Monday 5 September 2005

The realignment continues

Last month, I posted a story about how Australia, militarily, was becoming more closely aligned with the United States, and slipping away from the orbit of the Euro-obsessed British. This was followed by a posting from my colleague on the nascent Anglosphere, which confirmed this dynamic.

Now, from the The Australian comes yet further evidence in an article headed "Australia to share US secrets".

US President Bush, it reports, has issued a decree changed US national disclosure policy, upgrading Australia to the highest rank of intelligence partner that the US has in the world. Australia's new status is equalled only by Britain and vastly expands the quantity and quality of US intelligence our agencies receive.

In the 50 years of the US-Australia alliance, writes The Australian, Australia has never before enjoyed this level of access to American intelligence. The agreement ranges from tactical and operational military information through to comprehensive national assessments.

Increasingly, Australian agencies will have direct access to US intelligence systems. Australian military personnel in the Middle East, for example, can already directly access US intelligence databases and real-time battle space imagery.

The new relationship occurs at many levels. Canberra now has a permanent senior officer stationed at the US Strategic Command in Nebraska (pictured right). US Strategic Command is responsible for integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space and global strike operations, information operations, integrated missile defence and command and control.

It is the most sensitive intelligence hub in the US military network and to have Australians stationed there at high levels of seniority is a sign of the depth of the intelligence relationship. Australia gains access at all levels - to US raw intelligence, to US assessments of the intelligence and to real-time operational information and planning.

This has meant Australia further upgrading its own security because the US is extremely sensitive about who shares such information. Australia's new status is a sign of the growing trust the US has in the Australian military and intelligence community. Co-operation between Canberra and Washington in these fields has grown exponentially as a result of both the war on terror and the joint operations in Iraq.

In an editorial today, The Australian elaborates on this development, declaring that the change in Australia's status shows the reserves of trust that exist with our major ally. It is also a testament to the close relationship between Mr Bush and John Howard (pictured left), adding that: "the US alliance is, of course, the foundation of our security. Less well understood is the way the huge US defence budget subsidises our own military and intelligence spending, making it easier for Australian governments to provide the social services we value."

Continuing on this theme, it emphasises similar issues to those which have made the "special relationship" so valuable to the UK. "In recent times," the editorial says, "the closeness of this relationship, which is based on shared values and a history of helping each other out in times of conflict, has been expressed in many ways, including the free trade agreement signed last year and Australia's commitment to the liberation and rebuilding of Iraq. The new intelligence symbiosis, which among other things will help us fight terror in our region, is a further example of how the US alliance materially benefits Australia."

That "symbiosis" may be helping Australia now but, as far as the UK is concerned, informed sources report to us that British defence companies are experiencing "severe difficulties" in obtaining sensitive information from the US, suggesting that, far from enjoying equal status with Britain, in fact, Australia is now in a more privileged position.

This can hardly be a surprise. Amongst the more dubious articles of the "secret treaty" which we highlighted last month is "mutual recognition" of security clearances for the personnel from the signatory states.

Thus, according to the innocuous-sounding "Framework agreement" concerning measures to facilitate the restructuring and operation of the European defence industry, Part 4 (Article 23) defence workers from France, or Germany or German or any other of the signatory nations who have been given security clearance by their own country can be allowed full access to British defence secrets, and without even the British authorities having to be notified.

There plenty of examples of US sensitive technology having leaked from European firms to China, so there can be no surprise that things are getting tougher for Britain. As we cannot even control access to our own secrets, why should the Americans trust us? But, when Australia is cementing serious relationships with the US, and we are left out in the cold, it really is time to ask where we are going. Can we really afford to accept an Anglosphere that excludes the UK?