Should Australia Always Follow the United States Into War?


In 1996, the Howard government was overwhelmely elected on the campaign pledge of upgrading the Australian-USA alliance. Few could have imagined the extent to which its promises would be realized. After eleven years in office, Australia’s Howard government had significantly intensified the alliance (Kelton 2008, p.1) and by 2007, Australia had supported USA global strategic policy culminating into the two countries taking part in the Afghanistan and Iraq war. Australia had given in-principle support for the USA Missile Defense Programme and approved USA equipment and supply basing in northern Australia (Kelton, 2008, p.1). The USA encouraged Australia’s acceptance of an active regional role and cited Australia’s leadership of the UN peacekeeping force in East Timor as a model for its allies’ regional engagements.

Therefore, there is no doubt that USA has been an invaluable ally for Australia. In its provision of pivotal support for Australia’s defense World War II and its intervention in East Timor in 1999, the USA demonstrated at once the substance of the alliance for Australia (Kelton 2008, p.1). For Australia, the alliance with the USA extends the possibilities for the maintenance of its position in a region where some states’ population, military capacity and economic status will increase dramatically.

History of Australia-USA alliance

In 1941, Australian still a young independent state was threatened by the Japan’s aggressive expansion into the Pacific region. It therefore became necessary for Australia to seek the protection of the American republic against Japan imperialism (Hubbard 2005, p.9).

At that time majority of Australians still identified themselves as ‘Australian’ within the wider context of the British Empire, essentially just one of a greater family of nations under the guidance, support and protection of the ‘Mother Country’ (Hubbard 2005, p.9). The second global conflict helped to forge a new, more assertive and independently minded Australia, which saw its future in the post war world as founded on the twin pillars of independence and alliance; independence from the apron-strings of Britain and alliance with the United States (Hubbard 2005, p.9).

The Cold War gained strength in early 1950s and Britain began to withdrew its armed forces from the ‘east of Suez’ as from 1968, Australia had no choice but to acknowledge, without equivocation, the enormous power and potential of the United States as the single guarantor of its territorial integrity and political independence into the foreseeable future, America was now to be the key to Australia’s security (Hubbard 2005, p.9).

Australia, during the Second World War, had became afraid of Japan that forced it to start constructing the framework of its long term security strategy in the context of both its place in its own region and as an increasingly independent member of the international society. This saw Australia return to partial defense cooperation with Britain under the ANZAM defense arrangements I support of Malaya and Singapore. With the Australian commitment to the United Nation-led ‘police action’ against North Korea, Australia began to turn its face eastwards across the Pacific Ocean towards what can be described as ‘the American lifeline’ (Hubbard 2005, p.10).

Since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty, the obligations created by the treaty have been met by Australia and USA. For USA, this has amounted to sharing of defense intelligence, to military personnel exchanges, joint military planning and exercise programmes.

To Australia, it has accessed the America’s advanced military technology. USA has been allowed to establish a number of military communications and surveillance bases on the Australian mainland which are known as joint facilities and has also received Australia’s commitment of military personnel and material assets in Asia wars from Korea in 1950 to the Iraq war in 2003 (Hubbard 2005, p.9). Indeed, various countries in the Asia-Pacific region, more so Australian and Singapore have believed that security in the region is guaranteed only in the presence of US forces (Tow, Thakur and Hyun, 2000, p. 261).

The strength of the Alliance

In 1995, Australia’s then Foreign Minister Gareth Evans said that “It has been both a strength and a weakness of Australian attitudes to the United States that we see ourselves as so similar: both democracies; both beneficiaries of the English language; both inheritors of the rule of law, a free press and a strong private sector; both part of what used to be called the New World.

Yet just as George Benard Shaw described Britain and the United States as separated by the same language, the broad similarities between Australians and Americans mask striking institutional and cultural differences” (Hubbard 2005, p.23). Although Australia and America differ in so many significant and enduring ways, and in the former Prime Minister’s view, the two countries could never be regarded as ‘natural allies’ (Hubbard 2005, p.23).

During the Second World War, the USA troops entered Australia and the Australian reacted with a mixture of curiosity and delight to the ‘American invasion of Australia’. This seemed to combine the elements of the crusader, the circus and the gold rush (Hubbard 2005, p.23). In this scenario, Australia was defenseless and the 1942 threat from Japan, meant that, the Americans soldiers presence was little short of a miracle and a relief from looming disaster. The soldiers were described as “visitors who speak like us, think like us and fight like us and from whom therefore we can find a community of interest and comradeship” by the then Australia’s Prime Minister John Curtin (Hubbard 2005, p.24).

Therefore, as much as the Australia and America do not count themselves as natural allies in any coherent sense, the reality that remains is that, their armed forces have combined in the cause of war and peace on six separate occasions from the World War I in 1917-18 to the Iraq War of 2003. For example in Australia was the first member state of the United Nations to commit forces to fight alongside US forces to defeat North Korean and Chinese aggression against South Korea (Hubbard 2005, p.24). In a period translating to a century, Australians and Americans have cooperated in military operations against a common enemy as well as in the world of innovation and technology (Weiss, Thurbon and Matthews, 2007, pp. 149-150).

Australia and the Asia-Pacific Security

The security environment in the Asia-Pacific involves both the traditional state-power derived security concerns and the new transnational challenges (McDougall and Shearman 2006, p.79). For Australia, it has had to adopt a self-styled ‘multidimensional’ approach to regional security since during the tenure of Gareth Evans as foreign minister. Australia views the region with a close eye on transnational threats and appears to take them more seriously than the traditional challenges such as the inter-state war (Booth and Trood, 1999).

Australia perceives that its security is threatened not so much by major powers but by other international developments such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), regional disorder and transnational crises such as people smuggling (McDougall and Shearman, 2006, p.81). To these threats, Australia has devised three distinct policies in its approach to the regional and the new environment. First, Australia has reasserted its close relationship with the USA,

Secondly, it has reaffirmed and in some cases extended bilateral relations and thirdly, it has limited multilateral cooperation and engagement (McDougall and Shearman, 2006, p.81). Therefore, Australia’s key concerns include fears about regional order, both across East Asia, the WMD proliferation, transnational crime and a broader range of transnational issues including the environment, communicable diseases and energy and resource security.

While Australia is not taking an especially strong leadership role in the region, its policy is active and heavily focused on terrorism (McDougall and Shearman 2006, p.81). These diverse priorities confirm the Australian policy nature which involves a pragmatic blend of realist and liberal preferences. After Britain, Australia is presently the USA closest ally and with a long history, the USA-Australia alliance is the fundamental component of Australia’s defense and security position and the stabilizing influence that the USA plays in the Asia-Pacific is the bedrock of Australia’s regional security strategy (McDougall and Shearman 2006, p.81; Howard, 2006).

Australia has realized that major power relations determine regional order and that its interests lie in an American balanced region and although the transnational challenges are less served by the alliance, a close relationship with America is very important to Australia, in two ways; the USA maintains a stable regional order and underwrites Australia’s security and also, the transnational challenges require cooperative responses and improved intelligence and the close relations provide important resources that will assist it in advancing Australia’s regional security interests specifically in relation to terrorism and WMD proliferation (McDougall and Shearman 2006, p.81).

Australia’s Defense Priorities and Strategies

The Australia’s 2009 Defense White Paper, highlights the key areas that Australia should pursue in matters of strategic security (Lyon and Davies, 2009). The document, in Chapter 1, par 8, states that the main central strategic attention remains the protection of Australia against armed hit. This includes armed attacks by other states and by non-state actors with the capacity to employ strategic capabilities, including weapons of mass destructions (WMD). The next most important strategic interest is the security, stability and cohesion of the Australia’s immediate neighbors (Chapter 1, par 9, ADF 2009)

Away from its Neighbors, Australia has a long-term strategic significance in the stability of the larger Asia-Pacific region, which stretch from North Asia to the Eastern Indian Ocean, specifically, the security of Southeast Asia. Beyond the Asia-Pacific region Australia sees itself insecure if the world is not secure and therefore it is interested in preserving an international order that restrains aggression by states against each other, manage risks and threats such as the proliferation of WMD, terrorism, state fragility and failure, intra-state conflict and the security impacts of climate change and resource scarcity (Chapter 1, par 10, ADF 2009).

The document, further states that the country’s defense should have the capability to operate autonomously anywhere it has exceptional strategic interests, lead military coalitions where it has collective strategic interests and make tailored assistance to military coalitions where it share wider strategic interests.

Australia’s military dependency on USA

Successive Australian governments of whichever political shade have regarded USA alliance as ‘the best ultimate guarantee of Australia’s security’ and essential to the defense of Australia (Rubin and Keaney 2001, p.248). The White paper that have been produced by the successive governments have reinforced this position stating that ‘Australia’s defense alliance with the USA continues to be a key element of its defense policy’ (Rubin and Keaney 2001, p.248).

Howard, during his tenure, stated that Australia’s alliance with USA was by any means their most important relation. That the alliance provided a major strategic advantage and its preservation and improvement was among Australia’s chief strategic priorities (Rubin and Keaney 2001, p.248). Australia has continued to support the USA in the maintenance of a stable global strategic balance by continued hosting of the USA strategic communication and intelligence facilities in Australia which are referred to us the ‘joint facilities’.

Australia, on its part, has also continued to pursue self-reliance strategies articulating that the USA government can just provide Australia with intelligence, defense technology and professional military expertise that can enable Australia to independently handle the regional threat (Rubin and Keaney 2001, p.253). On a broader look, the Australian security environment currently is much more complex and uncertain.

The bipolarity has given way to some undefined form of multipolarity and that there are now more major actors on the stage in particular Japan and China. Some countries in the region have engaged in substantial defense build-ups and acquiring new technologies. Australia has responded by enhancing its own defense capabilities and engaging in extensive multilateral security cooperation (Rubin and Keaney 2001, p.248).

Generally, the Australian-USA cooperation has developed extensively that has seen mature security cooperation that has encompassed joint military training, education and exercises, defense trade, joint effort to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, joint security planning and execution and joint operations (Medeiros 2008,p.250).


Many of the Australia’s White Papers have consistently reinforced the need to foster and maintain their security alliance with the USA. Many of the USA military facilities are established in Australia for the role the Country plays in the region and also for the security of Australia itself. The joint facilities have translated that, for any military action that Australia may want to pursue then it has to jointly consult with the USA. Also a lot of USA personnel undertake trainings and other military educational exercises in Australia and that in itself makes Australia to have dependency on USA.

More so, Australia continue to see USA not just as an ally, but as a country that has been their, during their time of need and therefore any initiative that USA pursue, it becomes the interest and duty of Australia to participate. The USA superpower capacity cannot be ignored, especially when the Australian Military budget is still insufficient to cater for Defense and Military operations. Therefore Australia-USA alliance seems to have no any likelihood of death that will guarantee individual country single military operations.

Reference List

Australian Defense Force, Department of Defense. 2009. Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Web.

Howard, J., 2006. Address to the ASPI Global Forces 2006 Conference Agenda – Australia’s Security, Canberra. Web.

Hubbard, C., 2005. Australian and US military cooperation: fighting common enemies. VT, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Web.

Kelton, M., 2008. More than an ally? Contemporary Australia-US relations. VT, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Web.

Lyon, R. and A. Davies (2009) “Assessing the Defence White Paper 2009”, Policy Analysis, ASPI. Web.

Rubin, B.M. and Keaney, T.A., 2001. US allies in a changing world. N.E, Routledge. Web.

Tow, W., Thakur, R. and Hyun, I., 2000. Asia’s Emerging Regional Order: Reconciling Traditional and Human Security. New York, United Nations University Press.

Weiss, L., Thurbon, E. and Matthews, J. 2007. National Insecurity: the Howard Government’s Betrayal of Australia. Sydney, Allen & Unwin.