President Joe Biden has nominated Caroline Bouvier Kennedy to serve as United States ambassador to Australia. Earlier, she served as our ambassador to Japan from 2013 to 2017 where she received high marks, demonstrating diplomatic skill, political savvy and personal grace.
Significantly, both these nations are distinctively important for the U.S. World War II and its aftermath defined each relationship. Comparable to Britain, the desperate struggle, comprehensive scope and high stakes of that war created strong bonds with Australia. Postwar, farsighted and disciplined outlooks of Japanese as well as American leaders created a strong, durable alliance.
The military as well as economic rise of China reinforces both alliances. In 2011, President Barack Obama addressed a session of the Australia parliament. Prime Minister Julia Gillard then announced an agreement to station U.S. Marines in her country.
The U.S. actively opposes China’s seizure of disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea. Beijing has an aggressive, expanding presence in the area. China has stated any sea blockade would be an act of war.
In this tense context, Australia remains a vital U.S. ally. The 9/11 terrorist attacks re-energized ANZUS, the Australia-New Zealand-U.S. security alliance. The 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali targeted Australians. In 2004, terrorists struck the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. ANZUS marks seventy years in 2022.
The American-Australian special relationship was forged in the terrible crucible of World War II. In that war, the enormous Japanese military drove south was finally blunted just short of Australia. Knowledgeable, jungle-savvy Australian troops provided crucial instruction to generally inexperienced Americans.
Australians gained further valuable guerrilla war experience during the Malaya Emergency from 1948 to 1960, fighting the Malayan National Liberation Army. London finally suppressed the insurgency, confirming the value of long-term patience in employing sustained, carefully directed military force.
The Vietnam War overall strengthened the Australia-United States military partnership even while straining U.S. relations with Britain and other allies. A total of fifty thousand Australian military personnel served in Vietnam; five hundred twenty were killed and two thousand four hundred wounded. Reflecting these pressures, Australia reintroduced military conscription in 1964.
In October 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson became the first U.S. president to visit Australia, underscoring cooperation with Prime Minister Harold Holt. The characteristically flamboyant LBJ expedition attempted, unsuccessfully, to cast the Vietnam War in global terms.
Successor President Richard Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger tried to apply Malaya insights to Vietnam. Sir Robert Thompson, a highly respected British guerrilla warfare expert, was consulted and provided an encouraging estimate of the prospects of the South Vietnamese military.
General Creighton Abrams, succeeding General William Westmoreland as Vietnam field commander, redirected U.S. forces away from massive search-and-destroy operations to small unit actions, reflecting Anglo-Australia strategy successfully used in Malaya. The war further strengthened Australia-American ties, especially among and between military and civilian government professionals.
Afghanistan combat was similar to Malaya and Vietnam. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army officer, is influential in security circles. Australians engage in humanitarian work in Pakistan and elsewhere. They bridge developed and developing nations, and represent the importance of South Asia.
Australia with Britain and New Zealand provide valuable Asian diplomatic as well as military experience. Their economies over time have become more important to China.
Public service was a priority theme of President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Ambassador Kennedy honors her family and our nation with her own commitment, well suited to our national challenges ahead.
To learn more, see Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War – American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He is also the director of the Clausen Center at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisc., and a Clausen Distinguished Professor. He welcomes questions and comments at email@example.com.