Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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English (Australian) – Alliance

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Alliance, English (Australian)


Relates to alliance

When used in an Australian context the term ‘alliance’ is generally used to signify more than just the Australia-New Zealand United States (ANZUS) Treaty that formalized Washington’s security guarantees to its Pacific partners. Rather, Australia’s ‘alliance’ with the United States is now perceived as encompassing the entire spectrum of the US-Australia strategic relationship, encompassing not only formal military and political ties, but also a deeper sense of strategic identity between two maritime, Anglo-Saxon-derived cultures. From colonization onwards Australia has been embedded in such relationships, first with Great Britain in the period preceding the Second World War and then the US during the period thereafter. This characteristic is often referred to as a ‘Great and Powerful friend’ syndrome. It is a propensity deriving largely from Australia’s enduring cultural and social connections to other traditionally Anglo-Saxon societies,[1] its perceived geographic remoteness, and sense of vulnerability due to its positioning on the periphery of an often volatile Asian region. In recent decades, Australia’s military technological dependence upon the US has also increasingly served as a factor that can be seen to account for Australia’s commitment to the alliance.

The term ‘alliance’ has effectively taken on the character of a foundational assumption in Australian security discourse. The 2009 Australian Defence White Paper, for instance, describes the US-Australia alliance as ‘our most important defence relationship.’[2] Likewise, in his November 2007 election victory speech, Prime Minister elect Kevin Rudd extended greetings ‘to our great friend and ally, the United States’ and his government went on to frequently characterize the American alliance as the ‘first pillar’ of Australian foreign policy.[3] Australian forces have fought alongside their American counterparts in every major conflict the US has been involved in since the First World War, while Australian public support for that alliance relationship has remained consistently high.[4]

Australia has a hierarchy of terms for describing its various security relationships with other countries and alliance is clearly at the top of that hierarchy. Alternative descriptors are applied to other international defence relationships that are regarded as important, yet significantly less so than the US connection. By way of example, the 2009 Australian Defence White paper describes Japan as a ‘critical strategic partner.’[5] It is interesting to note, however, that reports did emerge in March 2007 that the Howard government was seeking to establish a formal alliance relationship with Japan, but was rebuffed by Tokyo.[6]

The depth and longer-term sustainability of the US-Australia alliance is periodically called into question. During a doorstop interview in Beijing in August 2004, for instance, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer implied that Australia’s alliance commitments to the US may not necessarily apply in the case of a Taiwan Strait contingency.[7] More recently, the Australian academic Hugh White has questioned the longer-term viability of the alliance in the face of China’s rise.[8]

Contributions such as these have a tendency to generate an absolutely visceral reaction in the Australian context. White’s questioning of the American alliance has attracted widespread criticism, including in its more extreme form charges that his proposals were akin to the ‘appeasement’ of Germany in the 1930s.[9] Likewise, Downer’s (mis)statement attracted a barrage of media criticism and was followed by a statement from Prime Minister John Howard articulating that ‘nobody can doubt that Australia is a loyal ally of the United States.’[10]




[1] Neville Meaney, A History of Australian Defence and Foreign Policy 1901-23, Volume I: The Search for Security in the Pacific 1901-1914 (Sydney, NSW: University of Sydney Press, 2009), pp.3-5.

[2] Commonwealth of Australia, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, Defence White Paper 2009, (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2009), p.93.

[3] See, for example, The Hon. Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, ‘Australia, the United States and the Asia-Pacific Region’, Speech to the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, 31 March 2008.

[4] See, for example, Ian McAllister, Public and Elite Opinion in Australia Towards Defence Links with the United States, (Canberra: Australian National University, 2005).

[5] Commonwealth of Australia, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, Defence White Paper 2009, (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2009), p.95.

[6] Greg Sheridan, ‘Tokyo rejects security treaty’, The Australian, 12 March 2007.

[7] The Hon. Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia, media conference transcript, Beijing, 17 August 2004.

[8] Hugh White, Power Shift: Australia’s future between Washington and Beijing, (Collingwood, VIC: Black Inc., 2010).

[9] Michael Danby, Carl Ungerer and Peter Khalil, ‘No winners by appeasing China’, The Australian, 16 September 2010.

[10] Cited in Roy McDowall, Howard’s Long March: The Strategic Depiction of China in Howard Government Policy, 1996-2006, (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), p.35.


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