A View from America

The Observer (Gladstone, Australia), April 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

A View from America


THE visit of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Washington took place underneath much of the US media radar, receiving relatively little attention.

Smaller nations generally experience that fate, especially currently with our overriding focus on large-scale global economic turmoil.

This is unfortunate, because Australia is an especially valuable ally for the United States. Its foreign policy approach directly parallels London's very long-term commitment to cooperation with Washington.

Australia also has a relatively strong economy, though the global recession hit late last year. Rudd defends the aggressive Washington approach to economic stimulus, in contrast to some European leaders. Moreover, Rudd is an exceptionally articulate speaker, on a par with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his remarkable capacity persuasively to defend American as well as Australian policies.

The Aussie-American special relationship dates from the crucible of World War II and arguably military security is the most crucial dimension. In that struggle, the enormous Japanese military drive south was finally blunted just short of Australia. Jungle savvy Australian troops provided vital support to generally inexperienced Americans.

As with South Korea, the Vietnam War greatly strengthened the partnership even while straining relations with Britain and other allies. A total of 50,000 Australian military personnel served in Vietnam; 520 were killed and 2,400 wounded. Reflecting personnel pressures, Australia reintroduced military conscription in 1964.

In October 1966, Lyndon B Johnson became the first US president to visit Australia, underscoring cooperation with the government of Prime Minister Harold Holt. This characteristically dramatic LBJ expedition was also undertaken to cast the Vietnam War in global terms, as a centrepiece of the Cold War struggle.

Australian military professionals gained very useful guerilla war experience during the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960. …

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