Hugh J. White is the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He served as
deputy secretary for strategy in the Department of Defense from 1995 to 2000. He has
also worked as a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, senior adviser to
former Minister of Defense Kim Beazley, and as head of the Strategic Analysis Branch
with the Office of National Assessments. Mr. White was also a journalist with the Sydney
Articles by Hugh White
As the planes struck on Sept. 11, 2001, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington for an official visit scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty that formalizes the security alliance between Australia and the United States. He had met the president Sept. 10, and the two men had signed a statement affirming the vitality and strength of the bilateral strategic partnership between the two countries.
The poignancy of Howard’s presence in Washington that day, and the symbolic significance of the anniversary that he was there to celebrate, have lent weight to the view that the events of Sept. 11 mark a fundamental turning point in the dynamics of the U.S.-Australia relationship, with a much strengthened trend to an even deeper and closer alliance than before. This view in turn is often adduced to support a wider hypothesis: that Australia under John Howard is undertaking a fundamental realignment of its international relationships away from Asia and toward the U.S.
There is evidence, some of it quite compelling, to support these views. Certainly over the intervening 22 months since that tragic day, Australia has been second only to the UK in the warmth of its support for the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror. The Howard government has put less rhetorical weight on Australia’s relationships in Asia than did its predecessor, Paul Keating. Even so, one must be careful. Relationships as old, deep, and complex as that between the U.S. and Australia have a tempo and a trajectory that are not easily transformed by individual events − even events as resonant as the terrorist attacks of Sept 11. It may be that the current phase of evolution of the U.S.-Australia alliance, while obviously affected by the dramatic contemporary context, is also, and to a greater degree, reflecting the influence of longer-term, slower-acting, but in the end, more powerful forces.