The state of the American alliance
The inside story of the US-Australian alliance under Howard and Bush
by Greg Sheridan
(New South Wales University Press, 2006)
Rec. price: AUD$29.95
In The Partnership, Greg Sheridan, The Australian’s Foreign Editor, has written a most informative account of the current state of the Australia-US alliance, and the political consequences of the alliance on its two member states.
This alliance, undoubtedly the cornerstone of Australia’s foreign policy, was forged during the traumatic years of World War II, when Australia found itself abandoned by Great Britain, then struggling for survival against Nazi Germany, and turned to the New World to provide the sword and shield with which to defend this island continent against Japan.
Since then, the alliance has been deepened and strengthened by close co-operation between the allies during the Cold War period, as well as in “hot” wars in Korea and Vietnam in the 1950s and 60s, and in the Gulf Wars of recent years.
The Partnership does not trace the background to the alliance: rather, it concentrates on the relationship between Australia and the United States over the past few years, roughly the period of the War on Terror, which began five years ago with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, 2001.
Based on extensive personal contacts with leaders of both countries, Greg Sheridan’s book challenges the widely-held view that because the United States is the global superpower, Australia’s role is a subordinate and dependent one.
Rather, he shows that despite the obvious inequalities in the relationship, Australia has shared the initiative in joint operations, and consequently enjoyed both increased prestige in Washington, and increased respect with governments of nations in Asia, and around the world.
In this respect, he argues that John Howard has secured increased military and intelligence co-operation from the United States, an enhanced role in Asia as an interlocutor with Washington, and a role as an international statesman.
Greg Sheridan shows the many facets of this partnership through reports on meetings with senior American, Indonesian, UN and Australian officials. The depth of the relationship consists not merely in the Australian military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, but equally importantly, in the close personal relationships which have developed at the political, military and intelligence levels.
As the author notes, some of his conclusions are arguable. Personally, I believe that the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is of no net value to Australia, and the latest evidence tends to confirm this. Further, there can be little doubt now that the U.S. Administration was naively optimistic in believing an American occupation would end Taliban or Baathist insurgencies, and that Washington could easily create working democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nevertheless, as a study of the Australian-American relationship, nurtured by both personal ties and strategic necessities, this book is unique. It deserves to be read and studied by everyone interested in the process of decision-making both in Canberra and Washington.
Lord Palmerston is reported to have said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”
By emphasising the depth of the personal relationship between Australian and American leaders and opinion-makers, Greg Sheridan’s book shows that strategic alliances depend not only on common interests, but on a matrix of close personal relationships at the highest level.