Australia's alliance with the United States, officially concluded on 1 September 1951, has become deeply embedded in this country's defence and security posture. In its particular field, the alliance is right up there with the Hills hoist, Victa mower and sunburn cream used in the opening ceremony for Sydney 2000 to give an impressionistic suggestion of where we had been as a society over about the same period.
As one would expect with an arrangement that has survived for half a century, public support for the alliance has been consistently robust and is currently as strong or stronger than it has ever been. Within Australia's strategic and foreign policy community, the alliance has been scrutinised and evaluated quite regularly. Does it impinge on Australia's sovereignty? Does it hinder or enhance our foreign and defence policy interests? Does it involve the risk of entanglements that we would prefer to avoid? Do the benefits outweigh any actual or potential costs or risks?
While there is a broad spectrum of views, there is clearly strong mainstream support for the alliance from within this community. At the same time, a common theme in the commentary over recent years has been that the end of the Cold War has had or will have a significant effect on the character of the alliance and make management of the relationship more complex. I share this view. The discussion below attempts to explore why this is the case and its likely ramifications.
The most prominent sceptic in recent times has been former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. See 'Fraser urges cut in defence ties with US, The Australian, 21 May 2001, p.5. Earlier commentaries that are at least sceptical about the value of the alliance include Graeme Cheeseman, The Search for self Reliance: Australian Defence Since Vietnam, (Longman Cheshire, Melbourne 1993); Graeme Cheeseman and Michael McKinley, 'Memories Lost: Promise, Disappointment and Contradictions in the Australian-United States Defence Relationship', Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol.46, No.2, November 1992.
See, for example Desmond Ball, 'The US-Australian Alliance: History and Prospects', Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Working Paper No.330, January 1999; Paul Dibb, 'Will America's Alliances in the Asia-Pacific Region Endure?, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre Australian National University, Working Paper No.345, May 2000; and William T. Tow, 'The Future of Alliances: AUSMIN as a Case Study', in Desmond Ball, editor, Maintaining the Strategic Edge: The Defence of Australia in 2015, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, 1999.