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A brief history of the US-Australia alliance – and how it might change after the May election

27 Apr 2022

This is part of a foreign policy election series looking at how Australia’s relations with the world have changed since the Morrison government came into power in 2019. You can read the other pieces here and here.

It feels like a lifetime ago now former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a very tense conversation with the recently inaugurated Donald Trump.

Aside from some carefully worded diplomatic statements, however, the alliance under Joe Biden and Scott Morrison remains the central pillar of Australian foreign policy.

Its strength was demonstrated by the trilateral AUKUS pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States last year.

But the future of this historic security partnership remains uncertain.

What impact will elections, climate policy, and tumultuous relations with China have on Australia’s alliance with the United States?

Read more: View from The Hill: For Morrison AUKUS is all about the deal, never mind the niceties

Broad bipartisanship

From mid-2018, the Morrison government has pursued a closer relationship with the US.

In the Trump years, Morrison was one of just two world leaders invited to a White House state dinner – and arguably the only one who did not later regret it.

Most recently, the Morrison government affirmed Australia’s long-standing security ties to the US through the AUKUS agreement, which represents the most significant development in the alliance since the foundational ANZUS Treaty in 1951.

Yet the Morrison government was also criticised for pursuing a close relationship with Trump. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese echoed arguments the government’s focus on Trump left Australia exposed after his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Nevertheless, former US ambassador to Japan and incoming US Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy praised Australia for its bipartisan commitment to the alliance in a US Senate confirmation hearing earlier this month.

Read more: Avoiding the China trap: how Australia and the US can remain close despite the threat

Kennedy’s comments reflect a desire to keep the alliance above the fray of domestic politics. This is understood as especially crucial in what Morrison called the world’s “most difficult and dangerous security environment in 80 years”.

The Biden administration has proved willing to indulge the Morrison government on climate partly because of Australia’s ongoing loyalty.

Biden can expect this to continue no matter which party wins the May election.

This broad bipartisanship does not mean, however, that there wouldn’t be important differences between an Albanese and a Morrison government.

The alliance under a second Morrison government

Should Morrison win the election, we can expect Australia’s alliance with the United States to remain largely the same.

The current government is clearly aware of the Indo-Pacific’s strategic importance to the alliance. But its actions and rhetoric suggest an almost singular focus on China; it appears to consider the Pacific a diplomatic afterthought.

A second Morrison government would likely uphold the alliance as the bulwark against the so-called “arc of autocracy” represented by Russia and China.

This would see Australia continue to pursue a reactive foreign policy at the expense of strengthening its own diplomatic capabilities.

And looking closely, the primacy of the security relationship obscures deep ideological differences. While the security relationship will hold sway, Morrison has been seemingly dismissive of Biden’s politics.

Read more: Why pushing for an economic 'alliance' with the US to counter Chinese coercion would be a mistake

The alliance under an Albanese government

Should the Labor Party win the May election, opposition leader Anthony Albanese has affirmed its commitment to a robust US-Australia alliance.

Labor’s endorsement of the AUKUS agreement reflects the party’s prioritisation of Australia’s national security and its commitment to deepening the alliance.

More broadly, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has outlined a foreign policy agenda directing resources to reinforce Australia’s independent diplomatic presence. Wong has argued this is crucial for countering China’s influence in the Pacific and “maximising” Australia’s influence.

And Albanese has explicitly linked Australia’s national security to its “environmental security”.

Unlike the Morrison government, it seems Labor intends to foreground climate action in its alliance with the United States.

An unpredictable future

Whichever party wins the May election will only have six months until the American mid-term elections in November.

Nothing is inevitable, but a historically consistent result would see the Democrats lose their congressional majority.

The impact on the security alliance would be negligible. However, this would likely see Australia engage with a US administration less able to pursue its own political agenda – particularly on climate action.

This development would likely be welcomed by a second Morrison government, while it would strike a blow to Labor’s more ambitious foreign policy goals.

Perhaps of even greater consequence, about two-thirds of the way through the next government’s term, the world will be faced with another US presidential election and the potential return – through legitimate process or otherwise – of Trump.

It’s not clear if either party, or the rest of the world, has a plan for that.

Emma Shortis' research draws on projects funded by Jean Monnet Awards from the European Union’s Erasmus Plus program.

Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by The Conversation. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By The Conversation

Covid-19 – Johns Hopkins University

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