Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Quarrels in a faraway land

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In 1938, during the Munich Crisis, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain expressed his distaste for making war preparations over “a quarrel in a faraway land between people of which we know nothing”.

We all know what happened to Chamberlain; with former cabinet minister, David Davis, delivering the devastating one-liner that sent him on his way: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.

Map with Yemen

And go he did, with Churchill being drafted in to lead the country through its darkest hours.

It’s now 2024, and there is a crisis in a faraway place called Yemen, where mad Islamic Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, are lobbing missiles and drones at ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea.

Like Neville Chamberlain, our Prime Minister shows no interest in getting involved in a quarrel between people of whom he has no interest; yet anyone with the slightest awareness of international relations would know that there is no longer such a thing as a faraway land of which we can afford to have no interest.

In a globalised world, all nations are today linked via sea trade that is funnelled through a small number of maritime choke points. Think of the Persian Gulf, Panama Canal, Suez Canal, the Straits of Singapore or the Straits of Taiwan…

But Albanese, like Neville Chamberlain, will be remembered for failing to see the world as it is. Both preferred endless jaw jaw when it was time for war, war, preferring appeasement or looking the other way when it was time to send in the warships.

South Yemen is very much a rogue state which needs to be brought back into line. You may ask why is this of concern to Western Australian farmers? The answer is on the map. Yemen is en route for the ships that take our grain and livestock to key markets such as Egypt and Israel.

South Yemen happens to sit on the choke point of the Gulf of Aden, allowing (or not) ships into the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean and, therefore, access to the shortcut to Europe via the Suez Canal. 

Shut the Gulf, and the only alternative is the long sail around the bottom of Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope, which adds two weeks and approximately two million dollars for big cargo ships. For the peaceniks and hand wringers who read this, think of the carbon footprint. If for nothing else we need to keep that seaway open to help save the planet from global warming.

This is not the first time the globe has had to step in and keep this waterway open. You may recall the problem we had with pirates operating out of Somalian coasts. An issue vastly more dire before the Americans, along with a cohort of navies, including Australia’s RAN, came steaming over the horizon, all glory and helicopter gunships.

The gunships being particularly helpful in focusing the mind of the lads in speedboats waving around AK47s on the risk reward equation of getting rich quick vs a short life or a long spell in a US prison.

You all saw the movie Captain Phillips.

Previous Labor governments had no problem committing forces when the Americans called for help, but this Prime Minister seems to be more Chamberlain than Churchill, preferring to focus our shrinking defence forces on our backyard than faraway places.

Albanese is burning our reputation with the Americans by sending conflicting messaging on our reliability as a ANZUS partner. In one instance, he is pushing ahead to buy three American nuclear submarines, claiming they are critical for keeping our sea lanes open. And in the next, he is knocking back a US request to commit a warship to support maritime security in the Red Sea.

Albo told the US we could only spare a few defence personnel to be based at the US operations headquarters in Bahrain, when really, it’s the ships at sea that are needed, not staff officers hanging out in safe locations.

The only way to counter these attacks is for Australia to front up and be prepared to use our navy and expensive missiles (if we have any) to return the complement of the missiles and drones the Houthis are firing at merchant shipping.

Aside from the lame excuses of needing our warships to keep New Zealand and the South Pacific from stepping out of line, the government has highlighted the fact that it fears we don’t have the right ships, the right defensive weapons, or even enough weapons to play our part, despite spending 60 billion dollars a year on defence.

Add to that they have no stomach for a fight. You can just imagine the public response towards the federal government if one of our naval ships got hit by a cheap drone and sank with casualties because it could not fight off a $20,000 drone. The federal election due in around 12 months would be well and truly up for grabs. 

But my guess is that the vulnerability of our ships and a government not up to playing on the international stage is not the only reason the government is not cut from the same cloth as Churchill.

I suspect there is something within the DNA of the Australian Labor Party that is also holding back Albo and Wong from doing the right thing.

Sections of the Labor left, from which both the PM and the Foreign Minister hail, have a deep dislike of the US, having been schooled in Anti-Vietnam war protests in their youth. Not to mention there exists a deep anti-semitic streak in the party and a strange sympathy for the extremists who rule the Palestinians. So, by saying no, they are effectively jamming it up the Americans and Israelis, whilst showing solidarity with their Palestinian brothers.

There is also one other reason that lurks beneath the surface which sits well with the Left of the ALP. The closure of the Red Sea shuts off access to two live export markets, Israel and Egypt, conveniently playing into the party’s narrative of a dying live export trade.

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