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Oz Foreign and Trade White Paper and the Liberal psyche

Posted By on August 29, 2016 @ 06:00

Image courtesy of Flickr user Iinthesky [1]

Australia is to get only its third Foreign and Trade White Paper.

The aim is to create a ‘philosophical framework [2] to guide Australia’s engagement, regardless of international events.’

The Foreign Minister sets the bar high for what she wants to emerge from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade next year. Julie Bishop demands a statement of strategy that will shape how Australia deals with challenges, threats and opportunities.

Good. We need it.

The White Paper must be a political document with policy punch. It will ask interesting questions of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: what can DFAT deliver intellectually and where can it reach to in Canberra’s firmament?

At its heart, the White Paper will have to provide some China answers—policies that look more like prescriptions than hopes. The great Canberra divide on China between economy world and security world [3] needs some bridges.

Consider the complex politics of a White Paper.

The document must serve partisan political purposes—this is how the Liberal–National Coalition sees the world. Yet it must also cement the broad areas of international bipartisanship essential in any functioning democracy. And then the White Paper must travel further than these two opposing bases, to reach beyond partisan and bipartisan.

The job is to imagine more than now exists, to push both partisan and the bipartisan understandings.

Liberal–Labor agreement on foreign and defence policy is a national asset. And bipartisan accord was on strong display in the international [4] policy [5] debates [6] during the federal election. The Libs and Labor were locked in fervent concurrence.

Unlike Defence on the other side of the lake, DFAT has no established custom of Foreign and Trade white papers. We’ve had only two from—both from John Howard’s government.

The first, ‘In the National Interest’, was in 1997. The second, ‘Advancing the National Interest’, appeared in 2003. Any bets on the chance ‘National Interest’ will appear in the title of the third Foreign and Trade White Paper in 2017?

More than deciding on a headline, this will be how the Liberal Party badges itself. The White Paper will express the foreign policy psyche of the Libs and ‘National Interest’ carries important codes.

The National Interest meme in the previous two White Papers reflected a Howard world view that valued the US alliance and key bilateral relationships while being deeply sceptical of the United Nations and multilateralism.

To the two great strands of Oz political opinion on the UN—Evatt Enthusiasm and Menzies Scepticism—Howard introduced a third strand, UN Rejectionism. [7]

Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister allowed his mental tic about the UN to grow into something of a sore spot. In Howard’s memoirs [8], there was only one sentence in praise of the UN as an organisation that didn’t come with an immediate qualifier.

Howard Rejectionism has become an important part of the Liberal psyche and the mental baggage of his ideological heir.

Under Tony Abbott [9] the Coalition still had a big bee in the bonnet about the United Nations and multilateral efforts in areas like climate change.

Abbott proclaimed the view that the Commonwealth served ‘a clear national purpose’ for Australia while the quest for a UN Security Council seat served ‘nothing more than a nebulous sense of temporarily enhanced international status.’ So the Commonwealth had clear purpose and the Security Council was nebulous. Sigh at the strangeness.

The utilitarian element in the Australian character injects a certain cynicism [10] into views of international activism. And the Liberal tradition is to give full expression to a cynical/realist reading.

Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, went on to toil on Cyprus as a special adviser to the UN Secretary-General. He offered this Security Council critique: [10]

‘These days there is no ideological difference between the members of the Security Council. Their differences are based entirely on national interest. Which tells multilateralists something about the reality of multilateral diplomacy; it’s just a bunch of countries pushing their own barrows, but in the one room.’

The take-no-prisoners school in Canberra decrees that international affairs is just domestic politics on a bigger stage—a recent example being the Turnbull Cabinet nixing the nomination of Kevin Rudd for UN Secretary-General.

As Ramesh Thakur judged [11], this was sad, mean, petty and small-minded politics, preventing a credible Australian candidate from even being considered for the first time in the UN’s 70 year history, ‘injecting hyper-partisanship into a decision that should be made on national, and only national, considerations.’

Hard to say whether Liberal distrust of the UN is greater than Liberal hatred of The Kevin.

Howard Rejectionism, though, has had some pushback from Julie Bishop. One of the first foreign policy shifts after Turnbull deposed Abbott was the decision to seek election to the UN Security Council [12] in 2029-30. Under Abbott, the Libs’ predisposition was to follow the example set by Howard, who killed off such a UN bid when he was PM.

Bishop will be producing a White Paper for the most liberal internationalist Liberal PM since Malcolm Fraser. One gauge of the Paper’s political temper will be how it expresses the Liberal Party psyche on multilateralism and the National Interest meme.

To be continued….



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/oz-foreign-trade-white-paper-liberal-psyche/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2352479575_5c6aae99b7_z.jpg

[2] philosophical framework: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/julie-bishop-puts-new-dfat-boss-to-work-on-first-foreign-policy-white-paper-in-13-years-20160819-gqwkhm.html

[3] economy world and security world: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/china-economy-world-versus-security-world/

[4] international: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/oz-election-internal-not-international/

[5] policy: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/china-supporting-fourth-column-subversive-fifth-column/

[6] debates: http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/amiable-defence-debate-meets-china/

[7] Rejectionism.: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2010/10/29/Howards-selective-UN-rejectionism.aspx

[8] memoirs: https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Lazarus_Rising.html?id=XMjoaeqr1K8C

[9] Tony Abbott: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2012/07/18/What-Abbott-will-do-about-foreign-policy-aid.aspx

[10] certain cynicism: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2011/12/09/Multilateralism-Pushing-party-barrows.aspx

[11] judged: http://www.policyforum.net/rolling-rudd-again/

[12] UN Security Council: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/30/australia-to-seek-seat-on-un-security-council-in-2029-30-julie-bishop-says

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