It’s time for Australia to invoke ANZUS

The US is in its worst crisis since World War II. With more than 582,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, it is the current global epicentre of the pandemic.

More than 23,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus so far. Yesterday alone, over 1,500 people died across the US, nearly half of them in New York State. On 4 April, the death toll in New York City eclipsed the 2,753 killed in the terrorist attack that brought down the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001; by yesterday, the city had lost more than 7,000 to Covid-19.

Australia, too, is in crisis from the pandemic. Some 6,359 Australians have been confirmed as infected, and 61 Australians have lost their lives so far.

Covid-19 is affecting the security and safety of the Australian people and the American people, and measures to contain it are changing our daily lives and threatening our economies.

It is also threatening our militaries’ readiness and ability to operate. A US aircraft carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt is tied up in Guam unable to put to sea because of the virus.

American and Australian military capability, along with that of other partners, is a powerful factor in keeping the peace in these dangerous times, notably in North Asia. So, Covid-19 is posing a direct threat to global security.

It’s exactly such times and circumstances that call for our prime minister to do what John Howard did in the days after 9/11, for the first time in our history, and again invoke the ANZUS Treaty.

Scott Morrison’s doing so will be a hugely symbolic act of solidarity and support to the American people from our own people, which will be to both countries’ benefit.

We know the value of close partners during difficult times—the US was one of the nations that sent firefighters to help us during our bushfire disaster last summer. Three US firefighters lost their lives when their water-bomber crashed while battling our fires.

Invoking ANZUS will be more than symbolism. It will result in the entire Australian system working jointly with that of our American counterparts to defeat the pandemic in both of our countries—with all the means of our governments and our medical professionals, scientists and engineers, in government agencies, universities, hospitals, health institutes and private companies.

ANZUS can be the vehicle that maximises our nations’ cooperation for our mutual benefit.

The US has enormous means in this battle against the virus that will come to bear over coming days, weeks and months.

But Australia too has key capabilities—our vaccine researchers are already cooperating closely with US and other global partners, as are our health professionals and medical companies.

Our military has skills that can help keep ships, planes and land systems operational in light of the infection risk from Covid-19. The Australian Defence Force also has highly trained personnel who operate our own platforms and could even augment the US’s defence personnel in key roles–on carriers, for example—if required.

Our federal and state governments have put in place a very effective range of measures that are, so far, helping ensure the virus doesn’t overwhelm our health system. There’s also our approach to underpin economic health during and after the pandemic that we can bring to our cooperation.

Morrison’s first step after invoking ANZUS should be to convene the national cabinet for a virtual meeting with President Donald Trump and his National Security Council. That will give all parties a clear understanding of the critical needs that the US and Australia have and begin to identify areas where each can help the other, through cooperation, exchange of expertise and even augmentation.

Then there are the sub-national connections and partnerships that can benefit both of us. Our premiers and chief ministers have working connections with governors of US states, both through a 2018 memorandum of understanding signed between them and through individual sister city and state relations.

The MOU is a formal platform that includes cooperation on public health, which is required now. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian can also call on Sydney’s sister city relationship with New York to establish a working partnership with the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo. Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews might do the same with Governor Gavin Newsom of California.

At the public sector level, there is the PM’s National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, which can be one of the means for engaging Australian and American corporate power to cope with the economic strains from the pandemic.

Article III of ANZUS says, ‘The Parties will consult together whenever in the opinion of any of them the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific.’ Covid-19 is clearly threatening the security of the American and Australian people through its direct impact on health and life. It’s also affecting our economies’ ability to sustain national power and our militaries’ ability to do their jobs, act in our defence and contribute to regional security in places like the South China Sea and North Asia.

Scott Morrison last year called the ANZUS Treaty ‘the single most important achievement’ of the Liberal Party in any term of government.

He can now use that achievement to the benefit of both our nations.