The ANZUS Treaty and SEATO Alliance
World War Two was a major turning point in Australian international diplomacy and politics. The fact that Japanese invasion became a real threat during the War, changed the way the country viewed itself. Before 1945 Australia's main 'friend' on the international level was Britain. Less than 50 years after independence, many Australians still saw themselves as more British and European than anything else. It came as somewhat of a shock when, during the Second World War, Australia discovered that it was a part of the Pacific region, and not part of Europe. Australia became very aware of its isolation in the Pacific region, and when countries in South-East Asia started to turn to communism, Australia began looking for international allies that she could rely on in case of further unrest in the Pacific region and the possibility of invasion from the north. See image 1, see image 2
Meanwhile, Britain was also moving more and more towards Europe and at the same time was beginning to pull out of her colonies in the East. Although there were still ties with Britain, Australia started to move towards a closer relationship with America - a 'near' neighbour.
Australia wanted a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) -style pact to enhance its security in the region; a mutual support agreement, meaning that each country would have to come to the defence of the others in the event of attack. America already had a peace deal with Japan, so the Americans held back from such a committed agreement. Instead they agreed to sign the ANZUS treaty.
ANZUS stands for the Australia - New Zealand - United States Security Treaty which was signed in September 1951 and came into effect the following April. The main substance of the treaty is as follows
The parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any one of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened in the Pacific.
Article III of the ANZUS Treaty, 1951
By 1954 the situation in South-East Asia was looking more and more dangerous for Australia. There was an overwhelming fear of the further spread of 'monolithic' communism (as it was known at the time). In 1954 the French finally withdrew from Indo-China and North Vietnam became a communist regime. There had also been further unrest in Malaya and Indonesia. And the Korean War had shown that China was willing to provide armed support for other communist regimes. The Australian government felt it was imperative that they have a proper defensive treaty. A number of other countries felt the same way and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was created to deal with the situation. Even though it is called the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, only three South-East Asian countries signed it. See image 4
Bringing together America, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, France, The Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan, SEATO was created specifically to combat the threat of spreading communism in South-East Asia. The wording of the treaty was much stronger than that of ANZUS. It bound each member to come to the others' aid in the event of external aggression. Each Party recognises that aggression by means of armed attack in the Treaty Area against any of the Parties or against any State or territory which the Parties by unanimous agreement may hereafter designate, would endanger its own peace and safety, and agrees that it will in that event act to meet the common danger in accordance its constitutional processes.
Article IV of the SEATO Treaty, 1954
It was intended to be the Asian version of NATO, but it never reached the same level as the North Atlantic treaty.
America wanted the SEATO treaty limited and would not sign unless three major conditions were agreed to:
1) At least one other European power would become involved in any conflict, not just the USA;
2) The USA would only provide air and sea cover, other countries would have to provide ground troops and
3) The USA would only act against 'communist aggression'. It was not prepared to commit forces to Asian inter-country conflicts.
Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam could not be named in the treaty because they came under sections of the Geneva Convention (1954), but they were named in a protocol which stated an attack on any of these countries would be cause for intervention by the SEATO countries. See animation
SEATO was a much stronger agreement to support Australia's security needs in the Pacific; It also helped to highlight the growing division between Australia and Britain and the new dependence on the USA. Eventually SEATO became the justification for America's presence in Vietnam, and is one of the reasons why Australia became involved.
Despite their limitations and conditions, both ANZUS and SEATO gave Australians some reassurance that they were no longer just a geographically isolated former British colony; they were now a major player on the diplomatic world stage, helping to stop the 'scourge' of communism. In the event of an attack the treaties meant the country had some powerful allies; however, a side effect of this was the need to link their foreign policy directly to America's. The treaties also allowed the Australian government to concentrate on domestic policies, like the economy, rather than international policy. More importantly, they also saved the government money by allowing it to reduce its expenditure on defence.