Skip to main content


The Security Treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America (ANZUS)[1] came into force on the late Emperor Hirohito’s 51st Birthday the 29th April 1952. Without Japan’s warmongering in the Pacific, even given the rise of communism, it is unlikely to have existed. In 2020 the Australian Government’s Defence Strategic Update (DSU) stated: “the prospect of high-intensity military conflict in the Indo-Pacific is less remote than at the time of the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP), including high-intensity military conflict between the United States and China.[2] This paper, in answering the question in the title, will also propose an alternative to ANZUS avoiding the Commonwealth becoming embroiled in a third world war. Any such option must still meet the government’s “firm commitment to the Australian people” in the first sentence of the DSU’s foreword “that we will keep our nation safe and protect our way of life for future generations.”


A Clear and Present Danger

The 2016 DWP identified the primary driver shaping Australia’s strategic environment as ‘the roles of the United States and China’. Today, notwithstanding the Pandemic and the result of the US Presidential election, the nature of the competitive relationship between the two major powers remains key to the future geo-political structure of the region. There is no hint this will change in decades to come unless a cataclysmic event such as war or natural disaster of an unprecedented magnitude intervenes. The 2020 DSU recognises that “only the nuclear and conventional capabilities of the United States can offer effective deterrence against the possibility of nuclear threats against Australia.”[3] However it fails to explain why on earth any other nation state should desire to attack a non-nuclear armed Australia with nuclear weapons. One might hypothesise that the only feasible reason would be if Australia was a wartime ally of the USA, or as a pre-emptive strike against shared strategic intelligence collection capabilities on Australian soil.

Hugh White has suggested the DSU has moved Australian defence strategy away from either of the previous post-war options of self-reliance or the closest possible alignment with and dependence on the United States. He suggests “Both approaches are largely abandoned, and instead, Australia will seek its security principally as part of a coalition of Asian countries.”[4] He also perceives the DSU’s lack of emphasis on self-reliance and defending the homeland yet at the same time objects to “the ill-considered idea to put deterrence at the heart of Australia’s defence posture.” However, to the pragmatist there is no doubt of Australia’s existing strategic dependence on its military relationship with the USA and no doubt that a series of well-intentioned but tenuous Asian Defence relationships would not withstand the pressures of an impending major war:

“The ADF must be better prepared for (high-intensity conflict in the Indo-Pacific) if deterrence measures fail, or to support the United States and other partners where Australia’s national interests are engaged.”[5]

“Australia is a staunch and active ally of the United States, which continues to underwrite the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific.”[6]

“The Government will also continue deepening our alliance with the United   States.”[7]

Integral to this dependence, although avoided in the whole text of the DSU is The ANZUS Treaty. Article II of the treaty requires: “ the Parties separately and jointly by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack”, while Article V states: “an armed attack on any of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of any of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” It can be argued that Article II has led Australia to buy primarily US platforms and equipment to ensure interoperability (plug and play, AEGIS) and sustain the defence budget at a rate of 2% or more of GDP.

The treaty has only been invoked once, by Prime Minister Howard who, by happy or tragic circumstance (in the strategic political sense) found himself in Washington DC on September 9 2001. Back in the Australian Parliament two weeks later, in a truly statesmanlike speech describing ANZUS, he set the nation on a course that would lead to Afghanistan and Iraq with all the secondary and tertiary effects which continue to cast deepening real shadows in Australian society today:

“In every way, the attack on New York and Washington and the circumstances surrounding it did constitute an attack upon the metropolitan territory of the United States of America within the provisions of articles IV and V of the ANZUS Treaty. If that treaty means anything, if our debt as a nation to the people of the United States in the darkest days of World War II means anything, if the comradeship, the friendship and the common bonds of democracy and a belief in liberty, fraternity and justice mean anything, it means that the ANZUS Treaty applies and that the ANZUS Treaty is properly invoked.”

As academic and author Michael Fullilove has observed: “Howard marked another moment in an Australian tradition: Deakin inviting the US Great White Fleet; Curtin turning to the US in the Pacific war… Spender achieving the ANZUS treaty; Menzies committing to Vietnam… Holt going all the way with LBJ; Whitlam hanging on to the alliance despite Vietnam and the controversy over the US bases in Australia; Hawke incorporating the US bases into the alliance.”[8] History will almost certainly record Howard’s statement to Congress in 2003 that “America has no firmer friend anywhere in the world than Australia,” as an accurate assessment of the past and present bi-lateral relationship but is it the best policy for the future safety of the Australian people?

The Unthinkable

How reliable would the USA be if Australia was attacked and of what use the ANZUS treaty? Late in two world wars, scarred by Vietnam and later by Iraq and Afghanistan, will America really sacrifice American lives in a war over a Chinese island democracy just 70 nautical miles off China’s mainland coast? If not for Taiwan then how likely is it the USA will sacrifice American lives over a distant island continent, old ally or not. Unthinkable? Would a nuclear/tactical strike be launched against areas such as Pine Gap by our closest allies themselves to protect US secrets? Utterly preposterous? Perhaps, however just a short time ago Australian politicians would have considered a crippling world-wide pandemic in similar terms. Is inextricably tying Australia’s fate to US foreign policy a rational modus operandi for the 2020s? Debate over whether Australia would support the US over Taiwan has been ongoing since 2004 when Alexander Downer caused doubt over the issue.

The NZ in ANZUS stands of course for New Zealand. However, when that country implemented a policy barring nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships from its ports the United States suspended its ANZUS security obligations to New Zealand. The author, when a Theatre Security Cooperation Staff Officer on the Commander’s staff of the US 7th Fleet was tasked to review and comment on sensitive US policy documents being developed in advance of the bi-lateral 2012 Washington Declaration. That Declaration signalled a slight rapprochement in the easing of Defence relations, following the initial 2010 politically centric Wellington Declaration. On paper at least, New Zealand’s stance was still viewed as unhelpful, unfriendly and a real limit for future cooperation, this some 25 years on from their original suspension. However, outside ANZUS, New Zealand has demonstrated its strategic freedom, economically and politically to manoeuvre independently relation to China as well as in regard to defence and deterrence, as it demonstrated in May 2001 when it disbanded its Air Force’s Air Combat Force in its entirety - definitely not in the spirit of Article 2 of ANZUS.

For The People

As the events of May 2021 have revealed in relation to those desiring to return home from India, no statute lists the ‘rights’ of Australian Citizens, there is no Bill of Rights nor does the Australian Constitution address the rights and responsibilities of Citizens to the Executive or the Executive to its people.  In his 1689 “Two Treatises of Government” the English philosopher John Locke’s second treatise viewed political power as the “right of making laws”…“only for the Publick Good”. From his exile in Holland he proposed that a natural law protecting life, liberty and property was the rationale underpinning a social contract between citizens and those wielding power over them. For Locke, if the executive failed in that remit then it could be justifiably removed, as in fact had just occurred in the 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ with the removal of James II of England.

Unlike Machiavelli’s The Prince, written 150 years earlier and promoting immoral ways and means to hold onto power, Locke’s thesis implicitly recognises the moral responsibility of governments to serve their people, well before any form of universal suffrage. One United States Senator argued that while many (American politicians) may secretly follow Machiavelli in their heart, most do not. “Instead, most men want a life of integrity and goodwill in which public officials are stewards rather than masters and treat their jobs as a means of helping people rather than dominating them”.[9] In a modern pluralistic democracy like the Australian Commonwealth must exist an indispensable moral principle, the life blood of the Australian way of life, perhaps best summed up by President Lincoln’s words: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”[10] In the late 20th and early 21st century this central tenet has been called regularly into question. In a 1998 survey Australians viewed:

“The honesty and ethics of Members of both State and Federal Parliament as only slightly better than those of car salesmen... Only 7 per cent of Australians believe that Members of both State and Federal Parliament are of high or very high standards of honesty and ethics. The only profession rating lower than Members of Parliament is car salesmen”.[11]

In the most recent 2021 survey politicians fared much better – they are level with Insurance Brokers and ahead of Real Estate Agents, Advertising People and yes, Car Salesmen![12]  In some nations the moral principles behind the execution of power have been prescribed into legislation such as the post-Watergate 1978 Ethics in Government Act in the USA. However, while ethical rules can establish values like justice and impartiality they are often aspirational, frequently lack enforcement mechanisms and our politicians do not like them applying to themselves, as demonstrated in the Australian Sex Discrimination Act.

In developing policies in the 20th Century, successive Australian Governments have matured from agents of the British Empire through two World Wars to become an independent player on the world stage. Confident enough to engage to fight under the United Nations Flag in Korea when the Republic of China had a permanent member’s seat on the UNSC and again, without Great Britain in Vietnam or America in East Timor. Today the proud boast to its own electorate by the Government is of a nation that is multi-cultural, diverse and inclusive. Yet Australia has one and a quarter million citizens who are ethnic Chinese and in 2020, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 29.8% of the population were born overseas. Why then is Australia’s only formal alliance one signed 70 years ago, in a very different world, existing within it a ‘White Australia’[13]; an alliance  that has already taken the nation to wars outside the Indo-Pacific region; and one that has never been tested in a referendum. Is Locke’s ‘Public Good’ being met? Or, in the local vernacular, does the ANZUS Treaty fail the pub test?

The First Job

“The first job of national leaders is the safety of their citizens.” – Penny Wong

In launching the 2020 DSU the Prime Minister expressed his concern about the post-COVID world:  “We have been a favoured isle, with many natural advantages for many decades, but we have not seen the conflation of global, economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia in our region since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s.”  Almost a year later, the public servant in charge of the Department of Home Affairs, Mr Pezzullo in his 2021 ANZAC Day message spoke of “free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war”. His disturbing view of our world is of one existing in “perpetual tension and dread” where “the drums of war beat — sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer”.

These alarmist views are worthy of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, as they would have us living in a world “of continual fear and danger of violent death”. It would seem Pezzullo might share Hobbes’ 17th century assessment that “covenants without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.” Senator Wong has suggested the government of playing into the Chinese Communist Party’s narrative and providing Beijing with leverage by creating a sense of inevitability of conflict. “Our leaders do not make us safe by beating the drums of war with China.”[14] Might Senator Wong be correct and that the Morrison government is “deliberately encouraging anxiety” about war with China for domestic political gain?

History is littered with examples of governments who employed foreign distractions to divert their citizens’ focus from internal woes but that is unlikely to be an accurate hypothesis for the Coalition Government’s approach to China, which in the early 2020s has led the nation through a pandemic from which it is emerging in creditable shape, economically, politically and with civil society intact. A more likely cause might be that a policy to contain Chinese ambitions has been agreed between the USA and Australia. The joint statement from the 2020 Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations is littered with statements supporting this antithesis and notes they “signed a classified Statement of Principles on Alliance Defence Cooperation and Force Posture Priorities in the Indo-Pacific.”[15]  

If the latter, does the government need to re-consider its ‘First Job’? This decade began with Scott Morrison being politically blackened by bushfires. It would be most unfortunate if he were to leap relatively burn free from the economics of the COVID frying pan into a fire that would consume Australians and the world with egregious economic and probable military effects - a war by proxy with China, a China that might well have other indirect allies including Russia, Iran and Pakistan, perhaps opportunistically settling old scores with Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and India respectively – inevitably, a third ‘World War’?

The Rules

Australian politicians, including in AUSMIN and echoed by their military and public servants have for several years regularly described the importance of a ‘rules-based order’ (RBO). In December 2018 Prime Minister Morrison highlighted Australia’s obligations under international law and UN Security Council resolutions as “two things that are fundamental….to Australia’s interests in a RBO. You can’t look at these things in isolation. Our foreign policy is guided by our fundamental interest in ensuring that internationally agreed rules continue to safeguard our security and prosperity. We don’t get to pick and choose”[16]

In late 2019 the then Defence Minister spoke in Washington DC, highlighting that “our collective challenge is to establish a RBO, one that is fit-for-purpose in the twenty-first century. One that continues to deliver regional and global peace and also prosperity.”[17] However, a former Director General of the Office of National Assessments remarked: “to the extent this system can promote global responses to global challenges and protect Australia from coercive power, it serves our interests.” This statement hints that an Australian government may, when the RBO deserts it, abandon the RBO. [18] To expect others to play the game of Grand Strategy according to one’s own norms is simply inviting trouble.     

The Prime Minister then may not be correct that a ‘middle’ power like Australia doesn’t get to “pick and choose” which rules protect us and which damage us. However, when successive Australian governments have slavishly followed, promoted and assisted in the development of the United Nations it is tortuous politically not to play by that organisation’s rulebook.

This woke world we inhabit is truly contradictory. As a proudly diverse and inclusive country Australia is following a body in which the General Assembly represents all nations yet when they have cast their votes it has no power to enforce its resolutions or to compel state action; an organisation where the Security Council’s five permanent members hold a veto power rendering a required vote by 9 of the 15 members ineffective; an organisation where almost half its members have since WW2 been subject to military dictatorships, some on multiple occasions.

A founding member of the UN, Australia was the first nation to hold the Presidency of the Security Council in 1946 and the following year the first to provide military observers under UN auspices. Today it is the 12th largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget. As the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s UN website declares: “Australia is firmly committed to effective global cooperation… Engaging with the multilateral system is a key pillar of Australia's foreign policy. This is because we live in a complex, inter-connected world where countries need to coordinate their responses to the major challenges we all face today.”

From a moral perspective it is a social global good that the Commonwealth is committed to enhancing the adherence to international law to prevent conflict and restore peace and security, has supported post-conflict justice mechanisms, including in Cambodia, Timor-Leste, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands and Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. In the past we have assisted the International Criminal Court and played a key role in the negotiation of the Rome Statute working towards the establishing of an independent Court with effective jurisdiction. Australia too advocated for the historic adoption of provisions on the crime of aggression at the 2010 ICC Review Conference and been a strong supporter of the Geneva Conventions, ratifying all Additional Protocols. So yes, morally and ethically, Australia is among the best as a good global citizen.  Unfortunately, this key pillar of DFAT’s policy: ‘effective global cooperation’, as actions taken in the COVID-19 pandemic continue to demonstrate, is entirely at the whim of individual nation states, many of which, without targeted financial incentives, have little interest in a RBO and whose actions, even internally toward their own citizens lean toward amorality. In addition, can one expect Washington to respect international rules if they constrain US power?

A Tiger by the Tail

One effect of being acknowledged to be a law-obeying global citizen is that any future enemy will assume Australia will fight alongside the USA given the existence of the ANZUS Treaty. This is a questionable basis for a deterrent, for example if one accepts the possibility that Taiwan will fall without a US military intervention. In Australia’s region, the South China Sea (SCS) is a magnet for global tensions as China continues its march for seabed exploitation of rare mineral rights through a policy of direct and indirect actions designed to divide a hapless opposition. AUSMIN’s 2020 statement included the affirmation “Specifically, that the PRC cannot assert maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the “nine-dash line,” “historic rights,” or entire South China Sea island groups, which are incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS).”[19]

Headline writers make the most of martial and sheriff allusions while Western politicians like Boris Johnson on the UK Carrier Task Group to South East Asia which includes the SCS, blandly state “we don't want to antagonise anybody…the United Kingdom plays a very important role, with friends and partners, the Americans, the Dutch, the Australians, the Indians many, many others, in upholding the rule of law, the international rules-based system on which we all depend.”[20]

Successive Australian governments have, and continue to be circumspect on the employment of the Royal Australian Navy in the SCS. Although transits of the SCS have increased markedly so far in 2021 as Regional Presence Deployments start to support the principle in the DSU to ‘deploy military power to shape Australia’s strategic environment’, “the Australian navy is yet to sail within 12 nautical miles of a disputed territory in the SCS”.[21] Euan Graham said Australia had been stepping up its activities in the South China Sea but, significantly, was doing so in co-operation with the US and other navies. “Lone transits are an operational risk so my impression is Australian ships are dovetailing with US ships.”[22] This latter observation again highlights the external view that Australia is very closely aligned to the USA in relation to military effects aimed at the PRC. Culturally, the PRC is very likely to have been antagonised by the words and intent described above over and over again. Its economic teeth have already been bared against various Australian interests, but is it really in the security interests of Australian citizens to hold onto this particular tiger’s tail until its military teeth are employed against them?   

Part 2

An Alternative

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Tutu’s sentiments fail to consider the responsibilities that the observer of the elephant and the mouse may have to others endangered by the elephant and whether ultimately, their neutrality benefits or harms others threatened. In this metaphor Australia is neither elephant (of a Republican or other persuasion) nor mouse.

In the 2020 DSU it is the Government’s stated intent that Australia take greater responsibility for its own security. In part one of this paper consideration was given to the perceived dangers entailed in enacting the first of the government’s new direction for the ADF’s Strategic Objectives emerging from the 2020 DSU: to “deploy military power to shape Australia’s strategic environment”. This part will suggest a passive way in which Australia can employ the second strategic objective to “deter actions against our interests” while giving the nation time to develop the third objective – the ability to “respond with credible military force.”[23] The latter is a subject requiring further future analysis. Noting the DSU refers to it as an objective, implicitly therefore it is a goal yet to be achieved and it is recognised as “essential that the ADF grow its self-reliant ability to deliver deterrent effects.”

The Concept

There is a philosophy that one cannot be a neutral. From ancient Rome, “For we heard you say that we looked upon all as enemies that were not with us; but that you looked upon all as friends that were not against you;"[24] to President George W Bush after 911: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."[25] Even Jesus Christ himself is reported to have said "whoever is not against us is for us" (Luke 9:50; Mark 9:40). However, the concept of neutrality between states, in thought, word and deed, in peace and in war is as old as war itself. It is neither unrealistic, immoral or outside a RBO, in fact it remains today a key concept of international law. Before World War One it became recognised as a valuable tool by European nations, international legal statutes were developed and formalised in international agreements like the 1856 Declaration of Paris and the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions. In the latter, a neutral country means that the country has declared nonparticipation during a war and cannot be counted on to help fight a belligerent country. “Non-belligerent” countries are ones that offer non-combative support in times of war. These early examples of a RBO bound states to behave in certain ways and permitted neutrals to avoid involvement in costly wars. While neutrality may be a tough policy choice and tough to stay the course it has helped shape the modern world, through laws, trade (especially maritime free trade) and finance and is now accepted as a peacetime status as well as one adopted in wartime.

The Meaning of Neutrality

Put simply neutrality means a nation cannot take sides. The Law of Neutrality was codified in the pre-Great War Hague Conventions. A neutral nation cannot provide bases, recruit, or arm a belligerent. However, there is no obligation to prevent private companies or individuals selling commodities or advancing credit but any laws affecting or limiting such trade must apply equally to both sides. Different countries interpret their neutrality in different ways. During the Cold War Yugoslavia claimed military and ideological neutrality. Japan’s constitution states its neutrality, reading “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Turkmenistan has been neutral since December 12, 1995, a date celebrated every year with fireworks and concerts. Its neutrality came as a result of a UN resolution, which guarantees its status. It is well summed up by Roger Cohen: “Neutrality, like virtue, is seldom absolute. Applied to the acts of a state during several years of war, the adjective ''neutral'' is almost inevitably inadequate. Wars are hell. But they are also opportunity.”[26]

Modern Neutrality

This paper has described the importance of a RBO to the government of Australia. A policy of Neutrality sits well within a global RBO. In 2002 Switzerland became the first country to join the UN following a referendum and neutrality neither precludes no hampers membership of that august body. In order not to compromise its neutrality Switzerland avoids alliances holding it to military, political, or direct economic action, hence it remains outside NATO and the European Union. Like Australia it considers itself a good global citizen and is home to many international institutions like the International Committee of the Red Cross. Switzerland too has a written constitution, although written a century later than Australia’s in 1999. In Article 54 its sentiments might equally be applied to Australian national policy: “The Confederation shall ensure that the independence of Switzerland and its welfare is safeguarded; it shall in particular assist in the alleviation of need and poverty in the world and promote respect for human rights and democracy, the peaceful co-existence of peoples.”[27]

As in Australia, these objectives reflect a first world nation’s moral obligation to undertake social, economic, and humanitarian activities supporting global peace and prosperity. This does not mean Switzerland is militarily or economically naïve. Landlocked, it holds to "armed neutrality" to deter aggression with a sizeable military available of around 100,000 personnel. Economically the Swiss banking system has attracted controversy in the past, for example in connection with Nazi plunder and during World War Two it supplied both sides with watches, metal goods, and machinery, diplomatic protection and insurance services.

There are distinct opportunities and advantages to being a neutral nation. As Professor Leos Müller points out, European long-term neutral nations are among the best countries to live in “They are socially and culturally developed, and they enjoy high living standards. They have well-functioning welfare states. They function, too, as competitive economies, free-traders, well-endowed to prosper in today’s global economy. We find these states at the top of the ranking lists of most competitive economies, the best countries to live in, the wealthiest nations.” [28]

Neutrality in a World War

The totality of World War One saw unprecedented breaches of neutrality – the pragmatism of warfare – which required a state’s neutrality to serve a practical purpose to the belligerents. The Netherland’s neutrality benefitted from its proximity to German and British population centres, others were left alone so as to avoid them jumping into the opposition camp. Some states like Spain chose neutrality as the least divisive option while others which began as neutrals formally, like Bulgaria and Romania or informally like Uruguay, eventually chose the side most beneficial in the view of their leaders. “The American government contended in 1917 that it could not tolerate a global order dictated by the German Kaiser; it therefore fought to make sure the peace settlement would be one in accord with American values, interests and ambitions.” [29] By Armistice Day only the Scandinavian nations, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain and in South America Mexico, Chile and Argentina remained neutral.

From the dozens of European states adopting neutrality at the beginning of World War Two by 1945 only Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey remained independent or unaligned. Before the war, the traditionally neutral countries put their faith in collective security and did not rearm, despite the increasing militarisation in Europe after 1933. They believed that the League of Nations had removed the need for war by substituting a system of conflict prevention. This belief failed with the Munich Agreement in 1938.[30] Geography provided a natural barrier for some like Ireland and Turkey but the problem of maintaining neutrality in WWII required countries to be useful to the belligerent with concessions given for example in goods and materials or capital providing a respect for their independence, for example iron ore and ball-bearings from Sweden, the latter being of a higher quality than those sourced in either Great Britain or Nazi Germany.

In order to maintain their independence in WWII, neutrals had to make up for their relative military weakness by offering economic concessions to the belligerents. Despite their different starting points, such concessions are primarily driven by survival and in a world at war neutrality is undeniably complex and often wrongly disparaged as a convenient excuse for self-enrichment.[31] For Australia, geography provides an excellent raison d’etre to be neutral in a future major state on state conflict. Combine that natural advantage with the multi-cultural demands inherent in modern Australian society; the economic advantages of neutrality; the achievement (hopefully) of the DSU’s existing strategic objective for the ADF to be able to “deter actions against our interests”, and declaring Australia to be in a state of Armed Neutrality would appear a logical policy for Australia to adopt.

Neutrality and the United States of America

If a major war occurs between China and the USA in which Australia is embroiled, historians will surely consider the implications the ANZUS Treaty had for the Australian people. They may well wonder if Australian leaders had paid any regard to America’s record and regard to the principle of neutrality. In 1793, President George Washington issued a Neutrality Proclamation to define the policy of the United States in response to the spreading war in Europe. “The duty and interest of the United States require,” the Proclamation stated, “that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent Powers.” While this was not an entirely popular step - one anonymous correspondent wrote to Washington: “The cause of France is the cause of man, and neutrality is desertion,” it demonstrates that even in its political immaturity the USA was developing an ‘America first’ foreign policy and the Executive was not prepared to permit the French, like Minister Genet who was already on American soil, to actively recruit Americans to fight for revolutionary France.

Alexander Hamilton, a founding father and later the first US Secretary of the Treasury, defended the administration. He asserted neutrality was in the USA’s best interests and that the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France was a defensive arrangement, whereas in 1793, France by declaring war had committed an offensive act. The subsequent legal and highly emotive public debate around executive powers and French interference was finally settled when in 1794 Congress passed the Neutrality Act, which gave President Washington’s policy the force of law. When war broke out in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson formally proclaimed the neutrality of the United States, a position which on that occasion the vast majority of Americans favoured. Wilson’s initial hope was that America could be “impartial in thought as well as in action.”

Blessing or curse? The main benefit of the ANZUS Treaty in the contemporary strategic climate is that it may give an aggressor pause for thought before attacking Australia. In the author’s view this is far outweighed by the likelihood that US pressure would see Australia dragged into another proxy war far from home with likely disastrous economic and societal results even when on the winning side. Bipartisanship is a rare element in the Australian political landscape most often mined in support of the ADF and Defence strategies. It is perhaps never more required than in the 2020s Grand Strategic sphere.

Australian politicians are elected to represent the views of their constituent citizens. Given positive bipartisan support for Australia to become a neutral state in the Australian Parliament, a referendum could be held on the issue to amend the constitution.[33] Whether or not Australia should be free or required to wage further wars as a result of a 70 year old treaty is surely a subject worthy of formal debate. Neutrality should be the preferred foreign policy option for any government if it is assessed as providing the most likely option for the safety and well-being of its citizens – the ‘First Job’. Such a choice and a development of an effective and self-reliant deterrent capability, including a defence-industrial base, go hand in hand.


Formatted HTML Code:


2 Defence Strategic Update 2020 page 14, 1.12.

3 Ibid, page 27, 2.22

5 Ibid, page 29 2.25

6 Ibid, page 22, 2.7.

7 Ibid, page 4.

8 - Michael Fullilove

9 Douglas, P. (1952). Ethics in government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

10 President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863

11 Politicians Fall To Low Levels Of Honesty and Ethics-Only Car Salesmen Rate Lower, The Roy Morgan Research Centre Pty Ltd, Finding No. 3088, 21 May 1998. Available at:


13 The White Australia policy is a term describing a set of historical racial policies targeted at those of non-European ethnic origin from migrating to Australia. It began in 1901 and was progressively dismantled between 1949 and 1973.



16 Lowy Institute: Rules-based order Tracking a Decade of Policy Evolution

17 Ibid; Linda Reynolds addressing The Hudson Institute

18 Ibid; Richard Maude, former Director-General of the Office of National Assessments and current Senior Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute

19 Not being a ‘middle power’, the USA do get to “pick and choose”, the USA, a superpower, still declines to ratify the UNCLOS Convention.



22 Ibid.

23 Defence Strategic Update 2020 page 27, 2.22

24 Pro Ligario 11 (33), translation from Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Duncan, William (1811). Cicero's Select Orations, Translated Into English. Sidney's Press.

25 Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People 20 Sep 2001



28 Neutrality in World History, Professor Leos Müller, Routledge New York 2019

29 tps:// – Samuel Kruizinga University of Amsterdam.

30 European Neutrals and Non-Belligerents during the Second World War, Neville Wylie, Cambridge University Press 2002

31 - The Economics of Neutrality in WW2, H Klemann

32,any%20foreign%20nation%20at%20war.&text=In%20November%201939%2C%20two%20months,“cash%20and%20carry”%20basis – The Holocaust Encyclopedia, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

33 Chapter 8 Article 128 of the Australian Constitution describes how alterations to the constitution can be made through Parliament and a popular vote.

Cite Article
(Watson, 2022)
Watson, C. 2022. 'ANZUS in the 2020s - A Blessing or a Curse for Australians?'. Available at: (Accessed: 13 June 2024).
(Watson, 2022)
Watson, C. 2022. 'ANZUS in the 2020s - A Blessing or a Curse for Australians?'. Available at: (Accessed: 13 June 2024).
Chris Watson, "ANZUS in the 2020s - A Blessing or a Curse for Australians?", The Forge, Published: February 08, 2022, (accessed June 13, 2024).
Download a RIS file to use in your citation management tools.
Defence Technical Social


This web site is presented by the Department of Defence for the purpose of disseminating information for the benefit of the public.

The Department of Defence reviews the information available on this web site and updates the information as required.

However, the Department of Defence does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to, the accuracy, reliability, currency or completeness of any material contained on this web site or on any linked site.

The Department of Defence recommends that users exercise their own skill and care with respect to their use of this web site and that users carefully evaluate the accuracy, currency, completeness and relevance of the material on the web site for their purposes.