By Ambassador Kim Beazley
ANZUS, the primary agreement underpinning the American defence relationship with Australia and New Zealand, turns 60 this year. Of the multiplicity of alliances signed in the so-called San Francisco system, which extended American deterrence to the Asia-Pacific region in the 1950s, it is the one that is evolving to a deeper level of complexity and intensity than it had at its outset. In Australia’s case, ANZUS is the basic document in what is a multitude of agreements with the US which support major intelligence collaboration (including substantial joint facilities in Australia), military cooperation, scientific research and arms sales. With regard to the latter, Australia is the fourth largest market for American weapons. It is a high quality exchange given the significance accorded both sides in the Treaty to interoperability. It has been enhanced recently by the ratification of the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty. This underpins ready Australian access to a quality of arms that enhances Australia’s capability beyond what might be expected of the globe’s 11th largest defence spender.
The story of the first forty years of ANZUS was the integration of the relationship, particularly that between the US and Australia, into key features of the Cold War’s central balance. At its beginning, Australia was more heavily engaged with its traditional partner, the United Kingdom. Sections of the American Administration were quizzical of the agreement, so far was it removed from the key Cold War flash points in North Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Indeed, the Joint Chiefs demanded it should involve no permanent military planning. Its adoption was the price to be paid for Australia’s support for a Japanese Peace Treaty.
All this changed in the 1960s – a product of three developments. The UK Australian ally determined to withdraw its presence “east of Suez”, as the Malayan Emergency ran down. On the other hand, the Kennedy Administration’s willingness to broaden the US’s defence of freedom to any point on the globe put the Australian relationship on the table in a Southeast Asian context. More important, a third development was the massive expansion of American nuclear capabilities, which made it essential for the US to extend early warning, communications and intelligence-gathering technical facilities to the suddenly well-located continent in the south. In response to the second development, Australia and New Zealand supported U.S. forces in Vietnam with their own. The third was longer lasting. The aftermath of the Vietnam War dropped Southeast Asia back to a backwater in U.S. policy. However, the increasing sophistication of intelligence and early-warning technologies and their direct importance to both arms control and system modernization rendered the joint facilities even more important. By the Cold War’s end Australia, though still in a strategic backwater, was deeply integrated in an immensely complex information-gathering capability. That position was reinforced by re-negotiations of agreements which saw substantial numbers of Australians staffing the facilities.
The end of the Cold War either dismantled alliance structures or saw members scramble to establish new missions and meaning. For ANZUS, the transition in the two decades post-Cold War has been seamless. Engagement in the intelligence/military area has been deepened, reflected in engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and an Australian willingness to assume greater responsibilities in its immediate region. Interchange of military personnel, joint exercising, and weapons sales are as intense and probably more extensive than during the Cold War. The so-called “revolution in military affairs” through complex technologies has occurred with the predictable effect on Australian requirements. Pivotal also has been Australia’s geostrategic situation. Manifestly in the new global distribution of power it is not situated in a backwater. Rather it is for the US a solid and competent ally in the southern tier of the new focal point of the global system – the Asia-Pacific. From the establishment of APEC on, Australia has been engaged in the creation of new global and regional structures, anxious always for American engagement. ANZUS links a superpower, the US, with a substantial but not great power, Australia. The relationship is thus imbalanced as always. However, as focus moves to the regions adjacent to Australia, the significance of that imbalance recedes. Few of the U.S.’s alliance relationships have been capable of such effective readjustment as circumstances change.
H.E. The Honorable Kim Beazley AC is the Australian Ambassador to the United States of America.