On 5 September 1952, Richard Casey, the Minister for External Affairs, provided the Australian House of Representatives with a report on the first meeting of the ANZUS Council in Honolulu about a month earlier. The report gives an indication of the alliance’s early good health, reflecting engagement by senior policymakers, warm relationships and broad discussions. It also shows something else—the detailed consideration given to the place of Article 8 of the Treaty in the alliance’s future. Today, even among alliance cognoscenti Article 8 features scarcely at all in policy debate or the academic literature. The Article authorises the ANZUS Council
…to maintain a consultative relationship with States, Regional Organisations, Associations of States or other authorities in the Pacific Area in a position to further the purposes of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of that Area.
The single longest paragraph (by far) of the 1952 report covers the decision to focus on ANZUS as a close-knit tripartite alliance, and to put to one side the concept that ANZUS might be a vehicle for broader regional consultations. The broader concept sketched in Article 8 was to be kept under ‘continuous review’, but was deemed to be ‘premature’. The central effort was to go towards nurturing the defence and strategic relationship between the three core members of the alliance. As Casey put it in the report, ‘We felt that the first task was to concentrate on making the treaty work with its original limited membership.’
That decision—in favour of exclusivity—proved important. The defence relationship between US and Australia is now one of the closest in the world. And it is similar to the other US security relationships in Asia, which tend to be similarly bilateral and exclusive. But the text of the Article raises an interesting question: is it now time for ANZUS to grow a regional consultative arrangement alongside its bilateral defence cooperation one? If exclusivity was, as Casey said, the ‘first task’, when might we appropriately begin work on the second? Is it now time for us to revisit Article 8 and explore opportunities for consultations between the alliance members and others?
I ask those questions in a genuine spirit of academic enquiry. I don’t know the answer. I’m one of those people who have typically seen the US leg of our strategic policy as separate from the Asian engagement leg. But I’m starting to wonder whether we should be trying to get more out of ANZUS than a hedging strategy—and, in particular, whether we can use the alliance more in an order-building role in Asia. Notwithstanding the wording of the 1952 report, I find it hard to believe we’ve kept it under ‘continuous review’.
In 1952, the key Australian concern was that the treaty not undercut the country’s warm relationship with the United Kingdom and other members of the British Commonwealth. It was felt the US would want to keep its other Asian allies (Japan and the Philippines) closely appraised of ANZUS Council business. And all three ANZUS partners had an interest in working closely with countries like France, which was directly involved in regional issues. I think in 2013, we might want to use the alliance as a vehicle for greater Asian engagement, but the key question remains: should we be trying to use ANZUS more broadly as an instrument of regional engagement?
I’m not suggesting that we should attempt to transform ANZUS into an Asian NATO. And obviously we don’t want to throw away the close relationship with the US. If we choose to reach out more to Asian partners under the ANZUS framework, we’d have to decide to who and how. It might be an idea to start with just one, and Indonesia is a strong candidate. We could, for example, brief Indonesia more fully on the AUSMIN meetings, invite it to a discussion on key regional issues with the ANZUS members or invite it to be an observer at AUSMIN.
It wouldn’t be precedent-making for ANZUS to develop a set of partnership arrangements with regional states. That’s exactly what NATO has been doing in Europe—although NATO always was a broad, multilateral alliance. But why shouldn’t ANZUS open up a ‘partnership’ program at the regional level? It might be, of course, that we decide that there’s now no need—that the regional system of security consultations is already well-developed in a way that it wasn’t in 1952, and that anything ANZUS might do would hurt rather than help. I certainly don’t see ANZUS partnership arrangements as an attempt to replace the ASEAN-centred efforts at regional consultation. Still, Europe is one of the most densely institutionalised theatres on the face of the globe, and that hasn’t devalued NATO’s efforts.
It might be, of course, that Indonesia doesn’t want a partnership arrangement with ANZUS. But I don’t see that it hurts to ask, and not just Indonesia but others as well. We might debate who those ‘others’ will be, but that’s a separate question to the big one of whether we want the alliance to be a vehicle for regional order-building. Article 8 was marginalised at ANZUS’s birth; it’s time we thought about it having its time in the sun.
Rod Lyon is a non-residential fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user QnD2011.