The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

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Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs,
at the University of Sydney conference,
The Australia-United States Alliance and East Asian Security,
Sydney, 29 June 2001.

Australia's Alliance with the United States: Maintaining the "Fabric of Peace"


Thank you, Ambassador; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I want to congratulate Sydney University for its initiative in organising this conference and bringing together an impressive array of officials, academics and commentators. I am pleased that my Department was able to assist in the arrangements, along with the Department of Defence and the US Embassy in Canberra.

Our alliance with the United States is fundamental to Australia's foreign policy, and giving a speech about it tonight reminds me of something Harold Macmillan said in 1955:

"A Foreign Secretary . is always faced with this cruel dilemma. Nothing he can say can do very much good, and almost anything he may say may do a great deal of harm. Anything he says that is not obvious is dangerous; whatever is not trite is risky."

I will leave it up to you to judge whether I can manage to find my way through this dilemma tonight!

But it is clear that, in forging the ANZUS alliance 50 years ago, Percy Spender, as Australia's Foreign Minister and shortly thereafter Ambassador to Washington, managed to say and do a great deal that was not obvious at the time. And, although it may have been a little risky, this certainly did no harm and, indeed, produced huge benefits for Australia.

I can also thank Percy Spender, and others like John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk who contributed to establishing ANZUS, for putting the alliance on such a firm and broad footing that I feel at no risk of doing it any harm with anything I may say here tonight!

Be that as it may, tonight I propose to focus on the Conference theme that relates the importance of the alliance to East Asian security. In doing so, I want to make two key points; first, the alliance advances Australia's national interests in very practical and hard-headed ways, above and beyond the long-standing people-to-people and emotional ties between the two countries; and second, the alliance does not mean that the US and Australia always agree on everything.

The Alliance - In Australia's National Interest

I want to put to rest this evening a view we hear from time-to-time in the media and elsewhere which argues that the ANZUS Treaty and the alliance is no longer relevant to Australia's interests with the end of the Cold War, or that it somehow imposes unacceptable trade-offs in Australia's relations with the Asia Pacific region.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Forging and maintaining strong relations with one country or region does not mean neglecting any other country or region. To suggest that the depth and strength of our alliance with the US somehow weakens or compromises our ties with the Asia Pacific is nonsense.

In fact, ANZUS was seen from the outset as a means of enhancing our ties with the region: Percy Spender, who pushed so strongly to conclude the ANZUS Treaty, did so with a clear and expressed conviction that Australia's destiny was bound up with Asia. He saw the Australia - US alliance as a linchpin for stability in the region.

On the eve of his departure for the Colombo Conference in January 1950, Spender said that "Australia and the United States of America are the two countries which can, in co-operation one with the other, make the greatest contribution to stability and to democratic development of the countries of South-East Asia." This was 13 months before the crucial Canberra negotiations at which the fundamentals of ANZUS were hammered out. And the preamble to the treaty itself noted the desire of the parties "to strengthen the fabric of peace in the Pacific Area".

The contemporary argument in favour of ANZUS and the Australia-US alliance doesn't rest fundamentally on the genuinely close emotional and cultural links between the two countries - as important and long-standing as they are - but on the continuing congruence of Australian and US national interests and values in so many areas. In short, it is mutually beneficial.

Let me make four key points in support of my argument.

First, from the outset, ANZUS was conceived as a security pact flexible enough to be relevant to a range of challenges. Initially, this was Australia's concern to be protected against the threat of a militarily resurgent Japan. Then, in the Cold War, it was protection against the threat of Communist expansionism. Now, in what President Bush has recently described as an era in which the threats come from uncertainty, it provides a bedrock of certainty and security on which both Australia and the United States know they can always rely.

Second, the alliance helps cement the US into the security architecture of the region. The United States, through its engagement in the Western Pacific, plays a particularly important role in balancing and containing potential rivalries in the region. For all the crises of the past three years, the power balance in the region has remained stable, essentially because the US has maintained and strengthened its alliances with Asia-Pacific countries.

Third, Australia's alliance with the United States gives Australia much greater weight and relevance in regional and global security issues. The most prominent recent example of this was the way the US took guidance from Australia in lending its assistance to the UN operation in East Timor, without which the operation would not have been nearly so effective.

And fourth, as a result of the alliance, we carry substantially more weight in Washington in regional affairs - and beyond - than would otherwise be the case. The machinery of the ANZUS Council, which evolved into the regular AUSMIN talks, has given Australia a stronger voice in global and regional security discussions, which was just as important in the minds of Spender and the other Australians advocating the arrangement as the security guarantee.

Against this background, one of the Howard Government's major foreign policy achievements has been to revitalise and reinvigorate the Australia-US alliance relationship.

The 1996 Sydney Statement highlighted the alliance's contemporary strength at a challenging time in the development of the Asia Pacific. The Government's 1997 White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy characterised the alliance as "an asset both redefined and strengthened by the end of the Cold War", and last year's White Paper on Defence Policy reaffirmed this important judgement.

As a result, our partnership with the United States has prospered in recent years, with the close cooperation between the two countries in advancing the UN effort in East Timor one of the high points.

Significantly, the Bush Administration is strongly committed to long term strategic engagement in our region. This augurs well for the future of the alliance and its enduring vitality.

Another view that has received some attention in the press in recent months has been the line that ANZUS ties Australia into acting in support of US interests, but that the US has failed to support Australian goals in the region.

This is plainly wrong. Given our size and limited strength, there will always be much that we cannot achieve alone. There is real value in having such a close alliance with the most powerful country in the world today, on whose help we can rely in the event of any threat to ourselves, and whose ear is always open to us.

The recent debate about the US proposal to develop a missile defence system has been characterised by some as a choice for Australia between its alliance relationship and its relations with the Asia Pacific region. I categorically reject that proposition.

Australia understands America's interest in being able to defend itself, or its allies, against missile attacks from so-called rogue states. If America were vulnerable to attack by rogue states, its ability to remain actively engaged as a powerful force for peace and stability would be severely compromised. And it is very much in Australia's national interest for America to be actively engaged in international affairs, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dealing with disagreements

The fact that our interests and those of the US often coincide is not to say that we never disagree with the United States or make our views known vigorously in areas of dispute.

On the contrary, as many Americans in and out of Washington would willingly attest, we are prepared to fight our corner furiously and effectively in support of Australia's national interests. Indeed, it is the strength of the relationship that allows us to do that without fear of compromising our friendship.

Our government has supported the US on missile defence and other recent issues because it is in Australia's interest to do so. Similarly, we have been guided by Australia's national interest on the many occasions when we have been opposed to US policy and expressed that opposition fearlessly.

Let me give a few examples to illustrate my point.

First, it is well known that the bilateral trading relationship between Australia and the US, strong as it is, has seen a number of hard fought disputes over the years. The recent lamb case is an excellent example of the way in which Australia has always fought fiercely to protect and advance its own interests in the WTO system when we believe the US, and indeed any other trading partner, is not playing by the agreed trade rules. We have fought the case hard all the way to the WTO Appellate Body, where we won, and we are continuing to press the US to implement the WTO rulings promptly and fully.

Second, Australia has been a leading advocate of a six year effort to draft a new monitoring protocol to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. We are vice-chair of the group negotiating the protocol and head of the Australia Group, an informal group of 32 countries that monitors trade in chemicals and biological agents.

The US is currently reviewing its position on the protocol and the indications are that the review will recommend against the US signing on to the Chairman's existing text. Whilst the refusal looks like being a carefully considered one, we disagree forcefully with the reasons for it. I have written to Secretary of State Powell strongly urging the United States not to reject the proposed protocol to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, and I made representations on this issue to senior US envoys who have visited Australia in recent weeks.

Third, I also used the recent visit by James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, to call again on the US to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was adopted in 1996 by the UN General Assembly as a result of international action led by Australia to save the treaty. Over the past year, Australia has made representations to more than thirty countries, including the United States, in support of signature and ratification of the CTBT.

I will be attending a second conference of signatories and ratifiers, convened under Article XIV of the treaty to promote entry into force, in New York in September. The Bush Administration's final position on the treaty may be subject to the outcome of its defence and strategic policy review. Australia hopes that the US will realise that an effective CTBT is in US security interests, as well as contributing to global strategic security, and that the Administration will support Senate ratification of the treaty.

Fourth, the conclusion of the ANZUS Treaty itself is an example of Australia pursuing its national interest forcefully in its dealings with the US. The US was initially reluctant to enter into a pact with Australia and New Zealand alone. Spender bargained hard with the US representatives, in the considered belief that a security pact with the US was essential to Australia's national interest.

Far from toeing the US line, we used all our persuasive power to convince the US to enter into ANZUS, to get an effective, binding and mutual obligation, involving the countries we wanted.

Conclusion - Announcement of DFAT-sponsored Fulbright Award

The ANZUS 50th anniversary celebrations are a time to celebrate the contribution of the Treaty as a pillar of regional security and stability. ANZUS remains at the heart of our alliance relationship with the United States, and - although we are self-reliant in defence - it continues to serve as a further, effective deterrent against attack on Australia. The alliance has proven its durability and flexibility as an effective and practical framework for cooperation.

More broadly, the Australia-US relationship has developed across many different fields in ways that continue to touch Australians and Americans from all walks of life.

With a new century, the Australia-United States alliance faces new challenges and opportunities, but I am convinced that, fifty years from now, Australians and Americans will be celebrating the alliance's centenary with as much flair and enthusiasm as they are today.

And now, it is with great pleasure that I announce an initiative which combines the practical and the cultural aspects of the Alliance that I have been speaking about tonight. It is an initiative that marks the 50th Anniversary of the Alliance, and recognises the similar age of another successful bilateral collaboration that has stood the test of time - the Fulbright program in Australia.

My Department will sponsor a Professional Fulbright Award in Australia/US Alliance Studies, which will focus on the study of some of those hard-headed contemporary issues of interest to both Alliance partners - defence/security, trade, economics and politics.

Recipients of the Award will be affiliated with two Centres in the US dedicated to the study of Australia - the Centre for Australian/New Zealand Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, and the Edward C Clarke Centre for Australian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin (I might add here that Adelaide and Austin have a sister-city relationship). The Award will be administered by the Australian Fulbright Commission.

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