According to John Mearsheimer, one of America’s leading foreign-policy thinkers, Washington will not let China become the dominant military power in the region without putting up a serious fight.
In these circumstances, it’s naïve to think that Australia can sit on the sidelines and get the best of both worlds: unconstrained trade with China while keeping the U.S. security umbrella over its head. Canberra must support Uncle Sam.
However, Australia’s future will be dominated by China, says one of Australia’s leading strategic thinkers Hugh White. Treasury forecasts show that the Chinese economy will be about 80 per cent bigger than America’s within a dozen years.
In this environment, Canberra must prepare for the new strategic terrain in the wake of America’s declining leadership, and we would be unwise to support Washington in a confrontation with China that America probably cannot win.
Should Australia join the non-aligned bloc of nations
If there ever has been a saying that so clearly applies to Australia … it is that one.
We may have a huge landmass, but as seen from the rest of the world we are a small country with a minimal population. We have little power to influence international geopolitical tides, and we are subordinate to the dictates of China and America.
China lectures us, and we swallow it with a mixture of anger and obsequious servility. America has no need to lecture us, it simply points, and we simply follow.
In the pretend political debates about whether or not Australia should join whatever the next iteration of the Coalition of the Willing may happen to be, the outcome of such debates is always a given.
If the USA wants us there, we will be there, if they don’t want us there, we won’t be there. Either way it will be at America’s direction. Arguably, we are therefor not an independent country.
All the Think Tank international relations and defence experts can wax on as lyrically as they like about our relative place in the world, but what they rarely say is that we are a very small country with ambitions and pretensions far greater than our abilities to deliver same.
We are an ex-colonial, nationalistic, and sometimes blithely ignorant small country sitting on the rump of Asia. Whether we like it or not we don’t matter much, or have much influence, on the world stage.
If push ever comes to shove in the geopolitical arena we will not be attacked because of who we are as a people. We will not be attacked because we consciously stand as a threat to anybody else.
We will be targeted because of who we align ourselves with, and who we act as war-fighting proxies for.
For all its imperfections the current order of the world has, at least to date, saved us from the sort of catastrophic worldwide conflict last seen during the era of World War Two.
When you are one of the runts of the litter, and that is undoubtedly what we are, you simply cannot get between or please two big dogs who are viciously barking at each other and fighting for supremacy.
The only answer is to remove yourself from the vicinity of the fight.
It is probably desirable that Australia should stop fighting other people’s wars and that we should step away from our current super-power military alliance with America, and replace that relationship with strengthened mutual cooperation arrangements with India, Indonesia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Probably the best we can do as a small state is play our part in the international institutions that try to prevent such an unthinkable war from happening.
Australia is not currently under threat of mass invasion. Only a very large state player would have the resources and capability to transport a massive offensive military force across the oceans to our shores.
In a geopolitical sense, Australia should be friendly to all and the servile best friend of nobody.
Our nation has arrived at an unavoidable crossroad. We either choose stagnation and remain a small, insecure, scared, and increasingly vulnerable country. Or we choose change.
John Mearsheimer is professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (Yale University Press).
Hugh White is professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra and author of Quarterly Essay “Without America: Australia in the new Asia” (November 2017).
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