What's that old saying: "If the government denies it, then it must be true"?
"Russia is not going to attack Europe... Russia is not an enemy. There needs to be no military response because we are not at war with Russia."Bush was forced to make these comments in response to Russian anger at the USA's Star Wars missile project. China is also making threatening noises about the system.
- George W. Bush
So where the hell does Howard's Australia stand amid all this dangerous posturing? Well, Alexander Downer and Brendan Nelson are currently in Japan, pledging servitude to our new US masters and poo-pooing any idea of Chinese concerns about the Star Wars system, in which we play a vital part. At the same time, Downer is telling everybody there is no need to worry about China's military build-up. We may be at a nuclear crossroads, but according to Downer there's no need for alarm. As long as the US military-industrial complex gets its taxpayer-funded profits, nobody gets hurt. M'kay?
As Simon Jenkins says this new crazy shit could yet dwarf our major blunder on Iraq:
In the first decade of the 21st century the leaders of America and Britain allowed themselves to be distracted by a few Islamist bombers and took easy refuge in the politics of fear. They concocted a "war on terror" and went off to fight little nations that offered quick wins.We Aussies cannot keep kidding ourselves that we are immune from judgement in these matters. Here's the view from abroad:
Meanwhile these leaders neglected the great strategic challenge of the aftermath of cold war: the fate of Russia and its mighty arsenals, its soul tormented by military and political collapse, its pride undimmed. They danced on Moscow's grave and hurled abuse at its shortcomings. They drove its leaders to assert a new energy-based hegemony and find new allies to the south and east. The result was a new arms race and, after a Kremlin coup, a new war. Is that the path we are treading?
Some 370 kilometers north of Perth, at Geraldton on Australia's west coast, the Americans are building a base. When completed, it will control two geostationary satellites that feed intelligence to US military forces in Asia and the Middle East.What have we become? Where are we going? How do we go back to what we once were?
Most Americans know nothing about Geraldton, just as they know nothing about other Australian sites such as the submarine communications base at North Cape or the missile-tracking center at Pine Gap. But there is growing concern in Australia that Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government is weaving a network of alliances, and US bases that may one day put Australians in harm's way.
Once the Geraldton base is up and running, it will be almost impossible for Australia to be fully neutral or stand back from any war in which the United States is involved, according to Australian Defense Force Academy visiting fellow Philip Dorling.
Indeed, that may already be the case. Australia, along with Japan, India, the Philippines and South Korea, signed on to the US anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system, which China fears is aimed at neutralizing its modest fleet of 21 intercontinental ballistic missiles.
On March 12, Australia signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation with Japan that, according to Richard Tanter, a senior research associate at the Nautilus Institute, is an "anti-China, US-dominated, multilateral alliance system" that "confirms the already accelerating tendencies for both Japan and Australia to militarize their foreign policies".
Certainly both Australia and Japan have been flexing their muscles of late.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put a strong nationalist spin on Tokyo's foreign policy that has raised hackles from Seoul to Beijing. Japan also sent troops to Iraq and recently declared that it intends to revise Article 9 of its postwar constitution. Article 9 renounces war and rejects "force as a means of settling international disputes". Japan has the fifth-largest navy in the world and spends more than US$40 billion a year on defense.
Australia, whose defense budget is slightly more than half of Japan's, also has troops in Iraq as well as the Solomon Islands, East Timor and Tonga. Last August, Howard told Parliament that Australia needs to prepare for an even greater role in monitoring and assisting troubled nations in the Pacific region. Howard has also adopted some of the rhetoric of the current US administration, calling for "preemptive" strikes against "terrorist groups" in the region.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States have moved forcefully to assert their authority in the myriad island nations that make up much of the South Pacific. Using a combination of troops, aid, and control over transportation, the three countries dominate the politics of such places as Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa.
Many of these island nations are almost totally dependent on either international aid or money earned from renting out their land for military bases. Some 60% of the Marshall Islands' gross domestic product comes from US aid and the 50-year Pact of Free Association that allows the US to use Kwajalein Atoll for missile tests. The United States only got the pact by engineering a change in the Marshall Islands' constitution that allows a simple majority of legislators to okay the association. Before this change, Marshallese voters had rejected the pact eight times.
When Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare accused Australia's high commissioner to the country of "unwarranted interventionism" in the republic's affairs, Howard's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, warned ominously that "the last thing the Solomon Islands government can afford is to get into arguments with major donors who are helping to keep their country afloat".
According to United Nations cultural expert Mali Voi, the "big three" use such devices as transit visas for in effect "isolating small and poor countries of the Pacific from each other, as well as from the rest of the world. It is almost impossible for the citizens of most Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Indonesia, to visit their neighbors in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is elbowing its way into the region as well. In talking about Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, NATO general secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said last November, "We all face the same threats, and it is in their interests, as well as our own, that we come closer together."
US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns was blunter: "We seek a partnership with them so that we can train more intensively, from a military point of view."
But if there is a push to dominate and militarize the region, there are countervailing winds as well. On the one hand, Australia is part of an ABM system that China sees as a threat. On the other, China is Canberra's third-largest trading partner with an insatiable appetite for coal, uranium, gas, and oil. In 2006, energy exports earned Australia US$33.9 billion, a figure that is certain to rise steeply over the next decade. "With the right policies," said Howard, "we have the makings of an energy superpower."
Japan finds itself in a similar position. While there is continuing tension between Tokyo and Beijing over Taiwan and oil and gas fields in the South China Sea, China will become Japan's No 1 trading partner by the end of this year. Trade between the two countries topped $200 billion last year.
The trade potential has made Japan and Australia careful about tying themselves too closely to some of the bombast about "Chinese militarism" coming out of Washington. In April, Japan and China pledged "closer cooperation". But when Beijing made clear its unhappiness with Australia's hosting part of the ABM program, Downer was quick to state, "We are opposed to a policy of containment of China. We believe the best way forward is working constructively with China."
Australia and Japan are caught between "wanting to ride the Chinese economic gravy train", writes Tanter, and at the same time trying to "beat the drum about supposed [Chinese] military expansionism".
The Howard government's muscular foreign policy has touched off a debate about what role Australia should play in the region and how closely Canberra should be tied to US designs in Asia and the Middle East. Foreign policy, particularly the Iraq war, has become a major issue for the upcoming general elections in October.
Polls indicate that two-thirds of Australians want to withdraw from Iraq, and 70% think Australia should be more independent from US foreign policy. The Aussies were evenly split between what constitutes a greater danger to the world: the United States or Islamic fundamentalism.
For now, Washington is too bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay much attention to the Pacific. But given the importance of the region to the US, that it not likely to last. Will the United States eventually move to confront China? That may well depend on where other nations in the region conclude their interests lie, and whether most of them decide that butter and trade trump guns and walls.