U.S.-Australian Relations In A New Era: Nicholas Burns

The US-Australian Alliance has “a foundation deeper than the policies or political parties of the day”, according to the United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns.

Addressing the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Burns said he was “impressed by the new Australian cabinet”. He said “Australia is as good a friend to the US as any country in the world” and there is “no reason for that to change”.

The speech by Burns is the first delivered by a senior U.S. official since the election of the Rudd Labor Government.

  • Listen to Nicholas Burns’ Speech to the Lowy Institute:

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Lowy Institute For International Policy

This is an extract from the speech by Nicholas Burns, as published in The Australian on December 7, 2007.

R. Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political AffairsThis week I met Australia’s new leaders in Canberra. I had good and extensive talks with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke, and I participated in two days of meetings with the Australia-Japan-US Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.

I was impressed by the new Australian cabinet. They are uniformly smart, open and, I sensed, friends of the US. The US looks forward to continuing with the new Government the close alliance and partnership we have enjoyed with all Australian governments and indeed with the people of Australia.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd noted recently that our partnership blossomed under Labor prime minister John Curtin when, in 1942, Australia and the US together faced and triumphed in the most terrible war of modern times.

In my personal view, Australia is as good a friend to the US as any country in the world. And there is no reason for that to change. More than partners, we have been long-time allies. On Tuesday, my first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial. I was, frankly, overwhelmed by it. The memorial is an extraordinarily moving tribute to the 102,000 Australians who died in some of the most historic battles of the past century. Ninety years ago, American soldiers fought under Australian command at the battle of Hamel in World War I. Aussie Diggers and American GIs have served side by side in every major conflict since: World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, two Gulf wars, and at present in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australian officers and soldiers in exchange billets are sprinkled throughout units in the US Pacific Command, their distinctive headgear a dead giveaway before they reveal their accents.

On a global basis, Australia punches above its weight, militarily, diplomatically, on intelligence and now on the cutting edge of trade, investment and technological innovation. Australians are seen to be effective in the world and we are proud to be your friends.

Our partnership and alliance are founded not in sentimentality – although there is plenty of that in our long friendship – but, most importantly, shared values, shared world views and shared national interests. This is the glue that will maintain the US-Australia friendship and alliance through political transitions in your country this week and in mine in about a year.

The Australia-US alliance begins with geography. The US, like Australia, is a Pacific nation. We share a common view of the strategic importance – and the particular 21st-century challenges – of the Asia-Pacific region. American strategy for the region is actually rather straightforward. We, like Australia, aim to ensure the peace by promoting freedom, justice and human dignity, and by supporting free and open markets.

We are fortunate in the US to enjoy a bipartisan consensus that America needs to remain fully engaged in the Asia-Pacific region.

That means we must maintain our broad military presence, sustain strong political ties to our allies and partners, work to engage a rising China constructively, and advance open trade and investment to lift all boats on the tide of what may be a Pacific century to come.

The absolute core of US policy is the tremendous value we place on our relationships with our treaty allies in the region – Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and The Philippines – and with other partners who share these values such as Singapore, whose leadership I met this week.

What in diplo-speak we refer to as regional architecture – that is, ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC – plays a huge role in promoting greater stability and economic integration.

The US was pleased with the great success of the recent APEC meetings hosted by Australia in Sydney.

Together, we produced constructive action on climate change. We built support for advancing the Doha Round negotiations. We made progress towards a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific. And we strengthened APEC as an institution, never an easy task since the organisation includes so many disparate interests. But such good co-operation can occur only in a region that is at peace with itself. The 62 years that have passed since the end of World War II on September 2, 1945, represent a unique period in the history of the region.

Our most important, vital and overarching strategic aim must be to avoid the repetition of such a tragic conflict that our parents’ generation knew all too well. Since World War II ended, we believe the US military presence in Asia has been the most important factor in producing stability and security in the region.

The US presence has guaranteed freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific sea lanes, which has underpinned the region’s extraordinary economic growth.

This American security guarantee has, in many cases, obviated the need for countries in the region to spend vast sums on their militaries. We continue to hear from the overwhelming majority of countries in the region that they welcome the US presence and want us to remain active in the region and continue to play this stabilising role.

On the fight against international terrorism and nuclear proliferation and on so very many other tough issues, I cannot stress enough how much the US appreciates the support of Australia and respects its steadfastness. Americans overwhelmingly like Australia. We are unreserved in our admiration of things Australian. We are deepening our political ties. We are bolstering our trade relations. We co-operate closely on defence issues and intelligence sharing. In truth, it is no exaggeration to say that the US has no closer friend and ally in the world than Australia.

As Australians welcome a new government and as we enter our own election season in the US, I want to assure you that our long history together, our friendship and the alliance have a foundation deeper than the policies or political parties of the day.

Nicholas Burns is US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.