James Curran
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From Pax Britannica to Pax Americana?
The end of empire and the collapse of Australia’s Cold War policy
in The break-up of Greater Britain
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This chapter challenges the widely held view that the end of empire moment in Australia saw Canberra easily switch dependency from London to Washington. Rather, it contends that the twilight of British imperialism in the region was followed by increasing Australian doubts about American staying power in Asia. As a result, policymakers in Canberra faced nothing less than the collapse of a Cold War policy that aimed to keep their ‘great and powerful’ friends engaged in the region. In the wake of the British announcements on East of Suez, American policymakers looked to Australia not only for ongoing support in the war in Vietnam, but for assurance that Australian forces would step up to fill the strategic void left by Britain’s intended departure from the region. The American and British pressure to increase the Australian defence commitments to Malaysia and Singapore therefore presented the governments of Harold Holt (1966-–67) and John Gorton (1968–-71) with an acute dilemma. Caught in a geopolitical whirlwind not of its own making, the Australian government looked to ANZUS as an anchor in a post-imperial world, but it could not provide an easy substitute for the one-time verities of Greater Britain.

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