In his recent article, a Canadian analyst Patrick Armstrong took a detailed look at current United States policy toward its European allies. Although he does not mention Australia once in his article, much of what Mr Armstrong has to say about United States policy toward its European “allies” is of direct relevance to Australia.
Driving US foreign policy is the overwhelming principle that the US, and the US alone, has the capacity and the right to make the geopolitical decisions affecting, in this case, Europe and Asia. It goes far beyond the principle that Allied nations act together for their mutual benefit. The United States approach is unique in the world of modern geopolitics. There is only one country whose interests are paramount, and that is the United States itself.
Nominally allied nations are not free to make decisions in their own interests, if those decisions will affect the interests of the United States. This extends to the point that it is not only political pressure or friendly persuasion that is applied to allies. If the nominally independent country seeks to take decisions perceived to be in that countries interests, surely a prime objective of all independent states, and those decisions conflict with the United States’ perception of what it deems to be its vital interests, then there is no hesitation by the United States in imposing sanctions against its erstwhile ally.
These are not the actions of an ally. They are the actions of an imperialist power that has only one definition of the “correct” decisions to be made and actions taken, and that is compliance with American demands.
The word “demands” is used advisedly. There is no scope for independent free will by the erstwhile ally. The proof of that is plain for all to see. The recalcitrant party, whether it is an individual, a company, or a nation state, is immediately hit with sanctions.
The Nord Stream 2 project provides multiple illustrations of the point. The project supplies Russian natural gas to Germany, delivered by a pipeline between the two countries that by geographical necessity has part of its route through the territorial waters of third countries. The most recent country to give its approval for the pipeline to traverse its waters is Denmark.
It is entirely without coincidence that Denmark was recently visited by the United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo in an attempt to dissuade Denmark from allowing the pipeline to traverse its territorial waters. The persuasion evidently failed because Denmark did not resile from its consent. The pipeline is now only weeks from conclusion.
In this writer’s view, the recent events surrounding the Russian dissident politician Alexei Navalny are to be interpreted as a desperate attempt by the United States to persuade Germany to cancel the project.
Mr Navalny took ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow. The plane diverted to land him as soon as possible after he became ill and required hospitalisation. He was initially treated by Russian doctors in a Russian hospital. These doctors conducted extensive tests upon Mr Navalny and with what may be seen as excellent foresight, retained those test results although Mr Navalny was later transferred to a Berlin hospital.
It did not take more than a few days for a German military hospital (not the one he was admitted to) to claim the tests revealed Mr Navalny had been infected with Novichok, a Soviet era substance, exposure to infinitesimal quantities of which were fatal.
Mr Navalny, like Sergei and Yulia Skripal in respect of whom identical claims of being exposed to an alleged Russian dosage of Novichok, miraculously survived. The Skripals were disappeared by the British authorities, contrary to international law that they purportedly subscribe to and have not been seen or heard of for well over a year.
Although no Australian politicians have suffered sudden and mysterious illnesses, it could be argued that there has never been any necessity for such a drastic solution. The one Australian politician in recent history to display independence from the United States, the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, was deposed in a political coup in November 1975. No Australian prime minister since then has shown any inclination to act independent of United States wishes.
This has included eager (and ongoing) participation in United States illegal wars of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The geopolitical consequences for Australia had thus far been relatively small. In 2020 that changed radically.
China had become Australia’s largest trading partner by a very large margin over the past two decades, now accounting for more than a third of Australia’s total exports. China also provided the largest number of foreign students and foreign tourists as well as being the third largest source of foreign investment.
Although it was difficult to pinpoint at the time, the rapid deterioration of the China – Australia relationship in retrospect can probably be traced back to Australia demanding of China an accounting for the alleged outbreak of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the beginning of this year. Recent evidence suggests that the outbreak takes three different forms and started in different places, including Europe and the United States, at an earlier date in 2019.
There is little doubt that the accusatory tone explicit in the Australian demand from the Chinese was at the instigation of the Americans. Trump has made no secret of his antipathy to China, referring to the outbreak as the “China virus.” Australia thus gained the antipathy of the Chinese for acting as the American mouthpiece, with no conceivable benefit that could be ascertained.
After several increasingly explicit warnings to Australia the Chinese finally took retaliatory action and began prohibiting the import of an increasing number of key Australian exports.
Australia still did not get the message or more likely were too much in the American camp to appreciate the damage that was being done to the China-Australia relationship.
The trade figures rapidly began to demonstrate the damage that was being done by Australia’s incredibly stupid attitude. Exports to China fell by 40% in the month of July over those of a year previously, and the rest of the year will undoubtably exhibit similarly disastrous trade lines. Incredibly, the message has still not penetrated the Australian political mindset. Alternative markets for at least some goods will ultimately be found but in improvement will be neither rapid nor substantial.
It is difficult to overstate the profound stupidity of the Australian government. The reason for the disaster is readily ascertainable. It is the inevitable price that Australia is paying for adherence to United States policy of overt hostility to China. The maxim attributed to the 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston, that a country has neither friends nor enemies, only interests, is one that has yet to be learned by Australia.
This stupidity is compounded by Australian warships taking part in American “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea. Australia is likely to pay a very high price for its inability to learn from Palmerston’s aphorism of 19th century wisdom.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.