top of page
  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons


Following USA into the Next War

As former Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans has said, the US would only come to Australia’s military defence if its own national interests were at stake. However, in 2021 Peter Dutton (then Defence Minister) said it was “inconceivable that we wouldn’t support the US” in any military action it chose to take against China. Later, Defence Minister Marles made it clear that in his view “Australia cannot be a passive bystander in the event of war”. Going back to 2006, Labor leader Kim Beazley said that “In the event of a war between the US and China, Australia would have absolutely no alternative but to line up militarily beside the US. Otherwise, the alliance would be effectively dead and buried, something Australia could never afford to see happen”. As long ago as 1939, when Great Britain declared war on Germany, Prime Minister Menzies announced that Australia was also at war – nothing has really changed!

In a chilling paper entitled Australia Sleepwalking into Catastrophic Conflict with China, Jon Standford illustrates the dangers into which the “Lucky Country” is now blundering. Australia seems never to have realistically considered how the American relationship serves Australia’s national interests. In 1951 the US concluded the ANZUS alliance with Australia and New Zealand. It also concluded the Mutual Security Treaty with Japan. Neither treaty included a security guarantee along the lines of NATO, but in 1960 Japan persuaded the US to include a security guarantee in its treaty. That did not (and does not) apply to Australia. ANZUS merely calls for “consultation”!

Putting a Target on Australia’s Back

In the 1960s the Menzies government agreed with the USA to establish major strategic installations in Australia. These included Pine Gap regarded by the US as essential to its national security although, as Malcolm Fraser later said, these installations also made Australia a “nuclear target”.

When Gough Whitlam came to office in 1972, he committed Australia to a more independent foreign policy saying that no new foreign bases would be permitted, and the leases on existing facilities would not be renewed. The Pine Gap lease was due to expire in December 1975. However Whitlam lost office in November 1975 and the lease was duly renewed.

In an effort to reinforce American support, Australia has dutifully followed the US into one war after another - Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Not one has served Australia’s National interests. Now, with AUKUS Australia may be unable to resist participating in a war against China. President Biden’s adviser, Kurt Campbell described the AUKUS agreement as “getting Australia off the fence. We have them locked in now for the next 40 years”. In the event of a showdown over Taiwan, Pine Gap would be a legitimate military target, but in response to an attack on Australia. However, the US would be required only to “consult”, but no rational US president would risk potentially sacrificing Los Angeles in defence of Darwin, let alone Sydney or Melbourne.

Taiwan – Would Australia Dare to Say NO?

China is on course to becoming the largest economy in the world. A conflict between the US and China would lead to the biggest war since 1945 - possibly World War III. Taiwan’s future is not an existential threat for Australia and if a refusal by Australia to participate with the US in defending Taiwan triggered the end of the ANZUS alliance, then Australia would be better off without it. Contrary to the views of Beazley, Dutton, and Marles, Australia can afford to bury the alliance if it must. The risk of being dragged into a US-China war is greater than the risk of Australia going it alone[i].

However, Australia’s political leaders would do almost anything to avoid this outcome and if the US asked for Australia’s help in coming to Taiwan’s defence, the views of Beazley, Dutton, and Marles would almost certainly prevail.


On 20 September 2021, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison informed Albanese (then leader of the Labor opposition) of the proposed AUKUS agreement. It took Albanese only 24 hours to decide to back Morrison’s AUKUS deal. His decision was part of a strategy leading into the 2022 election, not wanting to appear weak on national security. Albanese effectively outsourced Australia’s defence and foreign policy to the United States of America. As John Menadue has written, “The AUKUS alliance has forever changed Australia’s sovereignty”.

While Australia’s leadership appears to have its heart set on AUKUS, that may not be the way the US sees it. Donald Trump’s top advisers have said it would be “crazy” for the US to send nuclear powered submarines to Australia at a time when America’s own Navy has too few boats to meet its own needs. Furthermore, the commitment to supply submarines to Australia depends upon the US president at the time certifying that the sale of the submarines to Australia would not “degrade United States undersea capabilities”. That may not happen. Perhaps it is not too late for Australia to walk away from AUKUS – Albanese would not dare!


[i] The Echidna Strategy by Sam Roggeveen 2023


43 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page