Foreign Policy

Surely it wasn’t meant to be like this. In early September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was set to attend a lavish ceremony in Washington to mark the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. On the same trip, he was due to sit down in person for the first time with his US, Indian, and Japanese counterparts, fellow members of the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’, or ‘Quad’, a gathering primed to be a regional counterweight to China.

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Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser, with Cain Roberts

by
June–July 2014, no. 362

Coinciding with the World War I anniversaries, Malcolm Fraser’s book will polarise Australian opinion on a fundamental issue. It has never been raised in this way, for Australian leaders have not discussed decisions to go to war in public, nor sought popular approval of Australia’s alliances. Yet successive generations of young Australians have fought in British and American wars to support our allies and to ensure that they would defend us. In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the enemy were people who did not threaten Australia. But, as Fraser is not the first to observe, cowed countries do as great powers demand, while in return great powers do what suits their own interests.

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Figures released by the International Monetary Fund on 16 August 2010 revealed that China had overtaken Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. Within a generation it had gone from being an isolated society that could barely feed its own people to the largest producer of steel and concrete on the planet, a vital link in global production chains and, since 2008, the most important engine for global economic growth.

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A current view among foreign policy academics is that the pursuit of Australia’s foreign interests is too important to be left to the diplomats. Here is a timely antidote from Philip Flood, an Australian diplomat who distinguished himself as a maker and shaper of foreign policy, particularly in South-East Asia.'

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Tariq Ali, proclaims the Guardian, ‘has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s’. If his latest book is the best the left can muster, I fear that its chances of influencing political debate are minimal – and, even worse, undesirable.

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Sometime around 1820, forty years after its Industrial Revolution began, Britain overtook China to become the world’s richest country. Sometime between now and 2020, forty years after China’s own Industrial Revolution was launched by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, China is set to overtake the United States and regain its place at the top of the world’s economy.

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Whoever wins the federal election later this year, it is likely that at some stage in 2008 we will be looking back and post-mortemising the Howard government. One strand in the reviews will surely be the Howard government’s impact on the quality of public debate in this country. Whether it has been a contributor to Howard’s long ascendancy (and I think it has), this government’s ability to goad large numbers of academics and commentators into unbalanced and increasingly hysterical denunciations of nearly all aspects of its operations is unprecedented in Australian political history.

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This book is a useful and lucid account of Australian foreign policy since the very beginning. It does not purport to be an authoritative or a particularly analytical account of the evolution of external policy but is one which senior secondary school children could find helpful in achieving a sense of perspective. As its author concedes, to grasp the essentials of Australian foreign policy this book read in isolation would not be enough, and some general knowledge of world events is necessary.

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