From the outset ASPI was a highly politicised right wing think tank. It’s now reached its use-by date & should put down the megaphone
| Pearls & Irritations
ORANGE, NSW - The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, ASPI, was conceived as a body to provide the government with the advice it wanted to hear.
It was commissioned by prime minister John Howard in August 2001 to undertake ‘policy-relevant research and analysis to better inform government decisions and public understanding of strategic and defence issues'.
It was set up against a background of Liberal National Party (LNP) hysteria relating to an increasing number of refugees arriving by boat.
In 1999, 86 boats with 3,722 asylum seekers arrived and in 2000, 51 boats with 2,939 asylum seekers.
The LNP government was coming under criticism for its handling of boat people, including asylum seekers’ indefinite incarceration in remote concentration camps.
In turn the government was critical of the Royal Australian Navy for its humane treatment of refugees in unsafe boats at sea.
In 1999-2000, members of the Australian Federal Police were deployed overseas in a disruption program aimed at people smugglers operating in a number of countries including Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
In August 1999, Paul Barrett, the talented Secretary of Defence, was dismissed by minister John Moore and his successor, Allan Hawke, was dismissed in 2002 with two years of his contract left to run.
Apparently Howard did not think much of either of them because they did not provide the advice he wanted to hear.
The way was now open for ASPI to strengthen its defence and foreign affairs credentials with the Liberal National Party.
From the outset ASPI was a highly politicised right wing think tank.
Initially funded by the Australian government, over time it began to accept funding from the US government and, significantly, from the US arms industry.
It supported Australian involvement in the US war against Iraq and Afghanistan, defending the war in Afghanistan right up to the hurried US withdrawal last year.
ASPI has also taken it upon itself to promote the purchase of American weapons, most recently US nuclear submarines, a purchase which defies military logic and common sense.
By any measure they will not be ready for delivery until at least 2045.
The acquisition was proposed under the new AUKUS arrangement which has the stated aim to strengthen Australian defence measures in the face of alleged Chinese expansion.
In fact, the nuclear submarine deal is a smokescreen for the stationing of US nuclear submarines in Australia.
Australia will not get nuclear submarines, if for no other reason than the technology will be obsolete by the projected date of delivery.
It was never a serious proposition even if the LNP, ASPI and the right wing mainstream media took it seriously. It was a cynical American ploy swallowed by a gullible Australia.
Under AUKUS the United States seeks to militarise the north of Australia to further threaten China.
However, from the measures proposed, it seems the US may have in its mind more than a threat.
Namely preparing the north of Australia for launching an attack.
None of this has been put to the Australian people.
This is not in Australia’s interests. It only serves American interests. China would be bound to retaliate in force. Australia would be the primary target.
ASPI has been a cheerleader for increased US pressure on China.
The narrative built over the past seven years, to hide US fear of China as a significant trade competitor and rival power challenging US hegemony, is that China constitutes a military threat.
No doubt it is becoming so as it seeks to counter the US military threat.
America is an increasingly fractured and recalcitrant state as it observes its power being drained by collapsing social cohesion within its own borders.
ASPI needs to ask why value should be placed in an ally which will not control the arbitrary use of arms by its citizens.
This is especially when those arms could bring about the breakdown of law and order, which in turn could lead to civil war.
Not so far-fetched when you look at Trump, his supporters and those seeking to replace him.
The LNP and ASPI were quick to point to shared values as justification for our one-sided alliance with the US and ASPI has not argued a case for even handedness in our dealings with China and the US.
Yet China - because of geography, economy and trade - remains far more important to Australia than the US.
The only reason the US remains important to Australia is because of the security threats it has created over the past sixty years.
The LNP made a mess of diplomatic relations with China, France and the Pacific Islands. It had deceived France, treated Pacific Island countries with racist disdain and used a megaphone to abuse China.
Ironically, this made matters worse for itself and better for the US. ASPI supported this travesty of diplomacy, perhaps it was the architect of it - in any case it was on the rails waving its hat at the start of any contrived confrontation.
Following the local anger and diplomatic mess created by the Morrison-ASPI forays into the Pacific on the back of climate denial, China decided to take advantage with less than mixed success.
It received a polite knock back on a grand plan to lead a Pacific alliance of the willing.
New foreign minister Penny Wong in two forays into the Pacific over the same number of weeks showed both ASPI and the Chinese how diplomacy should be conducted.
No megaphone and no presumption.
ASPI has reached its use by date. It should no longer receive Australian taxpayer funding, nor Australian government patronage.
ASPI is a political organisation with loyalty to the LNP. It should not receive funding to make trouble for the Albanese government.
Bruce Haigh is an Australian political commentator and former diplomat