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Diplomatic History of Australia Essay

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Updated: Jun 5th, 2020

Australia geo-political history makes it a unique nation in the international scheme of events. Australia was colonized by the United Kingdom, and from its behaviour, there are aspects of westernization and whiteness. The early Australian domestic and foreign policies were vulnerable due to threats from Asia and the long distance from the “mother country”. This made Australia feel to be in isolation, hence had to seek friendship from powerful countries, for security. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the political leaders in Australia might have been worried about the security of its nation; therefore, they were determined to maintain a close relationship with Britain. This made Britain provide many migrant to Australia. Surprisingly, Australia took a lot of time to take responsibility of its foreign policy until World War II forced them to assume responsibility. This did not end the tradition of cultivating close relations with the “great and powerful friend” (Norman 1987, p. 241).

Historians believe that the foreign policies of Australia were similar to that of Britain up to World War II. At this time, Australia experienced a sense of independent due to the establishment of Balfour Report and the Statute of Westminster. The immense support that Australia offered to Britain during World War I was enough to show Australian loyalty to its “mother county”. This was the first instance where Australia relied upon its “great and powerful friends” for security.

Before 1941, Australia viewed Britain as its “great and powerful friends”. By the onset of World War II, Australia had joined the war against Germany and received a lot of protection from Britain. The good relationship between Britain and Australia was short lived, and after two years, it changed. In 1941, Australia foreign policy shifted its interest to the United States as its allies. Australia feared Japanese attack, if they were to join World War II due to its heightened threats. In 1940, John Curtin attempted to cut off the threat from Japanese by creating friendly relationships with Japan (Miller 1978, p. 326).

Australia’s greatest fear about Japan became a reality when 180 Japanese aircrafts bombed Darwin. On December 1942, Australia was force to turn to America as the new “great and powerful friends” for protection. This gave America a base where they could launch attacks to Japanese; therefore, they became the core protectors of Australia. In 1941, Japanese plans attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbour, which resulted in termination of the negotiations between the two countries. Britain had a prodigious burden because of the struggle for power with Germany and Italy and could no longer protect Australia, therefore, General Eisenhower to sent troops and military equipment to Australia under the command of General Douglas Macarthur. This contributed to the successful defeat of Japanese by Australian troops. The Australian troops managed to push back the Japanese along the Kokoda Trail (Norman 1987, p. 94).

Finally, in 1945, the war in the Pacific ended when the United States dropped two atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This was like a savoir to Australia from its new American allies, though the grievous act by Americans to the Japanese worsened Asian-Australian relations. The benefits behind the economic relationship of the United States and Australia are not well outlined especially in the historical context. Since World War II, Australia has had a serious challenge in reconciling its potentially contradictory economic and strategic goals (Mark 2003, p. 390).

The economic relations between Australia and Japan were markedly changed by the rapid industrialization in north Australia and the economic reality of the Asian miracle’. In 1967, Japan seized to export its products to Britain and Australia became the largest export market for Japan. This was a sign of a new economic order, which created a significant economic opportunity between Australia and Asia despite the looming threats. Recently, the United States has become the largest Australia’s economic partner, though Australia’s most vital export markets are located in the North East Asia (Ball 2001, p. 239).

After the World War II, the communist revolt arose, and the United States and Australia were sure that, soon cold war would begin in Asia through China. The domino theory developed, and led to the formation of both ANZUS Treaty, in 1951, and SEATO in 1954. Australia signed both treaties, which assured them the United States and Britain commitment to defend them against the Asian threat. Australia’s commitment in the ANZUS Treaty led to a good number of Australian troops being sent to wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf. The conflicts in these wars are debatable, but the surprising thing is that, Australia participated in the wars despite a direct threat to Australia itself. When North Vietnam, which was communist, got hold of South Vietnam, Britain and the United States felt that the democrats were being defeated; therefore, they had to take action. Australia, which was more threatened, had the idea of “forward defence’’ dominating its defence policy.

Forward defence would see the Australian forces prevent the communist from invading the South-East Asia territory. The commitment of Australians troops, to the Vietnam War, is seen a move by the Menzies government to strengthen its relationship with its allies, the United States, because its “mother country”, Britain, had withdrawn. When Liberal Party came into power in 1966, most of the Australians were seen to support the war; however, some were not up to it. They were concerned why the Australian government was involving itself in a war, which they did not have anything to do with.

In 1972 elections, the first Labour Party government was voted because of the Vietnam conflict. Gough Whitlam, who was the new prime minister, withdrew Australians troops from the Vietnam War. This consequently began to weaken the United States relations with Australia. General Peter Cosgrove, the head of Australia’s armed forces, views Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War as insensible. Perhaps, the contribution of Australians in the Vietnam War (1965 – 1975) can be view as a wise idea of looking for “great and powerful friends” for protection (Permberton 1987, p. 70).

To secure relations with Asia, Australia began to support Indonesia in the fight for its independence against Dutch, but the United States and Britain were not willing to support Australians in the fight against the Dutch. Chifley, who was in charge of the Labour government during the post-war periods, was supporting Indonesia, in its idea of being independent, because of the commitment it had shown in the Atlantic Charter of 1941, and desire to displace the Dutch. The Dutch wanted to dominate the Islands after the war, but Australia supported Indonesia. Australian decision was received with aggression by the United States and Britain because they wanted to see the northern Australia territories remained friendly. Under the ANZUS Treaty, the United States was willing to offer protection to Australia in case things went wrong from the Dutch (Mark 2003, p. 392).

Australia moved into an alliance with the United States with an interest of offering protection from its enemies, but the United States had its own interests. Setting up a base in Australia would substantially assist the in launching attack to China easily. This relationship lasted for several decades though both the United States and Australia gained from the relations. Since the collapse of the Soviet communism and the bombing of the Twin Towers Trade Centre, the United States foreign policy changed. The relationship between Australia and the United States has shifted, from just offering defence to a revolutionary force, aimed to utilize its formidable power including military power to change the shape of the world.

China is economic growth is on the rise and seems to be a threat to Australia’s economic well being in the 2000s. This situation is similar to what Japan did in the post war period. Australia might be a force to adapt to different economic strategies. These will a challenge to Australia’s foreign policy because Australia’s economy is medium sized. The policy will need to be more flexible and provide space for manoeuvres. The close relationship with the United States has been demanding to the Australia foreign policy. After the September 11 aftermath and Howard government’s enthusiasm, Australia fully supported the American foreign policy, which may place Australia into polices, which are not geared towards long-term national interest (Andrew 1979, p. 157).

Australia now feels a little secure due to the increase in globalization and migration from several Asian nations. This ha led to the reduced traditional fear of invasion from the north. However, security measures in Australia are still a concern with some of the greatest security concerns being terrorist attacks by Islamic nations, increase of nuclear issues, rise of a “failed state’’ in the south Pacific and rise of China, as a new superpower, in international affairs. Australia’s prime focus of security policy is Islamic terrorism and is what solely contributed to the raise of the ANZUS Treaty in support of Unite States by the Prime Minister during the disastrous aftermath of the September 11 (DeRouen, & Bellamy 2008, p. 76).

China is almost one of the largest economic powers in the world, which implies that, in the next few decades, it will be a superpower nation. This is a threat to Australia security because China is Australia’s greatest trading partner, the United States, is its military ally. Australian exports to China and imports from China and this trend are growing at a tremendous rate of more than 20 percent per year. Australia and China are almost compatible because Australia has enormous mineral and energy resources and China is in need of resource to take care of its rapid economy growth. This makes Australia a great trading partner to China. The relationship between Australian and China is a little different from the Australia’s great and powerful friend’ because despite of the growing Chinn’s economy importance, Australians still are suspicious of its north neighbour. To avoid these forth coming disastrous confrontation, Australia is now building its military forces to contain Chinese expansion.

The presence of Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is an effort of Australian government endless support to the United States allies to ensure continued protection. This has led to bombing of several Australians places. In 2002, two night clubs in Bali were bombed which led to the death of eight-eight Australian’s and in 2004, there was a bomb blast outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The greatest challenge to Australian government is why the Islamic terrorists are targeting Australians and Australian property. This might be due to the relationship between the United States and Australian especially the support Australian government offer during the bombing of the Twin Towers Trade Centre.

The war in Iraq has made Australia assume a prominent position amongst the United States allies. A debate arose about the value the Australians military alliance with the United States, in the Iraq war, because the alliance had led to several domestic failings, and the relationship between the two countries had been politicized. Americans had not fully identified the cause of conflict in Iraq, so its move to intervene in the conflict was not justified. The decision, by Australian government, to form alliance with the United States military, is seen as a move to be loyal to its “great and powerful friend” (Bell & Bell 1986, p. 152).

From the historical event of Australia, its success entirely depends on alliances with the great and powerful friends. Australian dependency still continuously continues as seen in its foreign and relations with the “great and powerful friends”. From its relations with the United States, Australia still depends on American for security as the Treaty they signed is often used to consult each other during times of crisis. Australia also depends on Japan in economic trade with the excuse of interdependency. Currently, Australia, as a nation, feels that it is independent, and in a position to come up with its own domestic and foreign policies, but unlike the other nations, Australia does not have an Independence Day.

Reference List

Andrew, E 1979, A History of Australia’s Foreign Policy: from dependence to independence, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Ball, D 2001, ‘The Strategic Essence’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 4, pp. 235-279.

Bell, P & Bell, R 1986, Implicated: The United States in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

DeRouen, K & Bellamy, P 2008, International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport.

Mark, B 2003, ‘Australia’s relationship with the United States: The case for greater independence,’ Australian Journal of Political Science , vol. 16 no.3, pp. 387-405.

Miller, T 1978, Australian in Peace and War: External Relations, Ausralian National University Press, Canberra.

Norman, D 1987, A Great and Powerful Friend: A Study of Australian American Relation between 1900 and 1975, University of Queensland Press, New York.

Permberton, G 1987, All the way, Australia’s Road to Vietnam, Unwin Publishers, Sydney.

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