Foreign and Defence Policy – useful readings


Have read some stuff of late about Australian Foreign and Defence Policy that should have been blogged. Hugh White (ANU prof of Strategic Studies) wrote a Quarterly Essay on “Power Shift: Australia’s Future between Beijing and Washington” which I’ve made notes from but don’t have to hand – shall do so. It’s a good outline of the various options open (all of them, of course, messy).

It was brought back to mind because he has a very good piece in the March issue of “the Monthly”
(subscription required) on two biographies of between-the-wars prime ministers, Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Joseph Lyons.

He begins

Most of us think that for much of Australia’s history we have not really had a foreign policy. We assume our approach to the world has always been determined for us by our great and powerful friends – that Australia’s leaders have passively accepted policies set in London and Washington, and loyally sent troops to fight in the resulting wars. Certainly this seems true today: John Howard wrote in his memoirs that our alliance with the United States meant that there was never any question of joining Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and – perhaps more surprisingly – Paul Kelly recently has suggested that the closeness of the relationship means there is no scope for Australia to do anything but support American policy on China.
But has it always been that way? Both sides of politics share the assumption that it has. Conservatives are proud of it they thin loyalty to the leaders of the Anglosphere is a natural and proper expression of shared values and identity. Those on the Left see it as a regrettable failure to realise our true destiny as an independent country. Both sides find their prejudices confirmed and neither side asks, nor perhaps cares, if their view of history is correct…

There’s lots of interesting stuff in between, and White closes with the following observation

More than six months into her premiership, Julia Gillard has said nothing substantial about how Australia should respond to the remarkable transformation of Asia that is taking place on her watch, as power shifts to China. She says she isn’t interested in foreign affairs. She seems not to realise that Asia’s power shift poses challenges to Australia comparable to any we have faced in our history. She has no choice but to be interested.

Finally, in the latest Arena there is an excellent piece on “the militarisation of defence” by Jon Langmore, based on work he did with Calum Logan and Stewart Firth. Langmore opens

“The Defence White Paper assumes an aggressive posture and receives unprecedented funding.
One of the most shocking features of contemporary Australian defence policy is that military expenditure has a longer and larger guarantee than any other type of Australian public spending has ever been given before. The 2009 Defence White Paper concluded with a final chapter entitled “The Government’s Financial Plan for Defence”, which was an astoundingly brief page and a half long. This guaranteed the Defence Department increased funding of 5.5 per cent every year until 2017-18 and 4.7 per cent each year from then until 2030. No other type of Australian public expenditure has ever been promised such largess(sic) for such a long period.

Later he adds

Australia has fewer overseas diplomatic missions than any other member of the G20.

Unlike an earlier generation of Labor ministers in the Hawke and Keating governments, the Rudd government did not resist demands from the Defence Department, the weapons manufacturers, and th other members of military-industrial complex. In place of a focus on ‘defensive defence’, low-level threats and regional peackeeping, they opted for ‘offensive defence’. The 2009 White Paper intensified key elements of Howard government defence policy, that is, forward projection of forces, strike capability, and high technology weapons systems, and, like the Coalition, promised increased real spending on defence every year.

It’s full of useful ideas and information, but then, isn’t pretty much everything in Arena.

An impartial Martian would conclude that Australia was a tooled-up 51st State with delusions of reciprocity with Uncle Sam… This may not end well….


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