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

French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017
French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017 (World Bank/Ibrahim Ajaja)

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

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

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

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

Yoshihiko Noda Barack Obama Wen Jiabao
President Barack Obama, flanked by Prime Ministers Yoshihiko Noda of Japan and Wen Jiabao of China, attends the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 20, 2012 (State Department/William Ng)

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.

“Any move that reduces barriers to trade and helps us facilitate trade, facilitate exports and drive economic growth and employment is a step in the right direction,” Ciobo said.

But there is a strategic component to this as well. Read more “In Era of Trump, Australia Looks to China for Leadership on Trade”

Australians, Dutch Send Military Police to Ukraine Crash Site

Dutch commando
A soldier of the Netherlands’ elite Air Maneuver Brigade prepares to board an UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter to conduct air assault training in Hungary, April 4 (US Army Europe/Joshua Leonard)

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. Read more “Australians, Dutch Send Military Police to Ukraine Crash Site”

Barack Obama’s Mahanian Approach to Australia

Alfred Thayer Mahan
Alfred Thayer Mahan, c. 1904 (Library of Congress)

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. Read more “Barack Obama’s Mahanian Approach to Australia”

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.

Why Australia Worries About Indonesia

What country is most likely to upset American-Australian relations in the near future? One would be inclined to think of China but Michael Wesley, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, doesn’t think so.

At The Interpreter, Wesley points to “the Jakarta factor” instead. Indonesia was responsible for the most serious rift in relations between Canberra and Washington, he notes, back in the early 1960s, “when the Americans decided that Cold War interests were more important than backing their mates’ opposition to Jakarta’s annexation of West Irian.”

Things may seem to have moved on. Indonesia has no outstanding territorial claims, and it’s a democracy now. And even though President Barack Obama spent part of his childhood there, it’s still a major effort to get the Americans to think seriously about Indonesia.

Although consumer confidence in Indonesia was back up to pre-recession levels in March of this year already, the island nation has yet not entirely recovered from the Asian financial crisis of the previous decade. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president since 2004, has made serious efforts at reforming Indonesia’s obstructive regulatory environment, including measures to fight corruption, but impediments to economic growth remain. Investment, both foreign and domestic, is curtailed by government interference while judicial enforcement can be erratic and nontransparent. Nevertheless, Indonesia is doing better than a few years ago and, according to Wesley, that’s why it’s likely to clash with Australia eventually.

Australia and Indonesia get on because of the long-running balanced disparity between the two countries. Australia is small but wealthy; Indonesia is huge but poor. Indonesia has a huge army but small naval and air forces; Australia has a small army but potent naval and air capabilities. As Hugh White says, the Australian army could get to Indonesia but do nothing once it got there; the Indonesian army could overrun Australia but can’t get here. So we just accept each other and get along.

As Indonesia rises, being admitted into the G20 and recognized by the United States as a potential partner across the Pacific in counterbalancing China’s revisionist maritime claims in the Southeast Sea, Australia risks being sidelined.

Different countries across the region share a concern about China’s rapid growth and assertiveness. That is why the Vietnamese, for instance, have shown an interest in the Quadrilateral Initiative which Australia, India, Japan and the United States launched in May 2007 in Manilla. The country has since participated in naval exercises with the United States and negotiated a nuclear cooperation treaty with the Obama Administration.

Japan, too, has been strengthening ties across East Asia, organizing military exchanges with Vietnam, building subways in New Delhi, and making a stance along with South Korea when the North sunk one of its ships in May. Indeed, “the Japanese and Koreans have their hands full helping India and Vietnam,” according to Wesley. “This leaves the United States as most likely to awake to the strategic sense of helping Indonesia emerge as a great power.”

Wesley, writing from Australia, has reason to be concerned. “Are we sure our friends in Washington, entering a deepening spiral of strategic competition with Beijing, would take account of our strategic interests before investing in Indonesia’s strength?” The answer is probably no, though one shouldn’t worry too much about China’s navy and its posturing.

Plenty in Washington do worry however, whether they should or shouldn’t, and this should worry Australia in turn, especially with the Rio Tinto affair of last year still fresh in mind. One can hardly blame the Australians for dreading China rather more than we do, halfway across the globe. But with Australia, at the same time, invested in international peacekeeping, particularly in Afghanistan; dedicated to the War on Terror; and with the ANZUS Treaty firmly in place, Canberra hasn’t too much to fret about. If worse comes to the worst, America is rather more likely to pick sides for a prosperous, trustworthy ally than a country that just emerged out of semi-dictatorship ten years ago.