ANZUS, Gender and the Next Generation: Who Gets To Talk About the US-Australia Alliance

Kate Clayton


As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, it is important that we reflect on who is represented in debates on the US-Australia relationship.


This week, the US-based think tank Pacific Forum was scheduled to host an all-male panel on Next-Generation Voices in US-Australia relations. After receiving criticism for the ‘manel’, the event was cancelled. The organisers blamed the "backlash", arguing that the "integrity of the panel’ had been comprised. The organisers placed the blame on women for pulling out at the last minute due to “family priorities”.


This follows a trend in US-Australia alliance discussions—they are male dominated. Last year Routledge published an edited book on 'The future of the United States-Australia Alliance: Evolving Security Strategy in the Indo-Pacific'. It featured no women authors or editors. In 2017 the Australian Embassy in Washington launched the 'Patrons of the Alliance' to celebrate ‘100 years of mateship'. Of the 15 patrons, all were men.


For women, this tells them their contributions to the alliance are not wanted.


Australia's international affairs remain dominated by white men. This is demonstrated through numerous studies, including the Lowy Institute, by Elise Stephenson, and Bec Strating, and Jasmine-Kim Westendorf.


Between 2010 and 2019, only 32 per cent of authors published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs were female. The Women Leadership Institute Australia found in 2019, that on media on government and politics, 34 per cent of sources quotes were women and 16 per cent of op-eds were written by women.


However, there is no shortage of female experts on the alliance.


Young Australians in International Affairs (YAIA), for example, has worked with next-generation leadership for over seven years. Last year, supported by the US Embassy in Canberra, we ran our Future Leaders Series on the US alliance. Most of our participants and speakers were women. Over seven years, YAIA has published Insights from young Australians on a range of issues, including the ANZUS Treaty.


Next-generation alliance


ANZUS is a collective security agreement formed after World War II between Australia, New Zealand, and the US. For Australia, interest in ANZUS stems from a sense of anxiety that has come to characterise Australian foreign policymaking. We are a European settler colony, located in the Asia-Pacific, on unceded land. This has seen Australia seek out 'great and powerful friends' for security guarantees.


The treaty is built on traditional concepts of security; primarily that war is fought between state actors through their militaries. However, this is changing. Cybersecurity and human security issues like COVID-19 and climate change challenge conventional understandings of what national security means. For 78 per cent of young Australians, climate change is the biggest threat to Australia. Only 38 per cent see conflict with the US and China over Taiwan as a primary concern.


Young Australians do not share the same sense of 'fear of abandonment' as previous generations of policymakers. Like the structure of the international system, young Australians are increasingly multipolar in their outlook. The alliance will need to adapt to a multipolar system and a generation of young Australians who feel disconnected from the alliance. Growing up in a post-9/11 world, the political memory of young people is marked by the War on Terror, Syria, the Global Financial Crisis, and Donald Trump.


The 2021 Lowy Poll found that only 30 per cent of young Australians see the US alliance as important for Australia's security, compared to 47 per cent overall. A gender breakdown of the same question, reveals that 40 per cent of women see it as important, compared to 55 per cent of men.


For women and young Australians, the alliance does not hold the same significance. It is these voices that are siloed from alliance discussions. The Australian international affairs community is dominated by men who are more likely to see the alliance as important to Australian security. This has led to manels and publications where the same ideas and interests are being repeated.


Different perspectives on the alliance and the ANZUS Treaty are vital if we want to ensure that ANZUS endures. Like other aspects of policy and national interests, ANZUS has to adapt to new security threats. Adaptation and flexibility is not a bad thing. Updating the context in which we think about the ANZUS treaty will better serve Australian, US, and regional interests.


Inroads are being made. Australia's past two Foreign Ministers have been women. Caroline Kennedy is set to be the next US Ambassador to Australia. For the past few years, the US Embassy in Canberra has done an embassy ‘take over’ with two young female Australian leaders. In 2020, the Perth USAsia Centre published Next Generation Perspectives on the US-Australia Alliance; of the fifteen contributors, ten were women.


The future of the alliance will look different to today's alliance. And with today's alliance managers mostly men, then change is a good thing.


For younger generations, diversity and inclusion are increasingly important. If alliance debates do not reflect them, they are unlikely to support it. Male-dominated spaces in international affairs are no longer acceptable. Excluding women from conversations about the alliance excludes them from the alliance.


Diversity ensures longevity. This includes not only diversity of gender and race but also of ideas. If debates about the US-Australia alliance do not adapt, the alliance risks becoming irrelevant.


Kate Clayton is Chief Operations Officer at Young Australians in International Affairs and a Research Officer at La Trobe Asia.