“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”
– Henry Ford
In the pre-dawn morning of 4 July 1918, Australian and American troops advanced on the town of Le Hamel – a strategic strong-point on the Somme River on the Western Front. What followed was a hard-fought victory for the allies. Later described as a brilliant success and arguably the most decisive and successful offensive in World War One (WWI). More importantly, it was the beginning of a steadfast partnership that has endured some of the greatest challenges faced by humanity; lasting throughout two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, multiple world pandemics, and climate change.
In the year 2022, there is a seismic shift in the world order, as a multipolar global world creates conditions to test international partnerships, create new allies, or develop and strengthen existing alliances. Why do some partnerships strengthen when others fracture or collapse in the face of geopolitical unrest? And why do partnerships that are formed primarily on mutual interests fail to stand the test of time? The information in this article will attempt to answer those questions by defining the fundamental principles of an enduring partnership, using the United States and Australia as a case study.
As an Australian Army Warrant Officer Class Two currently posted to the United States, I am constantly captivated by the unwavering strength of the partnership between the United States and Australia. Based on my 21 years of service and experiences serving alongside the United States Army on exercises and operations and embedded in the United States Army; I offer a contemporary analysis on why the partnership between the United States and Australia has endured – viewed through the lenses of mutual trust, shared values, aligned vision, and mateship. Although this article has a military undertone, the principles discussed apply to all partnerships, including strategic relations. And no fundamental is more important than the first – mutual trust.
Trust is like air. You hardly notice it when it’s there, but when it isn’t, you know. As military professionals, the culture prescribes that soldiers trust one another to do their job effectively and professionally. The same is true for all partnerships. Timothy R. Clark, CEO of LeaderFactor said “Trust is essentially the predictive understanding of another's behaviour. The link between trust and psychological safety is based on my prediction of your behaviour based on your pattern of behaviour.” We cannot confidently predict a partner’s behaviour based on individual actions because it takes time to form an opinion based on their behavioural pattern; and the greater the challenge, the deeper the bonds of trust are engrained.
We cannot determine the degree of trust American and Australian troops shared prior to the Battle of Hamel, you could argue that it was circumstantial trust. But we can surmise that the foundations of trust were forged on both sides following the decisive victory. Shortly after the Battle of Hamel, at Bullecourt, a stretcher bearer, Sergeant Merritt D Cutler of the US 107th Regiment came across a devastating scene of dying and wounded soldiers in the open. Isolated and alone, he gained the attention of a couple of Australians moving towards the front. Sergeant Cutler asked for help, and one of the Australians replied: "Sure, Yank, we’ll go; we’re in this bloody thing together”. In the direst of circumstances, it is moments and stories like this that lay the foundations of trust at the lowest level.
Over 100 years later on 15 September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, formed a trilateral security alliance named AUKUS, demonstrating trust and confidence at the strategic level. This historic agreement will support Australia in acquiring and operating conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines to promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Naval nuclear propulsion is extremely sensitive, with the United States previously only sharing this information with the United Kingdom. The United States’ willingness to share highly sensitive information illustrates the trust United States has in Australia; and based on the actions of the United States over the past 100 years, the trust is mutual.
It is no secret that a lack of trust at any level will slowly corrode the foundations of any partnership or may prevent them coming to fruition. Sheila A. Smith, author of Intimate Rivals, notes that Japan-China relations are problematic because they simply do not trust each other. Both nations appreciate the economic benefits of working together, but their deep scepticism of each other’s ambitions in the region prevent them from cooperating. Trust will always be the most essential fundamental to any enduring partnership, but you must have shared values to reinforce trust.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist once said; “shared values can broadly be understood as shared world views”. This statement could not be more accurate when explored on the international stage. Without shared values a partnership is fractured from the outset and not even the most fostering or open-minded approach towards another’s values can steady the ship. Partners must have shared values, so each party has a similar view on right versus wrong, acceptable versus unacceptable. This is naturally subjective. As such, the ethical and moral pendulum often swings out of sync with the United States-Australia; as some societies and cultures have contrasting views of right versus wrong. That is why it is exceedingly difficult to nurture partnerships with opposing or vastly different sentiments. Values need not be identical between two parties to foster a successful collaboration, but the majority should be similar or complementary, and none should be in stark contrast.
A nation’s military reflects its society. The United States Army has seven values; the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has five. Four out of five ADF values are akin to the United States Army (Service/Courage/Respect/Integrity) with the fifth – Excellence – complementing the United States final three – Loyalty/Duty/Honour. You can draw many parallels with like-minded partnered nations; conversely, countries not considered allies or partners of the United States and Australia tend to have different or even opposing values.
We are at the dawn of a partnership between two-world powers, China and Russia. Many, including geopolitical researcher Ruby Osman, agree that “the foundations of the Sino-Russian relationship are first and foremost born of mutual interest, not from any sort of deeper natural affinity”. China’s societal values are harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, and filial piety. Russia’s societal values are: interests in community, justice, absence of individual freedom, the habit of emergent mass activity, wealth could not become a value, patience, suffering for the sake of the community, and the tendency to some higher transcendental sense. China’s values promote self-awareness and compassion for individuals, whereas Russia’s values promote sacrifice, even suffering, for the nation’s benefit. The day will come when China and Russia no longer have shared interests, and without a commonality in shared values, it is difficult to envisage a partnership that will endure unhinged. Shared values are critical to the United States and Australia’s partnership enduring beyond mutual interests; equally important, is an aligned vision.
If you do not know where you are going, how do you expect to get there? If the United States and Australia’s vision were not aligned, it would be unlikely our nations would stand together on the international stage and side by side in the trenches. So what is the shared vision of the United States and Australia? There are many topics in which we both share a vision, but without question, we both envisage a world free of tyranny and oppression. A world where one can voice their opinion or express and practice their beliefs without fear of retribution or retaliation. Sure, we are not entirely there, and we may never be. But over the past century, both nations have taken a quantum leap forward in what we envisage as the right direction on socio-political subjects such as racial discrimination, freedom of speech, religious persecution, women’s rights, and normalising one’s choice of gender identification and sexual orientation.
The sociological perspective shapes a nation’s vision, which evolves. To maintain an enduring partnership visions must remain aligned and evolve as societal expectations evolve. Failure to do so will fracture the foundations of any partnership.
Importantly, partnerships based on short-term mutual gains, and not built and developed upon a shared long-term vision, all too often fail. History has shown that once a mutual objective is achieved or indeed fails, partnerships built on mutual gains often erode. Look back to WW2, and you will see examples such as Italy-Germany; or the United States-Soviet Union. Both partnerships formed and cooperated for short-term mutual gains but lacked the shared vision to create an enduring partnership. A long-term aligned vision is essential to fostering an enduring partnership; it is the glue that holds it together. But all is for naught if you are not mates.
Mateship is a relationship similar to a friendship, but beyond. An unbreakable bond. This bond is fundamental to an enduring partnership. The origins of the term mateship are traced back to Australian convicts. So, what place does it have on the international stage? Mateship goes beyond friendship in that it embodies equality, loyalty, and respect – traits resident within the United States and Australian culture and identity.
If you are mates, it is implied that you have each other’s back. And we most certainly do. The United States and Australia have fought side by side in every major conflict for over a century. It is one of the longest alliances in modern history. This friendship forged on the battlefields of WWI, was the foundation for an enduring mateship. Colonel Spence of the US 117th Infantry Regiment believed that perceptions of American bravery and potential shaped Australian attitudes; American attitudes were similarly shaped by Australian efficiency and aggression on the battlefield. These sentiments – all too common at the end of WWI – illustrated the mutual respect which underpins mateship.
Furthermore, Lieutenant Kenneth Gow of the US 107th Infantry Regiment was fond of the Aussies and described them as "more like ourselves than any of the other allies". Having served with the United States Army and lived in the United States, I can personally attest that – although from opposite sides of the world – Americans and Australians are very alike. This, too, allows friendships and ultimately mateships to form naturally. The natural mateship exhibited between the United States and Australia will further develop and strengthen over the next hundred years as we become more connected, and it will continue to be a foundation of our enduring partnership.
Nations that base their partnership on mutual interests may succeed for a few years, or even a generation. But as the geopolitical world continues to evolve and shape a nation’s interests to contravene their partner’s interests, not even the most nurturing approach will endure if the partnership is void of the foundations discussed.
The partnership between the United States and Australia was forged in some of humanity’s darkest moments, but it has also prospered in peace. Our cultural affinity and shared values align with our vision. The trust between both nations allows for a unique mateship, which strengthens trust. These fundamentals will endure all obstacles as our countries continue to grow together, benefiting immeasurably from our cooperation and belief in a better world.
Founded in the ideal that together we are stronger, more robust, with open minds and hearts, we have learned from each other and leaned on each other. No one can determine what the future holds, but by nurturing these fundamentals, both nations will propel this tremendous and enduring partnership into the 22nd century and beyond.