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Sub-Imperial Power

Australia in the International Arena



Clinton Fernandes

Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Press, 2022

Paperback   176pp   RRP $24.99


Reviewer: Bruce Brown, February 2023


In December 2022 at the conclusion of the annual Australian-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, the Joint Statement contained the following passage:

           ‘The leaders (sic) committed to advancing a stable, rules-based international order where differences are resolved peacefully and without coercion, and where states cooperate transparently to address their shared challenges. …They also decided to evolve their defence and security cooperation to ensure they are equipped to deter aggression, counter coercion, and make space for sovereign decision making’.

The statement reiterated the longstanding and familiar importance placed on Australia’s alliance with the US. In recent times, however, security analysts such as Clinton Fernandes have questioned whether in reality, Australia’s supposed ‘sovereign decision making’ in global affairs is governed by US interests and policies. In a provocative and very readable volume Fernandes dissects the way in which Australia’s preferred label as a middle power should in fact be rebranded as a ‘sub-imperial power’ having over time served US and UK interests.

This proposition can be seen in the way the AUKUS agreement to which Australia, with much encouragement, was a signatory made provision for eight nuclear powered submarines, as well as the deployment of US personnel and weaponry in the event of our ‘conceived future conflict with China’. Australia will also be heavily dependent on US maintenance of the submarines. Fernandes argues that such a conflict would not necessarily be in Australia’s interest but would in fact be based on ‘the rules based international order’.

Fernandes explores the way financial investments from foreign interests actually erode Australian sovereignty and the way Pine Gap, a cornerstone of Australian defence policy, was designed to serve a wider range of US interest. The book concludes with a chapter discussing ‘Current Policy Priorities’.

Overall Fernandes has provided both the scholar and Informed general reader with an excellent means through which to understand the evolution and contemporary features of Australia’s foreign and trade policies. As a compact 166-page, yet well-documented publication Fernandes has provided a superb opportunity for people to become informed members of Australia’s body politic.



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

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