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Is it wise to link Australia's economic and security alliances with the US?

By Daniel Flitton - posted Wednesday, 24 March 2004

Recall the Prime Minister, speaking at a luncheon in Washington DC, circa 2002:

I know that I would be speaking on behalf of the Australian Labor Party in saying today to all of you that they share our commitment to the American alliance and I know that they would want me to say on their behalf that the friendship that is felt between our two countries is felt across the political divide in Australia.

Not two years ago John Howard said that! My, how things change. He's hardly spruiking for his political opponents these days:


[Mark Latham] has demonstrated that in his new position he is dangerous so far as the American alliance is concerned ... The reality is that the Leader of the Opposition has allowed his tribal dislike, because of the politics of the current American President, to overwhelm his concern for the national interest.

Labor's cool reception to the newly concluded Australia-United States free trade agreement has only reinforced Howard's profound volte-face.

Other equally momentous changes have also recently occurred in the politics that surround Australia's foreign relations. Of particular note, the government has finally jettisoned the long-standing public fiction that our economic relationship with Washington is somehow separate from our security relationship; that the high strategy of alliance is held at arms-length from the grubby scrapping over trade and investment.

Take a look at Alexander Downer back in 1999, responding to calls for the government to use the ANZUS security alliance as a negotiating coin in efforts to break American tariffs on Australian lamb imports:

Linking trade and security would neither advance Australia's trade objectives with the United States nor protect our security and wider national interests. Rather, it would undermine security, weaken US strategic engagement in the region and place at unacceptable risk one of Australia's most valuable national assets which has stood the test of time - a genuinely close relationship ... which continues to offer tangible benefits to Australia and reflects the deepest values held by Australians across the generations.

By 2002 the Foreign Minister had undergone a remarkable diplomatic transformation. Fears of damaging Australia's most valuable asset evaporated, and he began openly linking security with economic issues:


An FTA with the US is a real opportunity to put our economic relationship on a parallel footing with our political relationship, which is manifested so clearly in the ANZUS alliance.

Now the FTA is signed and gestating in the great bellies of democracy. Anxious political midwives await the parliamentary delivery, hoping that the benefits of linking trade and security will soon become apparent.

And they're especially keen to explain why this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. See this ensemble from Howard over the past 12 months:

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Article edited by Betsy Fysh.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This artile was first published in The Canberra Times on 16 March 2004.

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About the Author

Daniel Flitton is a Visiting Research Associate at the Lowy Institute for International Policy and works at the Australian National University, Canberra.

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Free Trade Agreement - Australian perspective
Free Trade Agreement - US perspective
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