Abstract

This article draws on previously classified Australian and British archival material to reevaluate Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's foreign policy. The article focuses on the Whitlam government's decision in 1973 to withdraw Australian forces from Malaysia and Singapore—a decision that constitutes a neglected but defining episode in the evolution of Australian postwar diplomacy. An analysis of this decision reveals the limits of Whitlam's attempt to redefine the conduct of Australian foreign policy from 1972 to 1975, a policy he saw as too heavily influenced by the Cold War. Focusing on Whitlam's approach to the Five Power Defence Arrangement, this article contends that far from being an adroit and skillful architect of Australian engagement with Asia, Whitlam irritated Australia's regional allies and complicated Australia's relations with its immediate neighbors. Australia's subsequent adjustment to its neighborhood was not the success story implied in the general histories of Australian diplomacy. Whitlam's policy toward Southeast Asia, far from being a “watershed” in foreign relations, as often assumed, left Australia increasingly isolated from its region and more reliant on its chief Cold War ally, the United States.

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