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Foreign policy: Realists v Idealists « Previous | |Next »
June 24, 2003

This may help with the spluttering debate about Australia's foreign policy.You need to scroll down the right side of the page to the Symposium on Advancing the National Interest and then to 'Looking for Theory in Australian Foreign Policy' by Rawdon Dalrymple.

His main thesis is that:

"Differences between the conservative Coalition and Labor sides on foreign policy up to 1983 corresponded broadly to the differences in international relations (IR) theory between ‘realism’ and ‘idealism’."

On the conservative side politicans, such as Menzies:

"...understood international relations as a matter of interests and power. Australia had a small population and little direct power, so it needed to attach itself to ‘great and powerful friends’. This accords generally with ‘classical’ realism as enunciated by Morgenthau (1948), Carr (1939), and others. Australian conservatives distrusted — indeed privately rather scorned — the moralism and legalism of international idealism."

On the Labor side politicians such as Whitlam:

"....stressed Australia’s independent role in the world under his government, his attachment to the United Nations and to the peaceful resolution of conflict, to détente, and so on. His own agenda was broadly idealist and multilateralist.... Whitlam had reoriented Australian policy towards the moral and legal principles that had such easy currency in the United Nations."

What the article argues is that the conflict between the conservative and Labor sides of Australian politics embody two contrasting views of how Australian foreign policy should be shaped. These views are derived from two contrasting philosophies of how nation states do and should operate:

"On one hand is the theory that there are universal moral imperatives and laws of nations that all nations should follow to produce and maintain peace and progress. On the other there is the theory that interests will always compete in the international system and that strong states will always seek supremacy so that they can advance their interests. On this view, the only way to achieve stability is by maintaining a balance of power so that no one state or group of states is tempted to seek to advance its interests by imposing its will on others by force or the threat of force."

It makes sense to me. Howard remains firmly in the realist mould, a Menzies conservative in foreign policy. He also accepts Huntington's idea of a clash of civilisations as an account of Australia’s place in the world. This places Australia on US/UK side of the fault line in the world’s geopolitics. It places increasing emphasis on alliance with ‘great and powerful friends’ at a time of rising global uncertainty and insecurity from international terrorism.

The ALP cotinues to work within the idealist mould as it push us towards increasing efforts to strengthen multilateral mechanisms for underpinning security — the United Nations and arrangements with our Asian neighbours.

Public opinion accepts the realist account of the workings of international relations but considers the UN to be a counterbalance to US hegemony.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:17 AM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

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The UN, without the US, is as irrelevant as the Belgian war crimes tribunal.

I never argued that the UN should operate without the US.The UN is the body where all the nation states come together to discuss issues of conern to them.

Are you suggesting that the US has nothing to do with the UN? That the UN is irrelevant?