The long flights between New York and Perth provide ample opportunity for reflection, and on my latest journey along that path I again marvelled at the relationship between two countries on opposite sides of the planet. My attention was particularly drawn to this relationship as I had the honour of attending the American Australian Association gala dinner on board the USS Intrepid in New York celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Not surprisingly, media coverage of last week’s event in New York has focussed on the first meeting between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump. I understand that meetings between heads of state naturally drive news, and that following reports of a less than diplomatic phone conversation earlier this year, this particular meeting had more drama that one would normally expect from a meeting among allies. Still, the evening contained a message about the Australia-US relationship that was not given full attention in press reports; a message far more substantive than President Trump’s views on the Australian Health Care system.
The Battle of the Coral Sea took place in the dark days of May 1942 at a time following the bombing of Pearl Harbour when the United States and its allies were in full retreat across the Pacific. While the battle looms large in Australian history, few Americans are aware of its significance. However, when examined in the context of the 65 years plus alliance between Australia and the United States, the battle of the Coral Sea assumes strategic significance that extends far beyond the end of the war.
Former Australian Ambassador to the United States and Perth USAsia Centre Distinguished Fellow Kim Beazley provides a concise and moving account of the battle in an article
for ASPI’s The Strategist; a piece that draws appropriate attention to lessons we can learn from what was at the time a ‘very high risk undertaking by our very new ally’.
Former British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston is famed for observing that “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Amidst considerable current uncertainly in the region and a vibrant debate about Australia’s national interests, it is helpful to look back at an era with far greater uncertainties than we face today.
Professor L. Gordon Flake
is the CEO of the Perth USAsia Centre