Australian Security After the Cold War

In the absence of palpable threat, the instinct of a secure democracy is to turn inwards. For America, the end of the Cold War brought expectations of relief from constant external pressure and the burdens of global power. An intense debate is now being conducted in the United States about the extent and character of America’s international security interests in an era of reduced threat but increased uncertainty. Australia is one of the world’s oldest democracies, the only country to occupy an entire continent, and a land remote from the sources of global tension. Disillusionment with alliances, a consequence of the futile Vietnam War, also tempted many Australians to think that security could be pursued through isolationism. But by the late 1980s, Australia proved able to devise a security policy which avoided isolationism, refrained from inventing enemies, and was sustainable at home. How is Australia’s experience relevant to the contemporary debate about American grand strategy?

While the problems of devising post-Cold War security policy are of much greater dimensions for the United States than for Australia, Australia’s experience shows how skilled leadership can succeed in sustaining domestic support for overseas commitments, restrain isolationist impulses, and maintain strategic resolve, Alliances are good against uncertainty as well as threat, and contribute both to defense and to deterrence because of the uncertainty they impose on the calculations of a potential aggressor. Thus, so long as interests of their members remain congruent, alliances need not wither in the absence of a respectable enemy, but can be reconfigured to meet changing circumstances and infused with new meanings and goals.

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