“We need the United States for defence, but we only need defence because of the United States.”
So argues the former Prime Minister of Australia, the Honorable Malcolm Fraser, in his new book Dangerous Allies. Released in May, Dangerous Allies is a 360-page polemic calling for an immediate end to what Fraser terms Australia’s ‘paradoxical alliance’ with the United States of America.
Malcolm Fraser is no stranger to controversy. His candid and forthright opinions on Australian politics and politicians – most of them about his former Liberal Party – have seen him court criticism and praise in equal measure. Indeed, Fraser’s displeasure with the seemingly ultra-conservative policies of the Coalition finally culminated in his resignation from the party in 2009, following Malcolm Turnbull’s replacement with Tony Abbott as leader of the party.
Fraser’s opinion that Australia should end its military dependence on the US may well be his most controversial yet. But, as he tells me frankly, he has no qualms in expressing such views, especially not when it comes to being criticized by current politicians.
“No, that wouldn’t worry me because I think [my views] are shared by ordinary Australians,” he says. “I think there is a great gulf between [ordinary Australians] and the political elite who have really been seduced by America.”
Tracing Australia’s history of strategic dependence on larger powers for military protection from foreign aggressors, Fraser’s book begins with a focus on our dependence on England; a dependence that was transferred to America during World War Two. Although Fraser acknowledges that Australia’s alignment with the US during the Cold War was once a rational policy, he says it has since become outdated.
According to Fraser, our outdated relationship with the US has led to a number of “dangerous” foreign policy decisions by Australia in recent years that are more “appropriate to a past age”. These include Howard’s decision to join America in Iraq as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in 2003, accepting the stationing of American troops in Darwin under the Gillard government, and allowing Australia’s Pine Gap spy base facility to be used by America for its extensive drone program.
“If America goes to war, if they use those forces, or if they use the offensive weapons at Pine Gap, then they have the power to take us to war and I don’t believe any other country should have that power,” says Fraser. “[If] America starts to use forces deployed out of Australia, then how can an Australian Prime Minister stand on their two feet and say we’re not involved?”
“What makes me fearful for Australia’s future is we’ve now put ourselves in the position that if America goes to war in the Pacific, they have power to take us also to war. That to me is a total betrayal of Australian sovereignty.”
Australia has spent most of its life on the international scene complying with the foreign policy interests of England, and now, America. In a period of major international instability and turmoil in countries like Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine, along with regional tensions in the Asia-Pacific between nations like China and Japan, urging Australia to cease its ‘strategic dependence’ on the US would appear to be a decision fraught with danger. But to Fraser, the biggest danger would be to stay on with America.
“People… have said that abandoning strategic dependence is risky, but I think it is the least risky option open to us,” he says. “What is the safest path for Australia? Or if you like, what is the least risky path for Australia? I happen to believe giving America the power to say when Australia goes to war is the most dangerous position that Australia can bear.”
“In spite of the view that they’re a very great military power, American influence cannot point to any success,” Fraser says.
There aren’t many former world leaders of Fraser’s repute and status who would freely and candidly admit to believing that the West is primarily responsible for the crisis in the Ukraine. One would also be hard pressed to find a Western world leader willing to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea. However, Fraser defies all Western-centric conceptions of the crisis, and blames the West for the problems we are now seeing – problems, he fears, which Australia will soon be led into by Prime Minister Abbott’s closeness with the US.
“There is an absolute misunderstanding of the history and culture of the whole region,” Fraser says. “When the Soviet Union collapsed, it was Clinton above all who wanted NATO to move east. He thought that this would be a great democratizing movement for Russia.”
But, says Fraser, the ill-thought out move only provoked the East European behemoth. “Moving NATO east, [to the] very borders of Russia, was bound to be regarded as a totally hostile act,” he says.
Current rhetoric employed by Western leaders and media sources has seen the drawing of similarities between Putin and Adolf Hitler, arguing that the West’s appeasement of another European aggressor could very well lead to another World War.
But Fraser thinks this view is totally erroneous. In his opinion, it is the actions of Western leaders that should be compared to that of the “victorious allies” at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War, “where retribution and vengeance were the dominant motives, and which directed Hitler and [led] to the Second World War.” He graphically analogises the current actions of the West as “kicking a man who’s knocked to the ground and virtually unconscious, but you still go on kicking him to hell.”
Fraser speaks with a genuine passion and conviction on the future he believes Australia could have, if only we would become the master of our own affairs. Unlike so many current politicians, Fraser seems to speak from a genuine desire for the betterment and protection of his country. It is refreshing to hear the views of a former politician who now speaks his views freely and without inhibition; a man who no longer speaks on behalf of a party and is no longer concerned with approval ratings.
His disappointment with Australia’s current domestic situation is also widely-known. “The [Liberal] Party has changed, the Labor Party has also changed – both have moved increasingly towards the right” admits Fraser. In moving to the right, Fraser believes that both parties have abandoned the principles that they once stood for in favour of ultra-conservative policies that achieve nothing for the nation’s betterment.
“If you look at the things my government did… we were concerned with the less well off in our community, [we had] a concern for social equity which has not been exhibited in the recent government’s budget, for example,” he says.
Whilst Fraser concedes that his government’s achievements may not have been “much noted at the time,” he is proud to look back on a period in Australian history where his government “opposed apartheid, had a generous attitude towards refugees- especially from Indochina- passed the Human Rights Commission, [and] the Administrative Appeal Tribunal.”
The question must be asked – what would Fraser do if he were Prime Minister now?
“I would take the decisions necessary to achieve strategic independence,” he says without hesitation. “I would want to work much harder on establishing really good relationships in our own region. I would say to America to withdraw those troops in Darwin, and give them not too much time to do that.”
As for domestic politics? “We would need to reassert the moral tradition of Australian values of a ‘fair go’ for all Australians; try and give a helping hand to those who need it.”
“I would be wanting to emphasize the need for scientific research, [and] for high quality education to be accessible for all of those who can take advantage of it – I don’t believe we should try to restrict the number of Australians who go to university, which seems to be the current policy.”
Whilst Fraser may no longer have the political power to make changes, perhaps one day we will have an Australia that Fraser envisions: “An independent middle power and cooperating with other middle powers to try and build a better and a safer world and to espouse the principles of the United Nations.”