Australia, the sixth continent, lay outside world affairs until settled by Europeans. The 300,000 aborigines, who were its only inhabitants until the end of the eighteenth century, were untouched by the outside world except for infrequent visits by Malays and possibly Chinese to a few points on the northern coastline, and these had no knowledge of or interest in world affairs. But modern Australia is neither isolated nor isolationist. Australians have fought overseas in five wars in the last century, have known hostile bombs on their own soil and at present have a substantial proportion of their armed services on duty in other lands. By its origin in six British colonies, modern Australia was linked to world power contests; by its growth it has become part of them, and today we cannot read our national future except in the language of world politics.

Luckily the six colonies grew up at a time when British naval power in all oceans of the world was unchallenged. Nevertheless, one of the earliest expressions of Australian foreign policy was a movement in the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria in the 1850s to create a colonial navy because of a Russian scare following the appearance of the Russians in the Pacific. In the 188os the colony of Queensland led a movement, in which all the other Australian colonies shared, to persuade the British to annex part of the island of New Guinea, largely because of the fear engendered by a German appearance in the Pacific. At that period Asia, yet unawakened, did not appear so definite a danger to Australians as did European power intruding into the Pacific. As in other countries of the Pacific, toward the end of the century Australian publicists took up the phrase "the yellow peril" and found meaning in it not so much as a military danger as a threat of coolie labor to the industrial conditions and standards of living which had been made an Australian ideal. After federation as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the rising naval power of Japan caused some concern, but in the 1914-18 War Australia still saw her destiny linked only with the power struggle in Europe and, with the Japanese as an ally, sent her available manpower to a war in Europe and the Middle East, the convoys sometimes being escorted by Japanese warships.

After Versailles there was strong Australian concern over naval power in the Pacific. Great hopes were set on the Washington Treaties. Their failure to check the continued rise of Japanese naval power contributed to the confusion in Australian foreign policy throughout the 1930s. The power struggle in Europe was seen as one phenomenon and danger in the Pacific as another. International socialism bemused others into thinking that peoples and not nations were the real units in international politics. Growing interest in trade to and from Asia sometimes fed hope and sometimes fed doubt. Concern over Hitler's aggression alternated with forebodings about what Japan might do when other powers were busy in Europe.

After the disappointments at the failure of the Washington Treaties to arrest naval growth in the Pacific, the thoughts of Australians turned toward other means of ensuring Pacific security. In 1936 Robert Menzies, then Attorney-General in the Lyons Government, argued "that an effective contribution to the general principle of collective security contained in the League (of Nations) would be for States, in regions where their national interests are directly involved, to agree to some form of a regional pact, subsidiary to the Covenant, by which they would be obliged to render military assistance, in circumstances laid down by the agreement, if one or more of them should be attacked by an aggressor." Such agreements would be supplementary to and not in substitution for any of the provisions of the Covenant. He drew attention to the fact that, as the United States and Japan were not members of the League of Nations, regional agreement of this particular kind-within the compass of the Covenant-could hardly be applicable, but that it should be possible to promote a regional understanding and a pact of non-aggression for Pacific countries in the spirit of League undertakings. Sir George Pearce, the Minister for External Affairs, who had represented Australia at the Washington Conferences and can probably be regarded as the first significant Foreign Minister for Australia, spoke in June 1937, after his return from an Imperial Conference in London, of the lead which Australia had given to the conference in proposing a Pacific pact. Joseph Lyons, the Prime Minister of the day, informed Parliament on August 24 that he had indicated to the Imperial Conference that Australia "would welcome the regional understanding and pact of non-aggression in the Pacific and that we would be prepared to collaborate with all other peoples towards the achievement of such a pact;" he defined the historical and existing Australian interest in simple terms: "Our desire as a nation is to live at peace with our neighbours and to develop our trade with them." Still the tendency was to see the Pacific danger and the European danger in separate compartments.

At the outbreak of the War of 1939-45 there was division of political opinion regarding the form of the Australian war effort, some seeing the greater peril in the East as a case for concentrating on home defense. Nevertheless, expeditionary forces were sent into the Middle East and the pick of Australia's airmen and part of her navy went into the northern hemisphere. Reliance was still placed on the strength of British power centered in Singapore. In the outcome-after Pearl Harbor, Japan's southward move and the fall of Singapore-the war came to mean for Australia largely war in the Pacific, danger from Asia and a feeling that the Allies, in the agreed strategy of defeating Hitler first, were not fully aware of the East.

The War of 1939-45 taught two lessons. One was that geographical isolation was no defense. An Asian power could attack Australian territory and threaten it with invasion. That lesson has since been underlined by changes in the nature of offensive weapons. The other was that British power was not great enough at the time of a war in Europe to conduct an effective defensive war in the Far East. That lesson has since been underlined by the postwar changes in the old British Empire.

II

Immediately after the war the virtual disappearance of colonial rule from southern Asia and from the Indonesian Archipelago produced a set of conditions totally dissimilar to those that prevailed at the time when Australia first began to discuss Asia. At the same time as Mainland China was growing in power under the first centralized, authoritative and single- minded government it had known in modern times-and a Communist government at that-the rest of Asia was being fragmented into inexperienced, newly independent states, some economically shaky and some politically unstable; Japan was disarmed and India neutralized itself. The Kashmir dispute had the effect of turning inwards the defense planning of two potentially great Asian armies. There has necessarily been a re-thinking of Australian foreign policy.

Behind this re-thinking, however, the dominant motives are still much the same. Australia wants to be safe, free and independent. These are not rhetorical terms. Being safe means to have a reasonable certainty that if any enemy attacks its territory that enemy will be defeated, and that if any enemy wants to cut communications between Australia and the rest of the world, and particularly between Australia and its distant allies, that enemy can be prevented from so doing. Being free means that a government elected by the Australian people will be able to make decisions according to its own judgment of what suits the Australian people best and that no other power or authority can prevent those decisions from being put into effect. Being independent means that in using its own judgment any Australian government will not be influenced or coerced by reason of the existence of any conditions or arrangements other than those which it has itself willingly brought about. There can be no true independence under the shadow of hostile power.

The second great requirement for Australia is that it should continue to develop its resources and maintain its standard of living. It must have economic opportunity and, for Australia, this means access to trade. Australia is high on the list of the trading nations of the world. It is not one of the richest countries of the world, nor in population or resources is it one of the biggest, but it is one of the great trading nations and, from the nature of its economic opportunities, it must continue to expand its trade. The total of Australian external trade per head of population is twice that of the United States. Of economic necessity, Australia has a major interest in peace throughout the world, in political stability and in rising prosperity in all other countries. In postwar years this necessity has been felt in respect of the countries of Asia more keenly than in respect of any other region.

Thirdly, Australia is an idealistic country. In its domestic affairs Australia has set itself certain standards of living and a belief in sharing wealth and opportunity; and it has placed a high value on law and order and kindly human relationships. It has also followed the British traditions of protection of rights of the individual, the rule of law, respect for property and honest administration. It tends to apply the same standards and to seek their achievement in all other parts of the world. If it is to be criticized it is for the naïveté with which it assumes that what it finds good for itself at home is readily applicable in every other part of the world. Indeed one of the points at which Australia most closely resembles the United States is that it shares both this idealism and this naïveté with the American people.

Another resemblance may be found in the early postwar years. Australia, active in the formation of the United Nations, embraced the truth that the way to security is to build a secure world. It also had to learn from Korea onwards that, in these imperfect days, aggression must be fought in order to be checked.

All this is necessary background to any discussion of the present-day relationships between Australia and Asia and to an understanding of Australian policy in Southeast Asia. The two consistent strands in Australian policy toward Asia are, first, the search for means of maintaining security both by alliances and by arrangements for regional coöperation; and secondly, a consistent willingness to assist in raising standards of living to help Asian countries to help themselves. These two strands emerge today in a clearly discernible pattern of interest. Peace or war in the Pacific region means peace or war for Australia. Australia has political, economic and strategic interests in peace and stability in the region as a whole and in the peace and stability of each country of the region. The trend toward increased trade with Asia means that Australia has both a practical and a humanitarian concern in rising standards of living and in the economic progress of all countries of Asia. In this region of the world, no less than in any other, Australia believes that aggression must be resisted and the established conventions of international conduct observed, for here, as elsewhere, any unwillingness to resist, or failure in resistance, will dissipate the only climate in which our national independence, freedom and safety can endure.

In the postwar period there have been two significant developments in Australian foreign policy-one resulting in the achievement of regional arrangements for security and one in a revision of the national defense structure.

The idea of a Pacific pact was revived even before the Korean War. Foreign Minister P. C. Spender referred to it in March 1950 as "some form of regional pact for common defense" and "a defensive military arrangement, having as its basis, a firm agreement between countries having a vital interest in the stability of Asia and the Pacific and which are at the same time capable of undertaking military commitments." He saw the British Commonwealth countries as the nucleus but hoped that other countries would associate themselves with the pact, and he referred particularly to the United States, "whose participation would give such a pact a substance that it would otherwise lack." At the same time he recognized that defensive pacts are in many ways negative. He hoped, too, for a pact that had more positive aims-"the promotion of democratic political institutions, higher living standards, increased cultural and commercial ties." This theme was pursued by Australia at the Baguio Conference in the Philippines and in discussions in Washington with Secretary of State Duties. It was developed against the background of the Japanese Peace Treaty, the Korean War and the early experience of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Expression was given in due course on the positive side by the Colombo Plan inaugurated in 1950, and on the defensive side by the alliance with the United States and New Zealand in the ANZUS Treaty of 1951, and the establishment of SEATO in 1954, although care was taken to include in the SEATO arrangements a provision for constructive aid to the member countries. Under SEATO Australia committed itself to join in common efforts for the defense of the region. Under ANZUS it entered into an alliance of mutual assistance. Australia also contributed forces of all three services to the Commonwealth strategic reserve in Malaya, an integral part of the over-all defense of Southeast Asia.

The other significant change in the postwar period was in national defense. For the first time in Australian history a regular army was formed. Previously the conception had been one of home defense in peacetime and of expeditionary forces to be raised if necessary after a declaration of war. In the world today we know that fighting comes without a declaration of war and that infiltration and not direct attack is the sneaking mode of conquest favored by aggressors. Expeditionary forces, which have to be trained after they are raised, are unavailable in the situations with which we have to deal. Hence a regular army was created to be fully trained and as readily available as the Air Force and Navy. This improved availability of forces is being added to by recent decisions of the Menzies Government to create an Emergency Reserve from men who have completed their terms of enlistment in the regular forces and who are to be kept in full training; and to amend the Defense Act so that those officers and men who are on voluntary part-time service in the citizen forces will be available for service overseas in circumstances short of a declaration of war.

The sweep of the Australian military commitment overseas is perhaps not always fully realized. We maintain forces and bases to assist the defense of Malaysia, an air unit and engineers in Thailand, and a military assistance group and air transport unit in South Viet Nam, while at the same time taking the primary responsibility for the defense of the border of Eastern New Guinea and of the Australian continent. Australia fought in Korea and helped to stamp out Communist terrorism in Malaya. Australia gave immediate material aid to India when that country was attacked by China and participated with the United Kingdom and the United States in an Indian air defense exercise last year. Australia participates in SEATO planning and her forces join in its exercises. We have supplied defense aid under SEATO to Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines and to South Viet Nam. These commitments and contributions are the expression of our political, economic and strategic interests in the region. We believe that peace and stability cannot be achieved by neutralism but by combining with like-minded nations to defeat aggression and, at this stage of events, to give a backing of strength and military resolution to diplomatic efforts to remove threats against the territorial integrity and political independence of the nations of this region.

As an adjunct to these two significant moves in building a regional security system and a new structure of defense, Australia has extended her own diplomatic network and sought peaceful opportunities to come closer to Asia. Before Pearl Harbor, legations had been opened in Tokyo and Chungking. Today Australia is represented in Tokyo, Seoul, Saigon, Vientiane, Pnom Penh, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Djakarta, Rangoon, New Delhi, Karachi, Colombo, Manila and Katmandu. Trade Commissioners are posted to Ceylon, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand. Colombo Plan expenditures now total about $130,000,000. SEATO aid, special assistance to India and Malaysia, contributions to the Indus Basin Development Fund and other grants to Asian countries add at least another $30,000,000. Australia has been admitted as a regional member of ECAFE (Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East). Trade agreements have been concluded with Indonesia, Malaya and Japan, and trade discussions have proceeded with the Philippines and India. The flow of visits by Asians to Australia and by Australians to Asia is increasing both for business and holiday. There are 11,000 Asian students in Australia today. Australian specialists and technicians are helping in Asian projects. Australian universities and schools have greatly expanded their courses and research projects in the Asian field, although most of us think that expansion should be even greater. Australian journalists have started to make Asia a special field of interest and enterprise.

III

Friendship with Asia, reciprocal trade, closer cultural relations and a clearer understanding of Asia and its peoples are in the forefront of Australian policy. They are also becoming part of the popular Australian outlook.

Foreign affairs are not conducted, however, by expressing good intentions but by handling particular problems as they arise. At the present time two major questions require immediate attention in Southeast Asia, namely the Indonesian attempt to "crush Malaysia" and the situation in South Viet Nam and Laos.

The attempt to crush Malaysia has brought Australia into opposition to Indonesia. There is no matter in dispute between Australia and Indonesia themselves, nor is there likely to be one unless Indonesia were to make an aggressive move against Australian territory in the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. There is certainly no Australian ambition in respect of Indonesian territory. It is basic to our own thinking that Indonesia should maintain its integrity and we should like to see it progressive and prosperous. Any fragmentation of Indonesia would not come by our wish. The natural and desirable future to which we look is an Indonesia that is joined in a chain of friendship from India through Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia to Australia. The disruption of such hopes arises from Indonesian aggression against Malaysia, and we are also disturbed by the rise inside Java of a strong Communist party looking toward Peking. We deplore the circumstances in which President Sukarno has led his nation on courses which seem to us to be contrary to the enduring interests of his people and, certainly, contrary to our own. Even while we resist his aggression against Malaysia we hope that, eventually, Indonesia will turn into ways that will make enduring friendship with Australia possible.

Those hopes, which have been dimmed by events, do not lessen in any way the determination of Australia to support Malaysia. We do so for three clear reasons. One is that Malaysia has been brought into independence by constitutional means endorsed by its own people and approved by the United Nations. The formation of Malaysia seemed to us to offer the best and most expeditious opportunity for the orderly completion of the progress of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak from colonies to nationhood. The independence of Malaysia is now under attack by an aggressor and its territory invaded. We believe that the aggression must be resisted and the independence of this young nation protected. Furthermore, Malaysia is a fellow member of the Commonwealth of Nations and we feel a special bond with her for that reason. For the same reason we supported and gave military aid to another member of the Commonwealth, India, when it was the victim of aggression by China. Thirdly, we believe that the survival, the integrity and the progress of Malaysia are essential elements in the peace and political stability of the region.

Therefore, at the outset of the confrontation, the Australian Government committed itself to assist the Malaysian Government in its defense so far as the situation might require and, since then, in response to requests made from time to time to us by the Malaysian Government, we have contributed both men and matériel to Malaysian defense.

In these activities Australia fills a different role from that of the United Kingdom, which has treaty commitments and responsibilities under the arrangements made for the independence of Malaysia; it is a distinction on which Australia places some value. We are not contributing to the defense of Malaysia because of any former relationship with the country as a colonial power for, in fact, we had no such relationship; nor are we acting to fulfill any treaty commitment. Our contribution is a simple and direct response to the need of an independent Malaysia, a neighbor and a fellow member of the Commonwealth, whose survival in the face of this attack seems to us to be essential to the future stability of the region.

In Laos and South Viet Nam we have become interested for two reasons. One is that South Viet Nam is also the victim of aggression and the defeat of that aggression appears to us to be vital for the whole of Southeast Asia. There is a double necessity here. One is to defeat the aggressor and to halt the southward move of Mainland China. The other is to demonstrate plainly and victoriously to the other small nations of southern Asia, whether they are neutralist or committed, that aggression will fail. If aggression succeeded in South Viet Nam, resistance throughout southern Asia would crumble and many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Burma, could come under the domination of China to such an extent as to lose their independence. In some cases there might be physical occupation- in others the subservient role of an unwilling satellite. We stand readily alongside the United States in support of South Viet Nam because we believe that we are both defending the independence of a free nation and maintaining the conditions in which other countries of the region can remain free and independent.

In the case of Malaysia it is hoped that the failure of aggression may open the way to attempts to find conditions under which Indonesia will cease its policy of confrontation and apply itself more constructively to the great domestic tasks of reconstruction and to playing its due part in the diplomacy and defense of the region. In South Viet Nam the defeat of aggression will probably not present at once any possibility of a local solution isolated from broader problems of world politics. In both cases, but in the second even more than in the first, it has to be recognized that the military solution will not be the final one. The military resistance to aggression deals only with the edges of the problem. After military success or even while military success is being sought, restraints and inducements of a diplomatic kind have to be considered. It would be futile to consider them without having first proved ourselves capable of delivering a military check. Proposals for neutrality or recourse to the United Nations seem to us to be inadequate at the present stage because, until the military check is given, neutrality can mean only surrender to the aggressor, and recourse to the United Nations can result only in impeding those who resist and placing no handicap on those who attack. Neutrality and recourse to the United Nations are not to be sought for their own sake as policies sufficient in themselves but can only be justified by the effect they are likely to have on the final outcome.

When one turns to think of the final outcome, one appreciates immediately as a basic reality that Asia is not a land that can be "conquered" nor is it possible that any part of Asia can be brought again under the rule of non-Asian countries. One also recognizes that whatever settlement is arrived at in Asia must be one that suits Asia itself and is in conformity with the needs and interests of the Asian people. In the present situation, when countries outside Asia are combining with the newly independent states of southern Asia to help ensure their survival, there is perhaps a tendency for us to transfer to Asia our own ideas on subjects such as national unity, democratic government and the will of the people. It will be vain to try to fashion Asia in the likeness of the West. Consequently we have to see that the non-Asian powers who are helping in the struggle are not attempting to convert Asia or to rule any part of it but are fighting to give the peoples of that continent a chance to find their own life and to rule themselves, freed from fear.

The small nations of Asia cannot do it alone. Behind all that is happening or will happen in Asia looms the fact of China. The doctrines and the intentions declared by its Communist government, its invasion of Tibet and India and its political activities throughout Asia today are all plain to read. The fear of China is the dominant element in much that happens in the region, and the fear is well founded.

Consequently, for the foreseeable future, the presence of non-Asian strength in the area, and particularly the strength of the United States, will be essential if fear is to be removed and freedom of choice restored. The countries of the region are entitled to look outside their borders for "foreign" help. Self-governing nations are entitled to decide whether and to what extent they will prepare the bases from which a concerted resistance to aggression will be maintained. The reality that has to be faced is that at present no balance to the power of China can be found in southern Asia. The balance has to be provided from outside Asia, and unless it is provided the region will fall under the domination of the Communist régime of Peking.

These considerations extend even beyond the area of the present conflict. What happens in Southeast Asia has its influence in other regions. India, Pakistan and the African states bordering on the Indian Ocean are also involved. Australia is deeply concerned in these long-range effects. We need to have a two-ocean policy, both in foreign affairs and defense, for it is plain that in the coming years the Indian Ocean will be of just as great strategic and diplomatic importance to us as the Pacific. Some of the prospective problems of relationships in the Indian Ocean are already being influenced by the contests in South Viet Nam and Malaysia. What eventually happens will be shaped to a large extent by the result in Southeast Asia.

We in Australia have a strong interest in freedom and independence among all the countries of Asia. Our own future is intimately linked with their future and the great task of our present and prospective diplomacy is to work out the terms on which we will live as neighbors. We could not endure to have a single dominant power in Asia capable of dictating the terms on which neighboring countries could conduct their relations with us, determining the conditions under which we ourselves would have to live in this region, able to interrupt our communications with the world at large. We want peace and political stability and continued social and economic advancement in all the countries of Asia.

We should not make the mistake again of keeping Pacific affairs and North Atlantic affairs and Indian Ocean affairs in separate compartments. We should not fall into the error of thinking that the world power contest is other than world-wide. The diplomacy of power has to be transacted in all continents; the ideological struggle is being waged throughout the world; aggression must be resisted and made to fail wherever it threatens peace; and the principles of civilized conduct have to be maintained abroad as well as at home.

These may seem big words for a small power. They are stressed here to support two final remarks. In making our main contribution in our region of the world we have not ignored our responsibilities or our interests in other regions, and we seek to be consistent in the stand we take internationally in all matters that come before the nations of the world for judgment. Frankly, we find it hard to understand those small nations which accept support in their own danger and are quite unwilling to be aligned when similar dangers threaten other nations similarly placed. In these troubled days we all have to choose which side we are on and stick to it not only to meet our own needs but to uphold in all places the cause for which we have chosen to stand.

The other remark is that, although the role now being played by the United States and the United Kingdom in Southeast Asia is of great and immediate value to us as a means of checking aggression in this region, we see it, too, as the discharging by them of the world-wide responsibilities of great- power leadership. The final honor and respect in which we hold them and our readiness to stand with them in constancy do not come simply from the fact that they are the allies whom we need to keep us safe. They are upholding here as elsewhere those rights and those principles that have to be maintained for a good world. They are holding in balance, here as elsewhere, the power that threatens peace. We stand with them.

It was in this light that the Australian Government viewed the incidents in the Gulf of Tonkin in early August. At the time of writing we are too close to the events to know whether the "fitting and limited" response given by the United States to a hostile attack will lead to a pause and a reëxamination by North Viet Nam of its policies. The demonstration of American firmness, endorsed by the historic resolution of Congress on August 6, was a heartening signal to those who resist aggression of American determination and capability to play a responsible and we hope determinative role in Southeast Asia.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now