Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 12:21 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Nov 2020 | 12:21 | SYDNEY

AUSMIN: Nice icing, different cake?

20 September 2011 09:13

Professor Robert Ayson is Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

The title given to Rory Medcalf's post on the recent AUSMIN communiqué suggests the icing has now been put on the Australia-US alliance cake. But the baking ingredients are present in a different mix, and this changed recipe may have greater implications for Australia's long-term position in the region than whatever the two countries eventually agree on regarding the American military's enhanced use of facilities in Australia.

No communiqué in the last ten years puts nearly as much emphasis on what Australia and the US can and will do together. Some of the earlier ones read a bit more like the products of a mutual appreciation society: there was a strong emphasis on developments that were jointly 'welcomed' by Washington and Canberra as they looked into the region.

But the 2011 document, which is over three times as long as the ANZUS Treaty of sixty years ago, reads like a joint plan of action.

In the Asia Pacific region, which gets billing ahead of global developments for one of the only times since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Australia and the US are now on record as having established a set of 'shared objectives to guide our countries' ongoing cooperative and individual work'. This work applies to a long list of regional relationships which includes Japan, both Koreas, China, India, Indonesia, Burma, and the Pacific Islands (including Fiji).

As Rory observes, the language on the region's main rising power is nicely done. The two allies welcome 'a stable, peaceful and prosperous China that plays a constructive role in Asian and global affairs', and they agree to seek 'a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China.'

But the wider context is that Australia has said it will look at regional issues through a set of spectacles which are shared by the US and that it will then act accordingly and jointly with its larger partner. Does Australia really want its own individual work in the Asia Pacific guided by that same approach? Where does it want its own voice to count?

As is customary today in statements about long-standing alliance relationships, the 2011 communiqué begins with a reference to shared sacrifice – in this case the large costs borne by both the US and Australia in the Second World War. But today, as the much smaller power in this important partnership, could Australia be sacrificing too much of its diplomatic and strategic autonomy in a region where the value it derives from ANZUS is set to diminish?

Photo by Flickr user I don't know, maybe.