A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. The United States is preparing to deploy up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in northern Australia, according to an Australian news report. Photo: AP
Daryl Guppy
Daryl Guppy

B-52 bomber deal with US hijacks Australia’s foreign policy independence

  • The Australian defence establishment’s military provocation of China threatens the country’s sovereignty and regional stability
  • The deal undermines Australia’s diplomatic efforts, and will make its air base a prime target in any US-China conflict
A bomber has only one function. It is a weapon of attack. The proposed placement by the United States of up to six B-52 bombers at Tindal air force base in Northern Australia is clearly an offensive step endorsed by the Australian government. It is a provocative move experts say is aimed squarely at China.
It could put Australia’s neighbours in Southeast Asia on edge, particularly as it follows Australia’s purchase of nuclear-powered submarines as part of the Aukus pact. These countries have been excluded from Aukus and the Quad.

The claim by Australian politicians that this US deployment does not make Tindal airbase a target in any widespread regional conflict is simply nonsense. Blinded by the prospect of millions of defence dollars flowing into a moribund regional economy, the Northern Territory government has welcomed the expansion.

The announcement, officially confirmed only after details of the plan emerged in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, appears to be a carefully manufactured leak.

The plan is in substance more symbolic than evidence of any new strategic intent. The presence of B-52 bombers operating in Northern Australia airspace has been a regular part of Australian military exercises in previous years. That is nothing new, and in this sense the expansion of on-ground facilities to better handle these aircraft is of little concern.

As a statement of policy intent, the announcement is of more concern in several ways. First, the announcement is clear evidence of a split between the objectives of the military arm of the government and those of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It highlights the split between diplomats, led by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and the militarists, led by Defence Minister Richard Marles. The announcement of potential dry-season stationing of B-52 bombers is a slap in the face for diplomacy.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 1. The stationing of B-52 bombers in Australia will complicate the country’s diplomatic efforts led by Wong. Photo: Reuters
This makes Wong’s task in the Pacific and Southeast Asia much more difficult. If Australian policy is made at the whim of the US, then Australia’s intent in policy delivery is inseparable from that of the US. It means there is less room left for an effective reset of China-Australia relations when the diplomatic effort is undermined by belligerent defence announcements.

The second major issue is that of Australia’s sovereignty. Australia’s autonomy and independence are at risk because the defence and security elites in Canberra have embraced the concept of “interoperability” with the US. Marles has taken this further so interoperable becomes interchangeable, meaning Australia operates seamlessly with US forces.

John Menadue, former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has said: “So powerful is the US influence and our willing cooperation that our foreign policies have been largely emasculated and sidelined by the defence and security views of both the US and their media acolytes in Australia.”


US, UK, Australia announce ‘historic’ military partnership in Pacific

US, UK, Australia announce ‘historic’ military partnership in Pacific
This announcement goes beyond the difficult-to-conceal deployment of B-52s. Their loud take-offs and landings broadcast their presence and activity, unlike the silent activities of the joint electronic Pine Gap base near Alice Springs.

Richard Tanter, a senior research associate at the Nautilus Institute, said the major upgrade came “at a time when the Australian parliament has been informed of none of this, no statements by ministers and no questions to ministers”. He said that if a conflict broke out between the US and China, Pine Gap would be a prime target.

In reality, Australia’s core China policy remains hardline

At a practical level, Australia’s sovereign right to make independent defence decisions is fractured by this deployment. It is most likely that Australia would follow the US lead in any regional conflict, but there would at least be the appearance of independence. However, should the US use Australian facilities at Tindal, then Australia is automatically enmeshed in the US operation irrespective of any sovereign Australian decision.

The basing of B-52s in Australia is an attack on Australian sovereignty where a decision to engage in hostilities is effectively given to a foreign power. Marles and others appear to be in favour of Australia becoming a proxy for the US and an extension of US militarism.

In the words of former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, the US are dangerous allies. This announcement suggests Australia has become not a proxy but a patsy.

Daryl Guppy is an international financial technical analysis expert and a former national board member of the Australia China Business Council. The views expressed here are his own