­­For 70 years, the ANZUS treaty has officially tied Australia with the dominant global power – the United States of America. This has been reflected through the last seven decades of foreign policy and Australia’s involvement in the Afghan and Vietnam ‘forever wars’.

While geopolitics tends to dimmish the role of individuals in global affairs, the influence of leaders should not be underestimated and often shape the course of history. For this reason, the relationship between the US and Australian policymakers is an essential indicator of how these nations will interact in the present and the future.

The team at Nexus has analysed the relationship US President Joe Biden, and the Hon Scott Morrison MP share to better understand US-Australian relations.

The Leaders

The two leaders reportedly enjoyed their first call in early February 2021 following Biden taking office; it was understood that they discussed “regional issues in the Indo-Pacific” and American’s desire to have a more active presence in that district.

In more ways than one, both Joe Biden and the Hon Scott Morrison are Liberals.

While the US President and our Prime Minister hail from their countries’ centre-left and centre-right parties, respectively, the blue-shifted Overton window of US politics place both leaders at the same point on the political spectrum economically; their chief differences lay in divergent approaches to social policy and climate change.

This sore point threatened the sour the two leader’s relationship when their first face-to-face meeting was allegedly ‘crashed’ by the British PM. From the start of Biden’s presidency, analysts have expected the new Biden US Administration to encourage Australia to adopt a more ambitious climate target, in line with several other developed countries.

That Summit remains the only face-to-face meeting the leaders have enjoyed thus far, impacted by Covid but also putting an increased focus on the exact nature of their relationship.  Compounding this are reports that Australia was not consulted during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. With Australian involvement in the region spanning 20 years, some commentators have questioned if Australia has been taken for granted by its senior partner.

As journalist and academic at Canberra University Michelle Grattan persuasively argues, “it remains unclear precisely how the relationship between the two leaders lies”.

Defence

Whether or not climate policy has challenged the two men’s rapport, the rising tides of tensions and competition across Asia will intertwine the destiny of both nations.

Since the pacific theatre of World War Two, America has forged close ties with Australia, becoming our nation’s primary alliance at a time when the embattled British Empire could no longer maintain its influence over South-East Asia.

The special relationship of the USA and Australia blossomed into the ANZUS treaty of 1951, ensuring both countries were obliged to aid each other in case of attack. While New Zealand was initially a party to the pact, its hardline against nuclear vessels decreased America’s support in the latter part of the 20th Century.

With 70 years under the ANZUS treaty marked last week, both sides have used the occasion to reiterate their economic cooperation and defence commitment. The Prime Minister reported he had a ‘very warm’ conversation with the US President regarding this friendship and its strong future.

China

With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and decreasing needs in the Middle East, Biden can continue a plan set in motion nine years prior during the Obama administration: the ‘pivot to Asia’.

The continued economic growth of Communist China has seen it become emboldened and far more aggressive in Southeast Asia. ‘Wolf warrior diplomacy’ – bombastic and severe reactions to any perceived slight – has placed the already tense region under immense pressure. Combined with a charm offensive of foreign aid and the ‘belt and road initiative’ to win over unaligned nations, China is fast rising to become a global superpower.

Australia’s position to the south of this contested region will see America utilise our continent to further project its influence and military reach into the pacific, including to ensure the right of navigation in the South China Sea. Already, plans and speculation suggest an increased presence of US marine infantry units at Robertson Barracks in Darwin. With Australia’s growing defence expenditure, our island could host an impressive ‘arsenal of democracy’ Downunder.

Conclusion

Diplomacy and mutual trust in the region are now more vital than ever, especially with increased dual challenges from natural islands sinking in the Pacific and artificial islands rising in the South China Sea.

Political reality, history, shared values and global trends prove far more consistent than the short terms triumphs of individuals.

It remains to be seen whether Biden and Morrison will swim with the tides of change or let the current climate change our 70-year relationship.