U.S.-Australia Alliance Relations: An Australian View

By Dibb, Paul | Strategic Forum, August 2005 | Go to article overview

U.S.-Australia Alliance Relations: An Australian View


Dibb, Paul, Strategic Forum


Australia is America's oldest friend and ally in the Asia-Pacific region and second closest ally in the world. However, there currently is a debate in Australia about what the United States expects from the alliance and the nature of American power.

Australia's self-reliant defense posture in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific contributes to mutual security. That posture is strengthened by the U.S. security guarantee and access to U.S. intelligence, defense science, weapons, and military logistics support. The alliance also enhances Australia's status in world affairs, especially in Asia.

Australia will remain a committed U.S. ally for the foreseeable future. Canberra and Washington share views on fighting the war on terror, dealing with the spread of weapons of mass destruction, supporting democracy, and preventing the emergence of failed states. However, the challenges Australia faces in its own neighborhood have first priority. Maintaining support for the alliance will also rest upon Washington's success in convincing the Australian public that U.S. policies are both necessary and legitimate and that Australia's contributions to mutual security are not taken for granted.

Obstacles to good alliance relations could arise if the United States made politically difficult demands on Australia in combating terror, sought military support that forced unacceptable risks, or drew it into a major conflict with China over Taiwan. The greatest potential threat to the alliance may be differing views about the security challenges emanating from a rising China. Key Points

Australia is America's oldest friend and ally in the Asia-Pacific region. The two countries fought alongside each other in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the 1991 Gulf War, and most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. The closeness of the two nations today is without precedent in the history of the relationship. Australia is now America's second closest ally in the world, after the United Kingdom.

The United States has been a crucial factor in Australian defense policy for over 60 years. Washington provides a robust security guarantee for Australia, including extended nuclear deterrence. Australia's self-reliant defense posture within its own region is immeasurably strengthened by highly privileged access to U.S. intelligence, defense science, weapons, and military logistics support. The alliance with America adds greatly to Australia's status in world affairs, especially in Asia. But for the first time since the Vietnam War, there is a debate in Australia about what the United States expects from the alliance and about the nature of U.S. power in the contemporary era and what it means for Australia.

This paper offers an Australian view of the alliance with the United States. How robust is it? Are there emerging difficulties and obstacles that are likely to limit future alliance cooperation? How important are domestic political differences in Australia toward the alliance? Will generational change affect the historical rock-solid support for the U.S. relationship? And how can this historical alliance be adapted to meet new regional and global security challenges in the 21st century?

Shared Values, Different Histories

Alliances are not merely the product of rational calculations of national interest. (1) They involve shared values, belief systems, and a history of cooperation. Australia and America have long-shared common democratic values and beliefs. The two nations are among the oldest continuous democracies in the world. For a long time, the United States and Australia (along with New Zealand) were the only democratic countries in the entire Asia-Pacific region. Alliances also demand strong domestic political support: public support for the alliance in Australia has been remarkably resilient, even though there has been enormous strategic change over the half-century of its existence. …

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