Our place in the world

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.