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An independent foreign policy

Nick Bryant | 07:05 UK time, Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The history of Australia's foreign policy can be divided into two broad eras: the period between federation and the Second World War when it essentially allowed Britain to dictate its diplomacy; and the period afterwards when it slavishly followed America's lead. Not for Australia the feisty independent-mindedness of New Zealand, which pulled its troops out of Vietnam in the early 1970s and blocked American warships from using its harbours in the 1980s, having declared itself a nuclear-free zone.

No, Australia has put a premium on diplomatic mateship with two longstanding allies. Prior to World War II, the then Attorney General and later Prime Minister Robert Menzies said it would be "suicidal" to "formulate our foreign policy independently of what may be the foreign policy of Great Britain". Much of that same thinking survives today, with the US replacing the UK. Indeed, ever since signing the ANZUS treaty in 1951, when Australia decided that America was the guarantor of its regional security, it has rarely taken a diplomatic position at odds with Washington.

Australia's diplomatic stance towards Libya is a case in point. Initially, Julia Gillard showed no enthusiasm for a no-fly zone, but then reversed. The only thing that changed was that Barack Obama came out unambiguously in favour of firmer action against Colonel Gaddafi. If there is such a thing as a Gillard Doctrine, it is to basically agree with Washington. Indeed, there is something very Pavlovian about all this. Less the boxing kangaroo and more the poodle.

For those who have hoped for a more independent foreign policy, the new foreign affairs minister, Kevin Rudd, is showing real promise. He was an early and enthusiastic advocate of the Libyan no-fly zone. He was quick to call on Japan to provide urgent briefings on the radiation threat after the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Most controversially of all, he mounted a strong defence of Julian Assange's legal rights, and pointed out that America was responsible for the leak of 250,000 diplomatic cables.

The problem is that Kevin Rudd's foreign policy is also independent of Julia Gillard. As we recently noted in Ruddology, one of the prime minister's aides recently told the Sydney Morning Herald he was "out of control".

Earlier this month, Rudd demonstrated his continued diplomatic pulling power by hosting ambassadors, high commissioners and senior diplomats from 70 countries in Brisbane to show that Queensland was still open for business. But it seemed something of a personal showcase as well, and signalled that he regards foreign affairs as something of a personal fiefdom. This week a poll suggested more Australians would prefer Kevin Rudd as prime minister than Julia Gillard, which gives him more of a mental edge. He clearly thinks he is much cleverer than Julia Gillard, and successive polls have shown that he is more popular as well.

This week Julia Gillard has the chance to assert herself more forcefully in the foreign realm, with a North Asian tour of Japan, South Korea and China - before jetting off to Britain for the royal wedding. But as she noted on her first international trip as prime minister, in a quote that has come back to haunt her, she has no passion for foreign affairs.

Certainly, Kevin Rudd has become that genuine rarity: an Australian foreign affairs minister who clearly believes that he is punching well below his weight.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    History has again moved on, through economics which ultimately counts the most, Australia's most significant foreign relationship has become with China. Lets see the pollies prove their non-poodleness in this sphere.

  • Comment number 2.

    I guess they'll get their chance the next time China detains or threatens an ethnic Chinese Australian citizen. Then Australia will realise that no other country - not the US, and "not feisty little NZ" - wants to publicly get into a fight with China on Australia's behalf and they'll have to stand alone on principle.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    AllenT2, why not read the whole blog before leaping to criticise? The way I read the article is that for those who want independence in foreign policy, Rudd is showing promise. Nick doesn't appear to offer a view on whether criticising US internal security is a good thing or not.

    In the time since the Ruddology blog I've come to think that Gillard probably couldn't risk getting rid of him, albeit from a great distance, she seems to be limping along at the moment, her best hope seems to be the economy and some Abbott gaffs.

    As for the independent foreign policy, well does any nation truly have that? Now would appear to be Australia's best chance for independence, but it will still have to play off China, Japan and USA when their respective interests diverge. It's fairly easy for NZ (but still admirable), being generally under the diplomatic and economic radar.

  • Comment number 5.

    Kevin Rudd thinks he's an international statesman. He's too up himself to get involved in our own Pacific back yard, in places like PNG, Fiji and the Solomons. As a consequence, Australia is now being eclipsed by the very aggressive Chinese 'soft power' push in the region.

  • Comment number 6.

    The key to involvement in Libya was the Arab League decision to get on board and the UN resolution...those decisions "sanitised" the involvement.
    The key to an independent Australian foreign policy is a completely independent Australia and that will only happen when we become a Republic.
    Punching above our weight or punching below it is irrelevant...we need to punch at whatever weight we are.
    The defining moment comes when we call the shots completey as WE se them.
    Of all the reforms the Gillard Government has on the table at the moment, the greatest reform and the real game changer is The Republic of Australia.
    The Gillard Government can pussyfoot around with its hair's breadth majority, or it can sweep the field with the call for true Australian independence.
    Perhaps Ms Gillard can outline this POV when she is in London next week.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'd say AllenT2's attack on Nick adds a great deal of weight to Nick's point. Of course anyone with the ability to read and understand a straightforward article such as this would have immediately registered that the reference to the 'real promise' being shown was from the persepective of an Australian citizen tired of his/her government's sycophantic attitude toward the US.

    As far as I know Mr Assange hasn't committed any crimes under Australian law, although I'm sure the American politicians would love the chance to get creative with their own interpretation of Aus and American laws to ensure a prosecution. So for Mr Rudd to stick up for an Australian citizen without worrying about Washington's reaction does indeed bode well for those hoping for a refreshing change in attitude regarding Australia's relationships with bigger more influential friends.

    The fact that AllenT2 with his attack on freedom of expression and his obvious susceptibility to any side of an argument presented in an anti-foreign, pro-US government tone has taken this position against Rudd is a clear sign that anyone desiring more independence in Australia's foreign policy should see positives in Mr Rudd.

    I'd love someone within one of Britain's main parties to show similar virtues. It becomes tiresome knowing that ultimately ones representitives feel they need the approval of a foreign government before they act.

    As a tireless proponent of his country's right to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, without anyone else's endorsement I know it's a position AllenT2 will undoubtedly sympathise with.

  • Comment number 8.

    I thought the Marrackville Council was in charge of Foreign Affairs, Middle East division?

  • Comment number 9.

    6 Greg Warner

    “The key to an independent Australian foreign policy is a completely independent Australia and that will only happen when we become a Republic.”

    The notion that Australian foreign policy is influenced by a symbolic monarchical attachment is ludicrous.

    Australian foreign policy is determined by what the government of the day perceives to be in Australia’s best interests, including the extent to which it is aligned with or opposes the foreign policy of any other state – which is as it should be.

    “The defining moment comes when we call the shots completey as WE se them.” (spelling errors retained since they may offer a clue to the current state-of-mind of the author)

    To repeat: Australian foreign policy is determined by what the government of the day believes to be in the best interests of Australia, including the extent to which it is aligned with or opposes the foreign policy of any other state – which is as it should be.

    “Of all the reforms the Gillard Government has on the table at the moment, the greatest reform and the real game changer is The Republic of Australia.”

    Really! The last I heard was that this issue was very much off the table and, in effect, had been deferred as long as Betty Windsor is around and, given her genes, this could be for many more years.

    “The Gillard Government can pussyfoot around with its hair's breadth majority, or it can sweep the field with the call for true Australian independence. Perhaps Ms Gillard can outline this POV when she is in London next week.”

    Australia is already a fully independent state. The fact that Australians have chosen by referendum to have as their head of state a Queen of Australia who resides on the other side of the planet seems very bizarre to me; however, if that’s what they want, so be it.

    Surely, even Ms Gillard is not dumb enough to bother wasting time on offering this POV in London. If she does, the likely response will be suppressed yawns, tired smiles and brief words which in substance will convey the message: “make up your minds whether you want Australia to be republic or not. If you choose the republic option, we’ll do everything we can to arrange a smooth and swift transition. In the meantime, don’t waste our time with your internal agonizing.”

  • Comment number 10.

    9 PeterD

    "The notion that Australian foreign policy is influenced by a symbolic monarchical attachment is ludicrous".

    Perhaps it is ludicrous to you Peter, but I am used to you rushing in with your posts before considering all the parameters.

    Is it ludicrous for some nations to assume that because the Queen of Great Britain is also the Queen of Australia, that Australia is NOT as independent as a nation that owes its allegiance to its own elected head of state?

    Is it ludicrous that such nations might then act towards Australia in ways that would then influence Australian foreign policy towards those nations that held that opinion of Australia?

    Is it ludicrous that the USA might well imagine that if the UK is going to get on board one of its foreign policies, that Australia will automatically follow suit?

    Is it ludicrous that what you describe as a "symbolical monarchial attachment" could be seen by others as not being merely symbolic, or do you think the nations of Africa, Asia and South America are as familiar with the relationship between Australia and Great Britain as you seem to be?

    "(spelling errors retained since they may offer a clue to the current state-of-mind of the author)"

    Is a spelling mistake a clue to "the current state-of-mind of the author" or is it a spelling mistake?

    In your last reply to one of my posts you suggested I was involved in illegal activities (consorting with people smugglers), and in many posts you have suggsted that fellow posters might be "smoking something" or "in need of psychiatric help" and other such examples of your scathing wit.

    In a recent post you also suggested that if you had emigrated to Australia and not Canada you would have "made sure all the chippies were kept in their place and contributed to great social achievements" or words to that effect.

    How's your state-of-mind sport?

    Regarding the health of Her Majesty, I find it in atrocious bad taste to link the coming of the Republic of Australia with that dear woman's demise...can't you see that that position is merely the politically expedient way of shifting the debate...in the current stalemate in Australian politics, if a strategy of bringing forward another referendum on the Republic was seen to deliver a resounding victory to one party or another that referendum would be on the political calendar quick smart.

    One of the continuing shortcomings in your posts is that you continue, as you must, to be an outsider...you may as you believe be a well informed outsider but you cannot really ever feel the deep down pulse and spirit of place of those many Australians who yearn for the Republic.

    PM Gillard putting forward this POV in London next week...it was tongue in cheek Peter, Aussie humour, and naturally you missed it...you know, with her handbag and perhaps a bunch of gladioli knocking on the door of the palace and saying "Hello...is the Queen in?"

    If there are more spelling mistakes in here so be it...I do not have the time and inclination to pore over what I write checking literals...I come in to Nick's blog to see what his current topic is...make a comment if I feel so inclined...then click on news to see what the BBC world service is reporting on.

    Sorry...on which the BBC world service is reporting...can't end with a preposition..right Peter?




  • Comment number 11.

    10 Greg Warner

    “Is it ludicrous for some nations to assume that because the Queen of Great Britain is also the Queen of Australia, that Australia is NOT as independent as a nation that owes its allegiance to its own elected head of state?”

    “Is it ludicrous that such nations might then act towards Australia in ways that would then influence Australian foreign policy towards those nations that held that opinion of Australia?”

    Yes, it’s ludicrous on both counts. I believe that the government of any state that is likely to have a significant influence on Australia’s governance is much better informed than you are and very aware that Australia is an independent state.

    “Is it ludicrous that the USA might well imagine that if the UK is going to get on board one of its foreign policies, that Australia will automatically follow suit?”

    Yes, it’s insanely ludicrous.

    “Is it ludicrous that what you describe as a "symbolical monarchial attachment" could be seen by others as not being merely symbolic, or do you think the nations of Africa, Asia and South America are as familiar with the relationship between Australia and Great Britain as you seem to be?”

    Yes, it’s ludicrous. I believe the governments of those states are certainly as familiar or more familiar with the relationship between Australia and Britain than I am, and a much, much more familiar than you are.

    I appreciate your acknowledgement of my scathing wit.

    “In a recent post you also suggested that if you had emigrated to Australia and not Canada you would have "made sure all the chippies were kept in their place and contributed to great social achievements" or words to that effect.”

    My exact words were: “On balance, I’m glad I chose Canada; however, Australia or New Zealand would have been good second choices. On the other hand, if I’d chosen Australia, I could have devoted much more time to Chippie-bashing which could have yielded real societal benefits!” I stand firmly behind those words. I can’t stand Chippies – a thoroughly gutless bunch.

    “How's your state-of-mind sport?” Well, since you were kind enough to ask, I think it’s pretty good for a seventy year old. Same with my state-of-body: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink cheap plonk and I don’t have triple helpings of Nasi Goreng. Furthermore, I exercise regularly. If you just try the same, starting slowly of course, you%

  • Comment number 12.

    My last submission 11 was not completely posted. Hopefully, it will appear in full below. Apologies for any confusion caused.

    10 Greg Warner

    “Is it ludicrous for some nations to assume that because the Queen of Great Britain is also the Queen of Australia, that Australia is NOT as independent as a nation that owes its allegiance to its own elected head of state?”

    “Is it ludicrous that such nations might then act towards Australia in ways that would then influence Australian foreign policy towards those nations that held that opinion of Australia?”

    Yes, it’s ludicrous on both counts. I believe that the government of any state that is likely to have a significant influence on Australia’s governance is much better informed than you are and very aware that Australia is an independent state.

    “Is it ludicrous that the USA might well imagine that if the UK is going to get on board one of its foreign policies, that Australia will automatically follow suit?”

    Yes, it’s insanely ludicrous.

    “Is it ludicrous that what you describe as a "symbolical monarchial attachment" could be seen by others as not being merely symbolic, or do you think the nations of Africa, Asia and South America are as familiar with the relationship between Australia and Great Britain as you seem to be?”

    Yes, it’s ludicrous. I believe the governments of those states are certainly as familiar or more familiar with the relationship between Australia and Britain than I am, and are much more familiar than you are.

    I appreciate your acknowledgement of my scathing wit.

    “In a recent post you also suggested that if you had emigrated to Australia and not Canada you would have "made sure all the chippies were kept in their place and contributed to great social achievements" or words to that effect.”

    My exact words were: “On balance, I’m glad I chose Canada; however, Australia or New Zealand would have been good second choices. On the other hand, if I’d chosen Australia, I could have devoted much more time to Chippie-bashing which could have yielded real societal benefits!” I stand firmly behind those words. I can’t stand Chippies – a thoroughly gutless bunch.

    “How's your state-of-mind sport?” Well, since you were kind enough to ask, I think it’s pretty good for a seventy year old. Same with my state-of-body: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink cheap plonk and I don’t have tr

  • Comment number 13.

    Would you like to try again Peter?

  • Comment number 14.

    13 Greg Warner

    Well since you asked, I'll try posting just the remaining portion of the original post. If that doesn't work, I'm pretty sure there will be a next time. So here goes........

    “How's your state-of-mind sport?” Well, since you were kind enough to ask, I think it’s pretty good for a seventy year old. Same with my state-of-body: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink cheap plonk and I don’t have triple helpings of Nasi Goreng. Furthermore, I exercise regularly. If you just try the same, starting slowly of course, you could become a new man and may even outlive Betty Windsor and see a Republic of Australia.

    “Regarding the health of Her Majesty, I find it in atrocious bad taste to link the coming of the Republic of Australia with that dear woman's demise...can't you see that that position is merely the politically expedient way of shifting the debate...in the current stalemate in Australian politics”

    Don’t tell me. Tell it to your mates running the ALP. Incidentally, you’ve long professed an admiration of Betty Windsor and her late Mum. Then recently, you stated that Charlie Wales was someone “you could die for” and his eldest son was a “beautiful boy”. I naturally assumed that you had become a monarchist through something akin to a religious conversion. Obviously, I was wrong and and you were really expressing a deep personal affection for these two fellas. No problem.

    “One of the continuing shortcomings in your posts is that you continue, as you must, to be an outsider...you may as you believe be a well informed outsider but you cannot really ever feel the deep down pulse and spirit of place of those many Australians who yearn for the Republic.”

    Absolute rubbish. As I’ve clearly stated on numerous occasions on this site, I’m a firm supporter of republicanism. Therefore, I feel an affinity with many Australians that support republicanism, but that ‘many’ does not include yourself.

    “PM Gillard putting forward this POV in London next week...it was tongue in cheek Peter, Aussie humour, and naturally you missed it...you know, with her handbag and perhaps a bunch of gladioli knocking on the door of the palace and saying "Hello...is the Queen in?"

    Ah, it was GW humor was it. Well, let’s be frank you’re definitely no Barry Humphries. He would never hire you as a writer and it’s also unlikely he would ever hire you to wash his bras.

    “Sorry...on

  • Comment number 15.

    Give it another shot mate.
    And why don't you have a go at responding to Nick's blog rather than my response to Nick's blog.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Nick,

    Don't have anything to say on this blog, but just wanted to say how much I enjoying reading your articles. As an Aussie now living in the US (left Australia 8 years ago) I've recently started following Australian news again - homesick, maybe, or just sentimental? And the most enjoyable and enlightening has been through your blogs. As I've travelled extensively now, I appreciate far more the view of a foreigner when distilling the news of a country he or she is living in at that time.

    Cheers. I shall make this blog a regular read from now on.

  • Comment number 17.

    15 Greg Warner

    Thank you so much for your continuing encouragement. There wasn’t much left and that follows:

    “Sorry...on which the BBC world service is reporting...can't end with a preposition..right Peter?”

    No problem, don’t sweat the small stuff. Just concentrate on the recommended lifestyle changes.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am very thankful that Nick is far more interesting and considered than some of his 'fans'.


    Nick can we have a blog from you about nutty people who go looking for righteous verbal stouches to engage in over BBC blog sites?


    I think Greg and Peter have been listening to my song "the more you ignore me, the closer I get"

    Cheers,
    The Moz in Oz.

  • Comment number 19.

    18 @TheMoz wrote:

    Nick can we have a blog from you about nutty people who go looking for righteous verbal stouches to engage in over BBC blog sites?
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I would'nt call insulting and demeaning name calling ie; Betty Windsor and Charlie Wales righteous as far as their verbal stouches are concerned. Its just more than disrespectful its disgusting, and characterises some of poeple that enter BBC blogs
    just to be hateful to other contributors, and like to highlight their comments with tacky examples such as these references to those members of the royal family.

  • Comment number 20.

    Speaking of the HM the Queen I can think of a couple of regular posters to this blog who fight like a couple of "Highest ranking female royals".

  • Comment number 21.

    Nick,

    New Zealand's 'feisty' independent -mindedness is based on two stated assumptions (1) that it's unlikely that any aggressor would bother to invade the country and (2) if that occurred, Australia would be compelled to intervene. So naturally, Kiwis can afford to be virtuous, 'independent' and more or less defenceless.

    Gillard doesn't seem to have a passion for any policy initiatives,which is not characteristic of Labor PMs, to old comrades like me, that is a great disappointment.

    The current situation is probably best described as an 'independent Kevin Rudd' than an 'independent foreign policy'. The idea of the "Great and Powerful Friend" who will come to Australia's aid when the country is threatened as long as we 'pay the premium' is a widespread delusion,despite historical evidence to the contrary.
    Our assistance to Britain in WW1 counted for nothing in 1942 as the British pursued their national interests and the Americans only came to Australia's aid because it suited their strategic plans.

    We Australians have far more to lose by remaining willing accomplices of a declining, militaristic, aggressive imperial power than we have to gain by dubious guarantees of future assistance.

    Unfortunately, Rudd's independent foreign policy probably won't outlast Rudd's term in office.


    Whitfordsbeach,

    I was thinking of people in pointy hats,oversized shoes and armed with custard pies, however, given the verbal nature of the dispute, your description is far more appropriate. LOL.

 

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