The following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 30 September 2021.
Coercion is the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats. For example, by pointing a gun at someone’s head or holding a knife to their throat.
American diplomacy is conducted under the cute umbrella of coercion. The British called it gunboat diplomacy, American universities and think tanks prefer the phrase Coercive Diplomacy. It is a recognition that all American diplomacy is conducted with the military in the room. Military coercion underlines, supports and reinforces American foreign policy.
Without the presence of coercion Americans can’t negotiate. It is the diplomacy of the wild west, don’t go to town without a gun. It is embedded deep in the white American male psyche.
What does American foreign policy do? It intervenes on behalf of American interests, which are extensive, world-wide, and forever in play. These interests cover perceived and real military threats; trade; access to resources – primarily oil; mouthing democracy even when backing dictatorships; targeting Communism and fundamentalist Muslims and upholding American values through the preservation of American power and influence by the deployment of coercion resting on the threat of military intervention.
At the end of WWII, completely ignoring the contribution of the Russians, the United States declared itself the winner. It set about producing atomic weapons, huge cars, ships and planes and declared war on Communism, which nearly came unstuck in Korea and totally unstuck in Viet Nam. It laid siege to Cuba and was surprised when the Soviet Union challenged it.
America does not like competition, it will do whatever it takes to contain or crush it. Between 1946 and 1990 the US initiated 191 sanctions against 74 states and between 1991 and 2018, 252 sanctions against 101 states, in those latter years the US was the world’s dominant power. Since then, China and to a lesser extent Russia have changed the status quo. And that is the source of America’s current anxiety, insecurity, neurosis and obsession.
America has sought to change governments in South America, most recently Venezuela and Haiti. It orchestrated a change of government in Chile from the democratically elected Salvadore Allende to the cruel military dictator Augusto Pinochet, a friend of Margaret Thatcher. It has tried for years to bring down the government of Iran.
It used military coercion against Iraq which, although killing nearly a million Iraqi’s, failed to achieve the desired outcome. Afghanistan ended in failure and the return to power of the government they sought to crush. The record is not good, but undeterred America now seeks to coerce China, to contain China, to control China. Why? Rivalry and racism. An Asian ruling elite must in no way end up superior to a white ruling elite.
The pitch, which has been accepted by the white Western male-controlled media, is that China constitutes a military threat. It does not. The US has 400 bases ranged against China, plus spy satellites, drones, underwater listening devices and megabytes of paranoia. On the basis of security, the US got its allies to ban the Chinese communications company Huawei, which had nothing to do with security and everything to do with competition.
China has an assertive and nationalist leader, Xi Jinping, who confesses respect for Mao and contempt for Trump, that does not make him Richard Nixon. He was insulted by Morrison, he took offence and action.
Chinese constructions in the South China Sea constitute less of a threat than Diego Garcia and Pine Gap. Commentary about the China ‘threat’ too often lacks balance and is abusive. It is driven by the US military/industrial complex, Murdoch and the right wing of western politics.
The problem with US coercive diplomacy is that there is always the possibility that the invisible line will be crossed and hostilities occur. In the unfortunate game with China, the West is dependent on the judgement of US naval officers and airman patrolling these ill-defined lines and, on the capacity, and judgement of the US Executive; we are now aware of how close the world got to hostilities under Trump.
Coercive diplomacy relies on fear. It is international bullying. It works when the other side blinks and backs down. If that doesn’t happen the only tool left is to up the ante which could lead to war. It is unsophisticated, crude and puerile diplomacy, yet this is what the US and Australia are engaged in with China.
US coercion toward Australia started in WWII with the Australian based US Supreme Pacific Commander, General MacArthur, when he got General Blamey to sack Brigadiers Potts and Allen on the Kokoda Trail for failing to attack. They had undertaken a brilliant fighting retreat to shorten their supply line and were in the process of bringing up ammunition and supplies from Port Moresby for an offensive. Vasey took over Allen’s plans and received all the credit. Blamey was a MacArthur lick spittle. Curtin did not stand up to MacArthur who gave Australia it’s first taste of US coercive diplomacy, which continues to this day.
Under MacArthur Australia was used as a US launching base for its thrust into the Pacific and South China Sea; the US is positioning Australia for the same role now against China. It is a rerun of history.
Australian compliance with US foreign policy objectives during the Cold War obviated the need for the deployment of coercion throughout the 1950’s and early 60’s. From the end of WWII Australia has been a member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement which comprises, the US, UK, NZ, Canada and Australia. Australia signed the ANZUS Treaty in 1951.
In 1966 Australia agreed to the construction of a US intelligence gathering facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. It began operating in 1970, with the arrival of 400 families from the US. Pine Gap is a super spy facility which monitors global communications. It provides guidance to US killer drones and spy satellites. It operates on behalf of the CIA, US National Security Agency (NSA) and US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). In the past it has been headed by a senior CIA officer. It is a massive complex with 38 radomes. It is estimated to now have 800 employees.
Menzies was cajoled into allowing secret British Atomic tests on Australian soil in the 1950’s and coerced into sending Australian troops to the American war in Viet Nam. Menzies announced the deployment in Parliament on 29 April, 1965 and 1 RAR departed a month later. The decision had been taken months earlier. It was a dirty secret deal, leading to involvement in an unwinnable war that ended badly for all involved.
The coercion of Menzies was nothing compared to that of Whitlam. Shortly after coming to power Whitlam condemned the Christmas bombing of Hanoi, greatly upsetting Nixon. His next transgression was to raid the headquarters of ASIO which caused the CIA concern believing that their secrets might be compromised, including undeclared CIA agents in Australia. But Whitlam’s greatest transgression was to threaten the future of Pine Gap, which played into his dismissal. The CIA was certainly seized with deep concern.
Even before this great challenge to the authority of the CIA, NSA and NRO to operate in Australia there had been US diplomatic and intelligence concern about the commitment of Whitlam to the Alliance. There has been considerable speculation that the Governor-General, John Kerr, responsible for Whitlam’s unprecedented dismissal, may have bent to both the CIA and MI6. Whatever the truth there can be little question that the CIA was a serious player in Australian domestic politics and no doubt still is.
It was said that the leader of the National Country Party at the time, Doug Anthony, was close to the senior CIA operative in Canberra. The Nugan Hand Bank, 1970, in Sydney was a front for the CIA and handled payments for them, until its fraudulent activities were exposed. Brian Toohey details the involvement of the CIA in Australia, and more, in his book, ‘Secret, the making of Australia’s security state’, MUP, 2019. And ‘The Palace Letters’ by Jenny Hocking, published by Scribe, 2020, touches upon their likely involvement in the dismissal of Whitlam.
Australia has been co-opted by the US into their coercive anti-China diplomacy. Morrison was stupid enough to take his marching orders from Trump and lost a significant slice of trade to Chinese tariffs, which the Americans took advantage of. Rather than learn from this, Morrison has sought to curry favour and praise from Biden by taking every opportunity to further bad mouth China.
It would appear that the Americans coerced Australia, during the course of secret discussions, to gazump the French submarine deal in favour of US nuclear submarines, the first of which will not be operational until 2050!
At the same time, in small print, was the announcement that the permanent presence of US troops, naval vessels and bombers in Australia would be significantly increased under a new security agreement known as AUKUS. It seems Britain has become involved to try and boost its prestige after the disaster of Brexit. Otherwise AUKUS is being driven by the US, keen to do whatever it takes to coerce China into accepting American dominance of the world order; a rules-based world order in which America writes the rules.
The US submarine deal does not stand up under any sort of scrutiny; it seems it was the smokescreen to hide a significantly enhanced American defence presence in Australia. The haste in which it was put together, from the time of the G7 meeting in Cornwall in mid-June until the announcement in mid-September, a mere three months, indicates the Americans have got themselves into something of a panic over China’s intentions.
Very quickly Australia has moved to go all the way with the USA. The unprecedented shift into the American defence structure closes options to forge a new and independent relationship with China. In one fell blow we have handed our future defence planning and foreign policy formulation to the United States. Morrison, in his infinite wisdom, has put all our eggs in one basket. The sovereignty that Morrison likes to talk about has been lost. We are about to become a different country.
The US likes to deal with stable countries, particularly if it has invested in them. It does not care whether they are dictatorships or democracies as long as they are predictable, stable and malleable to US needs and requirements. The dismissal of Whitlam is salutary; if the US believes it interests are likely to come under threat or are under threat it will remove that threat. AUKUS means a greater CIA presence in Australia and expanded interference in the political process.
Morrison has ceded a great deal of sovereignty and as a result made himself a puppet. Members of the radical right will no longer have a place in Australian politics as the US moves to alter Australia’s position on climate change. The CIA and its Australian operatives will be the foot soldiers bringing change to the Australian political landscape to mirror that of the US Administration. Imagine the changes to the operational brief if Trump, or someone like him, were to be returned to office. As a captured process, Australian politics would change dramatically, for the worse. As a vassal state, Australia, now more than ever, will reflect the complexities and vicissitudes of US Federal politics. And now, more than before, Australia is committed to going to war alongside the US.
US coercion, our own lack of self-confidence and the fear generated has got us to this point. Having forfeited so much sovereignty to the US, expect their coercive diplomacy to play an increasingly prominent and negative role in Australian decision making and affairs.
Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.