Following the interest in recent Strategist posts on top five fighter aircraft and battleships, I offer another top five list (actually top six) of Australia’s best post-war strategic policy decisions. Three selection criteria were applied: first, the decision must reflect a real choice open to governments and the possibility that outcomes could’ve been different. Second, the decision must have had a lasting positive outcome for Australia. Finally, strategic policy decisions must relate to Australia’s national security interests. On that third measure many economic decisions—say, the foundation of APEC—don’t make the cut.
In the 1950s, the best strategic policy decision was surely the Menzies Government’s pursuit of the ANZUS Treaty with the United States. America emerged from the Second World War disinclined to buy into collective security arrangements outside of NATO. Britain no longer offered Australia a credible security guarantee. Menzies felt vulnerable to the political changes of decolonisation and to the rise of communism. The ANZUS Treaty, signed in September 1950, was the result of adroit diplomacy by External Affairs Minister Percy Spender. He played on the US’ desire for Australian support in Korea in return for a treaty commitment to act together to meet a common danger if US, Australian or New Zealand forces in the Pacific were attacked.
More than 60 years later ANZUS continues to shape Australian strategic thinking. It’s doubtful that any US administration after Harry Truman’s would’ve been prepared to sign it. Without it, Australian defence policy would’ve been much more costly and our international role less effective. The only other strategic policy decision in the 1950s that comes close in value was the 1957trade agreement with Japan, on which much of Australia’s post war prosperity was built and which helped cement Japan’s position as a stable, trade-oriented democracy.
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