Chasing the Norm

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

Tag: Australian Foreign Policy

Tony Abbot’s Foreign Policy Speech

Tony Abbott is a smart man, but he has something of the the optimists essential flaw of believing there is no trade off between outcomes for different policy options. In his book Battlelines he advocates free market economics and big spending social conservatism without ever noting that they could contradict. Likewise in his speech today for the Lowy Institute, he takes inspiration from the Howard government to argue that Australia should actively promote its values overseas, (and that this is intimately linked to our national security) however he then uses a standard realist framework to reject almost every action of the Keating & Rudd governments as a waste of resources in favour of utopian ideals.

Take this key quote early on in the speech:

There was the massive aid and relief effort to Indonesia in the wake of the East Asian tsunami. All of these were evidence of Australia‟s determination to be a force for good in the wider world and resolve not to leave to others the high task of working for the betterment of mankind wherever we could lend a helping hand….The Howard Government appreciated that Australia‟s national interest could not be pursued oblivious to the big issues of the wider world. It understood, as I‟m sure the Rudd Government does too, that Australia has a clear interest in advancing freedom and decency and in eradicating poverty. One country can hardly transform the planet but, especially in our immediate region, we have a particular obligation to conduct our national security policies consistently with our values. Australia‟s recent work in East Timor not only exemplifies this approach but also illustrates how perceptions of our international role have changed. This would have been a mission inconceivable in the period from Whitlam to Keating, when we were much more equivocal about standing up for our values on the global stage.

While there was a rhetorical shift from the late 1990’s where the Howard Government talked of selling Australian values, while the Keating Government talked about supporting universal values (that were not coincidently also Australian values), at a more fundamental level Abbott’s statement is hard to justify. Leaving East Timor aside for the moment, the previous Hawke-Keating government was consistently attacked by the Coalition for spending too much time promoting “values” overseas, rather than focusing on core national security. The Hawk-Keating Government made the promotion of Australian values central to its foreign policy. It secured restrictions on chemical weapons, launched a major anti-nuclear proliferation campaign, played a fundamental role in the resolution of a peaceful, and eventually democratic government in Cambodia, developed Cairns and APEC to promote free trade, lead & achieved a ban on mining in Antarctica, and Hawke played a big role in getting the Commonwealth to act to overturn apartheid in South Africa. Phew! No wonder Howard came to office promising a ‘relaxed and comfortable’ style of government in response.

So then is Abbott suggesting these acts were not supporting Australian values? While he is clearly trying to be bipartisan in including Fraser in his attack, his comments seem less about partisanship than simply not knowing/ommitting the history. As an aside all the examples he praises seem to involve military troops at work, are they the only tool Australia can use to promote it’s values?. Though quickly after the above quote there is also the equivocation by Abbott that (when speaking about Iraq & Afghanistan) “In neither intervention was Australia seeking to “export democracy” although the removal of abhorrent regimes necessitated the establishment of freer and fairer societies. So was Howard creating a new tradition of activism to support Australian values or was he following a traditional Australian realist path ?(As for East Timor, Howard did the right thing when the opportunity came to promote an independent East Timor arose after Suharto left power in 1998. Before then he followed the same path as his predecessors, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke & Keating. Australia reacted to help secure East Timor’s independence, it is flat out wrong to suggest we initiated their independence.)

Yet despite this priority in favour of values, Abbott takes a standard realist line when it comes to Rudd’s activism:

it‟s hard to see much taxpayer value in the Rudd Government‟s anti-nuclear and Security Council membership campaigns. Over this year and next, the Government is spending $9.2 million to promote nuclear disarmament, much of which will be spent on the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) which Mr Rudd set up in 2008. Of course, anything Gareth Evans and his fellow Commission members could do to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea would be welcome. That prospect, though, seems unlikely and, meanwhile, the Commission uses taxpayer dollars to promote the improbable notion of a world free of nuclear weapons. It‟s largely a replay of the Keating Government‟s futile Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. A Coalition government would re-consider whether this body makes any useful contribution to Australia‟s non-proliferation objectives.

Abbott’s last sentence “Australia’s non-proliferation objectives” seem an endorsement of the goal, but he regards the Canberra Commission as futile and the new ICNND little better. Yet Australia really doesn’t have many other good options if it is to actually pursue such an objective. Abbott shouldn’t be expected to have read the ICNND (I havn’t fully!), but his Foreign Minister & advisors ought to know that the idea of a nuclear free world is a very minor part of a report whose main focus is on action in 2010 and through till 2020. Likewise Abbott correctly notes that the Howard Government, like Rudd today, made a bid for a UN seat (he deserves brownie points for leaving this in) however he derides it as “all for an uncertain purpose other than a nebulous sense of temporarily enhanced international status”. Surely if Australia is to ensure we are not “oblivious to the big issues of the wider world” and going to link our national security interests with our values a UN seat is a valuable opportunity to do so.

While the opposition is unlikely to try and use foreign policy as part of their election campaign, there are two differences between Rudd & Abbott where I think Abbott has the better position: First Abbott should be applauded for calling for the Rudd government to increase its troops in Afghanistan if only to take responsibility for our own security in the Oruzgan province. Secondly, Abbott rightly chides the Rudd government for its refusal to sell uranium to India. Though this is offput by the claim that: ‘The Obama Government in America has accepted that India could not sign the NPT (because it possesses nuclear weapons)’. In fact all five security council nuclear states, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China, have signed the NPT. Possessing nuclear weapons doesn’t prevent you signing, but rather not accepting the verification & audit process. Still Abbott should be applauded as India is a careful, non-proliferating country and selling uranium to India is not only good business, but will help patch over an important but troubled relationship between our two countries.

As The Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen notes, this was a ‘safe’ speech which seemed largely dedicated to defending the Howard government. Very rarely did Abbott venture to say how a Coalition government would do things differently to Rudd, and where he did, it was entirely in line with Howard’s previous choices. Pleasantly this seems to have lent the speech a positive tone (at least in the reading), with Abbott almost unwilling to criticize Rudd. Certainly the harsher lines of his foreign affairs ministers were absent. And to his great credit, he actually tackled foreign policy issues, instead of just using the speech to talk about boat people (as happened while Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was present in the House of Representatives).

It’s great to see Abbott finally talking about foreign policy and security issues, and I recommend everyone interested takes the few minutes to read it in full. But you can sense his discomfort with some of the material, and the inherent contradiction between wanting an Australia that involves itself in global issues and promotes its values, while denigrating anything that goes beyond a cautious realist framework is never addressed. Like Howard in 1995 or George Bush in 2000, you can win office without a strong background in foreign policy, but both men quickly appointed expert advisors to help them through it. That act of delegation, rather than knowing the unner details of the NPT treaty will be the real test of Abbott’s leadership in foreign policy in the lead up to the 2010 election.

Update: Peter Hartcher stresses that now both parties are committed to promoting values ie norm entrepreneurship, while Danniel Flitton argues Abbott’s talk of an anglosphere is outdated and presents a false choice between bilateral and multilateral ties.

What is the Coalition’s foreign policy?

There is a good piece in this mornings Canberra Times (no online copy) by the up & coming Australian academic Carl Ungerer arguing that the debate about foreign policy has effectively been forgotten, with even the arguments about boat people reduced to simply questions of Australian control, without international or regional reference.

Ungerer lays much of the blame for this at the feet of the Liberal Party, and it’s a fair cop. A look at the National Security page on the Liberal party homepage is almost exclusively focused on immigration and border protection (against migrants). Likewise when the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke before the Australian Parliament, the only topic the leader of the Opposition raised was that of asylum seekers. Obviously Indonesia is critical to that question, but issues such as when Indonesia will pass laws criminalising people smuggling (as the Howard government convinced much of the region to do in 2002-2006) were entirely absent.

The media must also wear some blame, given the way they let economics crowd out all other issues. Economics is critical, but every Australian government since time immemorial has said national security is the primary role of government.

While a February Newspoll showed that the Rudd government was slightly behind on national security, the latest Essential Report (PDF) presents a very different story) when people are asked specifically about foreign policy (H/T Crikey):

The Prime Minister scores strongly in terms of approval of his handling of foreign relations, with 50% approving and 32% disapproving, although the result tends to follow party lines. Labor also holds a strong lead (41-27%) over the Coalition in terms of who is trusted more on handling foreign affairs, with 22% saying no difference — suggesting the Howard Government’s strong record on foreign relations and national security has faded from memory…. Voters’ responses on individual countries also suggests why the Government has developed a strong reputation on foreign affairs. Asked how important relations with a number of countries were, 59% said close relations with the United States were very important, 56% said New Zealand and 51% said China. While the Rudd Government has had difficulties in its relationship with Beijing, it has also been associated with increased Chinese investment and the Prime Minister’s personal connections with the country. Rudd also quickly established a good relationship with President Obama, especially through the GFC and the establishment of the G20 as the primary international economic grouping.Moreover, 33% of voters actually want Australia to have a closer relationship with China

One explanation for this shift may be the loss of Malcolm Turnbull who had a much more worldly image than the more parochial Abbott, but primarily it seems the mere fact Rudd brings both experience and gets to daily implement foreign policy (even if commentators are only giving him about a B+), along with the noted gap in interest let alone policy by the opposition which have lead to this clear result. Labor will also be hoping that with Fitzgibbon’s resignation from Defence fading, and recent changes to slow the influx of boat people will further cement their dominance.

The only really odd part is that with such dominance and the coalition showing no ability to fight back, why isn’t Rudd doing even more to attack the coalition on such issues. Obviously he ought not go as far as Keating did to Howard in 1996 by claiming Asia wont work with Abbott, but he can suggest that only he would be able to extract the most benefit for Australia from our regional links due to his stronger knowledge of the region.

Meanwhile, Rudd is far from bulletproof on this. He hasn’t -yet-dedicated the resources to the role he has endorsed for Australia as a ‘creative middle power’, and his goals sometimes clash, His desire to stop whaling has hurt the relationship with the Japanese, which is crucial to help his vision of a new Asia Pacific Community; meanwhile his relationship with China is even harder due to his attempt to earn a UN seat. These are worthy goals, but his overall competence could be challenged. Let’s hope Abbott & Bishops policy boffins are paying attention and writing a policy displaying at least some level of overall strategic thought to deliver prior to the election (And with the highly capable former International Relations academic Senator Russel Trood in their ranks its a crime the Coalition has been so woeful and quiet on foreign policy issues). But they’ll need to hurry as time is surely running out and public perceptions solidifying.

Making an impact: Middle Powers #1

A key focus of my PhD is on the topic of middle powers, so over a few topics I want to explore the concept and how it relates to Australia.

The concept of ‘middle power’ countries is as old as the middle ages, yet there still arn’t any clear definitions other than playing on the concept of ‘middle’ as in not great and not small. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the term was made popular by both academics and politicians. Academics noted that middle could refer to economic/population size, geographic size or location (such as position between two great powers). Another option was the slightly tautological choice of those countries who didn’t have the physical resources to demand leadership yet still managed to insert themselves into international affairs as significant players (tautological because its a self-selected role, with no clear requirements).

Australia, (along with canada, brazil, israel and india) has been consistently identified as a middle power, going back as far as the 1940’s. The Hawke/Keating government strongly endorsed such an idea. Being a middle power to them seemed to express a significance of power to Australia that could be achieved in spite of our lack of economic/military/material power. The Howard government ridiculed this approach and whilst occasionally using the term sought out slight synonyms such as a “considerable power” whose status as 6th largest in land mass makes us important. But this was a minor debate, largely ignored and inspired by a petty anti-intellectual attack of the howard government on the Keating government’s foundations.

Yet such sideline intellectual spats have a real-world significance. The Rudd government has picked up the term in its documents and self-identification, and scholars have respond. Scholarship on the term middle powers peaked in the early 1990s and has largely ceased since 2000. (save Ping 2004 on south east asia). What’s more while the politicians don’t read such papers, their advisors and the media occasionally do, leading to language such as Tony Abbott’s last week:

Mr Abbott attacked Mr Rudd’s belief he may have been able to influence the outcome of an agreement struck at Copenhagen. ”I think that it was always a great conceit to think that Australia could save the world on its own,” he said.

”The Australian voice should be heard in the world but I think it’s wrong for people like Mr Rudd to imagine that they can be much more than the mouse that roared.”

This is a logical outcome of the Howard Governments abandonment of the term middle power. Yet instead of it leading to a ‘realist’ assessment of Australia’s status, in the hands of Abbott, it seems a requirement to cower and hide our laurels. That Australia ought to recognise and keep to its place in the world in a ‘mouse’ like response to the giants wandering above. Such sentiments are similarly found out on the libertarian fringes of the Aus blogosphere over at catalaxyfiles:

Our Prime Minister has returned from Copenhagen, triumphant in having performed his role as Friend of the Chair at COP15 to almost universal acclaim… Admittedly, the Conference achieved nothing much of substance but we know that the Prime Minister will have done his duty with distinction. Without him it would probably have achieved nothing at all…..
Remember when the Keating government produced a series of policy pronouncements called things like “Working Nation” and “Creative Nation”? My guess is that the Prime Minister might be motivated to add to these with “Good Nation”: a plan to make our country Good, in fact to become the Goodest nation in the world. He will have been inspired by the feeling he got in Copenhagen when a grateful meeting greeted his arrival with a standing ovation: “You are the only one who can rescue this” they cried.

Yet both these responses beg the question : What is the alternative?

Take Copenhagen. It certainly didn’t deliver the response which Australia wanted. But take a look at those countries who were in the final critical meeting: USA, China, India, Brazil, South Africa. Of these countries, only South Africa has a lower GDP, and that liut excludes 10 countries with bigger economies than Australia (and thats including all EU countries as one). So what should Rudd have done instead ? Reticence? Apathy? Denialism (as some of Abbott’s colleagues would have us do) Though he has not the courage nor conviction to take a clear stand on the issue.

What other approach than Rudd’s creative middle power diplomacy would have earned Australia a significant role at the Copenhagen conference? We may not have been at the final meeting, but Rudd and Wong had significant roles both before (as close advisors to US president Barack Obama) and at the conference as friends of the chair and leaders of a country respected for its actions on combating climate change.

Wait. I tell a lie. Had Australia passed its CPRS legislation it would have been a developed country who had committed to wear the economic cost to ensure protection of the environment, yet instead thanks to Abbott’s reticence, the critical bargaining chip that Australia had to play: our ideological commitment was denied to the rudd government for nothing more than a short term partisan black eye by the opposition.

While Downer in 2003 tried to claim that labor was an isolationist party that undermined Australian strength with it’s label of middle power, it’s the conservatives who more often seem to underestimate the position and power of this country. While the support for the USA as a great protector is straight out of a realist IR theory playbook, the unwillingness to challenge any elements within the relationship, and the general reticence or interest in international affairs is a common feature of conservatives in Australia. It was not until the events of East Timor that the Howard Government gained the self-confidence to seriously engage with the Asia-Pacific. It’s first years were halting and unsure, a far cry from the end of the Keating years under Evans, and even Rudd’s confident first term. Realism as a theory of International relations plays a critical role in ensuring countries protect their own survival first, but its rigid hierarchies can lead to countries forgoing opportunities for increasing their wealth or status, roles that can eventually increase their chance of survival.

None of this proves the worth of a middle power concept or a country taking on such a role. But it is a worthwhile starting point noting that the main criticisms of the concept of ‘middle power’ countries are either based around (consciously or not)denigrating the country as a ‘mouse’ in world affairs -whilst denying it useful bargaining chips-, or attacks that simply to mock the idea that anything but powerful a-moral strategies can work in international politics. They are shallow and partisan, and none actually engage the real question of how much influence a country like Australia an have in world affairs.

Next week, I want to engage the views of serious academic commentators such as Hugh White and others on the topic of Middle powers, but given this is Boxing day, it seems a fitting time to throw the first punch in rejuvenating the concept at an academic and public level.

Can Australia play a meaningful role in nuclear disarmament? Pt 1

Water+nuclear+bomb+-+by+AlifaanTomorrow, December 15th, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be in Japan with his counterpart to launch the new report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament(ICNND). Co-Chaired by Former Keating Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, this report is Rudd’s first (and perhaps biggest) shot at making Australia a key player in ending the proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and planning for their eventual disarmament.

Once the report is out, I’ll do an assessment of Rudd’s approach, but for the time being I want to quickly look at the Hawke and Keating Governments actions on Nuclear Weapons and how they should inform Rudd’s actions.

While the Hawke Government was significantly concerned about the issue of nuclear weapons, it’s power to achieve any change during the cold war was obviously limited (Although this was a period of significant disarmament successes). Instead it set about addressing issues like Chemical Weapons, via a range of non-politicised conferences and workshops, building a coalition of major chemical exporting states, and extensive engagement with expert advisors who could both run the education campaigns, and bring the chemical industry onside for aiding negotiations and export controls. The Hawke Government also managed to sign the Treaty of Rarotonga, or South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, an approach that has been replicated in Asia, Africa and Central-Asia. Interestingly domestic concern over nuclear weapons peaked during this period (such as the Nuclear Disarmament Party lead by future ALP minister Peter Garrett), however it was largely dismissed by the Government who wanted to continue supporting Americas nuclear shield and related alliance issues.

The Keating Government came to power with the end of the Cold War imminent, unleashing ‘unprecedented and possibly unrepeatable opportunity’ for change in the eyes of Paul Keating. It continued the Hawke governments desire for Australian involvement in stopping the flow of nuclear weapons and disarmament, however there was a more conscious question of identity involved in the governments actions. Keating & Evans wanted Australia to ‘be and be seen to be a good international citizen’, and no cause was more clearly in line with this than preventing the development, testing, sale or use of nuclear weapons. However in 1995 when the French announced a series of Atomic Tests at Mururoa Atoll in the pacific the government suddenly had to make good on its nice sounding words. The actions of the French outraged the Australian population, and little the government did seemed to satisfy the public. In part prompted by recent events, the Keating Government set up the Canberra Commission to report on the elimination of Nuclear Weapons, which the Coalition reluctantly pledged to support if they won office.

While waiting for the report, the Keating Government also participated in an International Court of Justice case on the legality of Nuclear weapons. Represented by Foreign Minister Gareth Evans Q.C, Australia argued that it is ‘illegal not only to use or threaten use of nuclear weapons, but to acquire, develop, test or possess them’. (Evans however, like Hawke before him was careful to argue that any views Australia had should not be taken as offering commentary on the alliance with the nuclear armed USA). The court was not quite persuaded, and in a split decision held that ‘the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law’. However they could not rule on the legality of their use as a tool of survival or self-defense. Little was expected from the case (the Nuclear Weapons powers states would ignore even a unanimous decision against them), but it showed the range of arenas in which the government was willing to act to push their case.

The voters had other issues on their mind and in March 1996 Keating and Evan’s were tossed from office, and the Canberra Commission report emerged into the arms of a very reluctant step-father. The new foreign minister Alexander Downer went through the motions launching the report and taking it to the Convention on Disarmament in 1997, but without strong Australian backing, it was hard for other countries to get excited.

However – The Canberra Commission report of 1996 is still one of the pre-eminent documents on addressing the question of nuclear weapons ever produced. In the coming years it received strong support from India, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Austria, Sweden and Brazil. To the Nuclear Weapons states, it offered a pragmatic and sensible recognition of their core security needs, to the non-nuclear weapons states it offered a clear draft with viable steps for taking action. The Canberra Commission centered around three main proposals: a cut-off convention; no-first-use agreements; and support for nuclear weapons free zones. Unfortunately without any significant Australian government support the effort spluttered out of energy, and the Clinton Administration, having previously embraced the new found optimism of the post-cold war period was distracted by domestic issues. Still, a look at any of the major commentary on nuclear weapon control and disarmament will show you finger prints of the Canberra commission.

Finally, while the Howard Government effectively ignored their predecessors efforts to eliminate or even reduce nuclear weapons (except in the case of nuclear terrorism), they did recognise one asset in the effort which this country has above all others: Uranium deposits. While Labors internal debate prevents any real use of this resource (even under Rudd), the Howard government realised the role which Australia as a leading world supplier of Uranium could play in both controlling and influencing the way in which nuclear weapons and nuclear power was developed in the world. While still early days, (even they ran into significant domestic complaint), this is an asset which gives Australia a unique strength amongst the many other middle power countries who want to see an end to nuclear weapons. As yet, we have not had either an opportunity to exploit this resource diplomatically, or a government with enough popular support in the area to do so, but it remains a valuable potential.

In re-starting Australia’s efforts towards nuclear disarmament, Rudd showed his strong desire to learn from the Hawke-Keating governments in choosing Gareth Evans to Co-Chair the commission (along with Japans former foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi). But as this quick survey shows, it needs to go beyond just Evans. Having studied some of this for a chapter in my PhD, it seems clear that the following requirements of Australia’s promotional effort will have to be in place:

1) The report has to be pragmatic and offer concrete suggestions.
2) It has to bring both Nuclear and Non-Nuclear weapons states along and recognise the different needs of both.
3) The further it can be de-politicised the better. Involving experts (again linked to suggestion 1) is critical to credibility and making it an issue of management and specifics, rather than grand empty principles.
4) The continued activity of the Australian government to push this will be critical. While few doubt the energy of Rudd 24/7, this is something where he may,perhaps, just, see initial results for in his final term. Continued pressure rather than once off launches are key (and why is it being launched during Copenhagen & at the end of the year??)
5) The Labor party will need to resolve division on uranium and seek ways to strategically exploit this resource, or at least let other countries know we could.
6) The US alliance and nuclear shield for Australia somewhat demonstrates Australia’s hypocrisy, however, and this is a big however, our clear understanding of the security needs of nuclear weapons states gives us an increased credibility. Important to all this will be the views and actions of Barack Obama and perhaps even moreso the US Congress. Obama gave a great speech in Prague, but unless he can convince skeptical conservative democrats like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson and sees changes to the destructive minority veto of the filibuster, all his support in the world wont see political change. Australia needs to stay in the alliance, and ahead of the US helping to guide its path along, without getting so far away that Obama can’t see our lights.

So, cautiously, we can say that Australia already has a strong reputation as a country that is both serious and committed to address the proliferation and disarmament of nuclear weapons. A serious effort by Rudd, building on this success could return momentum to a path that stalled in the 1980’s & 1990’s. To do that, we need to lead with experts rather than politicians, be relentlessly pragmatic, and maintain a determination to keep at it for as long as it takes.

Later in the week, once i’ve digested the new ICNND report, I’ll come back and discuss how Rudd’s doing on that score.

Why we need to forget WW2

This is a rather unique use of the far-too-commonly invoked analogy of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to modern times:

The [proposed WA] legislation would allow police to search people for weapons and drugs in areas such as Northbridge without having to prove grounds of suspicion.
Last night Liberal backbencher Peter Abetz spoke in support of the legislation and used the example of Hitler.
He said the dictator gained support because he provided people security in a time of anarchy.
“When it comes to the crunch, people prefer to be safe than to have freedom,” he said

I didn’t want to post this on the 11th, as it is important that every society set aside at least one day (Australia also has ANZAC day) where they pause to remember and honour those who served their country. Whether they spent only a few months on the home front, or years if not the last moments of their life in the horrors of battle, we owe it to them and to those in uniform today to do so. If anything this was made even more poignant by the senseless murder of 13 US servicemen by a man whose day job was to heal their wounds. This November 11th marks 64 years since WW2, a fight which is the most wrongly but commonly invoked analogy in western political dialogue and political thinking, and one we urgently need to move on from.

Comparing current events to The Nazification of Germany, the appeasement of Hitler, and of course the horror of the Holocaust is the nuclear option of public discourse in the west (especially the Anglo-sphere). But more than just odiously affecting our dialog, and dividing us internally, it affects our strategic thinking, putting us at risk externally. Since the turn of the century, there have been four major comparisons of current events with Hitler’s Germany, all factually inaccurate, and all to the greater harm of the society.

1) Bush is like Hitler in pushing the Patriot Act in response to 9/11

Unlike the Reichstag fire, 9/11 most certainly wasn’t an inside job. Terrorism was a very real and still present threat to the USA. Similar legislation to the Patriot Act was introduced in many other Western states around the world, though even that didn’t prevent terrorist attacks in Madrid and London. Bush’s acts were certainly invasive and the argument can be strongly made that it was an over-reaction, but it was a legitimate response to help protect his society. Something that has evidently worked in that there have not been any terrorist attacks inside the USA since 9/11. The left instantly delegitimised itself by making the analogy and destroyed it’s capacity to sensibly contribute to and moderate the legislation.

Net effect = Less political influence, stronger public support for measures they rejected. Legislation is still in place.

2) Iraq/Iran is akain to Nazi Germany and ought not to be appeased.

While Bush was the victim of a false the Nazi analogy in early 2002, he was quick to invoke it against his enemies by late 2002/2003 as he lead the Coalition of the Willing to invade Iraq. Any and all who opposed, in the US, UK, Australia, and especially France and Germany were seen as akin to appeasing Hitler in their rejection of removing Saddam Hussein. Saddam was just as odious personally as Adolf, and terrorised Iraqi society, but Hitler in 1939 was a threat because of the strength of the German army. WMD or no WMD, Hussein was a contained threat. Strategically invading Iraq was a massive blunder, wasting blood and treasure for almost no comparative security benefit to the major coalition partners.
In this case, the desire to positively emulate WW2 (in playing Churchill and correctly foreseeing looming threats) was as, if not more damaging than the negative comparison, of our enemies to Hitler. This is the ultimate problem with the analogy to WW2. It can not be made positively, or negatively with good sense these days.
The more recent, though far more low key comparisons of Iran to Germany in 1939 have largely been dismissed because of the failure of the Iraqi comparison, but they refuse to go away. (Or perhaps it’s due to the fact Iran has 1/68th of the army of the US). The rhetoric used against opponents of the war (or proposed action on Iran) is ugly, however the way the comparison has damaged and perverted the way the premier military nation in the world, and defender of the west conducts itself is inexcusable.

Net Effect = 4300 dead US soldiers in Iraq (with another 300 of allies, and 50-100’000 Iraqis), and about $1 Trillion spent, with more to come. The US has wasted its perceived unipolar moment, and is very restricted in the future conduct of its troops against threats such as Iran/North Korea, and the larger strategic game of China/Russia et all.

3) Climate Change Deniers are akain to Holocaust Deniers

This comparison has popped up in recent months, including by authors I previously respected. Even if the worst-case scenarios for Climate Change are true, they do not in any way mirror the insidious nature of the Holocaust. One deliberate, the other unexpected (with those responsible now attempting to solve it). One was industrialized and clinical, the other natural and unpredictable. One has happened, the other yet to, with a possibility of preventing the harm without actually stopping the problem.

Worse, given that there already are perceptions that the horror and trouble of Climate Change has been overplayed, the decision to deploy the most strident possible denunciation possible at this time has simply re-enforced the perception advocates were not driven by the science but other unrelated factors. The effect of such a claim has not persuaded anyone to change their view, and divided the two camps, re-enforcing the energy of denialists who see this as one-more-battle.This analogy unfortunately is going to be rolled out more and more in the future. It’s bad rhetoric, bad history, and divides our society right at the time it needs to pull together to address this serious issue.

Net Effect = Nothing yet, but if (and perhaps when) Copenhagen fails to reach agreement, and cap & trade systems falter in the legislature in the UK, USA and Australia, it will be in part because supporters hyperbole managed to destroy the good will of many cautious supporters who would have given bipartisan support to this policy.

4) Obama introducing Healthcare is akain to the Nazification of Germany.

This is perhaps the most laughable of them all. The Nazi party despised the idea of social welfare, taking a strictly Social Darwinists approach to society. Hitler’s Mein Kampf demonises charity and philanthropy as evils to be eliminated for a stronger Germany. Political fixes to maintain their domestic control were of course introduced, largely along the lines of what the Weimar Republic had pursued. The party may have been named the National Socialists, but actual Socialists and communists were amongst the chief enemies of the Nazis (which is why many conservatives in the west liked Hitler). These comparisons between Obamacare and Hitler have been made by media figures, congressmen, culminating in this odious picture at a recent event, which has fortunately been rejected by at least some in the Republican caucus.

Net Effect = As I noted a few weeks ago, the debate on Healthcare turned in Democrats favour in August when Conservatives were actually at their loudest in demonising the proposal at town halls. The legislation should hopefully pass (though will be a weak compromise), but the effect has not been limited to health care. The willingness to deploy the analogy in relation to healthcare has spread to other issues as well, damaging the political fabric of the US’s democratic system. Good will has been utterly destroyed between the parties, the dialog debased, and the people cynically turned into service by people whose motives are more personal gain than anything else.


I was going to quote Churchill’s great line that the people of the Balkan’s had “more history than they could consume”. But such is the effect of Churchill on our western psyche that its even easy to bring to mind quotes of him to say we shouldn’t listen to him anymore! That we shouldn’t memoralise and hero-worship the west’s victory, or demonise modern enemies as like those he faced. As an avid reader of history I know no better source of personal development than reading history books, and yet every generation also deserves the chance to forget what has come before so it may remake and explore new potentials. If history’s lessons were never breakable we would never had had the rise of the church, nor that of the nation-state, nor international organisations. Each of these changes occurred through the acts of a generation that was willing to deliberately ignore the lessons of the past and push for a new future

It’s time to honour, and for the good of those involved, and those yet to come, return WW2 to the history books.

Picture by peterme used under a Creative Commons Licence

Book Review: The March of Patriots by Paul Kelly

The March of Patriots: The Struggle for Modern Australia by Paul Kelly Melbourne:Melbourne University Press $69.95 rrp
I had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Paul Kelly tonight on his book and Australian politics, so I figured this was a good incentive to polish off my review of his book which I promised over a month ago. His speech was largely a re-emphasis of the books main argument, or defence of some of its views, but where relevant I’ll add in his updated thoughts, indicated with a *.

One of the hardest tasks for writers of politics is to see how close you can get to normal events, whilst producing something substantial. Journalists are used to having most of their work quickly forgotten and in that temporariness, can find a freedom to formulate and re-formulate how they see the world. But for those producing something longer, a book, a thesis, there is an expectation that you can both obtain enough distance to properly observe an event and its characters, and still getting it out before the public demand for insight fades. In his earlier book ‘The End of Certainty’ Kelly charted the economic reforms of the Hawke/Keating Government, and yet his best formulation was not what they did, but defining what they removed via the concept of an ‘Australian Settlement’. Kelly’s latest idea is that Keating and Howard are best seen as Australian patriots, whose similarities are greater than their differences. Unfortunately its not quite so catchy, and his colleague George Megalogenis got there first with ‘The Longest Decade’ (and arguably proved the similarity thesis better).

Given Kelly’s conservatism, it is remarkable that this is actually his first book on the conservative side of politics. Despite the joint images on the title, Kelly devotes around 1/3 or 225 pages to Keating’s 5 years, and 2/3’s or 400 pages to Howard’s first 5 years, promising a second volume to come covering 2001-2007. The numbers give a fair ratio of his biases. Where Howard and Keating overlap on economics he is broadly supportive, even downright impressed by Keating’s bravery and genius, likewise on Asian Engagement as a Foreign Policy objective. Where they differ, on nationalism, culture, war, Kelly comes down firmly on Howard’s side. While there are already a number of books on Howard, the March of Patriots is going to become a cornerstone for interpreting the administration.

In Howard, Kelly sees four key impulses at work (1) Economic Liberalism, (2) Social Conservatism (3) Cultural Traditionalism (4) National Security vigilance. The first two are common wisdom, and the latter easily discernible though usefully brought together here. I’m less convinced by his claim that Howard isn’t a neo-liberal. There is of course a difference between rhetoric and policy, but given that Kelly awards the term of Cultural traditionalist to Howard whilst admitting his policy achievements in this area are ‘threadbare’*, it seems odd that he ignores so much of the rhetorical trend towards free-marketeerism under Howard. Indeed Kelly has said he deliberately ignored a lot of the politics so as to focus on the policy/governance issues, but both are significant to understand a governments thoughts. The Howard government relentlessly sold the idea that the unhindered market was the best way to run economic policy, and its occasional reticence (such as with banking or communications regulation) or their popularism (middle class welfare) doesn’t necessarily prove otherwise. In private Kelly argues Howard and Costello rejected the self-correcting market theory, which is largely true of the legislation that passed (via an a largely hostile senate) but had Howard enjoyed Senate control at the beginning of his government, not its tired final term, history’s judgement may have been very different.

In terms of foreign policy, Kelly makes a far bolder claim in both book and person that Howard “pioneered the idea of Australia as a regional leader”*. This is an interesting claim, in that Australians have always been reticent about claiming that Australia could lead this region. We have a profoundly different culture, history, background and way of life. Kelly points to the case of E.Timor as the first time Australia took the lead in a military role. However this downplays Australia’s role in creating APEC, encouraging the Cambodian peacekeeping, and advocacy on preventing WMD non-proliferation in the region. The Australian Government may have titled the policy as ‘Engagement’ but to my mind, it was an unabashed effort at positioning for and achieving regional leadership, under a much more PR friendly label. To grant Howard the credit seems to miss the critical set-up work that he inherited (though Kelly quotes Downer and others stressing the critical importance of Hawke/Keating’s creation of APEC to achieving success in E.Timor) The Foreign policy story is also incomplete, with the book ending at the unfortunate pivot point of 2001, which marks the end of the major economic policies, but fits half way between the big changes in Foreign Policy. For that I guess we will just have to wait…

Kelly’s book is in some ways hard to criticize. He lives up to his pledge* to focus on policy issues over the politics. His central thesis that Keating and Howard were both focused on restoring Australian patriotism, and had more in common than divided them/suited their parties to acknowledge is eminently defendable. But this insiders tale, with immaculate access to the powerful, also feels somewhat hollow. Kelly doesn’t manage to capture or even attempt to define the anger or resentment many in the public felt towards Howard. But you can’t understand Howard and Keating’s story without understanding the often ambivalent, sometimes hostile public reaction to them. Both men were loved within their tribes, hated by the other, and often polarised most of the public at various times of their leadership. Kelly perhaps rightly knows his argument that what unites them is more important is controversial, however it is notable how little popular sentiment seems to be considered, and his almost outright dismissal for their being any legitimate base of anger at Howard from the left. This is a sin by omission rather than fault, and one not unique to his book, but I think significant to understand the environment Keating and Howard were operating in. In fact even if limited to Howard, this would have been a big improvement (and given Kelly’s previous work on Keating and the proliferation of books on his government, this may have been better served as a book solely on Howard over his entire administration.)

Kelly is for better or worse Australia’s Bob Woodward (who traded in his watergate credentials for a white house all-access-pass). This insider status grants amazing access to the powerful, with often revealing interviews. These interviews let the major players speak for themselves, sometimes even hang themselves with their own claims, but it’s traded for a very conventional level of analysis. Indeed Kelly’s book screams conventional in its analysis, a thought only tempered by the knowledge that it was probably Kelly who set the common wisdom which everyone else has come to endorse. Where he speaks or acts, the press typically follows. For political junkies and close followers, Kelly’s book is a must read. There is not much that is brand new, but the book is very well researched, organised and its focus on policy over politics a welcome change, whilst in an very readable format.

Rudd the Global Architect

In coming to office, Kevin Rudd is perhaps the most foreign policy focused PM since Gough Whitlam (Fraser had some good pet issues but wasn’t otherwise interested). Circumstances however have dictated that he has spent most of his Prime Ministership focusing on Economic issues, and he has published two essays on the issue. Thanks to The Age newspaper we now however have his essay on Foreign Policy, having been rejected in March by the journal Foreign Affairs. Given the timing it is of course heavily focused on the economic challenges of the international arena, but it also gives us some key insights into the Prime Ministers world view.
While the popular press has tended to focus on Rudd’s views on China and the USA, foreign policy scholars have been more interested in his support for regional and international institutions. Writing of the ‘inadequate’ response of global institutions Rudd warns in the essay that this may turn into a ‘crisis of government itself if political constituencies conclude their national political institutions are impotent’. To address this he calls for the urgent renovation of the global architecture. The full piece is worth a read (though the writing is easily mocked, and has a halting style, it is quite readable).

Rudd strongly supports international institutions, but he also clearly knows the risk posed in proposing more of them. We already seem to suffer an over abundance of them, and he contrasts the realist support for pure national sovereignty, to an idealist one advocating “unelected multilateral institutions staffed with wise men and women who, by some mystic process detected from real politics, will divine and deliver some form of the Platonic ‘good’ for us all”. It’s a cheap straw man for someone who does actually believe in expanding international institutions, but also shows his fear of being labelled an idealist/world government advocate. But he makes good on his scepticism and proposes only the encouragement of a ‘driving center’ mission for the G-20. This hasn’t quite been taken up, but having helped escape the worst of the GFC, we will likely see an enhanced role and prestige for it.

Australia has a pretty good record as an advocate of regional and international architecture, being a dynamic small power in the early days of the UN, fathering APEC, regular participation in other regional bodies, and even developing more informal groups like the Cairns group for trade negotiations. Rudd clearly wants to build on this, and his Asia-Pacific Community is his big contribution. Right now it seems the early preparation was rushed (Woolcott apparently had just 5 hours advance notice of his role as regional salesman), and the promotion effort hasn’t caught too many buyers eyes. But these structures take years even in the best of circumstances, and Rudd still needs to earn his stripes in the region as a long term leader if he is to have influence (it was this reason, along with his growing comfort that explains much of Howard’s improved regional foreign policy in the second half of his government).

Rudd’s essay, like all he does, fits Bob Ellis’s unbeatable phrase of ‘muscular timidity’. It demands significant change whilst decrying those who want to go even a single step beyond. It is sensible and pragmatic, but hardly as radical as it thinks it is or would like to be seen. Like Obama in the US, Rudd is a very centrist leader, if not a clearly conservative one in their joint desire to work within existing structures to achieve change.

We are already in a very different environment from that of Feb-March 2009 when the essay was written. Economics is back to being the most important issue, instead of the only one, and domestic pressures with an election next year are beginning to distract the Rudd government. Still we are seeing a bit more focus on Foreign Policy again, and should expect that to significantly increase in their (presumed) 2nd term. Where Howard wanted to be remembered for economics and industrial relations, it is in Foreign Policy that Rudd fancies his chances of having history honour him. Understanding how he views this and what he wants to see as an ideal outcome may give us some idea of just how he is going to go about seeking an actual outcome when the opportunity presents itself. It wont be for a while, but as they say in the serials, watch this space…

A new Force (for) 2030

Several months ago I attended a 2 day course on National Security taught by Professor Peter Leahy (former Chief of the Australian Army). Among the attendees were current and ex-military officials, various interested public servants, scholars, and a high ranking AFP officer. Coming at the time of the Defence White Paper Force 2030, a repeated topic of discussion was how Australia would deal with the various challenges to order within its immediate pacific region. Whilst the demands for such action are likely to grow (due to rising regional instability, and domestic demands for intervention), neither of our forces are well designed for the type of operation required. As such we have quite mixed forces, with around 930 ADF and 285 AFP officials spread over 9 separate missions. Yet neither force is specifically or really appropriately designed for this task.
Untac police officers
The Military offers great strength and organisation in entering, securing and organizing such missions. (Whilst they have all been at the invite of local governments, that may not be the case in the future, and in some such as E.Timor it came pretty close), but that comes at a cost of under-developed political and cultural skills. The AFP on the other hand are often excellent at bringing order via political and institutional co-option, but not armed or trained to handle worsening conflicts. And neither group is especially equipped for long term development, in institution building, long term resource and urban planning, and economic organisation. Nor are they designed for pre-ventative action, keeping nations from falling into disorder or distress. So we have brave and hard working men and women in both organisations try to accomplish jobs which they weren’t originally trained for, and which are managed over several branches and organisations.

So whilst the Defence White Paper gives this task to the ADF (7.10 page 54), it is burdening to an institution who, like most other countries military’s is still largely planned along the lines of 19th century European forces. While there has been a proliferation of special and elite forces within militaries (particularly after 9/11) most are undesigned and indeed highly resistant to the idea that peacekeeping and development should be a primary focus for them. So the police are co-opted, and various cross-agency organisations are established such as the Australian Defence Force Peacekeeping Center (1993) and the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence (2008).

Instead, as came out of our discussions in the National Security course, what really needs to be considered by policy makers is the establishment of an entirely new force. Likely as a fourth branch of the military, it’s focus would be political over martial, development over destruction, and preventative and preemptive in tackling threats, rather than waiting for the hostile threat to appear. A new force, given military style training to ensure their protection and professional organisation, whilst focusing on political and cultural understanding of the region, co-opting the best in development, and state design would be ideally designed to tackle what is sure to be a on-going and increasing demand placed upon Australia. Not only would this give us a specific tool for a specific job, it would be a highly desired force (so wouldn’t have the recruiting trouble of the ADF) in offering university educated students who are interested in international relations, regional studies or sociology and development, the chance to put into practice their learning. Right now these kids (and there are tens of thousands of them) are placing their bets on NGO’s or a prized DFAT place, but most will miss out and abandon these dreams for a different, domestically focused career, their study and learning being reduced to a passing interest. This is a great waste of talent, enthusiasm and education.

Australia does not have a mandate for control, or even a desire to be the only authority figure in the South Pacific. But as a nation we have increasingly come to believe we ought to be involved in helping our neighbors secure their own countries, and rebuild (In the case of E.Timor in 1999 it was the Australian population who forced their politicians into action). But having an almost 60 year history of such peacekeeping, we still don’t have a force designed specifically for the task. It’s about time we started moving towards building one.

Tab Dump

* While the US grapples to accept it was a torturing nation under the Bush Administration, Michael Johnson says (then retracts) what too many in this country think:

Queensland Liberal MP Michael Johnson said there was a place for torture. “I think that there is a very limited place for torture and, certainly where that torture takes place, it must be done in an appropriate way, and in an appropriate context,” the former barrister told Sky News last night. He added that it all depended on how torture was defined.
That prompted an immediate response from fellow panelist Labor MP Mark Dreyfus, another former lawyer.
“I think we need to resolutely say that there is no place for torture,” he said. Mr Johnson later issued a “clarifying statement” condemning torture. “Torture is unacceptable in any place at any time,” the statement said.

Johnson holds one of the liberals best seats since 2001, yet went no where under Howard, Nelson and likely now Turnbull. If smart the party will use this chance to dump him and demonstrate their morality in rejecting outright torture as a practice by modern societies. Conservatives worry regularly about the moral decay of our civillisation, but teenage promiscuity or drug use doesn’t remotely compare to the use and abuse of torture as the pre-eminent moral question of our time.

* From the Funny, Sad, Pathetic column: Yale is printing a book on the 2005 Danish cartoons that set of the riots, but refusing to publish the actual cartoons. Around 200 people died from this inability to accept free speech (almost exclusively Muslims). Hitchen’s skewers them as only he could.

* In news to warm the hearts of all Canberrans, the ACT is more important to the Australian Economy than China is. But it’s changing. H/T @Pollytics.

* With the US economy beginning to rebound can we say the bailout worked? Or more interestingly is the Administrations plan, with all its inherent debt a better outcome than the sharp market deflation that mass bank failure would have set off? Are we better off, (in terms of liberty and wealth) than had we let the markets run where they want ? Whilst others counter that we have over-reacted.

* The Daily Telegraph should stay away from photoshop, or hire someone competent. Ugh.

* And finally, since in my last post I critercised The Australian for ignoring Nelsons retirement, and then did so myself, its worth noting that whilst Nelson is a good bloke, it is not befitting the honour and importance of Parliament to leave mid term for a rumored defence sector job. Nor to do so at a cost of half a million to the tax payers. He has perhaps only a year to go until the election if that, so ought to stick around. Much could still be done locally, and with nothing to lose or fear from his party leader could use his platform as former Education and Defence Minister to tell the country some hard truths that had been squibbed during the Howard years and are doing so today (like the ham-fisted way we run international student education, our need to develop high tech sectors as the manafacturing sector closes, or rethinking how we go about assisting the pacific region, including long term planning, rather than over-relying on the Military and police to race in and save the situation ala the Solomon Islands, or sit idly by as democracy buckles in Fiji. The great danger of our modern political environment is that it scorns old wisdom, always seeking the new. Political leaders are seen as either on their way up, or on their way out. We should encourage those who have served the leadership to try and stick around. But as it stands only 1 out of 10 past major party leaders since 1990 in the form of Simon Crean has stuck around after losing the leadership, now capably serving as the Trade Minister.

Today’s real lefties: Cops and Soldiers

Conservative politicians and commentators regularly complain about the left wing bias of government run institutions such as public television and radio. But what they don’t notice is the institutions which are really promoting a liberal/left wing agenda: The Police and the Army.

From an Op-ed in the Washington Post by two policemen:

Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing. Perhaps counterintuitively, better police training and bigger guns are not the answer.

Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.

Having fought the war on drugs, we know that ending the drug war is the right thing to do — for all of us, especially taxpayers. While the financial benefits of drug legalization are not our main concern, they are substantial. In a July referendum, Oakland, Calif., voted to tax drug sales by a 4-to-1 margin. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that ending the drug war would save $44 billion annually, with taxes bringing in an additional $33 billion.

Without the drug war, America’s most decimated neighborhoods would have a chance to recover. Working people could sit on stoops, misguided youths wouldn’t look up to criminals as role models, our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and — most important to us — more police officers wouldn’t have to die

Whilst most left wing politicians are still a full decade away from even beginning a debate about legalisation, here is an authentic voice of the police pushing for it immediately. To them it is not an abstract question of the morality of condoning drug use or being ‘soft on crime’ but clearly evident that only with legalisation and regulation will we be able to tax and protect users, whilst financially destroying criminals from misguided youths through to bikie gangs and mob types.

A similar point can be made about the army, which is equally taken for granted by conservatives to be an institution on their side in foreign policy debates. Whilst many soldiers do relish the fight, just as many and their more experienced commanders prefer to be sent in only when and where they can make a significant difference or are undertaking their core responsibility: defending their country. Instead of being the first option as a way to respond to a problem, most in the armed forces would prefer that as a country we focus heavily on aid and development so as to prevent other countries from sliding into failed state/civil war conditions. Rather than being sent to be shot at whilst trying to stabilize and re-build in places from the Solomons to Afghanistan, it would be better to have focused on stability and long term development before these countries became problem children in the worlds eyes requiring a police or military solution.
Likewise idea’s such as ‘Human Security‘ which change the way we think about security from a national focus to a question of the individual, (including their right to food, shelter and basic liberties, along with their physical safety) have been picked up quite strongly by thinkers within the defence forces. These liberal/left wing ideas are often ignored by a lot of civilian International Relations/Security scholars, who are keen to prove their bona fides and toughness. Yet it is the very people who have to put their lives on the line for these concepts are coming to see their correctness and worth.

Conservatives often take for granted that police favor harsher measures against criminals, and that the defence force wants to cruise the globe in search of foreign monsters to destroy. Though obviously some join these institutions seeking such a struggle, many more have come to see that their chance of coming home alive, and making a real contribution to the world (the reason for which the vast majority undertake these risky careers) require that we move to different strategies and policies. They know first hand the costs of our current failed policies, even if todays political leaders are too weak (or afraid of being labeled weak) to advocate for real change. Liberals and the New Left need to begin to work to give voice to these institutions, to encourage their contribution to the debate. We need to show that policies such as preventative development, and drug legalisation are not abstract feel good ideas, but instead practical, hard headed responses that are coming to be endorsed by those on the ground with the strongest knowledge of our current failed approach. It is time we started listening to them. It is time we on the left dropped these cowardly half-way measures for fear of being called weak, and instead recognise the real strength that comes from open and honest advocacy of policies that offer genuine change and improvement for our fellow citizens both at home and in the wider world.

Photo used under a creative commons licence by user

The Birth of Australian Foreign Policy

Aus_Navy_NYToday brings with it the news that two Australian Navy ships have berthed in New York to help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Great White Fleet voyage around the world. It might not be widely known, but in many ways, embracing Theodore Roosevelt’s aquatic demonstration of carrying a big stick, was also the birth of an independent Australian Foreign Policy.

In 1908 Prime Minister Alfred Deakin invited the American Navy on its global tour to drop in at Sydney and Melbourne. This move angered the English who were already concerned about losing their naval strength to the rising American forces, annoying amongst others one Winston Churchill, then serving as under-secretary for the Colonies. Reports suggest huge majorities of Sydney’s population turned up to welcome and cheer the incoming American Navy, no doubt glad if only for a moment of a guaranteed bulwark against the foreign forces to their north. Emboldened by this (and now returned to office after a short term by the supportive Labor’s Andrew Fisher) in 1909 Deakin pushed for the creation of a pacific pact involving the United States, France, China and the British Empire. The move failed, but is notable for such a small and at the time foreign policy shy country. Along with Fisher, Deakin also helped establish Australia’s Royal Navy. Yet the concern of the country was still inward and foreign policy involved persuading London rather than independent action. Even the volunteering of 300’000 men for WW1, and heavy casualty rates did little to stir Australians international attention. Whilst other colonies like Canada and South Africa made moves in the mid 1920’s to set up foreign diplomatic efforts, Australia was only forced by the ‘rude pressures’ of WW2 to begin similar measures. Foreign policy was largely outsourced to London. Yet as a country Australia retained great capacity for creative and skilled foreign policy when it so desired during these early years. This was no better demonstrated than in 1945 when Labor’s external affairs minister Herbert ‘Doc’ Evatt was the single most prominent delegate at the UN founding conference in San Franscisco. Evatt pushed nearly 40 amendments, scored a number of significant victories in changing the charter and minds of the great powers, and was recognised for his efforts by becoming President of the U.N General Assembly.

By then of course Australia’s foreign policy had irrevocably changed. Britain had lost its empire, Curtin had turned Australia towards America ‘free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship’, and the nation set about establishing links with every country it could, including finally beginning to pay some attention to its own backyard in the shape of new relations with the major countries and initiatives such as the Colombo plan. But it all began in 1908 with Alfred Deakin’s decision to encourage the American ‘Great White Fleet’ to sail into ports in Sydney and Melbourne. It is therefore fitting that, having used US help to stand on our own two feet, we can now sail proudly into American harbours 100 years later to celebrate the milestone. Australian foreign policy is often presented by both conservative and progressive forces as a boring, subservient story hiding under the bosom of racially similar great powers. Yet the real story is one of independent and creative efforts. Where once we were shy and inward looking, today Australia is regularly accused of irrepressible activism (with its public ever leading the charge for more and more action). Despite the negative tone often attached to narratives of Australian Foreign Policy, it is a record it’s creators can be proud of. The country has at times had a significant role in promoting human rights and liberal democratic ideals, it has managed the tensions between the great powers and sucessfuly shifted without conflict from one sliding power (no less than it’s mother country) to a rising superpower. Today it walks a careful line between China and the USA earning respect and more importantly trade income from both. And most critically of all, the continent is safe and has remained so. All this began when in 1908, just 7 years into the new nation, Deakin was willing to cross the English to recognize the growing power of the US and begin to tie them to the land down under.

Below is an image Wikipedia turned up from the Fleets first visit. They don’t make government advertising like this anymore:


Soft Power

Over at The Interpreter, a debate has arisen about the concept of ‘Soft Power’ in International Relations, as pushed by self-proclaimed sceptic Raoul Heinrichs. Raoul is a Research Associate at the Lowy Institute, and former foreign affairs advisor to one Kevin Rudd.

He writes:

Soft power refers to a state’s ability to achieve desired objectives through attraction rather than coercion or inducement – to get others to ‘want what you want’. According to Nye, soft power arises not from the accumulation of capabilities that can affect the behaviour of other states, but from the magnetism of a country’s culture, values, ideals, and the style — as well as the substance — of its domestic and foreign policies.

Two problems come to mind. First, even if a state is full of admiration for those elements of another society that supposedly give rise to its soft power, it is not clear to me why, when divergent interests are concerned, that admiration might lead the first state to subordinate its own objectives to the other’s.

And second, the concept seems to imply that a state can be powerful, and capable of attaining its preferences in international affairs, by virtue of its goodness, and not just its strength. This is a nice thought, though one that does not square with reality, as demonstrated by the need to create ‘smart power’, which seeks to integrate all elements of national power.

Yet this is a misunderstanding of the basic nature of how soft power. As Joseph Nye notes early on in his famous article that kicked off the subject ‘Proof of power lies not in resources but in the ability to change the behavior of states.’, yet soft power approaches this task differently to normal power. Material power takes interests as constant and uses coercive means (or the mere threat of) to force actors to subvert or overcome their interests to the good of the superior power. This is a once off action, each time the behavior is needed, material power has to revisit the threat to overcome the others actors interests, occurring a second and third time and so on.

Soft power on the other hand works to subvert the very interests of the other actors to have them believe their interests accord with the interests of the superior power. Instead of each time vaulting over the high wall of another’s interests to achieve your aim as material power does, soft power breaks down and rebuilds the wall in another location to benefit the influencing power and hopefully the receptive power too. That is, once successful, soft power does not need to be revisited, but should allow such behavior time after time without significant effort (indeed if truly successful the other actors may even return to encourage you or a third party to also engage in such behavior)

So contra Heinrichs, states under the influence of soft power don’t believe they are subordinating their interests to the others, they believe their interests correspond. This links his second complaint, the unfortunate normative link between soft power and “goodness”. That is, soft power is often seen as being simply a way for virtuous but weak ideas (like peace, co-operation and tolerance) to claim influence through association with the tag ‘power’. Yet, this is only because of the limited ways in which soft power has been studied and promoted in the last few decades, than a problem with the idea itself. Actually, that’s not quite true, significant scholarship has gone into the deliberate proliferation of idea’s which don’t meet such heavenly virtues. We just call those ideas ‘Propaganda’.

Ever since humans became able to have abstract thought, we have engaged in efforts to try and convince each other of these ideas and perceptions. Yet because Idea’s can not be counted, measured, or any other of our usual quantifiable approaches to scholarship, the field has been largely seen as ‘too hard’. Therefore it is not much surprise that the people who finally turned their efforts towards such a task did so because of some wish to promote or understand how highly held ideals could be promoted or work. There had to be some benefit beyond mere understanding, and indeed there is self-selection at work prior to scholarship, in that the people most interested in these higher ideas, will be the ones to most justify the time and effort it takes. Only when it comes to the effect of the worst of the worst ideas (such as totalitarian propaganda) do bad idea’s have enough of a power to attract scholars and thinkers attention.

There’s a second problem within the academic literature of a related nature, the ‘dog that didn’t bark’ problem. That is, having been studied for the best part of 20 years, the scholarship still hasn’t quite extended beyond looking at ideas which successfully transferred from one actor to another (ie the acceptance of democracy, or anti-landmines, or anti-chemical weapons), but that is starting to change. We don’t yet have a good criteria for why some idea’s do succeed and most don’t. But we are working on it.

For my own part, my research is on how the Australian Government over the Keating and Howard Government’s tried to use soft power to exercise leadership in the Asia-Pacific and achieve our national interests. That is, in converting the regions countries to share our interests (such as supporting multilateralism, democracy, counter-terrorism measures etc). Yet I take a slightly different spin, in that I am more interested in how countries can spread ideas, using both ideational and material power, rather than simply ideational power to promote ideas. For example: when Howard sent troops into East Timor to help stabilise the country, he was using material power in support of an ideational goal (self-determination and democracy) which are deeply held Australian values.

East Timor is currently a surviving democracy, something in the national interest of Australia. But one that only works so long as the East Timorese believe democracy is in their interest too. The aim of soft power in short is not to have the other actor feel they have been coerced to accept your interests over their’s, it’s that they think your interests correspond, and therefore can positively join you on the effort. It’s still a new field, but it’s also the oldest and most important element of power within human societies. Weapons and violence is incidental and rare, but the flow of soft power is constant and dominating. We’re just only beginning to find ways to understand and chart it.

DFAT Blues

Whilst the Canberra Times got the scoop, it is yet to post it online: So will have to do:

FOREIGN Minister Stephen Smith has accidentally tabled a secret list of Australia’s bilateral treaty negotiations to parliament.
The comprehensive schedule of current negotiations with foreign governments was tabled with Mr Smith’s authority in both houses of federal parliament yesterday.

The document reveals confidential discussions for a new defence cooperation agreement between Australia and Indonesia and sensitive proposals to significantly boost Australia’s uranium exports to China.

Mr Smith’s office admitted that the schedule had been tabled “in error”.

“The Minister accepts responsibility for the error,” his spokesman told The Canberra Times.

A note on the document’s cover page explicitly states it should not be tabled in parliament or in any way placed on the public record.

Mr Smith’s office said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was “in the process of advising each of the relevant countries that the document was released in error”.

Apparently the error came from Smiths office providing a CD-Rom with treaties to be printed and tabled, and included the secret documents on the disk. Included in those were discussions with Indonesia for an extension of the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia. No word yet on Indonesia’s response to these secret discussions being made public.

I’ve done a brief search on the Parliamentary website, but as tabled documents usually arn’t added to the Hansard (no surprise there are thousands of them), Smith’s error may not go too public (though front page of the Canberra Times is hard to miss!). If any readers know of online copies of the documents, please email me via the address at the top right of the page, or leave a comment. I’d be keen to have a peak at just what we’ve been up to.

However these may prove a boon for scholars of Australian Foreign Policy, given the trend under the Howard Government (and it seems continued by Rudd) to seek bilateral, private negotiations with our regional partners, rather than taking the public, multilateral discussion route favored by Keating & his Foreign Minister Gareth Evans. This marked a significant change in the form with which Australia engaged and sought to influence the region, yet lead (perhaps unfairly) to calls that Howard was ignoring the region, when instead he was keeping such discussion private. This may have been a better cultural reading of the region’s sensibilities, or as Michael Wesley suggests in his excellent book ‘The Howard Paradox’ (2007) was a strategy to try and take the political heat out of discussions on terrorism or people smuggling. Instead of public discussions by the politicians which could easily become slanging matches, Howard & Downer dispatched their diplomats and bureaucrats to undertake largely private discussions focused on managing such issues in non-political ways. This technocratic focus allowed for Australia and Indonesia to work together successfully on issues such as combating terrorism that may have been otherwise much more contentious and difficult to sustain had they been conducted in the open and Indonesia be seen to acquiesce to Australian demands. (That said, it also suited Howard’s distrust of multilateralism, desire for ‘deliverables’ from all negotiations, and keep those concerned about pesky issues such as Human Rights from interfering). This error is unlikely to torpedo any of the discussions (at least the Canberra Times found nothing incriminating on their run through) but time will tell.

Speaking of DFAT it’s also worth noting the Rudd Governments cognitive disconnect between professing a major role for the department in its National Security Strategy of 4 December 2008:

“National security policy must be also be advanced through the agency of creative middle power diplomacy – an active foreign policy capable of identifying opportunities to promote our security and to otherwise prevent, reduce or delay the emergence of national security challenges”
regional engagement is crucial. This includes strengthening our bilateral relationships and effective engagement in regional institutions. It also means seeking to positively influence the shape of the future regional architecture in a manner that develops a culture of security policy cooperation rather than defaults to any assumption that conflict is somehow inevitable.
At the global level, we are committed to multilateral institutions, and in particular the United Nations, to promote a rules-based international order that enhances our security and economy. We believe those that share the benefits of these systems must also share the responsibilities of supporting and enhancing them.”

DFAT Headquaters The R.G.Casey Building in Canberra

DFAT Headquaters The R.G.Casey Building in Canberra

As against the funding with which it is actually willing to give to DFAT to carry out this ambitious task. In 1996, Australia spent $10b on Defence and $2.3b on DFAT. On Tuesday, the Treasurer dolled out $30b for Defence and $1.9b for DFAT. And this is actually an (small) increase on past years! It includes: (Via The Interpreter Blog)

* A $26 million per year funding top-up.
* An additional $26 million a year to bolster Australia’s presence in India, Pakistan, Africa and Latin America – all regions highlighted in the Blue Ribbon Panel report where we need to lift our diplomatic game.
* Money for a feasibility study for a permanent embassy in Kabul and increased aid for Afghanistan and Pakistan, all of which is important and way overdue.
* Funding to support some of the Government’s more quixotic foreign policy initiatives, including its campaigns for a UN Security Council seat and to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
* It looks like consular services will now be accounted for separately from the passports function, as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel.

It’s a start, but far from the requirements set out in the Low Institute’s Blue Ribbon Panel Report : Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit, which demonstrates the need to spend up to $1b to truly make DFAT the engine of Australian security and international engagement which it needs to be. Sure, times are tough, but when pensioners are getting $14b, and Defence $3b, you’d think more than a few crumbs could be passed over to DFAT. Especially with a former diplomat now sitting in the Lodge. Rudd has promised much in terms of Foreign Affairs, it’s time for him to start delivering on those promises.

Effective Middle Power Leadership

This is a pleasing sign, after a few false starts by the Rudd Government, in its efforts to replicate the Evans-Keating Governments efforts at selling Australian idea’s to the rest of the world:

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced last year that he wanted Australia to lead the debate on reducing nuclear arsenals and ensuring that the new nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is due to be renegotiated in 2010, had real teeth.
He appointed Mr Evans, a former foreign minister, to be co-chairman of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, an Australian initiative that is being co-chaired by Japan.
After a shaky start, it seems likely that the Australian initiative will yield results under the new US Administration.
“We have a very serious level of buy-in,” Mr Evans said after meetings in Washington on Friday and Saturday.
“I was sceptical that this was something Australia could offer in terms of influencing the issue. I am now completely persuaded that this commission is seen as potentially helpful in changing the terms of the international debate.

“I don’t want to claim too much, but I think we have helped crystallise their thinking. We have high-level attention. This is a quite important visible role for Australia.”

Mr Evans met Mr Biden, the National Security Adviser, Jim Jones, the Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, and the chairman of the Senate foreign relations commission, John Kerry, to outline the commission’s five-point strategy for reducing the nuclear threat.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart: How Australia as a middle power country can use it’s ideas, influence and efforts at persuasion to promote new norms in international affairs (Norms being ideas of either behavior ie “dont use nukes” or values “you dont need nukes to be safe/powerful”). Those who promote such idea’s are labeled under the literature “Norm Entrepreneurs”, and its a subject at the heart of my study of Australia’s foreign policy efforts in the South-Pacific over the last two decades.

There are many strategies and options for Norm Entrepreneurs to take. Dramatic stands, sanctions, or as in this case gathering the support of the powerful as a basis for which to push your own ideas. This of course doesn’t mean Australia can now end the world’s supply of nuclear weapons, that must be left for the powers that be; but it does mean we can now begin to try and shape the debate, the way it’s framed and hopefully provide a service of benefit both to our own security and our great ally the USA.

The pessimism inherent in the Howard Government’s foreign policy tended to ward them from the view of trying to use Australia’s influence to sell our idea’s. But it’s hard not to notice the gap this left between the Keating Government and now the Rudd Government. Such diplomatic efforts cost us only time, but offer us the potential to gain a much greater standing than our material force would allow, and gain a long term identity as a country that can be trusted to push principled changes for a better world, rather than selfish short term strategy. That can be significant when it comes to area’s like trade or regional diplomacy where our self-interest in particular outcomes is much more highly visible.

Rudd & Smith have already made a few pushes in this direction without much success, so it’s nice to see the old hand and norm entrepreneur par excellence Gareth Evan’s back and doing what he did best two decades ago.