MALCOLM FRASER has emerged yet again from his dotage to make the ridiculous claim Australia should end its military alliance with the United States; the comments show his perspective on world events has slid dangerously toward a far Left view of the world, if further proof of such a movement were required. Alternatively, the former PM has shot his bolt completely. Either way, his remarks are dangerous, ill-considered, and simply wrong.
It’s difficult to know where to begin to comment on Malcolm Fraser’s latest geriatric musings on matters that have clearly slipped from his grasp, but we’ll try: and it ought to be noted that these wild, destructive edicts, dovetailing neatly as they do with the anti-American obsessions of the hard Left, rarely appear outside the pages of the Fairfax press.
Fraser is the subject of an article by Mark Kenny in today’s issue of The Age that betrays an appalling and flagrant disregard for the explosive new realities of the global geopolitical order, and Australia would adopt his octogenarian edicts at its peril.
Fraser’s thesis — that the “(surrender of the) nation’s strategic independence” to Washington risks Australia being “pulled into a disastrous war against China” simply doesn’t stack up; in fact, given China’s increasingly bellicose penchant for confrontation and military mischief in south-east Asia, Australia’s alliance with the US is the best safeguard this country has against being subjected to the same aggressive threats being experienced by others in the region.
I have written in this column previously that the day would come when Australia will be forced to choose between the USA and China; some readers understand the basic premise behind such a consideration, whilst most have ridiculed the idea. Yet I stand by the assertion.
China — increasingly — is throwing its weight around the region, threatening the security of its immediate neighbours, with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines (among others) facing ambit territorial claims from China that are increasingly being backed by military posturing and almost brazenly overt threats of force to pursue them.
Its effort to set up an aviation exclusion zone around the Senkaku Islands has been ignored by most of the international community, and it is true that China has declined to attempt to enforce it. Yet the fact such a move was taken at all is a pointer to the belligerent new stand it appears determined to employ in matters it perceives critical to its interests within the region.
China determinedly and persistently refuses to bring its errant ally, North Korea, to heel: perhaps the only country in the world with any leverage over the errant Communist regime, China has been content to allow the murderous junta in charge of North Korea to push the region to the brink of armed conflict as a proxy, and any doubts around this will be dispelled (again) if the rumoured fourth nuclear test being prepared by Pyongyang goes ahead next month and elicits no more than a few stern words from Beijing in response.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in eastern Europe, as Russia — perhaps in contrast to the Chinese — acts out its long-articulated ambitions of territorial expansion in its bid to recreate in effect the USSR and with it, Russia’s “rightful place” as a global superpower.
That endeavour carries with it the very real prospect of igniting a conflict that could easily escalate into a third world war, with well over a hundred thousand Russian troops apparently poised to invade Ukraine to complete the first phase of this enlargement of Russia’s borders. Sanctions imposed by the West appear to have had no impact in discouraging Russia, and its President’s suggestion that further action against it could result in gas supplies to western Europe being shut off is no idle threat.
It’s true that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry — a figure savaged in this column repeatedly as being totally unsuitable to do America’s bidding on the world stage — is making things worse with his aggressive rhetoric about consequences Russia will face in retaliation for any invasion of Ukraine that are just as unlikely to achieve anything meaningful if implemented.
But Obama and Kerry are tilling the soil for their Republican adversaries, and some kind of change in America is only a couple of years away. China and Russia, by contrast, are totalitarian dictatorships operating on long-term settings that have not changed in decades, and are unlikely to.
It is well known, and generally accepted, that China and Russia have agreed on co-operation should either face military conflict on anything approaching an existential scale: and in the context of the present international environment, this “bottom line” consideration must be central to any assessment of the validity of Fraser’s remarks.
From the perspective of Australian politics, it is necessary to handle China very carefully. It clearly resents our alliance and trade links with Japan and South Korea, and has suggested it expects to be favoured above Washington in the longer term to give any “meaning” to the relationship it seeks with us.
Already, there is evidence enough that China sees value in Australia as a food source and as a providore of raw natural resources, and the trade value of these links is considerable. Yet through its state-run enterprises it is clear that trade in these areas is not enough for Beijing: it seeks to acquire ownership of vast tracts of agricultural land, the rights to mine an increasing amount of the minerals it presently buys, and the means with which to process them. The eventual result of this will be to decimate the value to Australia of any return it might make from what should be its competitive advantage with China.
How does Fraser reconcile these realities with his suggestion we have ceded sovereign control of the country to the Americans?
It remains a fact that had the US not come to Australia’s aid in World War II, this country would in all likelihood have been overrun by the Japanese; this is a historical debt that endures, not something to be dismissed on a whim.
Fraser accuses former US President Lyndon Johnson of “lying” to America’s allies over the Vietnam War, claiming he misrepresented CIA assessments of the North Vietnamese in order to enlist the involvement of allies in the conflict. Yet this is disingenuous, and if true reflects more on Fraser’s poor judgement as Army minister and Defence minister in the governments of Harold Holt and John Gorton in the 1960s than it does on Johnson. Fraser was “all the way with LBJ” as much as any central figure in the governance of Australia at the time, and to suggest otherwise now is a vapid attempt indeed to airbrush the culpability he apparently claims now from view.
And Fraser’s criticisms of US-led conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq do not pass muster either: there are clear benefits to all free nations in eliminating the scourge of global terrorism, a cause which found succour and nourishment under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which, if left unchecked, posed the real threat of making the 9/11 attack simply the opening salvo in a global war against western interests.
As for Fraser’s remarks on Iraq? It’s one of those ironies that those who profess outrage about the second Iraq War point to the UN as the bedrock of their outrage, but this ignores the fact Iraq had systematically and consistently ignored its obligations under a number of UN resolutions to disarm; it was Russia and China, now central to the new global instability that threatens to pull the USA into another conflict, who refused to support action at the UN to enforce Iraqi compliance. America may have taken action against Saddam Hussein, but it was the inaction of Russia and China that sought to allow the Iraqi dictator to continue to perpetuate his murderous outrages unchecked.
Should NATO be pulled into any conflict in eastern Europe in the short to medium term, it’s a very reasonable expectation that at some point China will join the conflict on Russia’s side, particularly if the conflagration lasts for any period of time; and if that happens, the charade of benevolent neutrality Fraser seems to seek to perpetuate will be shown up as the nonsense it is in the most ominous way possible.
There will be no useful purpose to be served by the UN, that debating society used by the global Left to assert Sino-Russian primacy in such matters; in any case, Russia and potentially China would be irretrievably compromised.
Under such circumstances, the luxury of picking and choosing friends — or taking the Fraser option of running off and hiding in the toilet whilst others get their hands dirty — will cease to exist, and in the context of a protracted period of international conflict, China will have little interest in safeguarding Australia’s security.
In fact — as a partner of the US and its NATO allies in every conceivable respect — it would become a matter for contempt.
In practice, the best way to get involved in a war against China is to do exactly what Fraser suggests; stripped of the only real security guarantee Australia has enjoyed for the past 75 years, there would be nothing to prevent the conquest of our strategically and economically pivotal little piece of the planet, and with our inconsequential national defences decoupled from the US military machine, nothing to fight back with.
Perhaps Fraser should focus on being a doting grandfather and polishing his racing cars. After all, when it comes to matters of real weight, whether through philosophical sellout or senility, it’s obvious that his is a very dangerous voice indeed to pay any attention to.