Book Review: The US Lobby and Australian Defence Policy
Book Review: The US Lobby and Australian Defence Policy
Monash University Publishing, Clayton, 2019.
Vince Scappatura has done some impressive research for this book. He reveals how completely enmeshed Australian foreign and defence policy is with the US imperial project. For those of us who are aware of how subservient the ruling class in this country is to US imperialism, what is contained in the book should come as no surprise. However, what is perhaps eye opening is the extent of the subservience, the lengths that the ruling class in Australia (through the agency of various bodies) has gone to in involving Australia ever further in the machinations of US imperialism.
Scappatura argues that for Australia’s policy-making elites, the US alliance is the bedrock, the foundation upon which Australian diplomacy rests. In fact, the alliance is crucial to much of Australia’s foreign and defence policy. So much so that it has become part of what Scappatura calls ‘the alliance orthodoxy’. The alliance orthodoxy shapes elite opinion successfully and has done so for decades:
Although material interests and the desire to advance state power and influence form the basis of elite support for the alliance, the breadth and depth of that support is sustained by a pro-US security consensus and alliance orthodoxy, rooted in domestic institutions, ideologies and historical legacies, that serves to constrain Australian national security policymakers and prevent them from departing too far from the status quo. (Scappatura, 2019, p. xxiv)
For the majority of the Australian public the ANZUS alliance is perceived to be a guarantee of US military support in the event of an attack on Australia. However, the alliance is no such guarantee. The pursuit of an alliance between Australia and the US and the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951 has been described as a triumph for the negotiating abilities and persistence of Sir Percy Spender. Though, as Scappatura states, Spender was disappointed by what the US committed to when signing the Treaty. The ‘US refused to provide a security arrangement on a par with NATO or the access to strategic decision making that Australia had sought.’ (Scappatura, 2019, pp. 27-8) Philip and Roger Bell make the point more forcefully:
ANZUS … was a very modest concession by America, as it was not a strong Pacific version of the Atlantic NATO alliance. ANZUS did not insist that an armed attack on one member would be interpreted as an attack on all. At most, Australian officials conceded privately, ANZUS gave them ‘access to thinking and planning of the American administration at the highest political and military level’. In practice, however, it did not ensure even this limited result. If ANZUS was celebrated publicly over the next … decades as an assurance of US military support, Australian officials were privately dismayed by its limited and ambiguous nature. (Bell and Bell, 1993, p. 141) (see 1 below)
It serves the purposes of the Australian ruling class that the false perception held by many members of the Australian population about the alliance continues. Such a false perception helps to legitimise the ‘special relationship’ that supposedly exists between Australia and the US.
Scappatura debunks the so-called ‘special relationship’. Despite the rhetoric, which emphasises the fact that US and Australian armed forces have fought together in various conflicts over the course of the twentieth century (establishing a bond between the two countries sanctified by the shared shedding of blood, so the rhetoric goes) when it comes down to it, the US ruling class will ignore any appeals to sentiment or friendship; their national interests come first.
Scappatura provides three examples where the US ruling class took such a hard-headed approach regarding their interests as opposed to Australian interests. In the early 1960s, the ruling class in this country wanted the US to oppose Indonesia’s claims on West New Guinea (also known as West Papua). The US ruling class saw more merit in turning a blind eye to the Sukarno regime’s takeover of West Papua because Sukarno was regarded as a bulwark against Indonesia’s communists and thus worthy of US support. Australian ruling class circles then faced the possibility of conflict with Indonesia without the backing of its powerful alliance partner. (Scappatura, 2019, p. 30) As the junior partner in the alliance, the Australian government dropped its request that the US oppose the Indonesian takeover of West Papua, falling into line with US imperialism’s Cold War strategising. As a consequence, the people of West Papua have paid the price of Australian subservience to US imperialism for decades.
Two other examples of conflicting US and Australian interests are furnished by Scappatura. The 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam government was the culmination of US concerns about the more independent stance that Whitlam and some of the members of his government took regarding foreign policy, in their attempt ‘to shake off Australia’s client state status after two decades of unadulterated conservative support for the alliance.’ (Scappatura, 2019, p. 31) Also concerning for the US ruling class was Whitlam’s intention to make public CIA involvement in the running of Pine Gap. Scappatura pulls his punches about whether the CIA actively sought to have Whitlam dismissed stating that ‘there is no conclusive evidence of this’ (the removal of Whitlam from office), though recent research has uncovered ‘that the CIA had certainly planned specific covert operations against Australia’ during this period (Scappatura, 2019, p. 31). US Policymakers, too, had contemplated Whitlam’s removal but assessed that such a move would have been too risky and counterproductive. (Scappatura, 2019, p.31) In this instance Scappatura is being too timid; there is enough evidence to make the claim that the CIA and the US ruling class were actively involved in Whitlam’s dismissal. Robert Lindsay’s book The Falcon and the Snowman provides some good evidence of CIA involvement in Whitlam’s dismissal. The CIA connections that Sir John Kerr had were known and documented at the time, as were the ‘hatchet man’ credentials of US Ambassador Marshall Green, appointed to the US Embassy in Canberra on June 8, 1973 in time to prepare for Whitlam’s ouster. The fix was in.
The third example offered up in the book is the rebuff given to John Howard by President Clinton in 1999 over Howard’s request for the provision of US troops (‘boots on the ground’) in East Timor to support the U.N. backed intervention there. Howard was taken aback by Clinton’s refusal to send US troops. Howard thought that he and his government had demonstrated enough loyalty to the US over the years that there would/should be a reciprocal response from their alliance partner. Support did come from the US, enabling the Australian led intervention into East Timor to succeed, but it required quite a bit of pressure to bring it about and no US troops were sent. Howard thought Clinton’s decision went against the spirit of the alliance after decades of unbroken Australian military support for the US. (Scappatura, 2019, p. 30)
What these three examples show is that the ‘special relationship’ is basically a public relations exercise, a device used to hoodwink the Australian public into believing that the US will be there to support and help protect Australia if it’s ever attacked. Having said that, Australian foreign and defence policy elites actually do believe that there is a ‘special relationship’ and they fervently cling to the ANZUS alliance as the foundation for Australian defence and foreign policy. Such thinking is problematic Scappatura contends, because, among other things, by internalising the ‘special relationship’ rhetoric, Australian policy makers, government officials and even Ministers think that the interests of Australia and the US ‘have always converged and will continue to do so in the future.’ (Scappatura, 2019, p. 33) It is a mistake to think that US and Australian national interests converge and will continue to do so as the above three examples prove.
The matter of how Australian elite opinion is shaped by what Scappatura calls the US Lobby is the focus of Part Three of the book. The US Lobby is made up of national security policy makers found in Australian (and presumably US) institutions, ‘ogether with prominent voices in the media, academia, defence, think-tanks and non-government organisations that promote the alliance orthodoxy.’ (Scappatura, 2019, p. 107) The Lobby exists not to hijack Australian security policy, Scappatura argues, but rather to maintain the status quo by ‘instilling and reinforcing the alliance orthodoxy among the public and especially the minds of the next generation of elite and alliance managers.’ (Scappatura, 2019, p. 107) A crucial goal of the Lobby is to circumvent any serious critical analysis of the costs and benefits associated with Australia’s commitment to ANZUS and ‘head off any potential opposition and bind Australia to an ever closer relationship with America.’ (Scappatura, 2019, p. 107)
One of the ways the US Lobby instils and reinforces alliance orthodoxy is through bodies such as the United States Study Centre housed at the University of Sydney, the Australian American Leadership Dialogue (AALD) and the Lowy Institute for International Policy. Arguably, the United States Study Centre and the AALD are the most prominent non-government entities in Australia dedicated to bolstering the significance of the alliance for Australian foreign policy. (Bisley, 2013, p. 412 cited in Scappatura, 2019, p. 114)
The AALD is so influential in promoting alliance orthodoxy that Scappatura uses it as a case study. The AALD has operated in Australia largely unknown to the general public. It began as a result of Phil Scanlan’s concern that with the ending of the Cold War, the personal bonds between Australian and US leaders in both politics and business were in danger of fading away. Scanlan, a Managing Director of Coca Cola Amatil’s global beverage operations spoke to President George Bush Sr. when the latter paid an official visit to Australia in early January 1992. Scanlan expressed his concerns about the possibility of diminished connections between Australian and US leaders and floated the idea of ‘forming a new group of … leaders to cultivate fresh ties and preserve the centrality of the relationship into the future.’ (Scappatura, 2019, pp. 121-2) President Bush was impressed with Scanlan’s suggestion and wheels were set in motion, culminating eighteen months later with the launch of the AALD in Washington in June 1993.
According to Scappatura:
For 25 years the AALD has brought together a select group of high level politicians, government officials, business people, journalists, academics and other influential leaders from for an annual private forum on designated matters of mutual interest. … The forum comprises formal keynote addresses and chaired discussion sessions. The first AALD event on 11-12 June 1993 in Washington was attended by thirty-five prominent but mainly out-of-office political representatives and business leaders. Since that time, the AALD has grown to attract an ever increasing number of delegates, with participation of up to 150 people at each event. (Scappatura, 2019, pp. 124-5)
There is a level of secrecy associated with the AALD, with discussions held under strict non-disclosure conventions. Scappatura was not given board approval to send a questionnaire to AALD participants nor was he given permission to attend one of the AALD events. He managed to gather information about the AALD from publically available sources and from conducting interviews with forty former and current participants. (Scappatura, 2019, p. 118) One of the participants who agreed to be interviewed is Professor Hugh White a well-known and respected intelligence analyst, defence studies and international relations scholar based at the ANU. White succinctly summed up the reason for the establishment of the Dialogue; it was set up to ‘“ensure a deeper body of support amongst informed and elite opinion”’ both here and in the US. (Scappatura, 2019, p. 127) It is a testament to Scappatura’s research skills and perseverance that he has revealed in tremendous detail the how, why, who, where and when of the AALD. To get a deeper understanding of the influence of bodies such as these on shaping and maintaining alliance orthodoxy, or what we would call Australian subservience to US imperialism, then read this book.
Having endorsed this book, it should be noted that there are a number of areas where our analysis of Australia’s relationship with US imperialism differs from Scappatura’s. For a start, Scappatura does not use terms such as class and ruling class, preferring instead to use elites and leaders. Imperialism, the descriptor for the unequal and imposing relationship that big powers have with less powerful nations under conditions of global capitalism is rarely mentioned. He avoids using such terms because he is not a Marxist. It is perhaps fair to claim that Scappatura has a political and ideological position within the libertarian socialist tradition as exemplified by people like Noam Chomsky.
In Part Two of the book, particularly in Chapter Five ‘Australia as an Asia Pacific Regional Power’ Scappatura makes the argument that with the broader and deeper integration of Australia into the ongoing US imperialist project, through such mechanisms as the ANZUS alliance and the US Lobby, Australia’s ability to project power is enhanced. (Scappatura, 2019, p. 80) There may be an element of truth to this argument, but it lends itself to overemphasising Australia's place and power in the hierarchy of imperialist countries. As we have argued elsewhere(see Australia and Imperialism in the 21st Century) Australia can better be described as what some have called a ‘sub-imperialist country’, dependent on and dominated by US imperialism.
Scappatura is to be lauded for providing a detailed critique of the breadth and depth of the Australian ruling class’s subordinance to US imperialism, particularly in the areas of defence and foreign policy. His book pours a bucket of cold water over the hysteria associated with Chinese attempts to influence Australian politics. The elephant in the room in Australian bourgeois politics is the malign influence of US imperialism. To overcome such influence we must fight for an independent and socialist Australia.
(1) I have used Philip and Roger Bell’s journal article to reinforce Scappatura’s point, in part, because Scappatura’s book has no index, making it hard to go back and find quotes and/or points made in the text.
Bell, Philip and Roger Bell, ‘Shifting Alliances: Foreign Policies’ in David Waller (Series ed.), Implicated: The United States in Australia Australian Retrospectives, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993, pp. 135-156.