Making Australian Foreign Policy

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In a tense and dangerous international environment, this book looks at the important question of how Australia deals with the outside world. It describes the role of the government departments and intelligence organisations that support the government's policy-making, and the thinking of the people who make it, in more detail than ever before. The book discusses the processes, institutions, actors and calculations involved in foreign policy making in Australia, and how these ...
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Overview

In a tense and dangerous international environment, this book looks at the important question of how Australia deals with the outside world. It describes the role of the government departments and intelligence organisations that support the government's policy-making, and the thinking of the people who make it, in more detail than ever before. The book discusses the processes, institutions, actors and calculations involved in foreign policy making in Australia, and how these have changed under the impact of globalisation.

Fully revised and updated, this new edition includes four new chapters that explore how Australia's security, prosperity and values have influenced the direction of its foreign policy, both historically and in the present day. It features case studies of five recent Australian foreign policy initiatives: the Cambodia Peace Settlement, the development of APEC Leaders' Meetings, the response to the Bali bombings, Australia's regional assistance deployment to the Solomon Islands and the negotiation of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement. It concludes by speculating on the challenges ahead for Australian foreign policy making. This is essential reading for all those who are interested in Australian foreign policy, and for politics students in international relations and foreign policy courses.

About the Author:
Allan Gyngell is Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy

About the Author:
Michael Wesley is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Griffith Asia Institute at Griffith University

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Making Australian Foreign Policy should be read by all with an interest in Australian foreign policy. Readers will be informed by the rich descriptive analysis and stimulated, if not convinced, by the conceptual framework. For both of these reasons, the book will make an excellent addition to syllabi on the topic." Perspectives on Political Science
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521539975
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Allan Gyngell has had a long career in making, advising on and implementing Australian foreign policy. He headed the International Division of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and has been posted to many countries since joining the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1969. He was foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister Paul Keating from 1993 until 1996. He is Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Michael Wesley is a Professor of International Relations and Director of the Griffith Asia Institute, at Griffith University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 Introduction 1
2 Conceiving Foreign Policy 17
3 The Policy Process 39
4 The Foreign Policy Bureaucracy 58
Case Study: The Cambodia Peace Settlement 88
5 The Executive 96
Case Study: Developing Regional Architecture. The APEC Leaders' Meetings 114
6 The Overseas Network 121
7 The Australian Intelligence Community 133
Case Study: The Bali Bombings: Foreign Policy Comes Home 161
8 The Domestic Landscape 171
9 The International Policy Landscape 206
10 Conclusion: The End of Foreign Policy? 235
Appendix 260
Glossary 278
Index 282
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First Chapter


Cambridge University Press
9780521700313 - Making Australian Foreign Policy - Second Edition - by Allan Gyngell, Michael Wesley
Index



    1        Introduction




It still seems to me to be a shortcoming in Australian public discussion that so many commentators who profess political expertness look only at personalities, parties and doctrines and obviously know very little about political institution or the processes of public administration. “Who did it?” becomes the centre of interest. “How was it done and why” are seldom considered.

Sir Paul Hasluck1

In February 1997 Australian intelligence agencies picked up the first clear indications that the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Government was recruiting mercenary fighters to help it recapture the island of Bougainville. In Bougainville’s dense jungles, an intractable rebellion had been under way for nearly a decade, forcing the closure of the island’s copper mine and causing extensive death and suffering. Intelligence reports confirmed that the PNG Government had signed a $36 million contract with the British company Sandline International to supply arms, training and former South African fighters to destroy the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and reopen the copper mine.2 News of the Sandline contract immediatelybecame a foreign policy issue of major importance to Australia. Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest neighbour, the recipient of $300 million annually in civil aid and $12 million in defence aid. It is an important element in Australia’s security planning. Up to 10,000 Australian citizens were thought to be in PNG.

   The initial fragmentary intelligence reports had already been discussed by the Strategic Policy Coordination Group, the small group of senior officials from the departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) charged with the day-to-day coordination of strategic policy within the public service. By 18 February, the intelligence had become firmer, and on that day the government’s principal analytical intelligence organisation, the Office of National Assessments (ONA), briefed the Prime Minister, senior ministers including the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and their staff about the news. The briefings confirmed that a giant Russian-built AN-124 transport aircraft and a smaller AN-12, believed to have delivered men and equipment, were now sitting on the ground at the Port Moresby airport.

   Prime Minister John Howard took charge of the Australian response. He had experienced assistants and advisers. His foreign policy adviser, Michael Thawley, had previously headed areas responsible for PNG in both DFAT and PM&C. Howard summoned ministers and senior officials to a meeting in his Parliament House office. The basic outlines of the Australian policy response were resolved at that meeting. The Australian position would be that the introduction of mercenaries into PNG would set a dangerous precedent in the South Pacific, a region where several other states were facing internal fractures, and would not lead to a settlement of the long-running conflict on Bougainville. Australia’s policy aim was twofold: first, to stop the mercenaries who were training in Wewak from deploying to Bougainville; and second, to get them out of the country. It was also going to be important, through all of this, to secure Australia’s policy aims at the least possible cost to the important Australian relationship with PNG.

   Australia’s diplomatic machinery swung into action. Howard telephoned the PNG Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, directly about the reports. Chan would concede only that he had hired foreigners to provide special training to the PNG armed forces. By chance, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was to leave on the following day on an official visit to PNG. In Port Moresby he raised Australian concerns about the reports during his meeting with Chan. Chan again replied that the package involved no more than training. Downer told Chan that even if that were so (and privately Australia knew that it was not), Australia was opposed to the precedent and would be particularly outraged if the forces were used on Bougainville. Downer reported the unsatisfactory response back to Howard, who again telephoned Chan to reinforce the Foreign Minister’s message.

   Meanwhile, in an effort to increase the pressure on the PNG Government, the Australian High Commissioner in Port Moresby, David Irvine, was instructed to brief US, British and New Zealand diplomats on what Australia knew about arms shipments and Sandline involvement, and to show them photographs of ammunition boxes and crates of AK-47s. An experienced Australian journalist, Mary-Louise O’Callaghan, had already picked up many aspects of the story. Downer met her at a reception at the Australian High Commission on the night of 19 February. The Foreign Minister wanted to get the story into the public domain, presumably in part to further raise the stakes for Chan and his government. He directed Foreign Affairs officials to confirm O’Callaghan’s story and provide her with additional background. After further inquiries, O’Callaghan broke the story three days later, on 22 February. It generated a storm of media and public interest. At the same time, a senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official, Stanley Fischer, was visiting Canberra. After discussions with the Australian Government, he hinted to the media that IMF and World Bank aid packages to PNG might be reviewed if there was any interference with agreed budget spending projections as a result of these developments.

   The Defence Department and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been heavily involved in the policy process from the beginning. The initial intelligence focus was on finding out where the Sandline forces were and keeping them under observation. The RAAF played an important role in this, flying surveillance flights over Wewak, where the majority of the Sandline personnel were located. On 18 February the Commander of the ADF, General John Baker, instructed the Assistant Chief of Operations to develop options for any response that might be required from the ADF. Ten days later, at a routine annual meeting, the Australian and New Zealand defence ministers, representing the two largest military powers in the South Pacific, issued a communiqué describing the mercenaries as unwelcome. The Australian Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan, said that Australia would look at all avenues, including financial and defence cooperation, to influence PNG to reverse its decision on employing mercenaries. “We will do everything we can to make sure they go away”, he said.

   By this time the “Sandline Affair” had become a prominent public issue in Australia. Newspapers, radio and television – the last of these looking principally for colourful footage – were giving wide coverage to events in PNG and were often getting it wrong. Even serious media like the Melbourne Age newspaper and the AAP press agency provided highly inaccurate accounts of developments on Bougainville. As one of the most experienced Australian reporters about PNG, Sean Dorney, later commented, releases from the office of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army “found a ready and gullible audience amongst generally ill-informed Australian and New Zealand journalists suddenly given the task of covering the . . . unfamiliar story”. Within Parliament, opposition parties began trying to influence policy, or at least public attitudes. In the House of Representatives, Australian Labor Party (ALP) foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton called on the government to give PNG the six months’ notice of cancellation required under the bilateral aid treaty. The Australian Senate passed a motion moved by a Greens Senator calling for a comprehensive review of all Australian aid to PNG, including defence cooperation.

   Australian intelligence agencies continued to monitor the situation in PNG. The National Security Committee of Cabinet met to consider intelligence assessments of the situation and to discuss Australia’s options if PNG rejected Australia’s advice. Because, contrary to Australia’s hopes, Chan seemed determined to press ahead with the operation, the high-level diplomacy between the two prime ministers continued. On Sunday, 9 March, Howard and Chan held a secret meeting for four and a half hours at Kirribilli House, the Australian Prime Minister’s Sydney residence. The main Australian aim at the meeting was to prevent the deployment of the Sandline forces to Bougainville. Howard told Chan that Australia remained “very strongly opposed to the use of mercenaries on Bougainville and that, if the use of the mercenaries took place, there would be consequences of a serious kind so far as the relationship between Australia and PNG was concerned”.3 He offered something in return: changes to the Defence Cooperation Program, including improved training for the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF) and extra non-military aid for Bougainville. Chan, however, wanted Australia to buy the mercenaries out. The media knew of the secret meeting by the same afternoon.

   Then, on 17 March, the affair took a startling turn. In an event whose specifics were unforeseen by the Australian intelligence agencies and government,4 officers under the direction of the Commander of the PNGDF, Brigadier General Singirok, launched an operation codenamed Rausim Kwik. They arrested Sandline’s chief in PNG, a British national, and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister. The police force, however, decided to throw its support behind the government, and by midafternoon Singirok had been sacked by the government and a replacement sworn in. Nevertheless, elements of the army remained loyal to their sacked commander, and unrest spread in Port Moresby. Crowds milled outside military headquarters at Murray Barracks, and students demonstrated in support of the general.

   However much the aim of the PNG army’s action was in line with Australian policy objectives, it had about it elements of an attempted military coup in Australia’s nearest neighbour, a longstanding Australian security fear. There were other concerns also. With thousands of Australian citizens in PNG, a potential consular crisis was looming. One large Australian company, BHP, evacuated its employees and their families.

   In Canberra, Prime Minister Howard made a statement to the House of Representatives on 18 March, expressing Australia’s support for the elected government of PNG but reiterating its opposition to the use of mercenaries. He also expressed Australia’s “primary concern” as being the safety of Australian citizens in PNG. He said the government was monitoring the situation closely.5

   Australian troops in Townsville had already been placed on alert for possible movement to PNG to assist with the evacuation of Australian citizens. As order broke down among elements of the PNGDF, the question of whether the ADF should be sent to help the PNG Government restore order was raised. Aware of large-scale US and Australian military exercises under way in the Northern Territory, Chan sounded out the Australian High Commissioner about possible Australian help. The High Commissioner agreed to refer the matter to Canberra but left Chan with the impression that Australia would not get involved. No formal response was provided to the PNG Government. According to officials who participated in the decision-making, the diplomatic aims were complex: to leave Chan with the impression that Australia would not intervene with forces, but Singirok, who was in contact with the Australian Defence Attaché, with the impression that it might if the situation became uncontrollable.6

   Howard again telephoned Chan on 19 March to assure him that his sacking of the Defence Commander had Australian support and to ask whether he would receive a personal emissary. Apparently thinking that the new situation might give him more leverage with Australia over the Sandline contracts, Chan agreed. The “emissary” turned out to be a three-member delegation led by the Secretary of DFAT, Philip Flood, with a Deputy Secretary from Defence, Hugh White, and the head of the International Division of PM&C (and a former High Commissioner to PNG), Allan Taylor. They left Canberra on an RAAF VIP Falcon jet in midafternoon and arrived in Port Moresby about 8.20 that night.

   The delegation, accompanied by the High Commissioner, met Chan on the following day. Carrots were proffered and sticks brandished. Chan was told politely but firmly that if he did not abandon the idea of using mercenaries in Bougainville, Australia would take “dramatic and drastic measures that would harm PNG”. These measures would involve both the $300 million aid program and the $12 million Defence Cooperation Program. Chan was offered additional aid if he walked away from the Sandline deal, including a significant expansion of defence aid. Chan tried to bargain – perhaps Australia might pay Sandline’s $30 million bill? He was told firmly that this was not possible. Chan said later that the commander’s revolt was not discussed, despite his hope that events on the ground would change the Australian views of the situation. The meeting broke up with the Australians unsure of the outcome. Chan said he would see the delegation again on the following morning. That night, Chan advised the High Commissioner, and announced in a news release, that he was suspending the Sandline contract while he set up a judicial inquiry into the affair. At his meeting with the Australians the following day, Chan told them that the mercenaries were leaving on a chartered Air Niugini aircraft to fly to Hong Kong. The Sandline Affair was over. The announcement did not end the tension and uncertainty in Port Moresby, which bubbled on until Chan’s resignation as Prime Minister on 26 March, but the immediate crisis had passed.

    As a foreign policy issue for Australia, the Sandline Affair was unusual. In the first place, Australia was a major player, able to bring considerable leverage of its own to bear in support of its diplomacy. The number of countries involved was limited, so the variables were reduced. The crisis had a more or less clear beginning and came to a sort of end. It was over quickly and the policy aims the Australian Government had set at the beginning were achieved: the mercenaries were withdrawn; PNG’s constitutional integrity was maintained; and, in the longer run, opportunities were opened up to address the Bougainville situation peacefully. Not all of these outcomes were attributable to Australian foreign policy alone, but it is safe to say that a different set of Australian policies would almost certainly have led to a different result.

   Our consideration of the outlines of Australian foreign policy in the Sandline Affair raises a number of questions about foreign policy making in Australia. What makes some events (such as the arrival of mercenaries in PNG) major foreign policy issues and others not? Why did the Australian Government set those particular policy objectives, and outline them in that particular way? How did each participant, from the Prime Minister down, contribute to the formulation, execution and evaluation of policy? How were the vast array of Australian Government activities, from monitoring to decision-making to diplomacy, coordinated? Was the outcome typical of Australian policy and influence in foreign affairs?

   These are questions that are not easily answered by existing accounts of Australian foreign policy. On the one hand, the academic literature on Australian foreign policy offers very blunt instruments. The vast majority of this literature examines the content rather than the process of Australian foreign policy, and can be divided into either broadly historical studies of Australian foreign policy,7 or thematic treatments of Australian foreign policy in relation to specific countries, geographic regions, issues and events.8 There are some studies that consider certain impacts on foreign policy making, such as culture and society,9 or politics between the political parties.10

   A few studies devote chapters or sections of chapters to foreign policy making; however, these accounts are impressionistic and brief because the books that contain them are focussed primarily on other aspects of Australian foreign policy. As a result, Evans and Grant11 focus heavily on the work of the Foreign Minister, while Smith, Cox and Burchill12 briefly discuss the ministers, the bureaucracy, Parliament and pressure groups. Some accounts of policy-making are downright misleading. Stewart Firth argues that

Departments compete for influence over foreign policy. Their competition is an enduring characteristic of the policy-making process. Government departments have different priorities and different constituencies . . . Bureaucrats like their own departments to win, whatever the merits of the case, because winning departments earn status which itself is a source of influence in the next battle over policy. In part, then, foreign policy is the outcome of bureaucratic politics.13

Russell Trood agrees:

[DFAT and the departments of Defence, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Immigration, Primary Industry, Treasury, Environment and Education have their] own administrative mandate and distinctive departmental culture and sometimes their interests clash, threatening both the coherence of the policy-making process and the quality of its decisions. In the face of these dangers, maintaining the integrity of the policy-making system, both in terms of its overall coherence and policy outcomes is a major challenge for the government.14

As we will demonstrate in subsequent chapters, these conceptions of bureaucratic conflict in foreign policy making are particularly inappropriate to the Australian experience, which is overwhelmingly collegial. They demonstrate the dangers of importing US models of foreign policy making into the Australian context, or observations from other areas of the Australian bureaucracy into the foreign policy realm.

   Nor are our questions adequately answered by the accounts of participants or eyewitnesses. Most such accounts, whether published memoirs or oral recollections, tend to concentrate on the personalities involved, their calculations at the time, and the specific circumstances of the policy.15 It is difficult from these accounts alone to draw more general conclusions about the way that Australian foreign policy is made across a range of issues and contexts.


ACADEMICS AND PRACTITIONERS: THE TWO WORLDS OF FOREIGN POLICY

Our questions appear to fall into the gap between the academic and practitioner foreign policy communities. Indeed, this reflects a more general situation in Australia, summed up by a longstanding foreign policy practitioner, that there is no field of politics or policy in which research and practice have less mutual impact than international relations (IR). There seem to be a number of reasons for this. On the academic side, as IR cements its position within Australian universities, it has succumbed to the common tendency for academic disciplines to privilege theoretical over applied inquiry as they seek to consolidate their positions and build respect within the academic world.16 In the process, the attention of the academic IR community has become increasingly focussed inwards. Debates among IR academics have singularly failed to arouse the attention or interest of any but the IR community; and measures of professional esteem largely seem to be internally set.

   For its part, the practitioner community seems to have grown increasingly uninterested in the results of academic research, thinking it lacks much relevance to the real world. Many are unconvinced of the value of critiques of realism, which for the majority of DFAT staff continues to provide simple, powerful signposts about the nature of their trade. The more critical IR theory questions the normative bases of the international status quo – be it from neo-Gramscian, postmodernist or cosmopolitan traditions – the more the work of IR academics seems to criticise practitioners and their world, and the more distance and contempt become the predominant reactions. Those in the academic world who have influenced Australian foreign policy and had their views sought out in the past two decades have been figures not from IR but from economics, strategic studies and specialist-area studies. Less and less have retired practitioners been able to maintain the links between the two worlds in the ways that John Burton, Hedley Bull or Coral Bell were able to. Many retired practitioners find it hard to relate to and gain acceptance from the increasingly rarefied world of academic IR.

   Partly, the separation is also the result of the very different worlds occupied by academics and practitioners. The practitioner’s view of foreign policy is of a world of complex detail and incessant demands on time, attention and resources. The policy field of the practitioner resists simple solutions and evades summary or generalisation: “The reality lies in the detail and in the interaction of detail lies the policy”.17 Practitioners look for exceptions to general statements about foreign policy issues. Their experience of trying to implement policy in the difficult, wilful, resistant world of IR makes them sceptical of high-sounding schemes and principles, as well as the moral simplicity and unqualified solutions offered by academics and public alike. In contrast, the academic’s world is one of abstraction and generalisation, of post-hoc analysis and probabilistic prediction. Detail, caveats, and information falling outside of general trends are obstacles and pedantic irritations that detract from the more instructive “big picture” and from the explanatory power of the theory. Logical consistency, analytical rigour and innovations of inference are the standards of success for academics; for practitioners, effectiveness consists in standards of fine, verifiable detail and knowledge of the dispositions of key people in both the policy and organisational environments.

   This book is a result of the belief of its authors that the results of research and theory-building in international relations can be combined to great effect with the experience of foreign policy practitioners. It seeks to answer the questions of the type asked above, as well as a number of others. What do we mean when we talk about foreign policy? How does it differ from diplomacy? How is it made in Australia? Who is it made by? Who influences it?

   We deal principally in this book with foreign policy, not foreign relations or diplomacy. Put simply, foreign policy is that dimension of public policy that deals with the outside world. Its job, in the words of John Lewis Gaddis, is to create “an international environment conducive to the nation’s interest”.18 It is not the same as foreign relations, which is the outcome of the foreign policy process; the objective relationship at any given time between sovereign states. And it is different from diplomacy, which is the tool used to implement the policy: the means to the end.

   The book then looks forward to another set of issues. How are the deep changes in society and in the international system, driven in part by technological developments, influencing the way foreign policy is made, and where are these changes likely to lead? What is the impact of the shrinking space between domestic and foreign policy as globalisation transforms the nature of economic and social transactions between governments? Are we seeing the first signs of the death of foreign policy, at least in the traditional way we have thought about it?

   We also consider the objectives, as well as the processes, of Australian foreign policy making. What types of roles does Australia seek to play internationally? What are its foreign policy goals and how does it seek to achieve them? Do the various objectives of Australian foreign policy complement or conflict with each other?

   This is a book about foreign policy making, investigated by way of an Australian case study. It makes a number of points about the process of foreign policy making – an activity performed by every state – that can be generally applied. On the other hand, Australia, like all other countries, makes unique demands on its foreign policy making machinery, and many of the observations made in other chapters are relevant to Australia and its situation alone. It is important at the outset to consider Australia’s situation in the world, in order to set the stage for our consideration of Australian foreign policy making.


AUSTRALIA SUI GENERIS

Australians comprise less than one-third of 1 per cent of the world’s population. This is a slightly higher proportion than the one-fifth of 1 per cent at the end of the Second World War, but about the same proportion that is projected for the year 2050. This tiny fraction of humanity lives on an island continent comprising just over 5 per cent of the earth’s land surface. It shares a land border with no other country: its 36,735-kilometre coastline is bordered by vast expanses of ocean. Its east coast, along which live more than two-thirds of its population, is washed by the earth’s largest ocean, all 165 million square kilometres of the Pacific. Its west coast looks onto the earth’s third-largest body of water: the 73-million-square-kilometre Indian Ocean. To the south are the frozen expanses of the Antarctic; to the north, first the island archipelagos and then the vast landmass of Asia, closer, but so different in history, language, culture, society, economy and politics.

   Despite its isolation, Australia is and always has been deeply involved in world politics. It has become involved in nearly every major military conflict that has occurred since 1901. At federation, Australian troops were serving in the Boer War in South Africa. Australia was an original belligerent in both world wars. It was also quick to become involved in two of the major conflicts of the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Since the end of the Cold War, Australian troops have been sent to both Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. There are few wars in the Western Pacific, whether major, like Korea and Vietnam, or minor, like the Malayan Emergency or Indonesia’s Konfrontasi, insurgencies on Bougainville or in Irian Jaya, in which Australian troops have not become involved. Australians commanded the only two United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions in the region: Cambodia, 1992–93, and East Timor, 1999 to 2001. War has been central to the development of the Australian identity; its major national holiday commemorates a military action. Australia’s economy is enmeshed extensively with the global economy, with its trade dependency ratio, or the size of its foreign trade as a proportion of the size of its economy, at 34 per cent, compared with single-figure ratios for countries like Japan or the United States. Australia was a founding member of the League of Nations and the UN, and is heavily involved in a range of international and regional organisations.

   Despite such an extensive series of involvements, it is hard to pinpoint Australia’s “place in the world” with any precision. Its strategic environments are Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Its major strategic ally, however, is in North America, 12,000 kilometres away. Its major trading partners lie in Northeast Asia, 8,000 kilometres as the Boeing flies. The historical and cultural roots of the largest proportion of its population lie in Europe, on the other side of the globe.

   Australians are prone to watch the world around them apprehensively. “More fluid” is a perennial refrain in Australian strategic and foreign policy speeches. Foreign Minister W. M. Hughes mused in 1937:

The present international situation is one of anxiety and complexity, and under modern conditions with the increasing application of science and invention to all phases of social and economic life, and with the constant speeding up of communications, the interdependence of all nations is such that no country can afford to devote its attention solely to its domestic problems.19

“Instead of living in a tranquil corner of the globe, we are now on the verge of the most unsettled region of the world”, said R. G. Casey in 1955.20 “We live in a world of change of an unprecedented rate and degree which makes great demands on all our human and natural resources”, wrote the DFAT Secretary, Alan Renouf, in 1974.21 The DFAT Annual Report for 1984–85 claimed that, “The world is in a profound era of transition with significant shifts taking place in the dispersal of power, both military and economic”.22 A decade later it said, “the pace of change in the international arena continued to be unrelenting in security and economic matters”. “The most important features of this environment during the 2000–2002 period are likely to be . . . [a] fluid and uncertain security situation, both in the region and globally”, proclaimed the DFAT Corporate Plan in 2000,23 while Prime Minister John Howard in 2002 claimed that, “Not since the early 1960s have we faced a more complex and uncertain region”.24

   This sense of uncertainty about the country’s international environment is one of the things that impels Australian policy-makers in the direction of activism. Australian foreign policy frequently has about it a sense that the country needs to shape or be shaped. “Unless we are foreign policy makers, we will end up as foreign policy takers”, as Paul Keating put it.25 At the same time, the security of distance has helped give Australia a looseness and confidence in foreign policy making; it provides Australia with the psychological capacity to take risks with fewer consequences than for others. Australian foreign policy making has about it a tinkering quality, a sense that things can be tried without exposing the country to too many obvious dangers. In the words of Alexander Downer, Australia seems to be “irrepressibly activist”, a quality he sees as born out of the country’s national interest: “We are a middle power with the capacity to influence events. We have to make our way in the world in a way other countries don’t”.26 This quality may be more noticeable because in the environment in which Australia principally operates – Asia – culture and history (or, rather, culture shaped by history) impose a more cautious, incremental approach to foreign policy. At its best (for example, the Cambodia settlement; see case study), the distinctive tone of Australian diplomacy leads to a useful stimulatory interchange. Less successfully, it can simply annoy as Australia’s neighbours try to dodge or deflect yet another initiative from Canberra.

   Australia’s capacity to influence the outside world has been classified by many as that of a middle power. That is, Australia is large enough to have quite specific interests in global issues such as a healthy multilateral trading system or control of weapons of mass destruction, but it lacks the capacity of a great power to impose its will. Like other middle powers, it is forced into coalition-building diplomacy. The Secretary of DFAT, Ashton Calvert, summed Australia’s situation up this way:

Because Australia does not belong to a natural grouping we are not in a position to rely on the efforts of others in protecting and advancing our interests in international affairs. If, for example, we were a country of comparable population and economic weight located somewhere inWestern Europe, we might be tempted to rely on the efforts of bigger powers around us to look after our stake in the international system. But, given where we are located, Australia does not have that luxury.We have to rely more directly on our own efforts to protect and advance the considerable security and economic interests we have engaged in the international system.27



© Cambridge University Press
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