The US alliance is more important to the future of Australia now than it has ever been. Yet this week, the Coalition Government has given the US the biggest slap in the face since the ANZUS treaty was signed 70 years ago.
Australia used to be so fearful of communism spreading its way from Moscow to China to South-East Asia and to Australia via Indonesia that we slavishly and misguidedly swallowed the domino theory and followed the US blindly into the nightmare of the Vietnam war.
Then, blinded by the fear of international terrorism and the imagined weapons of mass destruction we followed US into idiotic wars in the Middle East.
Yet now, when the US wants us to join it to face real threats to our existence from climate change and spreading autocracy our short-sighted government says No.
From the Arctic to the Himalayas and from the eastern border of Belarus to the southern border of North Korea, in nearly all of Africa and the Middle East and in parts of South and Central America billions of people live in fear of their criminal, autocratic governments.
Now is the time for the democracies to join forces against the dual threat. The threats are linked.
The all-consuming aim and purpose of autocrats is to stay in power. They will stop at nothing to do so. Xi commits genocide and spies on his people’s every move. Putin commits murder and grand larceny.
The only reason any autocrat will do anything to meet the threat of global heating or a global pandemic is if that action will help them stay in power. On the other hand, democratic governments, at least in theory, will act in the best interests of their people.
Further, autocrats generally do not like international co-operation. They see themselves as having all the answers and being so strong as not to need anyone else’s help.
In the face of this, US President Joe Biden seems determined, in his quiet way, to show that democratic countries are better equipped to deal with existential threats to humankind. He has certainly shown that with Covid and is seeking to do it with global heating.
But democracy is fragile, as we are seeing.
A score and a half of years ago when the wall came down it seemed as if the progression of government by the people, for the people and of the people was inevitable across the earth.
But now, even now in the home of democracy, it is still struggling after barely surviving a near-death experience. The defining elements of a democracy are that the people determine who governs them through an electoral process, and that if the people chose a different person or party to govern them the government accepts the result and leaves office peacefully.
The government has changed in the US, but the loser and more importantly the great majority of his Republican Party and its supporters have not accepted that they lost nor have they accepted the legitimacy of the new government.
Former President Trump is still an under-estimated threat to US democracy. He still manages to foment the anti-democratic belief among his supporters that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him. He still manages to hold the majority of his party in his thrall to the extent that they deny the storming of the Capitol on January 6 was an insurrection.
Trump’s refusal to accept the democratic will of the people was illustrated again this week with his delusion rant that he will be restored to the presidency in August under some imagined constitutional provision that does not exist.
The Republican Party is doing its utmost to corrode US democracy by changing voting laws to make it harder for urban blacks to vote so the minority rural whites can keep or gain power, in state legislatures, the Congress and the White House.
And they want power so that they can repay their wealthy donors with lower taxes; less environmental, consumer and labour protection; and complete inaction on global heating.
So, it has been quite dispiriting to see Prime Minister Scott Morrison thumb his nose this week at Biden and for that matter all the European democracies by saying that Australia does not have to join their efforts against global heating.
In effect, he is repaying his donors and their selfish sectional interest against the broader national and international interests.
Biden is laying out a big challenge for the democracies. Have they got the economic power, the political will and co-operative spirit to act in their people’s best interests to ensure humanity saves itself from global heating?
Can they create a system of trade sanctions that will in effect force all nations – autocratic, recalcitrant or democratic – to do their fair share in reducing carbon emissions?
Conservative governments in European democracies are joining Biden in this. Usually, Australia joins the US’s international efforts whatever their merits. But this time no, despite the obvious merit of dealing with a threat far more serious than Ho Chi Minh’s push for power in Vietnam or Saddam Hussein’s imagined weapons of mass destruction.
It shows just how beholden the Liberal Party is to its National Party coalition partner and the coal-mining and gas industries that it would fly in the face of the US alliance for which for it has hitherto been so enamoured.
Australia is on the wrong side here, and, ultimately, we will pay for it.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 12 June 2021.