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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2005 East Asian and Pacific Affairs Remarks, Testimony, and Speeches

U.S.- Australia: Our Ties Could Not Be Firmer

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
Washington, DC
November 16, 2005

On Dec. 22, 1941, 4,600 American soldiers marched off transport ships docked in Brisbane, their deployment to The Philippines having been diverted days earlier by rapid Japanese advances in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor had just been attacked. Darwin would be bombed three months later.

Those servicemen disembarking in Brisbane were the first of some one million US troops who would pass through Australia over the next four years during World War II. As one woman wrote: "Suddenly the Yanks were here ... They all seemed to have big mouths and square teeth, and came from places I'd never heard of, like Omaha."

The many early months of mortal danger for our two nations eventually turned, after untold bravery and sacrifice by civilian and soldier, into a triumph over a global menace that threatened to overwhelm free peoples everywhere.

Since then American and Australian troops have fought side by side in every major war - popular and unpopular alike. For six decades the close friendship and military alliance between our two great democracies has been a force for peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. The US stands shoulder to shoulder with Australia in Iraq and Afghanistan, where repressive regimes have yielded to democratic governments and freedom.

Tomorrow, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and I will arrive in Adelaide for meetings with our Australian counterparts. This annual Australia-US Ministerial meeting (known as AUSMIN) is the senior forum for discussing the direction of the alliance and issues of mutual national interest.

It is a relationship that is mature enough to withstand the inevitable tensions that surface between two vibrant and independent-minded democracies. Military commission proceedings are scheduled for David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay. The US Government understands the concern and sensitivity in Australia on this issue. It is a troubling reality of this dramatically new and unconventional conflict that extremist networks can attract adherents from citizens of any country. The military commission process is fair, it is time tested and was a process by which several detainees were brought to justice during and after World War II.

The atrocities of September 11, past and recent Bali bombings, and other terrorist attacks have demonstrated that waging an effective campaign against violent extremism requires fresh thinking in even the most successful security arrangements. Regional terrorist networks operating in Southeast Asia, as well as North Korea's nuclear weapons program, continue to pose a threat to the security of our two countries and to the Asia-Pacific region.

The governments of the US and Australia are embarking on bold, significant steps that reflect the depth, maturity and energy of this partnership.

We have made progress on the memorandum of understanding Senator Robert Hill and I signed last year, pledging to work together on developing systems to defend our respective countries from ballistic missile attacks.

It is important to remember that, well before the military campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq, Australia had courageously attracted the hate and possible retribution of Islamic extremists by leading a peacekeeping mission to East Timor in 1999.

In the war against terrorism, no leaders have been more stalwart than the leaders of Australia. They have left no doubt about where Australia stands in this, the defining challenge of our time. After the London bombings in July led some to speculate whether pulling back from fighting extremists might spare coalition countries from future attack, your Prime Minister responded: "No Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen."

I suspect most Australians understand that acceding to terrorist demands - whether for hostage ransom or precipitous troop withdrawals - invites more, not fewer attacks of greater, not less, severity and scope. Australians and Americans share convictions as strong and independent people. And at this time our two countries could not be closer in our common values and attitudes towards the challenges the free world faces.

Released on November 16, 2005

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