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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Strategic shifts in OZ foreign policy « Previous | |Next »
July 8, 2003

This article by Paul Kelly is good. It is a lot better than the US conservative junk now floating through our media circuits.

Kelly successfully outlines the shift in Australia's foreign policy under John Howard. Kelly argues that Howard has reshaped Australia's role in the world and done so in opposition to the orthodoxy and conventional wisdom of the foreign policy establishment.

Public opinion has worked from this tradition in its criticisms of the new foreign policydeveloped by Howard. I will summarize Kelly's argument.

Kelly says that orthodoxy, which was built over 50 years, was about Australian independence. It broke with the old 'All the Way with the USA" of the 1950s and 1960s. What Kelly calls the foreign policy orthodoxy defined the conditions of Australian independence.

"Our independence was linked with three big ideas: a successful engagement with Asia, a constructive role as multilateralist middle power and less dependence than before on our great and powerful friends."

This was then unpacked in the following way. Engagement with Asia, which was seen as integral to Australia's rise to maturity as a nation state, stood for a:

"...reformed and open national economy, the need for a liberalising multilateral global trade system and a comprehensive integration between Australia and its region. It was a path to prosperity and a new destiny."

A constructive role as multilateralist middle power was developed in terms of a bilateral security agreement with Indonesia that was seen as a statement of shared interests and political trust. As Paul Keating put it, 'Australia now sought its security "in Asia, not from Asia".'

And less dependence than before on our great and powerful friends meant displacing the US alliance as the priority in Australian polity in favour of backing the UN, not the US in the name of protecting the international rule of law.

Kelly then says the Hawke-Keating-Beazley strategy in the 1980s and 1990s was to exploit the alliance to promote an independent Australia, and "realise our goals of defence self-reliance, global free trade and regional engagement." Australia's foreign policy "was no longer to be shaped by US imperatives or its world view."

Howard rejected this strategic shift under The Australian Labor Party. As Kelly said Howard did so instinctively. He

".. excused [the paleoconservatism of] Hansonism, endorsed the deputy sheriff [of the US] line, implied he would pre-empt threats within the region and presented as an Anglo-Saxon cultural champion."

But then 9/11 came. Howard accepted the US position that the world had changed. Howard's response to September 11, 2001 was to state:

"... that it was equivalent to an attack on Australia. How could this be? Simple because we shared the same values. So, like the US, we were at war."

Howard's strategic shift highlights Australia's cultural distance from Asia and our cultural unity with the US and Britain; rejects Australia's economic future lies solely or even largely in Asian terms and so undermines the multilateral system in support of a bilateral deal with Bush; and sides with the US over the UN.

And the criticism that public opinion has developed of Howard's strategic shift? Like the orthodox foreign policy establishment, it holds that the Bush administration's geopolitical strategy is to reshape the world to its own advantage. Howard, by following Bush under the cover of fighting world terrorism, will leave Australia exposed and vulnerable in the Asian region.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:00 PM | | Comments (0)