The reasons for the Australian involvement in the Vietnam conflict are not difficult to understand. Australia’s foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s responded to what appeared to be the downward push of aggressive communism in South-East Asia and the need to meet these threats away from Australia. It was clear also that because the United States was involved in this war, Australia would support its great ally and friend. As Australia had assisted the United States in the Korean War so, too, it was prepared to become involved in the Vietnam War. The Menzies government, fearful of communism in Asia, saw any communist victory in South Vietnam as a threat to Australia. Given Australia’s military weakness and the potential danger from our nearest neighbor, the very unstable Indonesia, it was in Australia’s interests to commit the United States to Asia and the fight against communism.
As Britain withdrew from its world commitments, the Australian government saw the United States as the powerful Western nation to take its place. It was in Australia’s best interest for this to happen, and Australia’s role in Vietnam was motivated by this determination to keep the United States involved in Asia. Through diplomatic channels the Australian government encouraged the United States’ involvement in Vietnam and showed its good faith by sending troops as well. Compared with the size of the US force, the size of the Australian force was never great, and its military significance was slight. At the height of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, its troop level numbered only 8300, while the US troop level reached 720 000. What was important was Australia’s political support as an ally.
It fitted in with the concept of forward defence, and once again Australia had the support of a great and powerful ally. This time, however, the great and powerful friend was not Australia’s traditional ally Britain but a new ally, the United St..