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Oz policy for an essential friend feeling not so great and powerful

Posted By on January 30, 2017 @ 06:00

Image courtesy of Pixabay user Congerdesign.

Australia is writing a Foreign Policy White Paper— a ‘philosophical framework [1] to guide Australia’s engagement, regardless of international events’—then along comes Donald Trump.

An important bit of policy thinking has run into the unthinkable—as in, what does he think? And what Trump thinks becomes starker by the moment.

The third ever Oz Foreign White Paper [2] is to be born in the first year of the Trump presidency/drama/soap opera, to ‘outline [3] Australia’s most important principles and interests for engaging with the world and working with allies and partners in the decade ahead’.

In the spirit of international optimism and hope that’s so widespread these days, we must congratulate the DFAT White Paper toilers on their great good luck.

Nobody can now doubt the need for Australia to think long and hard about its international interests, and to speak plainly about priorities and principles. This is an unusually fraught time for predictions, but at least we should articulate clear aims. Come the moment, come the White Paper.

Policy ideas can be given a real shake during days of shift and shock. The DFAT toilers are blessed to live in fascinating times, tasked to peer out a decade to guess where all these rockets will go and where they’ll land.

Trump tears at comfortable platitudes and terrorises old certainties. His presence on stage demands that Australia produce a policy document that performs as advertised. The White Paper web site lists a host of wonderful questions [4]. Yet nothing will sharpen this process like the questions posed by the new President.

Trump simplifies the White Paper’s rhetoric about the US. No nuance for Donald, none for us. We will shovel on the bilateral love and the loyalty, in order to get as close as possible. The words won’t disguise the quaking uncertainty but, by gosh and by golly, they’ll be lovely words. The more we fear flux, the louder will be the praise for the US—especially the alliance.

The expression of alliance love and commitment will be even more heartfelt than the 2016 Defence White Paper. The deeply traditional bit of the Foreign White Paper will have lots of stuff about the US as vital and indispensible to the world and Asian orders. Expect simple Trumpian language about the US as huge and important—and, a small departure from Trump orthodoxy, still as great as ever.

Australia wants the alliance to be Trump-proof. That’s Kim Beazley’s ‘deep state’ [5] vision of the 21st Century alliance as ‘a seamless interconnection’ of Oz–US military and intelligence that can ‘endure through potentially sharp shifts in the orientation of future administrations.’ The sharp shift has arrived and the stress test begins.

The dissonance in the White Paper will be between the bilateral affirmation and regional visions. How to get some semblance of alignment between Australia’s bilateral embrace of the US (based on tradition and history and alliance and power) and the Trump-driven need to think afresh about what faces the Indo–Pacific? Luckily the politics of policy documents decrees that all propositions needn’t be consistent; it’s just another way to spell diplomacy.

Bilaterally, Australia will step even closer to the US and hope for the best from the American system, if not from Trump. In the words of the previous DFAT secretary Peter Varghese [6], the hope-for-the-best option ‘is not as delusional as it may sound. The US has not yet lost strategic predominance and who can say for certain that it is inevitable?’

We aim to ‘stay on the American bandwagon’, in Tom Switzer’s [7] phrase, ‘but not sign onto every Trump initiative’. So hope for the best in the bilateral dimension and plan for the worst when pondering Trump’s regional impacts.

The inauguration speech [8] crystallised what the worst sounds like. Trump is:

  • America First: ‘From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.’
  • Protectionist and mercantilist: ‘Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.’
  • Alliance remaker and rejectionist: ‘America has spent trillions of dollars overseas’ to subsidize foreign armies and defend other nation’s borders.

These are the essence of a simple international vision Trump has been proclaiming for decades [9]. It’s time to believe that the 45th President will do what he promises.

Contemplate the challenge posed to the Liberal Party psyche [2]: the White Paper will be a Liberal political document as well as a policy blueprint. The party of Menzies prizes the alliance as a core defence guarantee and superb political weapon. Trump confronts Canberra (and the Libs) with the reality that the US is necessary but not sufficient, still essential but potentially not decisive.

Menzies’ famous phrase was that the US is the Great and Powerful Friend. Trump’s ‘American carnage’ inauguration speech [8] upends the phrase. Behold a US which sees itself as less than great, aiming to rebuild greatness by junking the ideas and institutions of the previous 70 years [10]. Trump proclaims a US that’ll withdraw its military power and offer friendship based on the price of the deal.

For Australia, what better time to produce a Foreign Policy White Paper?

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/oz-policy-essential-friend-feeling-not-great-powerful/

URLs in this post:

[1] 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

[2] Oz Foreign White Paper: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/oz-foreign-trade-white-paper-liberal-psyche/

[3] outline: http://foreignminister.gov.au/releases/Pages/2016/jb_mr_161213.aspx

[4] wonderful questions: http://dfat.gov.au/whitepaper/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/foreign-policy-white-paper-call-for-submissions.pdf

[5] ‘deep state’: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/trumping-australias-american-alliance/

[6] Peter Varghese: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/consider-australias-options-if-us-loses-indopacific-clout/news-story/a023bfbec6e82655533fd87e9adabacc

[7] Tom Switzer’s: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/pax-americana-time-trump/

[8] inauguration speech: https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address

[9] proclaiming for decades: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/02/09/what-trump-is-throwing-out-the-window/

[10] ideas and institutions of the previous 70 years: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-01-20/jacksonian-revolt

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