Neutrality as an alternative Austrlaian foreign policy

Sunday, 19 May 2024 - 9:15am to 9:30am


Neutrality would keep us out of a U.S.-China war

ANDREW 1: Good morning listeners. My name’s Andrew and with me is Bevan Ramsden. We’re from IPAN, the Independent and Peaceful Australian Network. In this edition of Alternative News we examine neutrality as an alternative Australian foreign policy in the light of recent surveys which show that a clear majority of Australians are in favour of Australia remaining neutral in the event of war between the U.S. and China. We have discussed neutrality in a previous program but are re-visiting the subject in the light of Bevan Ramsden’s recent participation in an International Conference on Neutrality. This Congress had the theme of ‘Neutrality – a Strategy for Global Stabilisation’. Bevan, give us the background to this conference.

BEVAN 1: The Congress was held in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. It is situated in the Andes on a plateau 2,500 metres above sea level. Bogota is home to 12 million people in a country with a population of 50 million. The primary organisers of the Congress were World Beyond War and the International Peace Bureau. The two- day Congress involved 50 speakers from 25 countries on 5 continents. Some of the presentations from distant countries were made over the internet but most were in person.The Congress was held in a venue within the Republic of Colombia’s Congress Building, which houses the Colombian Parliament. We were addressed by four Senators at the opening breakfast meeting within the Congress Building. I was present as the IPAN representative and was the only representative from Australia.

ANDREW 2: I understand that the Vice President of Colombia took part in the conference.

BEVAN 2: Yes, on the second day we met with the Colombian Vice President, Francia Marquez, who spoke to us about her position on neutrality and we all shook hands with her at the end of her speech.

Whilst she endorsed the Congress’ aim of formulating a strategy for ensuring peace world-wide, she raised some criticism of neutrality as such, as did several others at the Congress. The particular criticism deserves our attention because IPAN has endorsed the principle of “non-nuclear armed neutrality” in our vision for an alternative defence for an independent Australia.

The concern is that neutrality could be taken to mean “isolationism”; “washing ones hands of world problems”; “turning ones back on injustices in the world” etc. Vice President Marquez said we cannot turn our backs on the suffering of the people in Gaza, for example.

ANDREW 3: You say this discussion has implications for IPAN and its policies. Can you explain why this is so?

BEVAN 3: It has implications for IPAN because we have proposed an alternative defence policy for Australia based on the concept of non-nuclear armed neutrality. Listening to the Vice President and other speakers at the Congress, it became clear to me that we need to carefully elaborate and explain exactly what we mean by neutrality. We certainly would not favour an isolationist approach.

To be of any value to the Australian people, a policy of neutrality would have to involve positive engagement with the countries in our region and beyond and the taking of a stand on the side of peace and justice. For example, in relation to Gaza, a neutral Australia would not become involved militarily but would use all available diplomatic and economic measures to oppose Israeli Zionist genocide, and bring about a permanent ceasefire and secure a safe and peaceful future for the Palestinian and Israeli people.

ANDREW 4: Some listeners may not have heard about this alternative defence policy which IPAN has formulated. Can you provide some details?

BEVAN 4:  IPAN’s alternative defence policy is based on non-nuclear armed neutrality and emphasizes diplomacy as the first option in the resolution of conflict between states. The ADF would be reconfigured for, and confined to, defence of Australian territory and its surrounding waters out to the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. There would be no involvement in foreign wars of aggression and overseas deployment of the ADF would be restricted to joining United Nations peace keeping forces in appropriate circumstances.

ANDREW 5: My understanding is that a policy of territorial defence would be far less expensive than Australia’s current focus on preparing for overseas wars, against China for example, in lock-step with the United States and its other allies. Defence analysts now say that recent technological advances such as those involving drones and remote sensing have made territorial self-defence based on area denial a much cheaper option than expeditionary, aggressive wars in distant locations.

BEVAN 5: The costs are indeed mild-boggling. Australia’s military expenditure is planned to reach 2.4 percent of GDP by 2034 and the AUKUS expenditure of 368 billion dollars on nuclear propelled hunter-killer submarines is only a part of this. Defence Minister Marles has no trouble finding billions of dollars for hypersonic missile development and for equipping our frigates with Tomahawk cruise missiles designed for use against land-based targets while the country is crying out for affordable housing, improved health care, urgent attention to addressing the climate emergency and many other matters impacting the lives of the Australian people.

ANDREW 6: I understand that IPAN’s alternative defence policy based on neutrality has found support in the Australian community and thus arguably deserves serious discussion. Two national opinion polls, conducted in 2023 by the Lowy Institute and Essential Research, have found that a majority of Australians are in favour of keeping out of a U.S. war against China and adopting a neutral position. In particular, the Lowy poll showed that 73 percent of Australian women favour this position.

So what exactly is neutrality and how would it work?

BEVAN 6: Broadly speaking there are two approaches, Isolationist neutrality and actively engaged neutrality.

Switzerland’s policy is an example of isolationist neutrality. Switzerland joined the United Nations as recently as 2002, having participated in U.N. peace-keeping forces from 1990. But its neutrality is coming under question. Though not a member of NATO, Switzerland has a longstanding partnership with it. Bilateral cooperation began when Switzerland joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in 1996 and became a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in 1997.This involves bilateral military cooperation and sharing of information and experiences. In 2024 Switzerland announced that it wants to achieve “closer, institutionalised cooperation” with NATO.

ANDREW 7: Not everyone would look favourably on an isolationist approach. How does active neutrality work and who practices it?

BEVAN 7: Austria, Mongolia and Costa Rica are examples of active engaged neutrality, with Costa Rica being a special case as one of only two countries to have abolished its military forces.

Austria practises non-aligned engaged neutrality. Austria has its own self-defence force but does not host foreign military forces or bases but and does not participate in foreign wars or military alliances. Its parliament adopted the neutrality law which has become part of its constitution. It hosts international meetings. It has banned nuclear weapons and played a part in Central Europe becoming nuclear free. A nation which adopts a policy of neutrality can avoid entanglement in great power wars and have the credibility to act as a buffer state, promote peace keeping, host meetings between belligerents and act as a mediator.

ANDREW 8: The Austrian approach could be applicable to Australia because it shows how we could play a constructive role in our region and beyond in the promotion of peaceful conflict resolution. What is preventing Australia adopting a foreign policy based on neutrality, in line with the expressed wishes of the majority of Australians?

BEVAN 8: The basic problem is that Australia’s political leadership has been totally captured by the U.S. and slavishly follows U.S. foreign policy through the ANZUS Alliance and more recently the AUKUS war pact between the U.K., the U.S. and Australia. Internally, this subservience to the U.S. is expressed through the wholesale sellout of sovereignty resulting from the Force Posture Agreement signed by the U.S. and Australian governments in 2014. The F.P.A guarantees the United States a military posture in Australia. It gives the United States military unimpeded access to our airports, seaports, military bases and other areas. This includes porting of their nuclear submarines at HMAS Stirling in WA and basing of their nuclear-capable B52 bombers at RAAF Tindal in the NT. It facilitates the stationing in Darwin of 2,500 or more U.S. marines each year and the staging of military exercises with the ADF in preparation for war against China. The U.S. military also has a regional command centre in Darwin as well as storage depots for fuel, munitions and spare parts at Darwin, RAAF Tindal and the Bandiana Army base in Victoria, for its exclusive use.

ANDREW 9: Then there’s the Pine Gap spy station near Alice Springs, which feeds the U.S. military strategic information from its satellite surveillance of the earth’s surface and its capture and analysis of radio communications including that from mobile phones. Professor Richard Tanter, an expert on the expanded role of Pine Gap, recently stated that the strategic information which Pine Gap supplies to the U.S. is passed on to the Israeli military for use in its war of genocide against the people of Gaza.

BEVAN 9: Clearly neutrality is not an option until our continent is cleared of foreign military installations. This is the message to the Australian people. Only a massive, broad-based united people’s campaign to break free from the death-grip of the U.S. military alliance can create the conditions for the adoption of non-nuclear armed neutrality, the only policy which can make us safe, keep us out of foreign wars and steer us away from the headlong rush to the catastrophe we are presently on.

ANDREW 10: That brings us to the end of today’s program.As usual, we welcome listeners’ comments and suggestions, which can be emailed to '; // --> , that is '; // --> . Good morning and thanks for listening.