Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
parliament house.gif
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
South Australian Links
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Debating Oz foreign policy « Previous | |Next »
April 14, 2003

In this piece Australia must never become Asia's poodle Des Moore opens up the debate about the direction and nature of Australia's foreign policy.

Moore briefly outlines the conservative position:

"With the liberation of most Iraqis, the Howard Government's courageous decision to deploy military forces points to Australia now becoming both an international leader in promoting freedom and an active participant in that cause.The pursuit of such a role in the new terrorist world is undoubtedly in Australia's interests.

He then acknowledges that this policy means an increased importance for the American alliance. It involves:

"...a major departure from our previously perceived strategic policy [and] ...will seriously disturb those keen on a closer relationship with Asia and on playing down our American alliance."

He describes this position as argued by Paul Dibbs (the link to the article in The Age dropped out), which involves the view:

"...that our US relationship complicates, even challenges, our relationship with Asia, and threatens to divide us from some parts of our own region; that this is the result mostly of recent American behaviour and Australia being seen as America's deputy sheriff; and that the solution is to distance ourselves from the US by building a reputation for a more independent, and even sometimes dissenting, position."

That's pretty much the position argued for on this weblog and accepted by most ALP members and associated academics. So what does Des Moore think is wrong with this position? He says that it:

"... pits our US relationship against our association with Asia in a kind of zero-sum game: closer engagement with Asia is allegedly possible only by lessening our US relationship, thereby becoming more independent and so acceptable to Asia."

Well, that depends on how we interpret independent and becoming acceptable to Asia.

Moore gives the latter (becoming acceptable to Asia) an odd interpretation: it is simply currying favour with Asia, making ourselves more acceptable in Asia and becoming Asia's poodle. He says that Australia is "not Asian and cannot become so even if we tried."

True, Australia is not Asian. It is in Asia. One problem with Moore's interpretation is that Asia is seen as monolithic bloc. Are we talking about Indonesia? China? Japan? India? Malaysia? Pakistan? These nation states have conflicting strategic interests. Asia is not a monolithic bloc. It is impossible to make Australia acceptabe to all of these. You cannot be the poodle of all these masters at once. Nor can you curry favour with all of them.

So it comes back to Australia's national interests, independently determined. Moore acknowledges that Australia's national interest will not always coincide with America's. He accepts that when that that happens, "we should not - and do not - hesitate to say so and to fashion our policy accordingly."

He then gives his opponent's position a quirky interpretation:

"What we should not do - but would do if Dibb and others had their way - is seek to manufacture differences with America to make ourselves more acceptable in Asia, which far from being impressed would be contemptuous."

Arguing for a greater involvement for the UN in world affairs is hardly manufacturing differences with America. It's a real and significant policy difference about how to govern international relationships between nation states.

Moore interprets Australia becoming more independent, and even sometimes dissenting from US foreign policy as an abdication of responsible concern for Australia's national interests. It implies that Australia "is truly independent only when it differs from the US, which is an absurd measure of independence."

Not at all. There may be occasions when Australia's strategic national interests coincide with those of the US in the Asia Pacific and there will be occasions when they do not. Independence here means autonomous ie., deciding for ourselves what is in our national interest. This is what Australia did in the 2nd World War when it pulled troops back to defend Australia from Japanese attack, rather than defend British interests in India; and when Australian troops where pulled out of Vietnam.

Moore interprets his opponents to mean Australia is distancing itself from the US, not because we genuinely disagree with a particular American position, but simply to curry favour with Asia. This distortion allows him to say that such a position is "dangerous nonsense" and "an abdication of responsible concern for Australia's national interests."

More erects a strawman based on his pitting our US relationship against our association with Asia in a kind of zero-sum game. It is not a zero sum game: it is about autonomy or deciding for ourselves.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:20 PM | | Comments (5)


We did decide for ourselves. We chose to go with the Americans. There's no inherent reason that we 'had' to do this- the policymakers in Canberra weighed up the pro's and cons, and decided that backing America was in the national interest.

You can disagree and say they got their sums wrong, but the government did decide.

The 'anti-american alliance' crowd need to present a formula that works out better for Australia then the current alliance. We do actually get a lot of value from the alliance that is taken for granted.

"We"? The Howard Govt decided in opposition to public opinion.

The Howard Government has locked itself into the American geo-political strategy and, unlike Tony Blair, does not fight for an independent voice. It just goes along with the Washington line.

If thats 'the alliance' then the current government accepts the American interpretation of the alliance.

What are the benefits in terms of Australin's national interest for the insurance premium that is being paid in Iraq?

Briefly, continuing access to the US military alliance with the benifit that we don't have to take seriously the parlous state of our own military; rather illogically, we also get the benefit of first access to the latest US air weaponry, to replace the fa-18, and continuing co-operation in the sphere of intelligence gathering.

Item 1 and 3 are geniune benefits. The Howard government thinks that they are worth going along in Iraq for. No one's presented a alternative so everyone is going to go along with it.

fair enough. They point to Australian integration with the US military.

That is not independence. The more integration with the US military and intelligence the more we become part of the US and do not speak for ourselves.

We speak on behalf of the US as Alexander Downer is doing in a speech today in slamming the European Union.

Independence isn't free either.

The New Zealand option isn't really available to us.