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Our Exceptional Friend

Australia’s Fatal Alliance with the United States



Emma Shortis

Richmond, Vic: Hardie Grant Books, 2021

Paperback   288pp   RRP $32.99


Reviewer: Bruce Brown, September 2022  


In 2021 the Australian and US governments celebrated the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, long regarded as the linchpin of Australia’s defence and foreign policies. Formed in the Cold War era the treaty was invoked by successive governments to justify Australia’s commitment to fight alongside the US in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq as well as the establishment of US intelligence bases on Australian soil.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, John Howard gave expression to this view.

‘If that treaty means anything, if our debt as a nation to the people of the United States means anything, if the comradeship, the friendship and the common bonds of democracy and a belief in liberty, fraternity and justice mean anything, it means that the ANZUS Treaty applies and that the ANZUS Treaty is properly invoked.’

Over time, there have been critics of the treaty and its implications for Australian sovereignty. In this context Emma Shortis has produced a new and engaging critique of the alliance. Her academic interests include the study of the US in both a global and historical context. Her PhD in History at the University of Melbourne examined the international campaign to save Antarctica from mining.

The thrust of Shortis’ argument is the need to explore in whose interests the alliance really serves and whether Australia needs to maintain a compliant relationship with an increasingly ugly and broken US democracy. She makes clear (Page 11) that her book ‘is not anti-American but unapologetically anti-American power’. The book provides a very contemporary analysis of American politics and the implications of the Trump era on its political system.

Furthermore, given the current concerns over possible conflict between China and the US with respect to Taiwan, the possibility looms that Australia may be drawn into another military conflict alongside ‘its great and powerful friend.

Notwithstanding the very readable and relevant scope of the book, readers are left with the vexed question of how to reshape an alliance so embedded in Australia’s national psyche. Shortis argues for a rethink of the way our political, economic, cultural and environmental structures are so closely intertwined with the American model.

This book provides an excellent starting point for such a conversation.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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