The Australia–US alliance is often described as being founded on shared values and bonds of friendship, but this ultimately means little without tangible evidence of collaboration.
The USA goes to the polls in a couple of days. President Trump is seeking a second term, and if he wins, what will that mean for Australia?
If Biden wins, what will that mean for Australia.
The 'Special Relationship' we currently have with America, and have had for 100 years, is, arguably, in a state of flex.
The trade relationship we currently have with China supports our prosperity.
Given the way the real world is today, what should Australia do ? We could move more towards China, our mayor trading partner, and in doing so incur the wrath of the Washington? Or do we strengthen our bonds with America & in doing so alienate ourselves from our major trading partner and face more economic peril as a result?
Trumps tough stance with China has already had a deep impact on Australian trade with China. The Chinese have clamped down on Australian exports - everything from wine to coal.
China, our 'One Customer', is now looking to Brazil as an alternative source of iron ore supply. Iron ore exports to China represent approximately 50% of all Australian world trade.
Specifically, in the third quarter of 2020, China's share of Australian exports reached an all-time high, rising to 48.8 per cent - meaning almost half of all Australian exports go to one customer, China, giving China great leverage over our economic future and, perhaps, our relationships with the rest of the world.
The Australia and US defence relationship:
The nature of the current Australia-US relationship increases information sharing, personnel exchanges, combined exercises and shared engagement with partners nations across the Indo-Pacific, except China.
Yet despite the Australia's perceived continued enthusiasm for such a collaboration with the US, the alliance is fundamentally flawed given the confrontational nature of the China-US relationship, and the ramifications of that relationship for Australia.
The Rise of China:
Over the past decade, Australia’s need to contextualise its alliance with the US appropriately has come into stark focus, because of China’s increased economic power and strategic influence.
Australia’s enduring diplomatic ties with the US and increasing economic links with China have led some commentators to question whether Australia will eventually have to choose between them.
Although the Australian Government’s public answer has been a resounding ‘No’, China’s growing dominance, particularly in Southeast Asia, will undoubtedly challenge the status quo, and accordingly, have an impact on the Australia-US alliance.
But as John Pilger, noted Australian journalist & film maker noted in his documentary 'The coming war on China', perhaps that country has a good reason for it's stance - China is 'Surrounded by more than 400 American military bases equip with long range missiles, strategic bombers, warships and nuclear weapons', enough to make anyone paranoid.
The biggest challenge for Australia will arguably be whether or not it is sufficiently adaptable to respond to whatever the US (and China) determine as the way forward in their own diplomatic relationship.
Although the Australia-US alliance has effectively served the interests of both nations for decades, the US will continue to prioritise its own intrinsic national interests, and it is these (largely strategic) factors that will determine its future dealings with China.
Accordingly, commentators have contended that the US alliance will be forced to evolve, whether Australia likes it or not, especially as the Asia-Pacific is in ‘A state of strategic flux’.
Implications of the US rebalance:
Australia’s welcoming of a rotational deployment of US Marines to Darwin as part of the US rebalance into the Asia-Pacific provides a further example of a growing US alliance and highlights the geographical significance of Australia for the US.
This deployment will likely benefit the Australia-US defence relationship through exposing the respective militaries to combined training and interoperability.
But Australia's involvement in the 'Quad' naval exercises involving the US, Japanese, Indian & Australian navies, planned for November 2020, show that Australia is already looking outside the US for Asia-Pacific based military co-operation partners.
History of Australia-United States Defence Relationship:
Australians have fought alongside Americans in every major US military action of the last century, including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Australians and Americans first fought together under unified command at the Battle of Hamel in France in July, 1918 under Australian General John Monash.
That Battle was the beginning of the first 100 Years of Australian-US 'Mateship'.
The alliance between Australia and the United States was formalised through the ANZUS Treaty in 1951.
More than 60 years later, the Treaty remains the foundation of our security relationship with the United States.
The ANZUS Treaty - The 'Mutual defence clause':
The mutual defence clause of the ANZUS treaty was invoked by Australia for the first time in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Australia remains a strong ally and coalition partner with the United States in the global coalition to defeat groups such as ISIS, and in global efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism.
The current alliance technically increases Australia's ability to protect itself and its interests by providing Australia with access to world-leading defence hardware and technologies, training (Backed up by combined exercises), as well as vital intelligence capabilities.
It is presumed that both countries share the same objectives, and thus are equally committed to working together to help shape international norms to advance vital 'Shared interests' in the domains of sea, airspace and outer space, as well as cybersecurity.
For Australia, continued American engagement could mean the ongoing development of our defence capabilities and the maintenance of the same strategic situation that has been in force in the Asia-Pacific region for the last 70 years.
Arguable, the need for such a relationship only remains true just so long as we believe that there is a threat to Australian from an Asian entity.
Alternatively, perhaps such a relationship is passed it's use by date if we acknowledge the reality of a new world order, where global power and economic dominance is shifting from Washington to Beijing.
For the US, Australia is a key ally in regional and global security efforts. But from an Australian perspective, the US could be seen as an ongoing cause of instability in the Asia Pacific region.
So, with a potential change of President pending in the USA, what happens next? And where does that leave Australia?
The more allied to the USA we become, the more hostile towards us the Chinese are likely to be. Should our 'One Customer' decide to ostracise us and tariff our raw materials, such as iron ore, out of the marketplace, we'd be economically stuffed.
If we back away from supporting US policy 100% in the Asia-Pacific region, xenophobic Washington will be much less inclined to be there for us in a crisis.
As we rush to develop new customers for our exports (Think India), we need to ascertain exactly where we stand today, who our friends are, how far we are prepared to bend over to accommodate their interests, and where the breaking point is.