Top Defence official warns of 'big mistake' of questioning US alliance over Donald Trump
Australia’s alliance with the United States should not be compromised on the basis of who is in the White House, the country’s most senior defence official has warned in a rare public commentary on politics.
In a speech at Old Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday night, his first comments since the shock victory of Donald Trump, Department of Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson said “the alliance cannot be taken for granted”.
“Those who believe in it must be prepared to engage in the public debate and to make the case. Perhaps more so than of any time over the past 70 years, this is one of those times,” he said.
“I say this because the recent US presidential election probably cuts more directly into our domestic politics than any presidential election in our lifetime. We will make a big mistake if we allow the alliance to be held hostage to perceptions of the success or otherwise of one administration or one person.”
The remarks from Mr Richardson, who will vacate the role next year after a decades-long career in the public service, follow high-profile calls from left-wing politicians for reassessment and even abandonment of the alliance following the US election result.
A respected veteran of the public service, Mr Richardson previously served as director-general of ASIO, ambassador to the US and secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His term at Defence began in 2012 and will expire in October next year.
Since the victory of Mr Trump – a protectionist, populist outsider candidate elected on a platform of challenging the political status quo – the ANZUS alliance has been questioned most strongly by former Labor prime minister Paul Keating and the Greens, both calling for greater engagement with Asia.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman and senior Left faction figure Penny Wong also said “we should not be naive” about the risks of the alliance following the election result, calling for reassessment although stating that it still has bipartisan support.
The bilateral relationship has been at the core of Australian foreign policy and defence strategy since World War II, although it has frequently been a point of contention. It has regularly divided the left and right factions of the Labor Party.
Since last year, Mr Trump has questioned whether America’s allies are pulling their weight, advocated for Japan and South Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and proposed a wall on the US-Mexico border and a ban on Muslims entering the US.
Mr Richardson said the Republican wasn’t the first US leader to call on allies to contribute more “although he has done it in a far more colourful way”.
His comments were made at the launch of Australia’s American Alliance, a book examining the strategic relationship.
In another unexpected commentary, former Defence Force chief Angus Houston responded harshly to critics of the alliance, saying the US is the “stabilising glue” of the Asia-Pacific region and cutting ties would force Australia to boost defence spending to four per cent of GDP.
“Those who assert that our ties and our alliance with the United States should be reconsidered fail to recognise that a strong, trusted, forthright Australia is a powerful force for good, whether it is on the fields of conflict or in the corridors of power in Washington,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Australian Financial Review.
“The fact is that the United States remains our most important strategic and defence ally.”
The government has strongly committed to ongoing support for the alliance, arguing it transcends individual leaders.
The story Top Defence official warns of ‘big mistake’ of questioning US alliance over Donald Trump first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.