The Great and Powerful Friends Doctrine
The incumbent Liberal Party formed government as a coalition with the National Party
and has held government in the Australian House of Representatives since 1996. The Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister John Howard, is largely a centrist party with socially conservative leanings. The Liberal foreign policy, the "great and powerful friends" doctrine, is a very conservative policy. Other than the Hawke and Keating governments, all Australian governments in the 20th century have based their foreign policy decisions on this doctrine.
The "great and powerful friends" doctrine at its core, is where a medium sized nation places its foreign policy in submission to the dominant superpower of the day. This is done with the hope that by furthering the superpower's interests, the medium sized nation will be able to further its own interests via influence on the superpower's policies. By its very definition, this doctrine trades Australian foreign policy independence in return for being under the defence and economic umbrella of the superpower.
The earliest use of this doctrine was by Billy Hughes in 1919 at the Versailles meeting after World War I. Hughes was challenged by the American President, Woodrow Wilson, as to why he should be present at the table. Wilson thought that the British Foreign Minister, Lloyd George, represented the British Commonwealth's interests. Hughes claimed he represented, "60,000 dead
" and Hughes; along with the Prime Minister of South Africa, was given a place at the table.
By his presence, Hughes attempted to further British policy and international prestige. In return Hughes wanted access to British markets and the protection of Australia by the Royal Navy. In 1919, eighty percent of Australian exports went to Britain, and there was genuine concern that Australia's main competitor in the British market - Canada - would get preferential treatment. Hughes' furthering British interests was seen by Australians as a down payment in return for open access to the British market and the protection of Australia by the Royal Navy.
This policy continued in the 1930's. Australia funded the development of Singapore as a naval fortress, with the idea that any belligerent would be held up in Singapore, giving the Royal Navy time to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific and save Australia. Consequently Australia did not bother developing a blue water navy and in 1942 when the Royal Navy was stretched across four oceans, Australia was left to fend for itself against Japan. This is when John Curtin uttered the words during a December 1941 speech;
Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.
From this point on, the United States replaced Britain as the the "great and powerful friend" in Australian foreign policy. This policy has since taken Australia through supporting the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Vietnam War and in 2002 - the Second Gulf War. Australia was one of two nations who supported the Bush Administration unconditionally into the conflict. It should be noted, John Howard did so against Australian public opinion.
The Howard Years
The Hawke and Keating governments between 1983 and 1996 pursued the new and then quite radical foreign policy of "Asian Engagement". With John Howard's government coming to power, Australian foreign policy reverted back to the conservative philosophy of "great and powerful friends". This firmly roots Australia in the anglosphere. In the conservative mindview - all culture, nationalism and government policy stems from this anglophilic view. The Howard government began the "history wars" in part to reinforce the anglic history and heritage of Australia - possibly to make the policies of the anglosphere more palatable.
Terrorism became a wider security issue for Australia with the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington D.C. The corner stone of Australia's defence agreements in the Cold War had been ANZUS
. Despite ANZUS losing its power when the US refused to honour its responsibilities with respect to New Zealand after a dispute in 1982, Australia still placed great importance in the document. With the attacks on US soil, John Howard activated a clause in the document
with the claim that the US has been attacked and consequently Australia will defend the USA as per the agreement.
The ANZUS treaty is a cold war document and has little relevance to the 21st century. It is hard not to see Howard activating the agreement as a desperate attempt to keep the treaty relevant. Since September 2001, other than the US thanking Australia for honouring the agreement, there has been no other action on the treaty. It could be argued that Australian support in Afghanistan and Iraq are a result of ANZUS, but both actions were deliberated in Parliament and the Australian media before action was taken.
Nation Building and Failed States
The Howard Government has pursued four nation-building expeditions in the last few years. These have been East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq. East Timor and the Solomons were not related to terrorism, and Afghanistan was not fully under-taken by Australia as a nation-building task. Iraq did involve Australia adopting, at the very least the political rhetoric of the American view of Iraq as a nation-building exercise, even though Australia did not commit the necessary forces or money to have any effect on the desired outcome of a free and stable Iraq.
East Timor and the Solomons were Australian led missions, that gained their legitimacy from the nations involved. Before Australia committed to East Timor, Australian diplomacy, along with the diplomacy of other nations such as Thailand, managed to get Indonesia to agree with a UN mission to stabilize the former annexed province as it sought independence. East Timor has been held as an example of a successful UN mission. Australian leadership provided this.
The Solomons expedition was similar. Prompted by a report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute
(ASPI) who advocated a nation-building exercise in the Solomons, Australia led a multi-national mission to the failed and lawless state. Like East Timor, this was done after legitimizing the expedition through securing a request from the government of the Solomon Islands to intervene. This is an ongoing mission but is progressing well.
Afghanistan and Iraq
The other two nation-building exercises Australia has embarked upon are Afghanistan and Iraq - both under US leadership. Australia made the point in the Afghan campaign that Australia was there for the "war on terror", not for Afghanistan, and managed to avoid any nation-building commitments. Since Australia is an uncritical supporter of American foreign policy, the success or failure of the nation-building exercise in Afghanistan may stick to Australia, despite only having a single officer attached to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Australia was one of three nations to initiate hostilities against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It was promoted in Australia as a necessity to disarm Hussein, and even with this rhetoric, Australians preferred that Australian involvement required the expeditionary cause to have United Nations (UN) legitimacy. Howard went against the electorate in the deployment to Iraq. Australia committed naval, aviation and special forces assets to the invasion. After hostilities the Australian contingent wound down to just over one thousand personnel. A small and ineffectual number in comparison to America's 140,000.
In both these instances these were definite moves by the Howard Government, using the "great and powerful friends" doctrine, against terrorism. Both Afghanistan and more importantly Iraq have been failures. Iraq under Hussein was not a haven for terrorists, but by September of 2004, it has become an chaotic failed state with porous borders. There is no stability in Iraq, and this failure lies completely at the hands of the US, UK and Australia.
Australia's success in Iraq is entirely dependent on American success. Australia has not committed the troops, nor the money to succeed in having Iraq as a secure and stable democracy. Richard Woolcott writes on the issue
The reality is that Australia's presence, however capable and efficient our forces, can make no meaningful contribution to the two major objectives: the reconstruction of that country and the establishment of a viable democratic government there.
The East Timor and Solomons deployments both gained wider legitimacy before Australia committed. Both deployments were Australian led, with Australia providing the necessary troops, civilian personnel as well as sufficient logistical and economic resources for those expeditions to be a success. The Australian deployment in Iraq, had none of these positive attributes from the Howard Government in their uncritical support of American policy.
Australian history has largely been a valiant refusal to recognise Australian geography. Australians have tried to maintain an attachment to Europe and in particular the anglosphere. Gough Whitlam, later Prime Minister, was the first to see beyond this and he beat Richard Nixon in welcoming China to the global community. This localised and regionalized view of foreign policy was further developed under the Hawke and Keating governments as the doctrine of "Asian Engagement".
Paul Keating and Gareth Evans both sought to re-align Australia as an Asian nation, rather than an European nation that was a victim of geographical circumstance. Since three of Australia's biggest four export markets are Japan, China and South Korea, Keating set about strengthening regional trade through the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum. This was during a time of the "Tiger Nations" having remarkable economic growth until "contagion" struck in 1999.
The other aspect of "Asian Engagement" is the premise that the only way Australia's geographic vulnerabilities can be defended is through the promotion of a benign neighbourhood. As a trading nation with multi-national defence links, Australia's geographic vulnerabilities are the North-West Shelf, the Timor Sea and the Coral Sea. Through cultural, economic and defence links with Australia's Asian neighbours these vulnerabilities can be secured.
By contrast the "great and powerful friends" doctrine attempts to solve this issue through a strong Australian-American alliance where the United States Navy (USN) is used to ensure that Australia's vulnerabilities are secured. This assumes that the USN will always be available to maintain authority over those vulnerabilities.
Terrorism for Australia remains a foreign policy issue. The attacks that have been directed at Australia have taken place in Indonesia. The Bali bombing was directed at Australia and the Jakarta bombings had a dual target in trying to destabilize the Indonesia elections, as well as alienate Australian and Indonesia co-operation, through the targeting of the Australian embassy.
Indonesia has handled the terrorist attacks admirably. This young democracy has embraced the rule of law and rejected the prosecution of the Bali bombers under a back dated post-hoc anti-terrorist law. This was despite blood-curdling pressure from Australia. Indonesia has attacked the problem of terrorism as a civil matter for the police force and as a consequence they have been successful.
The Howard government in the wake of the Bali bombing has sought and found police co-operation with Indonesia in police matters. The five-powers defence agreement has also been upgraded to have terrorism added to its responsibilities. But these attempts at regional engagement have often been flouted by John Howard's often clumsy politics. There is the wider view of Howard as Bush's "Deputy Sherriff" in the South pacific. Consequently there is considerable distrust of his regional policies with Australia's neighbours.
Another clumsy diplomatic effort came during the current election campaign when Howard announced a neo-con platform of pre-emption against any terrorist bases in neighbouring nations. This brought a stern rebuke from Indonesian legislator Alvin Lee, who commented
[John] Howard should learn to control himself, Indonesia and Australia are both victims. I strongly support increased cooperation among neighboring countries to fight terrorism but not attacks.
Labor's national security policy
sees South East Asia as the highest priority in combating terrorism. The policy notes that Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia have set up maritime patrolling to guard against Jemaah Islamiah (JI) from bringing personnel, supplies and potentially weapons from the Phillipines to Indonesia. Australia did not join this effort, despite it being in Australia's interests and fitting Australian capability well.
Labor's policy also includes education funding for Indonesia to combat the Madrassas', which educate through fundamentalism. Labor will also help fund the Indonesian police in counter-terrorism. The Indonesia police under Suharto's regime were part of the military. An important aspect of the Labor doctrine is that it engages Australia's neighbours diplomatically, economically and culturally.
In terms of terrorism, Indonesia has been taking the hits for Australia, and has handled the stress of terrorism on their civil structures admirably. As a result, terrorism for Australia remains a foreign policy and regional issue.
The Liberal Government's foreign policy through the "great and powerful friends" doctrine has little basis over the last eighty years to recommend it. When faced with terrorism, the uncritical support of the US, and in particular the US adventure into Iraq has been a catastrophic failure. As a result of this pursuit of the bi-lateral Australian-American defence and foreign policy - defence and diplomatic relations between Australia and its neighbours have suffered. Diplomatic pragmatism being the main saving grace.
The Labor foreign policy of "Asian Engagement" is far more suited to the nature of terrorism that is practiced against Australia. Its focus on regional issues and relationships, are necessary in co-operative efforts to combat terrorist cells, international trafficking in arms and border security. The regional focus of Labor's foreign policy, and their stated policy of South East Asia being their primary focus in combatting terrorism, gives Labor's "Asian Engagement" doctrine the advantage in suppressing the likelihood of terrorist attacks against Australia.
Traditionally the Liberal Party has been seen by the electorate to be stronger on security and defence - but the aging and outmoded foreign policy of the Liberal Party has not translated to the current environment of terrorism. The Liberal Party has had three years to establish a terrorism policy, and their uncritical support of the US in Iraq and American foreign policy has been a failure. Where Howard's government has acted regionally, it has more often then not managed to alienate Australia's neighbours.
The Labor doctrine of "Asian Engagement" has its primary focus on Australia's region in the domains of diplomacy, economics and culture. Consequently it is better suited to deal with the current nature of terrorism that has been practiced against Australia. Indonesia will remain the frontline of terror for Australia. Constant, ongoing and comprehensive co-operation with - and support of, the Indonesian battle with terrorism will be required. Labor's style of foreign policy is less reactive than the Liberal policy and would reduce factors in the region that foster terrorism.