By Kira Jorgio
Manila—For 70 years, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have reached beyond the bounds of the Australia, New Zealand and United States (ANZUS) treaty. Over these decades, their integration has evolved, making the party-countries not just neighbors, but partners.
In a report titled “Sliding-door Moments: ANZUS and the Blue Pacific,” fellows and defense experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute examined the circumstances that have guided the course of ANZUS in the Pacific islands region over seven decades. The report was written by Richard Herr, Anthony Bergin and Nikolaos Skondrianos.
Today, challenges present an opportunity to view the ANZUS treaty in retrospect.
During World War II, Australia and New Zealand faced a common enemy: the rise of communism and its possible effects on the political situation of the Pacific region. To quell their doubts, the two countries teamed up with the United States to establish a tripartite security defense, thus birthing the ANZUS treaty.
The pact was principally to defend one another should there be a breach of their territorial integrity. “Act to meet the common danger” is the goal, as they inculcated in their minds that in order to protect themselves, they have to protect each other.
Should the need arise, the countries were assured that there would be enough supply of resources, diplomatic involvement and armed intervention, though not specifically requiring the provision of military support.
However, with the rapid change in the political climate and territorial security measures, the need to revisit the treaty has been coming up in conversations. What was once a golden solution is beginning to turn into a chain that restrains the countries and hinders their way to independence.
Over the years, the shared security interest has kept the countries stagnant due mainly to the absence of external threats. They started getting lax, which eventually resulted in an unhealthy dependence on the tripartite agreement, leaving them unable to fend for themselves owing to their limited capacities to assert any independent defense interest.
Still, the risks of the current period of strategic flux remain an escalating concern. The Pacific islands recognize that their security is tied up with the other region’s evolving and complex geopolitical environment.
These states fear a loss of agency, and consequently, a loss of independence, over their own security priorities as broader and less accessible forums such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and AUKUS are coming to dominate a more intense strategic agenda. For these reasons, the Pacific views that ANZUS may not be as fully functional as an alliance as disparities between state policies expand rapidly.
Though having this defense establishment is an important factor for all these small island states in promoting their security agenda with the larger powers, especially since the other states seem to have an edge when it comes to these areas.
They are burdened with obligations to contribute to the region’s physical security as can be gleaned from the “War on Terror” in 2006, wherein their principal obligation was not to permit their sovereignty to be misused to facilitate or promote terrorist bodies through passport sales, flags of convenience or money laundering.
For these nations to control their own security environment, their physical defense priorities with the extra-regional states and their human security priorities must go their own ways. But this proves to be a difficult task to pursue as the Pacific’s arsenal is scarce compared to the rising levels of external physical threat.
Altogether, the ANZUS goal is to maintain a commitment to an effective security community. Members of the community share and protect a common defense perspective so that no member allows its territory to become a threat to other members. Most emphatically, however, cooperation with other countries must remain the paramount consideration in any and every effort to combat this phenomenon within the region.
However, the possible consequence of disunity is equally dire as the alliance is the only formal security arrangement that shields these Pacific states in the evolving defense super-arena that is framing Indo-Pacific security. The premature division of these Pacific states could lead to the undermining of their national and political interests.
While any suggestion that outside agencies should protect their national and regional interests would surely be met with resistance, presently, any overt or formal connection would lead to the bursting of the already heated concerns on the designs extra-regional powers might have on them as defense assets.
ANZUS must recover the internal functionality and unity that it has lacked for decades. The Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) treaty poses a serious question mark.
On their side, the states have to demonstrate that defending their commitment to collective stewardship of the Blue Pacific and securing the aims of the Boe Declaration on regional security is more compelling than a dispute over internal regional administrative arrangements.
As ANZUS enters another decade, the deep, entwined pasts of New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. will continue to fundamentally shape the Pacific’s uncertain future. These changing circumstances are giving the countries a window of opportunity to revisit and rethink their internal strategy vis-a-vis their external defense. To stay in one corner is not an option, they either move forward or move to a different path.
Kira Jorgio studies law at San Beda University College of Law in Manila and is currently working as a paralegal at Paredes Law Offices in Manila.