America: Australia's Dangerous Ally

Australia should not embrace America, writes its former prime minister, but preserve itself from Washington’s reckless overreach. 

January-February 2015

There are several steps that Australia should take to rectify its previous shortcomings. For a start, the task force in Darwin would need to be moved to some other location outside Australia. This should be possible to accomplish in a relatively short time frame. The facility at Pine Gap would need to be closed, as we cannot control how America uses the intelligence it gathers from that site. Because it is a complex facility, we should give America time to do this—perhaps four or five years. However, Australians working at the base should be withdrawn at the end of six months. This would clearly result in implications for our shared intelligence arrangements, especially with Britain and America. When New Zealand left the ANZUS Treaty, it was not cut out of the “Five Eyes” intelligence operation. There is no gainsaying that Australia may well find access to American military equipment diminished. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. We have sometimes bought American equipment because it aided strategic cooperation even when it was not the best equipment. There are a number of countries that are providers of quality military hardware.

Another step that Australia should take is to ensure that its diplomatic facilities throughout East and Southeast Asia are reinforced to prepare for more active diplomacy in our own part of the world. Australia needs to reinforce its support for UN agencies and work more effectively both bilaterally and through the UN, with other middle-ranking and like-minded powers. Such approaches would add to stability throughout our region and over time greatly increase our capacity to help mediate difficulties between states.

Of course, all of this would involve greater cost, possibly requiring a boost in Australian defense spending to about 3 percent of GDP. Until now, we have had defense on the cheap, hiding behind the American war machine, at too great a cost to Australian nationality and respect. At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves what Australia’s independence—Australia’s integrity—is worth to Australians. Australia must regain the ability to deny any other power the capacity to decide whether we stay at peace or go to war. Only by embarking upon a new course can Australia recapture its squandered sovereignty. 

Malcolm Fraser is the former prime minister of Australia.