Sixty years ago today, in San Francisco, the foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand met with Dean Acheson, President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, to sign a tripartite mutual defense treaty—the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty, or ANZUS, which solidified America’s longstanding friendship with its two Pacific partners into a formal alliance structure.
At that time, Asia had exploded into a hotbed of Communist activity, insurgency, and all-out war, a mere six years after U.S., Australia, and New Zealand fought together to force Japan’s surrender in World War II. With the ongoing Korean War, Mao Zedong’s victory over the Nationalists, Ho Chi Minh’s insurgency against the French, and the expanding wave of Communist influence, ANZUS was crafted to guarantee the stability of America’s partners in the region just two years after NATO was officially formed.
While New Zealand cast aside the treaty in the 1980s over disagreements with the U.S., Australia has become an ever more vital ally. Australia and the U.S. have fought together in every major conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries—including World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The friendship, common history, and values that bind our two nations have only strengthened.
With the ANZUS partners meeting trilaterally at last year’s Pacific Islands Forum for the first time since 1984, there exists hope that we can bring New Zealand back into the fold and the ANZUS nations can resume their historic trilateral partnership.
Meanwhile, the U.S.–Australia alliance remains as robust as ever on its 60th anniversary. Strong military cooperation is institutionalized in various exercises, vigorous intelligence sharing, and arms sales programs, with Australia being a joint producer of the F-35. Economic ties include the U.S.–Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and over $52 billion in bilateral trade, $210 billion in U.S. investment in Australia, and nearly $50 billion in Australian direct investment in the U.S.
People-to-people ties inexorably continue to be the strongest link between our two nations. In a recent Lowy Institute poll, 82 percent of Australians responded that the U.S.–Australia Alliance is important for Australia’s security, and 55 percent of respondents favorably view the U.S. basing military forces in Australia. Perhaps in the wake of the financial crisis and China’s rise, Australians have been hit with a dose of realism.
Strategically speaking, the alliance continues to provide stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith remarked last month that Australia serves as the “southern anchor” of U.S. defense policy in Asia. In addition, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, a longtime champion of the U.S.–Australia alliance, stated unequivocally that the alliance is “stronger and more durable than ever.”
Still, the U.S. could do more to work with Australia in the region. Australia occupies a unique position by possessing a strong democracy, a vibrant economy, and a key geo-strategic location between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The U.S. should capitalize on these strengths by reinvigorating the U.S.-Japan-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.
The U.S. can also do more to identify common interests and operational synergies among the U.S., Australia, and India in the Indo-Pacific region. The Heritage Foundation is working with Australia’s Lowy Institute and India’s Observer Research Foundation to develop recommendations to policymakers along these lines. These partners all possess a similar strategic outlook (opening economically to China while maintaining a strategic wariness toward its rise). Working closely with Australia in these trilateral dialogues, and in other regional institutions, will help further U.S. interests and promote regional stability.
Next, the U.S. and Australia should continue discussions on U.S. basing in Australia during next month’s Australia–U.S. Ministerial conference, which brings the Secretaries of State and Defense together with their Australian counterparts. Even on a “places, not bases” basis, a more effective partnership on this issue would yield benefits in areas of interoperability, training, maritime security, and disaster relief.
Finally, the U.S. should also exhibit sensitivity toward Australia’s domestic concerns and economic engagement with China. Occasionally, even treaty allies disagree on certain issues. The last thing the U.S. wants is for Australia to feel bullied into partnership or underappreciated by the U.S. After all, we’re actually in somewhat similar positions regarding China: We both want to make the most of China’s global economic integration while resisting its political coercion and geo-strategic designs.
With the multitude of challenges facing Asia, not least of which is managing the threat and opportunity of China’s emergence as a global power, the U.S. is fortunate to have such a stable ally in Australia and should never forget its partner down under. Here’s to another 60 years of alliance.