JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Good to sea you

Sea lanes.

Sea lanes.

I try not to laugh when I hear Aussies complaining about "bloody yanks" and "stupid seppos" like Americans are some kind of annoying cultural fungus instead of one of the pillars supporting our way of life ...

When overly energetic or hairy Australians gather to protest, you'll invariably find a "NO U.S. BASES" placard among the throng, which strikes me as akin to a goldfish chanting "NO WATER".

There are many political, military and philosophical arguments offered by opponents of Australia's deferential relationship with America - most of which resurfaced last month with the visit of US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta.

These include our country being committed to costly distant wars, the heightened risk of terrorist attack, alienating China and other Asian trading partners as well as being forced to watch Two and a Half Men.

Former prime minister Paul Keating, in criticising our "easy accommodation with United States", recently went so far as to say that "no country is more important to us" than ... Indonesia. But, realistically, that's a conversation that is just beginning and we share with our northern neighbour few of the cultural and historic ties we do with the US.

To my mind, many of the objections to the alliance are countered by one simple reality: geography.

In the 1930s, an American asked a Japanese diplomat what principles Japanese foreign policy was based on.

"Your policy may be based on principles," he replied, "Japan is based on an archipelago."

By which he meant the physical limits of being a nation of almost 7000 islands and having little in the way of natural resources was the biggest determinant of Japan's international outlook.

Space matters in a place like Japan, as it does for entirely different reasons in this country.

Being a vast, resource-rich, island continent that's never been truly invaded (well, not since 1788) and which has no openly hostile neighbours, I think we sometimes forget how fortunate our position is in the world, by virtue of our position on the map.

As we saw recently in Gaza and Israel, when the people next door want to kill you, life gets damn miserable.

We don't have that problem, but when you're as isolated and sparsely-populated as Australia, there are other realities you need to concede and one of them is we export much cool stuff (such as iron ore, coal, gold, wheat and moo moos) and import lotsa crap too.

This includes oil (about half of what we use comes from OS), cars, pharmaceuticals, as well flat screens, sneakers and backpackers.

To that end, the single most important factor for the Australian economy is the "blue highway" and the ease with which international shipping can reach us because 99 per cent of our trade is carried by big boats.

Because of this, our country has been described as "a creature whose arteries and veins are located outside its body", so it kinda sorta makes sense to be friendly with the nation controlling the world's sea lanes, that also possesses a navy larger than the next 10 countries combined.

George Friedman, described as a geopolitical "magic 8-ball" by The New York Times says in his book The Next Decade that "Australia has only two strategic options".

One is to withdraw from the US alliance and hope our interests will be addressed in passing. The other is to embrace our American cousins and have "more formal commitments from the United States".

"The former is cheaper but riskier. The latter is more expensive but reliable," writes Friedman.

Considering our government this year cut defence spending, as a share of GDP, to its smallest level since 1938, I reckon we might be getting a pretty good deal.

Our Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs said this year that "most seaborne activity is invisible to the average citizen and the relationship between the assured use of the oceans and our national prosperity - indeed our national survival - is not something that penetrates the consciousness of most.

He suggests we run the "supermarket shelves test" to make this point.

"Take everything off the shelf that has in some way been reliant on sea transport and see what is left."

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

135 comments so far

  • The US is crumbling from the inside though. It's a nation where 22% of the children are growing up in poverty and 47.1 million (out of 313 million) people receive food stamps just in order to be able to eat. These figures are only increasing. The domestic industrial strength upon which their global power was built is gone and now only being propped up by money printing, since their ability to finance deficit spending by issuing bonds to foreign investors has all but disappeared.

    They aren't going to be the world's police forever and Australia has to plan for that.

    Commenter
    hired goon
    Date and time
    December 11, 2012, 6:10AM
    • Who will take their place? China, with its massive internal discord and dwindling resources? Russia, with its failed economy and crumbling military? Europe, with its financial troubles and regional issues?

      The US might have problems, but so do the rest of the world. I can't foresee any country overtaking the Americans anytime in the next 50-100 years.

      Also keep in mind that if the US collapses, so do the rest of the world.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 9:32AM
    • What happens when the US is self sufficient in oil again?

      http://www.smh.com.au/business/worlds-oil-industry-wont-be-the-same-in-the-wake-of-shale-20121207-2b0wp.html

      Look forward to a more inward looking US, one that will cut its defence spending and focus on a smaller geographic area. There have always been poor people in the US, it's part of their culture, I don't agree with it, but what we want won't influence them. The US was isolationist up until WWI, they have little reason not to return to their old ways.

      Where would China be now if they had invested in Aircraft carriers and a mobile offensive capacity? They'd be more broke than the US.

      Being the world's unpaid policeman is a role for suckers.

      Commenter
      JohnA
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 10:20AM
    • Are China does have aircraft carriers and mobile offensive forces, plus the worlds biggest air force and it even has stealth capable aircraft.......

      Commenter
      CraigP
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 2:09PM
    • JohnA - didn't the US fight with France, and Spain, and England, and various African nations before WWI?

      Commenter
      JEQP
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 2:34PM
    • China has one training carrier… They are at least 15-20 years away from being able to project force into other continents. China does not have mobile offensive forces. Their armoured warfare methodology is not less than a generation behind the Russians and maybe half a generation behind the Americans.

      Commenter
      Nyd
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 2:45PM
    • @JEQP
      Only when it suited them and mainly about their issues. They certainly did not see themselves as supplying men and materials at their cost to save other countries. It was contentious in the US at the time.

      Commenter
      JohnA
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 3:17PM
    • @CraigP @Nyd,
      And most of their equipment is either seriously second hand, made in China or both...

      Commenter
      JohnA
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 3:19PM
    • The US is a crumbling power being brought down from the inside by their insidious reliance on middle-class welfare and lack of infrastructure spending. Cash hand-outs and entitlements are never an adequate subsitute for good roads and education systems. The latter cannot be quantified whereas the former is an easy vote-winner.

      But the power of the future will not rely on military might. Military might will be less of a threat in the push-button warfare of the future (and present). The might of the future will be in consumptive power. This is what brought the US to the fore at the start of the 20th century. They had a largel population of relatively advanced people.

      The same is starting to happen in China and India. Soon their populations will be about 2.5b people combined. Many of them with no longer be village peasants but would have entered the lower middle class or more. This consumptive engine will dwarf the US and overtake it. While the US will continue to putter along with their 350m people, the Chinese and Indians will have far more. Most of them also know how to live within their means and this will happen for at least 3-4 more generations. This will be the greatest launchpad in the history of humanity.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 4:01PM
    • The once great U S of A is now a deeply divided nation, crumbling from within because of massive and increasing debt, and the divisions that a century of internal social neglect have wrought. This is a tired old warhorse that we should by now have broken our binding links with.
      Like it or not, we are now living in the Chinese century, and if we don't adjust to that, will be doomed to be tied to the ever weakening Western world that soon will have neither the moral nor fiscal strength to do much more than belatedly protect it's own borders.

      Commenter
      cruiseabout
      Location
      Broadbeach
      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 4:09PM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Featured advertisers
Executive Style newsletter signup

Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

Sign up now