Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Why Rudd needs to attend Obama’s Nuke Summit

Via The Lowy’s Rory Medcalf, comes this possibility that Kevin Rudd may miss Obama’s mid April Nuclear Summit:

The US embassy in Canberra confirmed yesterday the invitation for Mr Rudd to attend the summit was still open, despite the Prime Minister’s office saying last month Mr Rudd could not attend as the timing clashed with plans to discuss health reforms with state premiers.
That meeting has since been rescheduled for later in April, giving Mr Rudd the chance to go to Washington. But his spokeswoman would only say yesterday that no decision had yet been made. It is believed Mr Rudd had been specially asked to speak at the meeting, expected to draw about 40 world leaders – including from Russia, France, Indonesia, Israel, India and Pakistan – for two days of talks beginning on April 12.

Rudd’s time is of course limited, especially in an election year. But 2010 is the most significant year in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in twenty years. Rudd’s presence is critical because of this historic role Australia has previously played, and because he has positioned his government as one enthusiastically continuing that role. In 2008, Rudd, along with the Japanese created the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. It’s report is now out, and has given a welcome boost to international momentum, including drawing support from many eminent Australians. This is an area where Australia has been a world leader, and almost without peer in seeking change. Until now that’s usually been in the face of opposition from the USA. In Obama however we have a US president who established his disarmament vision in Prague last year and is now trying to implement it via this summit; Obama is also bout to sign a new START disarmament treaty with the Russians (which has gained promising Republican support), and he has taken a big step in shifting the US towards a ‘no-first-use’ doctrine of nuclear weapons. Not co-incidentally, but perhaps most significantly, the new Non-Proliferation of New Weapons (NPT) renewal conference is in May this year. A successful result there, and we may well see most of the Short Term goals of the ICNND reached, 2 years early.

Rudd’s National Security Advisor Duncan Lewis told a Canberra crowd in February that Rudd was intending to attend the summit, however there is a slightly worrying pattern developing with Rudd: Plenty of creative, enthusiastic initiative, little sign of follow through. The ICNND report hasn’t seen too much positive support from the Australian Government since launch, Rudd’s Asia-Pacific community is a heap of ashes which staffers are trying to sort through hoping for anything re-usable, his claims to take Iran to the ICJ for denying the holocaust forgotten, his pursuit of Japan over whaling abandoned, and DFAT still lacks the necessary budget improvements needed for it to undertake the ‘creative middle power’ role Rudd envisioned in his National Security Statement.

Rudd deserves congratulations for his efforts to start and encourage debate, and initiatives in the fields of foreign policy and security. However, it’s also apparent he seems to prefer launching changes, rather than pursuing and ideally completing them. Hopefully he has learnt from Obama’s recent success on health care, and more locally from the career of John Howard, and noted how often sheer bloody-minded persistence is the prerequisite for change to occur (domestically the same pattern applies: when did he last really talk climate change?). Lets hope Rudd can clear out his schedule next week to make the summit, to keep Australia at the forefront as a leader of world opinion on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and see through the many worth efforts he has started. These may just be too-early-jitters about a first term government with much on its plate, but with so much at stake in 2010, this is easily as important to Australia’s national interests, and Rudd’s own place in history as picking up a few extra HOR seats come election day.

Update: This Foreign Policy article seems to suggest that Australia is attending, but Rudd won’t be getting any face time with Obama. Perhaps Smith is going instead. That could be good if it means Smith is to become the lead man as Bill Hayden and Gareth Evans did from their Foreign Affairs Ministries, but not if Smith is simply filling in for an absent Prime Minister.

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