I’ve written previously about Canberra’s place in the ever-escalating strategic conflict between Washington and Beijing, and the role of the Australian Greens in helping along this agenda.
A further insight was provided yesterday by the party’s leader, Bob Brown, in a radio interview with the ABC.
For a week, Brown’s party and all its parliamentary representatives had steadfastly maintained their silence about the content of US diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks. They had also refused to criticize or remark upon the persecution, legal stitch-ups and threatened assassination of Julian Assange, and showed no desire to condemn the various attempts to prevent public access to the documents.
This silence was not due to an all-consuming focus on local affairs.
Last Friday, Brown issued a statement about Moroccan violence in Western Sahara, offering the party’s ‘concern and support’ for the local population. On Thursday, the party issued a press release on Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters.
But Brown was forced to speak yesterday after WikiLeaks released a State Department cable from March 2009, describing a meeting between the US Secretary of State and Australia’s then-Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
In this document, Rudd was revealed to have discussed various means of forestalling a ‘Chinese Monroe Doctrine’, which would reduce US and Australian economic and military influence in East and South-east Asia. These options included ‘preparing to deploy force’, through expansion of Australia’s naval capability and ‘US re-engagement in the region’.
One might have thought these revelations would concern MPs of a party which lists, among its four core beliefs, ‘peace and non-violence’. According to the Greens’ sales pitch, ‘Australia’s foreign policy should be based on dialogue, diplomacy and cooperation, not aggression. Trying to prevent or counter violence with violence itself will not work.’
Here was evidence that an Australian government was considering recourse to war, involving two nuclear-armed states, to protect its sphere of commercial and strategic influence.
Even the conservative Julie Bishop, foreign-affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, professed herself alarmed:
I find it troubling that Mr Rudd as prime minister advised the United States that it should consider the use of force if other measures failed to counter China’s growing influence. That is not a view that he’s expressed publicly and Julia Gillard should detail whether this remains the view of the Labor government.
The opposition raised the point that both the US and China possessed nuclear weapons, and criticized the government’s ‘rush to condemn’ Assange without having found any breach of Australian law.
Bishop’s cynical lurch into this, the Greens’ favoured rhetorical territory, finally prompted Brown to speak up.
Thus, in his interview with ABC radio, the Greens leader called for Assange to have his citizenship ‘respected’ and for him to be ‘reassured that his citizenship is kept safe’. He then refused to categorize Assange as either a ‘hero’ or ‘quasi-terrorist’, and emphasized that ‘it’s important that we ensure that information like this [the leaked cables] doesn’t threaten those lives [of Australian troops in Afghanistan]’.
Those matters dealt with, Brown proceeded to attack Bishop’s remarks, defending Rudd’s belligerence against any criticism:
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle this morning about the prospect of our Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister, having suggested, if all else fails, force may needed in regard to another country, that being China. Well, goodness me, I’d ask the question of Julie Bishop, should we abandon the defence forces? Are there no circumstances in which force may be used? By that, presumably, meaning defensive force. I would think that’s the logic of the defence forces.
And when it comes to some forthright talking about the Dalai Lama and the need for consideration of autonomy in Tibet, in my experience, the great majority of Australians would be right behind Kevin Rudd in putting forward that option as a real one.
Brown made no mention, let alone criticism, of the cable’s further key revelation, that the ALP government was planning to extend Australian military involvement from Afghanistan to Pakistan: ‘Rudd indicated Australia was willing and able to help, especially in special operations and counterinsurgency areas, as soon as Pakistan was willing to accept’ it.
As the Pakistani government has since agreed to ever-increasing US military actions inside its territory – now essentially merged with Afghanistan into a single theatre of operations (“AFPAK”) – it’s natural to wonder whether Australian troops, too, have become active in that country.
Even with that matter left aside, the Greens leader’s comments are astonishing.
In recent years, Australian troops have participated in the regime change and military occupation of East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Solomon Islands.
Yet Bob Brown suggests that, ‘presumably’, military deployment against China would involve ‘defensive force’. Clearly, the presumption isn’t derived from contemporary experience or recent observation.
Nor can it be inferred from the details of the Rudd-Clinton discussion itself. Washington’s claim to naval prerogatives in the Yellow and South China seas, and its opposition, with Australia, to any declaration by Beijing of a ‘regional Monroe Doctrine’, can hardly be described as defensive in nature. It was publicly revealed, at the time of Rudd’s visit to Washington, that Canberra’s own military-intelligence analysts perceived ‘China’s military buildup as largely a defensive response to the perceived threat of US naval power in the Pacific.’
What then is the argumentative basis for Brown’s presumption about ‘defensive force’? It is simply, he claims, an obvious deduction to make from ‘the logic of the defence forces.’
So there we have it.
The Australian Greens proclaim their opposition to an Australian foreign policy based on ‘aggression.’ On this basis they seek electoral support and are proclaimed as a ‘progressive alternative to the politics-as-usual of the two major parties.’
Yet the party’s leader judges the ADF to be by definition incapable of aggression, while detecting aggression only from the Australian elite’s rivals and enemies.
In some respects, Brown’s words should surprise nobody. Over the past decade, the Greens have made little secret of their willingness to support Australian military ambitions in the southwest Pacific.
Yet this is nonetheless, by my reckoning, some kind of first.
Presented with the catastrophic prospect of Australian involvement in war between the US and China, never before has the ‘progressive alternative’ responded: ‘So? What do you think armies are for?’