Our place in the world
ach of these books about Australian defence and security is worth reading. Both are timely, lucid, scholarly and readable. James Curran’s Fighting with America is a handy introduction to present debates about the ANZUS alliance, China and our security. Curran, a professor of history at the University of Sydney, avoids overheated language and shows a deft familiarity with the scholarly literature.
Adam Lockyer’s Australia’s Defence Strategy is something of a tour de force on strategic thinking as such in Australia. It could have benefited from a little editing to clean up typographical errors and infelicities of expression, but it provides an unusually incisive critique of the history and theory of defence strategy in Australia. It also offers the elements of a fresh approach against the background of emerging strategic realities.
Lockyer is a senior lecturer in security studies at Macquarie University. His book is twice as long as Curran’s and covers a great deal more ground. Where Curran focuses on the history of Australia’s alliance with the US, Lockyer sets our strategic choices in the far wider context of the great-power aspirations of India, Indonesia and Japan, as well as China and the US. He critically re-examines 100 years of strategic thinking in this country. He creates an analytical framework for evaluating all the main competing schools of thought on our contemporary defence strategy. He finds all of them wanting and suggests a new defence strategy that has a good deal to recommend it.
Curran’s book is significant because it will enable whoever reads it to put into fairly wellinformed perspective the extravagant language we have had from a number of our elder statesmen in recent years, to the effect that the ANZUS alliance has reached its use-by date, that we should distance ourselves from the US and move closer to China. Malcolm Fraser lobbied for this in his last years and wrote a book on the subject. Paul Keating, in his Keith Murdoch Oration in 2013, urged that we cut adrift from the Anglosphere and ‘‘strike out on our own’’ — by making Indonesia our new ‘‘great and powerful friend’’. John Brumby, Bob Carr and Stephen Fitzgerald have been insisting we now live in ‘‘a Chinese world’’ and need to turn our attention increasingly to Beijing.
Curran’s position is that we have had our dif- ferences with the US in the past and are likely to have increasing differences in the future, especially regarding the rivalries of the great powers in East Asia and the western Pacific. He does not, however, suggest we go so far as to break off the alliance in the ill-considered manner urged by Fraser and Keating. What we need, if we are to stake out a new position, he argues, is a better common understanding of the history of the relationship. He quotes Henry Kissinger’s World Order (2014) on the need for security affairs to be grounded in more depth of perspective than Twitter or Facebook — or the impetuous outbursts of elder statesmen.
He positions himself modestly, by quoting the respected Australian historian Keith Hancock, from back in 1954, that the historian is not someone who ‘‘knows all the answers’’ but simply someone who ‘‘has come to grips with a few very difficult questions’’.
This stance is refreshing to read in the work of a rising young historian, after the rhetorical excesses of so many much older public figures. Like too many other debates in recent years, the one over the US alliance one risks becoming unmoored from serious thinking about ‘‘very difficult questions’’.
Not the least virtue of Curran’s book is that it is studiously non-partisan. There is no shrill invective, rhetorical overkill or ideological cant in it. Indeed, he shows evenhandedly how the same public figures who now tend to roundly denounce the US for its ‘‘foreign adventurism’’ have in the past enthusiastically backed American power.
Keating declared in 1994 that Desert Storm, in 1990, should not have stopped at liberating
A Malaysian navy helicopter lands on the deck of HMAS Ballarat during exercises in the Strait of Malacca, top; US President Donald Trump, left, makes his first call to Malcolm Turnbull, inset