Macron Defends Rules-Based Pacific Order, Five Stars Call for New Elections

French president Emmanuel Macron and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull shake hands in Sydney, May 2
French president Emmanuel Macron and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull shake hands in Sydney, May 2 (Elysée)

During a visit to Sydney, French president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to work with the largest democracies in the region — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — to “balance” Chinese power and protect “rule-based development” in Asia.

“It’s important… not to have any hegemony in the region,” he said.

Australia has eyed accommodation with China since Donald Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership in 2017. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, speaking alongside Macron, insisted his country is still committed to preserving a rules-based order.

France is a Pacific power. It has around one million citizens in the region. Read more

Allies Hope for the Best from Trump, Must Plan for the Worst

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States listen to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO making a speech in Brussels, May 25
Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Donald Trump of the United States listen to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO making a speech in Brussels, May 25 (NATO)

American allies are coping with Donald Trump’s disruptive presidency in similar ways, a collection of essays in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine reveals:

  • All feel they need to step up and defend the liberal world order as Trump is determined to put “America first”.
  • They worry that a new era of American isolationism could make the world poorer and less safe.
  • Leaders are doing their best to rein in Trump’s worst impulses and most of their voters understand the need for pragmatism, although they have little faith in this president. Read more

Trump Throws Tantrum in Call with Australia, Shows No Ally is Safe

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

It doesn’t matter if your country has loyally supported the United States for decades, fought alongside American soldiers in every major war of the twentieth century, shared intelligence, trade and a commitment to the freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia; one critical word from your prime minister and, in the era of Donald Trump, the relationship can be at risk.

The Washington Post reports that the new American president berated Malcolm Turnbull in a phone call on Saturday. Read more

In Era of Trump, Australia Looks to China for Leadership on Trade

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia says goodbye to President Barack Obama of the United States after a lunch at the White House in Washington DC, January 19
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia says goodbye to President Barack Obama of the United States after a lunch at the White House in Washington DC, January 19 (White House/Pete Souza)

Australia isn’t waiting for Donald Trump to assume office in January before recalibrating its foreign relations.

The island nation — America’s most reliable ally in the Pacific — has thrown its support behind Chinese trade initiatives now that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) appears dead.

Steven Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, told the Financial Times he would work to conclude new trade pacts with other countries in the region, including China’s proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. Read more

Australians, Dutch Send Military Police to Ukraine Crash Site

Dutch special forces are decorated at the Royal Military Academy in Breda, May 14
Dutch special forces are decorated at the Royal Military Academy in Breda, May 14 (Ministerie van Defensie)

Australia and the Netherlands announced on Friday they would send military police forces to the area in eastern Ukraine where a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down last week. They also prepared to seek approval from the United Nations Security Council, of which Australia is a rotating member, for an armed mission to secure the crash site.

Australia said it was flying in one hundred police and some defense force personnel in addition to the ninety officers already waiting in London for approval from Ukraine’s parliament to be deployed in the country.

The Netherlands is sending forty unarmed military police officers to aid forensic experts who arrived in Ukraine earlier this week to investigate the crash.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte told lawmakers on Friday it was “far from certain” armed forces would join the contingent although Dutch media reported that soldiers of the elite Air Maneuver Brigade had been called back from leave while commandos were pulled out of Mali.

Australia also sent members of the Special Air Service Regiment to Hereford, England, suggesting a joint special operations mission was imminent.

220 out of the 298 passengers and crew who died in the plane crash were Australian or Dutch nationals.

On Friday afternoon, the third airlift carrying the bodies of the deceased was due to arrive at Eindhoven’s military airport. Two days earlier, when Australian and Dutch military transport aircraft brought the first bodies to the Netherlands, the European country observed a day of national mourning.

While Ukraine’s government promised to fully cooperate with the investigation, armed rebels in the east of the country, who likely brought down the airliner, mistaking it for an Ukrainian military plane, ransacked the crash site and initially stopped monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from inspecting the area.

Russia, which supports the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, said on Thursday it would cooperate with the Dutch investigation into the plane crash — but also denied it had supplied the rebels with a missile launcher to shoot down a commercial jetliner at cruising altitude.

Western countries have ridiculed Russian media’s assertions that the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers who supposedly mistook it for President Vladimir Putin’s personal jet.

One separatist leader also told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the rebels did possess the Buk missile system Western countries believe was used to shoot down the commercial plane and that it could have been sent to Russia to remove proof of its presence.

Before the Malaysian plane was shot down, rebels had boasted of obtaining Buk missiles. But since the crash, the breakaway People’s Republic of Donetsk — which seeks to join the Russian Federation — has denied ever having possessed such weapons.

In a phone call on Thursday, American president Barack Obama and the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte agreed on the need to impose more sanctions on Russia as it continued to support the uprising in Ukraine. “Instead of deescalating the situation, they agreed that all evidence indicates Russia is still arming and supplying separatists who continue to engage in deadly acts of aggression against Ukrainian armed forces,” a White House statement said.

Barack Obama’s Mahanian Approach to Australia

Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1904
Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, 1904

When President Barack Obama embarks on a two day visit to Australia next week, he should read geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Problem of Asia (1900) underway.

Those unfamiliar with geopolitics may wonder what the president could possibly learn from a century-old volume, but no matter tremendous improvements in science and technology, the geography of nations hasn’t changed.

The crux of the issue is simple. Mahan predicted the rise of China and India even when those nations were controlled by European colonial powers. He in fact expected that China’s resurgence as a great power would hinder the United States’ ability to control the West and South Pacific.

Mahan proposed to form an alliance of nations in the Pacific to counter China’s rise. He advocated active cooperation between the navies of Britain, Japan and the United States. The Royal Navy at the time was entrusted with the defense of Australia, a role it would continue to fulfill until World War II.

Australia joined the Allies during both world wars because it security interests are tied to whichever power controls the world oceans. That is why it had to side against Imperial Japan and against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Cut back to 2011 and many of Mahan’s predictions have come true. China is increasing its presence in the South Pacific, where it is competing with the United States for spheres of influence. Australia and its junior partner New Zealand wish to maintain American preponderance in the region and are prepared to cooperate actively within the existing security architecture to strengthen the Pacific Command based in Hawaii.

The president’s trip to Australia comes in the wake of the sixtieth anniversary of the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty which helped keep the Soviets out of the West and South Pacific. The nation hopes to welcome the first American “Pacific” president. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, will go on to visit Indonesia for an East Asia Summit later this month, the nation where he grew up. It’s here that the president meets a challenge to a containment strategy of China, because Australian and Indonesian security interests do not align. If the United States rearm Indonesia to balance against Chinese power, they risk alienating Australians who regard Jakarta’s military buildup warily.

This is one conflict that Mahan didn’t see coming and it will require careful diplomacy and tact on the part of the United States to manage relations with two potential allies in maintaining a favorable balance of power in the Pacific realm.

New Zealand Likely to Strengthen ANZUS

While in Canberra and Washington, the sixtieth anniversary of the Australia New Zealand and the United States Treaty (ANZUS) was observed with much discussion, there was a marked silence in Wellington buttressing that the interests of the other two capitals coincidence with its own in the twenty-first century.

Sixty years ago on September 1, 1951, Australia, New Zealand and the United States signed the ANZUS Treaty which translated into effective military alliance during the Korean War, Vietnam War and much of the Cold War. The ANZUS Treaty reached in 1951 was a major regional multilateral accord aimed at effective strategic relations between the three countries. Despite having formed a major multilateral forum in the United Nations in 1945, regional multilateral initiatives like cooperation between the English-speaking Pacific nations couldn’t be compromised for effective promotion of peace and security.

With the ANZUS Treaty, the three countries vowed to come to each other’s aid in case any of them were attacked. New Zealand pulled out during the 1980s after the Rainbow Warrior incident near Auckland which culminated in now allowing American nuclear submarines in New Zealand waters. The military alliance between Australia and New Zealand has withstood time however.

Although it didn’t toe the American line from the 1980s onward, New Zealand did contribute to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The country’s Labor government supported the neoconservative policy of President George W. Bush in Afghanistan but not in Iraq in 2003 where Australia did join the “coalition the willing.”

There is now a conservative government in Wellington whereas Democrat Barack Obama is president in Washington. Despite the changes in government, relations have continued to improve, culminating in a declaration to establish a strategic partnership when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited New Zealand in November of last year.

The bigger question that’s arisen in New Zealand in what strategic space it finds itself in this century when there’s a possibility of a “Concert of Asia” emerging between Australia, China, India, Japan and the United States?

During much of its history, New Zealand was protected by foreign navies — first the British, later the American. The American defense umbrella, in fact, prevented Australia from becoming a nuclear state in the 1960s when it appeared that Indonesia was trying to build a bomb with Chinese and Soviet support.

China is now a huge commercial partner for both Australia and New Zealand but also their biggest security threat in East Asia. A reaffirmation of the ANZUS Treaty could jeopardize this significant trade relation. It’s a dilemma that’s unfamiliar to the island nations as they never stood anything to lose from the American alliance during the Cold War. Now that China is so pivotal to the economic prosperity of the whole of East Asia, the director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Michael Wesley, predicts in his recent book There Goes the Neighbourhood: Australia and the Rise of Asia (2011) that “the alliance will move from being a cornerstone of Australia’s international politics to being a major supporting beam.”

Australia’s problems are compounded by American strategy in Southeast Asia where it is building an alliance with Indonesia in order to discourage Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea area. This development could give rise to a security imbalance between Australia and Indonesia.

Whereas Australia has a superior air force and navy, the Indonesian army outnumbers Australia’s. The countries are involved in a stalemate however because Australia can’t impose its army on Indonesia and Indonesia doesn’t possess the amphibious capability necessary to stage an invasion of the Australian continent. The balance of power could be upset if the United States provide the Indonesians with superior weaponry to counter Chinese encroachment in Southeast Asia.

Australia will be compelled to intensify cooperation within ANZUS to establish itself as a regional power. It will probably urge New Zealand to become a security partner of the United States as well to buttress this alliance. The question is what choice New Zealand will make.

So far, it seems that New Zealand is willing to follow Australia’s lead in the region, evidenced by Fiji’s exclusion from the Pacific Islands Forum until the military government restores democracy there. Trade relations with Chinese notwithstanding, “NZ” is likely to remain part of ANZUS.