Once upon a time, history was a subject considered to be of some importance and, therefore, worthy of teaching in schools and universities and handing down from one generation to another. It was widely accepted that there were lessons to be learnt from history and that its study would prove valuable to the student in not only coming to a knowledge of the events of the past, but also in coming to an understanding of the times in which he lived. The English scholar, H.G. Bohn, in 1855 put it this way; “He that would know what shall be, must consider what hath been.”
How we have fallen on sad times!
The events that we see unfolding in East Timor explode a number of myths upon which Australia’s foreign policy has been based for the last fifty years, a policy that has consistently ignored the lessons of history.
Firstly, it explodes the myth that the United States will come to our aid if we are faced with military confrontation in our region. It has always been a fantasy enjoyed by successive governments and ignores the reality of US self interest, manifested so recently in the exclusion of Australian lamb from domestic US markets. The SEATO treaty was worthless, as is the ANZUS treaty, unless it happens to suit the US Government of the day to honour it at the time. Clearly, the US takes the view that Indonesia is the major power in the region and the one that deserves to have the most influence in regional affairs. That Australia’s passing parade of Federal Governments from Menzies to Howard can have all deluded themselves of American integrity, shows the unwillingness of politicians to face reality. It matters little that Australia has gone the extra mile for the United States, particularly in becoming involved in the Vietnam conflict. It is short-term political self-interest that directs the decision-making powers of states, not honour, or integrity or morality.
The second myth to be exploded is that our relations with Indonesia can best be managed by appeasing the Indonesian Government. Australia has poured billions of dollars into aid to Indonesia, most of which has gone to equip a standing army of a quarter of a million men, now being used as an instrument of murder and destruction in East Timor. Moreover, our armed forces and their facilities have been used to train Indonesian officers in military strategy and geopolitics that may well rebound on us in due course. It is impossible not to recall the irony of Australia’s pre war appeasement of Japan, which country imported our pig iron, only to send it back in shells and bombs a few years later. In the same era, European nations queued up to appease Hitler, with England and France making a gift of most of Czechoslovakia, while Russia allowed the Luftwaffe to train pilots on Russian aerodromes, far from the prying eyes of Allied monitors. How they were disillusioned when Hitler decided their turn had come and turned back on them the mighty weapon that they had helped form! Australia can expect no less and it is only the elite fools who make policy – academics, journalists, bureaucrats and politicians – who are in the dark as to the stark realities of Australia’s future, unless some policy changes are made.
It was the Menzies government that acquiesced in the Indonesian takeover of West New Guinea, despite there being no cultural, linguistic, racial or religious affinity between the Melanesians of New Guinea and the Malays of Indonesia. Indeed, the only thing that these two countries had in common was that they had both been Dutch colonies. Twenty years later, it was the egocentric Whitlam who acquiesced in the Indonesian takeover of East Timor, once again ignoring the lack of real bonds between the predominantly Melanesian people of Timor and the Malays of Indonesia and, once again, disregarding the wishes and aspirations of the Timorese people.
Unfortunately, Australia’s defence posture – we cannot be said to have a defence policy – has been fashioned after this misguided and deluded foreign policy. Indeed, if one looks for an Australian defence policy, one could identify the policy of ensuring that women in naval vessels are free from sexual harassment, or the policy of encouraging the recruitment of homosexual servicemen and women, or the policy of avoiding, at all costs, expenditure of defence capital funds on British made equipment. But there seems to be little idea of how Australia might cope with an invasion by Indonesian forces, not such a far out notion at all, if one recalls the speed with which Iran turned in its tracks completely after the Shah’s fall.
Mr. Howard’s defence policy seems to have been established on the platform of firstly ensuring that Australia’s citizens are disarmed, a prize folly that may yet cost us our sovereignty. His other major defence initiative has been to push ahead with the Collins class submarine project, despite its being totally useless as a weapon for either defence or attack. In fact, it has limited use even for training and the best thing that might be done with it is to fill it up with those Cabinet Ministers, notably the then Defence Minister Kim Beazley, and the admirals who assisted him in making the disastrous decision to award the tender to the Swedes, and then pull the plug.
What Australia needs is a real defence policy, based on real geopolitical scenarios, which will send unequivocal messages to the covetous nations to our north. That policy should be based on an unambiguous assertion of no surrender under any circumstances, ensuring that any invader would have to take into account the assurance of being faced with a scorched earth, followed by prolonged militia insurgency, in the event of a foothold being gained on Australian soil.
The second string to our defence bow should be to reverse the Howard policy and ensure that every citizen is trained in the use of weapons and that every village in Australia has an armoury. This presupposes the establishment of a militia, with local units being trained to operate independently, as well as in larger formations.
The third requirement is to develop defence industries in Australia that will make us independent, that is, not dependent on other nations for military weaponry and supplies. In this basket, too, comes the importance of developing defence infrastructure, such as railways and bridges, ports and supply depots, far from the reaches of a likely invader.
We can thank the Indonesians for one thing at least, and that is the jolt that they have given the pseudo-intellectuals who direct our foreign policy. It remains to be seen if there is enough stomach in all of Canberra to make the right decisions to assure Australia’s future.