Global Security and the Great U.S. Australian Alliance II
Australian Alliance II: Liberal or Labour; Global or Regional?
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The Australian Federal Election is just about a week away. At last look, the Liberal and Labour Parties were virtually neck and neck in national polling when ll policies were considered. With recent announcements refocusing the election on national issues, however, it would appear as though Kevin Rudd, opposition Labour leader, has managed to convince Australians that the time for change is now, and the way to initiate that change is by voting Labour.
Kevin Rudd is leading John Howard as preferred prime minister in every state except Western Australia. Australia, like any other nation experiencing the campaign of a federal election, has again been presented with the opportunity to fully evaluate the strength and prosperity of every aspect of their Commonwealth. As noted in the last edition of Global Security and the Great U.S.- Australian Alliance, however, from healthcare to taxation and education to industry, the internal political debate over Australia’s domestic happenings are of little concern to anyone but the Aussies. What is of concern to everyone else-particularly the United States-is the foreign affairs sector of Australian politics and the possibility for a dramatic shift from our Southern Pacific Alley.
If Rudd and Labour maintain their lead going into the election on Saturday, 24 November, and if Rudd and Labour have convinced the country that the time for change is now, the question for the U.S. government then becomes: What, if anything, will that change mean for the great U.S.-Australian Alliance?
In Part I, a historical review of Australia’s devotion to the United States’ foreign policy ambitions, including Prime Minister Howard’s commitment to the United States led War on Terror, was discussed. The conclusion quickly became clear: no other alley has been more supportive than Australia. Regardless of hopes for clear-cut indications, however, there are no truly patterned features of this alliance, as its history is comprised of complete bipartisanship. It has grown and thrived during twelve American presidents and thirteen Australian Prime Ministers-Democrat and Republican, Labor and Liberal alike. So will this election be any different? Now, for the first time, it may very well be.
President Bush, unlike any other U.S. president before him, has shown both the will and ability to push long-time allies aside, most notably Germany and France, if disagreements on policy approaches arise. It is no secret that these policy disagreements stem from the foreign policy preferences of these nations. Thus, it is the proposed foreign policy approaches by each Australian candidate that should be examined.
For the sake of brevity and interest, there are only two main contenders in this election: Kevin Rudd (Labour Party; Opposition) and Prime Minister John Howard (Liberal Party; Coalition). As a result, it will only be the two foreign policies of these parties that are subsequently examined. As the Cold War was the foundation of foreign affairs talking points for nearly 50 years, the Terrorist’s War on the West is likewise this era’s foundation for foreign policy discussions. Because of such, this will be both the launching place and backbone of the focus in this piece.
John Howard has made it repeatedly clear that the threat of terrorism has necessarily transformed Australia’s global security agenda. The Coalition has repeatedly and very publicly noted that Islamic terrorism remains a serious threat to Australia and to her allies-globally, in Southeast Asia, and in the Southern Pacific. The Prime Minister has promised that under the Coalition, Australia will stay very proactive in ensuring that the threats to its security are met before they become a reality on Australian shores.
This wording should sound familiar to Americans. President Bush promised time and time again that he would fight the fights of the 21st century on the soils of our enemy lest we fight them at home. This preventative warfare has become a core tenet in the Bush doctrine and Prime Minister Howard has unarguably cozied himself to the approach-making Australia a crucially integral and unrelenting partner in the War on Terror.
The Coalition’s platform and approach to the Terrorist’s War on the West, and how it differs from Labour’s, is crisp in an excerpt on Liberal’s official website:
“The Coalition believes that the struggle against Islamist extremism is an indivisible one. Resisting terrorism in one part of the world is as important as resisting it in another. Australia cannot afford to wait until security threats reach our shores before we do anything about them. Just as it is vital to Australia that terrorism be defeated in Afghanistan, so it is vital that it be defeated in Iraq. A victory for the terrorists in either country would run counter to our national interests. It would be a huge setback for the West, an enormous propaganda victory for the terrorists and a boost to terrorist organisations like Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia. Labor’s claim that the job Australia is doing in southern Iraq is of little consequence is both wrong and insulting to those serving with great courage.”1
Prime Minister Howard’s assertion is that, given the networked connections of Middle Eastern Islamic extremist groups to Australasian countries, the threat of failed states around the world-not simply the failing states of the Southeast Asia region-are a direct threat to the Commonwealth of Australia. This has become a dividing issue for Australians. Many are not seeing or sharing Howard’s panoramic understanding of this cruel reality, and the election will more than likely reveal this. It can only be hoped that it will not be to their detriment.
While Coalition continues to campaign on a global focus of addressing instability, tyranny, totalitarianism and terrorism, Labour’s perspective catalyzes a much narrower approach. Kevin Rudd has made it clear time and time again that Australia’s defense spending is going to waste-strike that-rather, “not being put to full value” as it is being used. Labour’s proposal involves a much more regional focus on stabilizing Southeast Asia and Australia’s neighboring countries. Such a focus may very well put Australia on a different track and in a different direction than its allied friend the United States would appreciate.
Labour has addressed a foreign policy that reaches outside of the immediate sphere of concern, but the political rhetoric becomes so strong one could almost choke on it. In reference to globally addressing terrorism and failing states, Rudd notes:
“We therefore need a defence capability that is able to deploy beyond the arc of instability [regional sphere of concern] in partnership with friends and allies, either bilaterally or multilaterally. Of course the core constraint in doing all of this is the size of the defence budget, the size of the ADF and our capacity to deploy our defence assets with dexterity.”2
The first sentence seems very promising for those hoping the strong alliance and shared vision between Australia and the U.S. will continue, but its integrity is quickly eroded by the borage of excuses that follow in the second sentence that will, mark my words, mysteriously manifest themselves into reality once Labour seizes power.
With a more independent Australian approach looming, as noted in Part I, will President Bush push Australia aside if it charters a new course or begins to vociferously argue with U.S. foreign policy? Well, chances are it would be more like a “separation” than a “divorce” in the alliance, but given the upcoming 2008 presidential election, one can safely bet neither will occur.
In fact, the U.S. federal election is going to serve as the missing link of this alliance puzzle. Given President Bush’s history of pushing allies aside, and without displaying a relenting attitude in his War on Terror, there is little reason to believe that Australia wouldn’t get a bit of the Bush Cold Shoulder as well if they chose to abandon their current international pursuits alongside the United States. Being an election year, however, and recognizing the virtue of a conservative victory, the politically smart choice that will be made by the Bush administration, should Labour claim a victory, will be to remain very public allies, press Australia for continued support, and work to convince Rudd of the merits for doing so. Will this work? Yes, of course it will-because Kevin Rudd knows the value of being best friends with the most powerful, most wealthy, most capable kid on the block.
Goodbye Coalition. Hello Labour. Welcome Chapter Two.