Australia is not as safe as it was during the Cold War because the world has transformed from a system of bipolarity into unipolarity1. The hegemony of the United States has been strengthened immensely since the conclusion of the arms race between the U. S. S. R and America. Therefore, inevitably smaller states will balance against it, in an attempt to rebalance global power, which will lead to an even more insecure world. 2 Australia as a close ally with the United States, has thus been perceived as a threat to other countries during and after the Cold War, especially those who yearn for increased power on a global scale.
Yet, the primary difference during and after the Cold War, is that there was an obvious enemy before – the Communists. However nowadays various factions and governments are contending against the supremacy of the Western world, yet since they are often unknown and concealed, it is difficult for Australia and its allies to contend with. Firstly, ‘safety’ is being free and from danger, harm or evil, and the possibility of Australia being in danger has increased since the end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, Australia was regionally safe, we were never under any immediate threat.
The primary fear was that of the ‘domino effect,’3 for if South Vietnam was to fall under Communist rule, then the rest would topple in turn. The Cold War lasted from 1945-1991 and was a war of paranoia, and a war of competition between the two superpowers, the United States and the U. S. S. R. ‘The Australian view of the Soviet Union was always mediated though alliance interests,’4 thus imposing rigidity upon Australian foreign policy. Despite Australia’s geographically isolated location, we were considered a threat to the Soviet Union, through the hosting American facilities such as Pine Gap, Northwest Cape and Nurrungar.
Thus, despite Australia’s fear of ‘reds under the beds,’ Australia was not in direct conflict with the Soviet Union, but rather an ally who would only be compelled to act if America was to. During this period of bipolarity, two dominant ideologies existed, there was an obvious enemy, the communists, the enemy had a face, and it was an enemy that could actually be fought. During the Cold War, conflict was conducted by state actors, by a government, and it had the ability to influence all countries, either directly or indirectly.
Australia’s foreign policy during the Cold War was dominated by a doctrine of ‘strategic denial,’ and was established by the Fraser government in 1976. 5 The primary objective was to deny the Soviet Union of any influence in the region, for if they were able to exert influence over other countries, whether it be ‘economic, diplomatic, education- [it] could lead to political influence and a Soviet military base. ‘6 This would threaten regional stability, thus Australia provided economic assistance to ensure that regional countries would not be tempted by Soviet offers of assistance.
Gordon Freeth, the Minister for External Affairs, stated, ‘Reason for concern arises when the scale or methods or objective of the promotion are calculated to jeopardise our direct national interests or to endanger the general security and stability in the region. ‘7 One area which threatened the security of Australia by itself, was in ‘Soviet arms aid to Indonesia, including the provision of long ranger bombers, submarines and a heavy cruiser,’8 for Indonesia, as a regional neighbour posed a much greater threat to Australia than the Soviet Union.
For although the ‘thirteen days’ of Cuba was when the threat of a Soviet attack was at its peak, ‘the Soviet Union was becoming less cause for concern to Australia. ‘9 During this period of bipolarity, the nation’s leaders were aware (to a certain extent) of the capabilities of their enemies. For example, the United States knew that the Soviets were providing Cuba with nuclear weaponry, yet it was a silent war, one purely of competition, and I believe that this system of bipolarity was the safest not only for Australia, but for the rest of the world.
The United States knew that if they were to attack to Soviet bases then they would retaliate. 10 America did not have the option of acting impulsively, or on a slight inkling. They were themselves against a superpower, and they were aware of their great strength, and thus were forced to be rational. Therefore, the Soviet Union and the United States created a balance in the world, this equilibrium required them to act rationally, and to contemplate the consequences.
This theory of bipolarity ensures that no single nation has the ability to become dominant, and ensures that large scale war does not occur. 11 Therefore, the nation states continually make new alliances, and break other alliances, and thus continually re-balancing as threats emerge against their security. Australia’s primary interest is the maintenance of peace- local, regional and global. However, during the past decade Australia has not only had to contend with the Gulf War in 1991 and 2003, as an ally of the United States.
But has also had to deal with the political uproar in places such as Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, through the provision of economic, military and humanitarian aid. These events do threaten the security of Australia because they are regional, and thus have an immediate effect on Australia, for not only do they create instability in our region, but can increase the flow of refugees onto Australian shores and thus forcing our economy to accommodate them. 2 The UN has attempted to resolve anarchy within these nation states. During the early 1990’s many of these peacekeeping missions were a success, such as the Gulf War in 1991, however the UN shifted from peace keepers into peace enforcers during missions in Somalia and Bosnia. 13 The Gulf War in 2003 has revealed the ability of the United States and its belief of supremacy over the UN, through invading Iraq without the support of the UN. Thus revealing the unipolar system that has existed since the end of the Cold War.
Fukuyama believed that the end of the Cold War would be the end of history, in the sense that ideological challenges to liberal democratic principles were effectively dead and incapable of resurrection. 14 However, during this post Cold War period a system of unilateralism will eventually provoke a counter coalition,15 because nation states are threatened by any large concentration of power, and thus in due course they will take action in order to restore a balance. Hence, not only making all countries less secure, but also decreasing the safety of Australia.
During the Cold War Australia was only in danger from the U. S. S. R or their allies if a full scale war was to occur between the Soviets and the Americans. However, there was a small probability of Australia being in grave danger – because the system of bipolarity was a check and balance on the other superpower. 16 Yet since the Cold War, our close relationship with the hegemon, America has provided some security, for as an isolated country we know that we have a superpower who will protect us.
However, this also places us at an increased risk of an attack. For as Gilpin reveals that over time ‘the differential growth in the power of various states in the system causes a fundamental redistribution of power in the system. ’17 Posen asserts that in the Post Cold War the most likely challenges to American supremacy are Japan, China, Germany and re-armed Russia. 18 However, for the time being, Australia remains relatively safe from these countries.
Rather, Australia is more at risk from underground factions in the Middle East, yet ironically, our relationship with America in the ‘war on terror’ has not reduced the terrorist threat to Australians, but rather increased it. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has confirmed that Australia’s profile as a terrorist target has increased since September 11, 2001, and furthermore, our continuing involvement in United States military attacks will continue to increase the risk. 9 The media through agenda setting has created a constant fear of terror, and the Bali bombings in 2002, brought the fear of terrorism much closer to home due to the death of many Australians.
Nuclear proliferation is similarly a constant threat, for although America and the Soviet Union are reducing their nuclear arsenals and the threat of a global nuclear war is much diminished, more countries are producing nuclear weapons than during the Cold War. 0 Thus, the possibility of these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ coming into the hands of terrorist factions is increasing, the intelligence organisations do not know if some states or factions do have these weapons. In conclusion, Australia is not as safe a nation as it was during the Cold War. For the system of bipolarity ensured a balance of power, the state actors were forced to contemplate the consequences, they were against a superpower which was just as powerful.
Hence, as Australia ‘faces nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism,’21 Australia is not as secure as it was during the Cold War, and this is furthermore increased due to Australia’s close relationship with America. Thus, since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Australia is not as safe, for inevitably other nation states will challenge the supremacy of the United States, in an attempt to rebalance global power and therefore, we remain in a period of uncertainty and insecurity.