By Phillip Adams, The Weekend Australian, September 25-26, 1999

It's time for Australia to grow up. If recent events tell us anything, they tell us that. Yet the Union Jack is still stuck In the corner of our flag like a postage stamp on an old letter. We cling to the illusion, the delusion, that the US will fight our battles. In truth, like the people of East Timor, we are dispensable, disposable.

We learned that the postage stamp had been cancelled at the fall of Singapore. The fact that we'd been going to Britain's wars since the Crimea, that we'd saddled up for the Boer War, that we'd suffered the greatest per capita losses of any combatant nation in World War I counted for little. All that fighting for a foreign king (and his postage stamp), all that unswerving, forelock-tugging loyalty, and we were left to fend for ourselves.

Flung from the nest of monarchy, we flew to the protective wings of the world's most powerful republic. A Labor government went to Washington, an orphan nation seeking adoption.

John Gorton, a Liberal, described the way Australian prime ministers, for generations, had gone to London to "roll on their backs like puppies asking for their tummies to be tickled". Now we were lap-dogs at another court.

Unlike the wars we'd so eagerly fought for the postage stamp, World War II was undoubtedly our war. After Pearl Harbor, the US was forced to send in the cavalry. So we helped them and they helped us. But with the arrival of the Cold War, that political counterpart to an ice age, we returned to fighting battles that weren't really our concern, in the hope the puppy would get the odd pat. We went to Korea. We went all the way with LBJ. Our prime ministers were always first on the phone volunteering for symbolic service in Gulf wars. Bob Hawke's performance as George Bush's little drummer boy was another nadir in our foreign policy, with John Howard hot on his heels. It's surprising we didn't send troops to invade Grenada or assist in the demolition of Panama City.

We were the fox terrier sitting by the gramophone. Our reward? We'd be safe under the US nuclear umbrella. Generations of puppy-dog politicians were sure of that. Which is why we provided some spokes for the umbrella, such as Pine Gap, the only places in Australia where Australians were foreigners. These installations played their part in surveillance and signalling, in early warning systems, in the policy of mutual assured destruction, known by the menacing acronym of MAD.

That wasn't the only thing that was mad about our foreign policy. It always seemed to me barking mad to imagine that the US would come to our aid just because it said it might, in a couple of vague treaties. We took the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation and ANZUS treaties seriously. Thus many body bags containing dead Australians were shipped back from Korea and Vietnam. And, yes, we'd forfeited land and political control to the Pentagon with the Pine Gaps, which had almost certainly resulted in our cities being targeted by the Soviet Union. But this didn't guarantee our safety.

In the early 1980s I received a letter asking me to join an Association for Armed Neutrality. It came from that fine writer David Martin, who died a little while back in Beechworth.

This was Martin's second death. During the Spanish Civil War, while he fought with the International Brigade, his name appeared on the list of the fallen. Since his resurrection, he'd seen a bit of war and come to some sensible conclusions about the deep cynicisms of diplomacy.

I signed up for the association as quickly as Hawke had signed up for the Gulf War. And I wrote columns in this paper begging people to rethink our military alliance, military dependence, with the world's mightiest nation. I asked readers whether they really believed the US would come to our aid in, for example, a conflict between Indonesia and Australia. Not bloody likely. Any more than they would come to help us if, once more, Japan became expansionist. Oh, the US might own much of Australia, from the car to the cattle industry. But, apart from representing a far larger market, Indonesia, during the Cold War, provided important sea lanes for US nuclear submarines. And Australia could be relied upon for blind loyalty.

Well, a few weeks back, we watched the US umming and aahing about even a token involvement in East Timor. This when Washington is taking its baseball bat and going home, leaving several new arms races to our north. It's not only the nuclear brinkmanship between India and Pakistan - encouraged by the US, the Japanese, already a significant military power, will increase their strength by orders of magnitude.

When Bill Clinton finally decided to make a token gesture, it wasn't because Howard asked him nicely or begged him desperately, let alone because of any treaty obligations. It was because of the power of media, sending those embarrassing images around the world, provoking public opinion.

It's time to grow up. To remove the postage stamp from the flag, to retire that foreign monarch, to rid ourselves of the delusion that endless grovelling to the US provides us with a defence. It is time to recognise that in the next century our region will be unstable and that a nation of 20 million people, predominantly white and preposterously wealthy, needs to have first-class armed services. We have to make any thought of invasion, by any possible invader, as unattractive as possible. In the same breath, we need to cut ourselves adrift from foreign foreign policies - from foreign policies devised in foreign countries - learn to deal witi our neighbours and our region sensibly courageously, creatively.

Korea was none of our business. Vietnam was a colossal blunder. Our willingness to follow US orders while still having a British monarch and a British flag served to emphasise our political immaturity. It's time to forget our myth of the monarchy. It's time for a declaration of independence from the great republic across the waters.

Both sides of politics bear a burden of responsibility for the tragedy of East Timor. And now our political and military impotence is there for all to see. We're not even a mouse that roared. We're a yelping puppy.

We live in a rough neighbourhood where it's not sufficient to say: "I'm going to tell my big brother on you." We must be strong enough to earn the respect of our enemies. And strong enough to go to the aid of our friends. But, most of all, strong enough to make our own decisions, to no longer obey the tug on our leash.

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