essence
of the Truman Doctrine and therefore
represents clear attempt to contain China. Do
you agree that the Obama administration is
positioning itself and its allies or at least
reinforcing the perception thereof through its
policies to contain China? And, do you feel that
Whites argument for a strategic reorientation for
Australian foreign policy is gaining support in
the Australian foreign policy community?

I dont want to personalize this and comment on
Hugh. But let me take this as a general proposition.
Is the objective of the Obama administration to try to
contain China? My read of the Obama
administration is no, that isnt true. In fact, I think
theres an immensely sophisticated diplomacy
being conducted by this country. And, it isnt
completely just the Obama administration. The
George W. Bush administration was very subtle in
its dealings with the Chinese.

There is a thorough understanding that China
already plays, and is going to play, a very
substantial role in global politics. The United States
isnt entitled to block that, nor does it have an
interest in doing so. It does have an interest in the
character of the international political system (that)
evolves. The United States wants to see it based
upon law and practices, which have been decently
arrived at by common negotiation across the globe.
Particularly important are those that relate to the
global commons and those that relate to boundary
disputes, especially maritime boundaries.

These are important issues in the region which you
are dealing with. First, the global commons here
carries about 50 percent of the worlds shipping.
Second, the countries which are the littoral states to
the south in the Southeast Asian archipelago dont
have a single settled maritime boundary with China.
There are a plethora of disputes, not just between
those states and China, but also between each
other. All of those disputes have the potential to
produce clashes and some of them have already
produced them.

So, the relationship between the criticality of this
portion of the global commons and a lack of
agreement on where boundaries lie leaves a
situation where there has to be resolution. The
United States is prepared to pitch itself into this
region to ensure that all of these issues are resolved
in a way that: 1) Upholds the agreed practices; 2) Is
based on negotiation not force. So, the U.S. stands
there for the settlement of bilateral and multilateral
resolution of boundary issues and the development
of protocols for managing good conduct in the
region. Thats what the U.S. presence does. It has
nothing to do with containment.

The U.S. ought not to be verbally blackmailed out of
doing what it is perfectly capable of given its
maritime capacity in upholding decent international
practice and law by some argument that what they
are doing could be perceived as containment of
someone else. I dont think the U.S. gets sufficient
credit for what is the real underpinnings of policy.
Theres too much old Cold War thinking that too
readily identifies the only possible form of relations
between countries of substantial power as
adversarial. Thats what is setting up the analysis,
which is supposedly designed to rail against it.

We think its a good thing that the United States is
involved in various organizations given the role it
needs to play in upholding these important

As for Australia, we dont have to be linear in the
way we think about relationships between trade
policy interests and strategic outcomes. The world
is complicated and it doesnt just simply revolve
around a simple exchange of economic benefits for
political favors. China trades with Australia because
its in their interest to do so and vice-versa. We dont
need to be anything other than straightforward and
direct in the reasons for our strategic relations.

China and other countries in the region have been
thoroughly aware that Australia has had strong
relations with the United States since World War II
that has from time to time had a military component
to it. Theres nothing going on between Australia
and the United States which is in principle new. Its
always an evolution of practices long established.

Within the alliance, the South Pacific has
traditionally fallen within Australias sphere of
influence. In recent years, Australia has taken
the lead on engaging its neighbors in the region
on behalf of the West, including taking on major
peacekeeping operations in Papua New Guinea
and the Solomon Islands and taking the lead on
engagement with Fiji. However, significant
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | April 12, 2012
challenges have emerged in a number of these
countries. Democracy hasnt taken hold and
there now appears to be a slitting of the Pacific
Islands Forum along Melanesian and Polynesian
lines. This raises the question of whether the
United States should not only take a more
assertive role in the region, but also advance an
alternative diplomatic approach in situations like
Fiji or PNG. From Australias perspective, do you
see any tension forming within ANZUS on
diplomatic engagement in the South Pacific?
And, how concerned are you about the rise of
anti-Australian sentiment and the emergence of
the Melanesian Spearhead Group as a possible
alternative to the Pacific Islands Forum?

The thing that we have always appreciated in our
relationship with the United States is that the U.S.
has always kept its engagement with the South
Pacific islands under constant discussion with us.
They engage us on where American policy is going.
Clearly, from our point of view, the U.S. determines
its own direction wherever it goes. It will rationalize
that policy direction with its friends and others as
the U.S. sees fit.

From our point of view, whats much more important
is that the U.S. is engaged. We think that it is good
for the countries of the region that the U.S. involves
itself. We have been arguing to rather than with
the United States for a very long time that they
become more involved in the region. So, we would
do nothing but encourage them.

The region is getting increasingly complex as the
leaders in the region become more adept at
international diplomacy and more aware of the
character of international relations. Australia doesnt
own any of this territory. We did once at least part
of it. But, we dont own any of it now. So, our
concern for that region is that they be wealthy,
happy, cheerful, well-governed. That is our
objective. And, we all stand for democracy. So, we
are prepared to provide material assistance where
that aid is sought not imposed by countries in
the region. Because the U.S. tends to have very civil
values, the U.S. is engaged in pursuing those
objectives too.

We dont have any problems with the U.S. keeping
the backdoor open as long as they consult with us.
Clearly the U.S. will make up its own mind on what
direction it wants to go. So long as it doesnt give us
any surprises, we have no basis for complaint.

The MSG has been around quite a long while, and
we have coexisted with it jointly. So, its not
something that has us phased or fussed.

The relevance of nuclear extended deterrence in
Asia is being contested in certain Track II
communities. Do you believe that extended
nuclear deterrence is still critical to American
allies in Asia-Pacific? If so, did the recent
Nuclear Posture Review, which emphasizes
nuclear arms reductions, measurably affect
Australias strategic posture?

Although there was an active debate in the 1960s,
Australia chose not to become a nuclear power both
because of the significance of the U.S. nuclear
deterrent and the importance of the NPT as a means
of limiting proliferation.

Having said that, we also take the view that the
world would be a better place without nuclear
weapons because the consequences of a nuclear
strike would be horrific. We understand the
complexity of how this would be achieved, so we
have been standing out there and telling our
partners that we should keep in the spirit of nuclear

So, when the president announced his changes in
doctrine and the direction he wanted to take us in, I
was very happy. It was pushing doctrine in the
direction of where we hope ultimately it will end up,
without losing the value to countries like Australia,
Japan, South Korea, and others. We could be
reasonably confident that we still have a capable
friend in the United States.

There has been persistent talk that the Australian
government is reassessing its $16 billion-plus,
100-plane commitment to the F-35 fighter
program following well-publicized statements by
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith.
There has also been widespread criticism of the
program within Australia and beyond. However,
theres the very real perception that American
allies will be required to belly-up to the F-35 as a
sort of indirect tax for American security
guarantees in the Asia-Pacific region. Do you
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | April 12, 2012
believe that the decision to procure the F-35 will
ultimately be a political one for Australia, or do
you think it will be based solely on its merits?
Also, there are increasing concerns that if the
Eurofighter doesnt find markets, that the West
could be left with just one manufacturer capable
of offering future generation fighters. Does this
argument concern you?

No. What plays into our decision-making is what
aircraft provides the most effective defense for
Australia and what aircraft gives us the deterrent
value a secure strike capability. And we have
chosen the F-35 as the aircraft that does that. For
Australia, we need a well-armed defensive system
right nownot two weeks from now or 20 years from
now. So, Australia always has an eye on that. Thats
something that anyone who is working with Australia
needs to keep in mind and that is that we need
something thats ready right now.

Australia also has a lot of past procurement
experience in new capacity aircraft that push the
envelope, such as the F-111. During that time, it was
extremely controversial and it took us a long time to
get it nearly 15 years. In the end, it was one of the
most effective elements of the Australian deterrent
for 30 years and it was a great aircraft.

We know that the U.S. will make the F-35 work, but
the question when and how much the cost? And the
U.S. answer to that is soon and as soon as
possible. So this gets factored into the decisions.
But, at the end of the day, theres no doubt to
Australia that the F-35 is the best thing around.

We arent concerned about the argument of having
one supplier for the next generation fighter for the
entire West because were not in crisis. We always
seek things that work and things that keep us
comparable to our friends and provide a good
defense to our country.

One issue of concern for Australian national
security is the co-basing of Australian fighters in
Guam or other bases that are in the strategic
reach of potential American strategic
adversaries. Some allege that this basing
strategy is designed to trap Australia into
becoming party to conflicts in which it would not
necessarily want to engage, like Taiwan. Others
argue that such basing agreements are a natural
extension of the alliance and reassure all parties
in the region of Australias complete
commitment to the United States. What are your
views on American-Australian co-basing in
Guam and other regions of the Indian and Pacific
Oceans (ex. Cocos Islands)? What are the risks
and what are the benefits?

What the president and prime minister announced
last November was an intensification of training
opportunities with the rotational presence of Marines
in northern Australia and an increase co-operation
between our two air forces. In terms of the normal
deployment, we dont see any changes. However,
(the issue of joint-basing of Australian aircraft in
Guam or other U.S. military facilities in Asia) hasnt
been discussed.

ANZUS recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
To remain relevant, the terms of the treaty must
be regularly updated to account for the changing
security environment. For example, the
Australian and U.S. governments announced
earlier this year that a cyber attack on either
nation would trigger the treaty. However, some
say there are larger questions to be answered
than just what new threats fall under the treaty.
There are issues of strategic responsibilities and
shared costs that cant be overlooked. So, from
your perspective, what is the current state of
ANZUS? What more needs to be done to
modernize the treaty, and how is Australia
responding to Americas call for its allies to
contribute more to global security within the
context of ANZUS?

Most people Australians included have a fixed
view of the American-Australian alliance. ANZUS is
just part of the relationship a sort of boilerplate
document that underpins it all. So, theres a sort of
assumption that it was there in 1951 and its the
same now. It isnt. It changes constantly. It changes
quantitatively in the characteristic of the relationship
between the two countries and the things they do
together. It also changes geo-politically as the area
that Australia inhabits alters in terms of importance
to the United States.

One of the reasons it took so long to get ANZUS in
place from 1945-51 across successive Australian
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | April 12, 2012
governments was because the South Pacific was no
longer relevant to the United States once World War
II was over. The focal points of the Cold War were
already relevant by the end of the 1940s. The global
political system of the Cold War had as its focal
points Europe, North Asia, and to a degree the
Middle East because of oil. Particularly after the
Vietnam War, the Nixon Doctrine assumed not much
importance to Southeast Asia and none at all to the
South Pacific. So, the zones of fascination to
Australia were barely important to the United States.

Our significance to the United States was the
product of two things. In 1941, our significance was
that we had to sign the Japanese peace Treaty, and
ANZUS was an exchange of that signature. It was
the 1960s that dramatically changed that
relationship though. As John F. Kennedy decided
that the focal points werent the only things at stake
in the Cold War, Southeast Asia was temporally put
on the table as the United States sought allies in
Vietnam, which upgraded the relationship with
Australia until Australian training of troops in South
Vietnam was successfully sought in 1962.

Even more important, (U.S. Defense Secretary)
Robert McNamara completely reinvented the U.S.
strategic deterrent, which gave the U.S. new
requirements for communications, early warning
systems, and intelligence gathering systems.
Australia was the quiet continent that was the
perfect ground station for installation of systems of
those kinds. Those systems and agreements
associated with them are at least as important in
characterizing the relationship between the United
States and Australia as ANZUS. Theyve changed
technologically as technological changes have
occurred in the U.S. military. They remain important,
and they are if you like the ballast of the relationship
between Australia and the U.S.

There are now many other things being done.
Technological change has now put cyber on the
table, and the agreements that we have in place are
pretty advanced. The world in which we now live
places at least as much premium on intelligence
gathering as the Cold War did probably a bit more
on the HUMINT side than the Cold War did. So the
intelligence relationship is increasingly significant.

The real increase though of Australian significance
to the U.S. is geographic. The conclusion of the
Cold War assumes a new central dynamic in the
word system. That central dynamic is the rise of new
economic powers most of which are situated
along the Asia-Pacific.

All of a sudden, Australia has gone from the
backwater strategically with the exception of those
joint facilities and is now the Southern tip of the
focal point of the global political system. So, where
does the alliance go? Pretty much strength on
strength on the basis of that argument.

The Iranian nuclear program has garnered
headlines for the last year. The U.S. Secretary of
Defenses comments a few months ago that an
Israeli attack on the program is probable in the
coming months have only fueled concerns that
we are on the verge of another major conflict.
What are your views on the clear and present
threat that Iran poses to the world? Do you think
that a major escalation in the conflict is likely in
the next six months and what is at stake if Israel
or others commit to a major attack on Iran?

We think its tremendously important that the Iranian
government understands completely that the rest of
the globe is concerned that Iran has failed to
answer serious international concerns with its
nuclear program.

The effects of Iranian nuclear weapon development
could cause instability in the Middle East and
beyond. Then we would have a totally different
world where nuclearization is general and there is
greater possibility of devastation in any particular
conflict. Those are big stakes, and therefore weve
done everything we can as a government to
advocate against it, including at the United Nations
and in our dialogue with other countries who are
interested in the issue.

We do everything we can do ensure that those
sanctions are hard enough that it will change the
opinion of the Iranian government and will change
the direction of where it is going because the long-
term consequences if they do go down the nuclear
road are horrific. If they persist and it becomes a
conflict, then we all bear the economic struggles.

Many observers believe that U.S.-Pakistan
relations are at an all-time low. New efforts in
Congress to cut Pakistan aid potentially raise
new issues that undermine Pakistani confidence
in the U.S. relationship and will do little to help
Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | April 12, 2012
Pacific Islands Society
PO Box 632 | Ebensburg, PA 15931 | USA
843.271.6891 ph web
Domestic Non-Profit Organization
the Obama administration repair relations. From
Australias perspective, do you think that the
Wests engagement with Pakistan is on the verge
of a radical shift?

We take a very firm view that Pakistan must be
encouraged. While its not an easy thing to do, it has
to be done. When everybody is frustrated with
Pakistan, and many countries are frustrated with
them, at the end of the day, you sit down and think it
through and the conclusion you come up with is that
you should stay engaged.

We have a strong relationship with Pakistan
ourselves. We continue our relationship with the
Pakistani military because its a very important
contribution, so we stay in conversation with the
Pakistanis. We simply hope that Pakistan succeeds
as a country and that Pakistan plays a constructive
role in things like Afghanistan.

The U.S. Defense Department recently
announced the launch of a new Air-Sea Battle
program. But, as the press pointed out following
the press conference at the Pentagon, the U.S.
military has done little to articulate what unique
contributions the Air-Sea Battle provides to the
U.S. military and how it differs from the Joint
Chiefs of Staffs existing responsibilities. As an
important ally of the United States whose
national security rests largely on your air-sea
gaps, what is your perception of the concept and
do you believe that the new office offers any
distinct contributions to your national security
interests? Does it send a message to you when
they have O6s stand up and say they will focus
on air-sea battle after the Darwin speech?

We have said since 1992, the defense of Australia is
maritime defense. The maritime defense in the first
instance is the capacity to sufficiently use surface
and sub-surface forces to defend Australia from
anyone and anything with technical ability that exists
within the region if circumstances arise that those
who possess those technological capabilities have
changed their intent (and) intend to do us harm.

Maritime strategy and maritime defense is therefore
something Australia is entirely familiar with. And so,
when the Americans say they have given
considerable effort in developing doctrine around
the concept of the air-sea battle, i.e. maritime
strategy, we are definitely in (on) it.

(The fact that senior U.S. military staff are raising the
issue) doesnt send a new message because
Americans have been talking about, especially in its
internal discussions, where it wants to focus its
defense spending. There have been a lot of
discussions that focus on maritime security and
capacity to ground operationsThe U.S. has been
discussing that for a long time.

Guest: Kim Beazley is the Australian Ambassador
to the United States.

Interviewer: Michael Edward Walsh is the President
of the Pacific Islands Society.

The views expressed are those of the respondent.