June 30th 2018

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COVER STORY NSW electricity grid now at 'crisis point'

EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

CANBERRA OBSERVED Throwing our 8ยข in the ring over sale of ABC

OPINION Why populism has become popular among the populace

MEDIA Ramsay Centre gets all that' left from ABC's Drum

ENERGY Solar panels leave hidden carbon footprint

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson conviction conundrum

ENERGY Don't let our waste go to waste: energise it

OPINION We've moved from low standards to no standards

LITERATURE AND CULTURE Christian humour through the ages: Dante, Chaucer and Cervantes

ECONOMICS Trump, China, the WTO and world trade

WHY BREXIT? A tight little island


MUSIC Contrary emotions: Following and leading the beat

CINEMA Incredibles 2: Just the average family of superheroes

BOOK REVIEW The main driver of our foreign policy

BOOK REVIEW Commitment at risk of obliteration



EDITORIAL By-elections a trial run for next federal election

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The main driver of our foreign policy

News Weekly, June 30, 2018

FEAR OF ABANDONMENT: Australia in the World since 1942

by Allan Gyngell

Black Inc, Carlton
Paperback: 352 pages
Price: AUD$34.99

Reviewed by Chris Rule

In the introduction to his book, Fear of abandonment: Australia in the world since 1942, Allan Gyngell says that Australian foreign policy is the subject of this book.

However, he goes on to say that it is neither “a history of people-to-people relations”, nor “a diplomatic history”. Rather it is more about the “bridge”, that is, the policymakers – the prime ministers and external affairs/foreign affairs ministers, and later, trade, aid and economy-related ministers – than the ship of state itself.

The fear of abandonment is a reference to Australia’s fear of being abandoned by powerful friends, such as Great Britain and the United States. According to Gyngell, this fear has been the overriding rationale of Australian foreign policy since European settlement.

For a century and a half, the inhabitants of this continent saw their security as dependent on Britain. Even after Federation and the Statute of Westminster of 1931, which spelled out that the dominions, such as Australia, were responsible, for their own external affairs, Australia did not fully assume that responsibility until the Statue of Westminster was ratified by the Australian Parliament in 1942, by which time Australia was under threat from Japan.

By 1942, with Britain preoccupied with its own survival, Australia had turned to the United States for assistance in turning back the Japanese and as our security guarantor.

Gyngell says that it became clear that our emerging foreign policy needed to cover three broad areas. These were: to continue to rely on powerful friends; to work towards a more benign surrounding region; and to work towards a rules-based international order.

These elements have been present in the foreign policies of every Australian government since 1942. How our policymakers went about ensuring that they were is the subject of this book.

Relationships with our powerful friends, Great Britain and the United States, have been of major concern to virtually every Australian government since 1942, although that with the U.S. has been the most important. Although recently the British seem to be making a comeback in the South Pacific as a counter-balance to Chinese influence.

Other nations with which Australia has had important relationships during the period are: China, Indonesia, Japan and Papua New Guinea. Other relationships of interest have been with the British Empire nations, later the British Commonwealth of Nations. At various times, relations with India and countries of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and ASEAN have assumed greater or lesser importance.

The issues that have concerned our foreign policymakers include the development of the international architecture of the post-World War II world, including, the formation of the United Nations (UN) and the financial arrangements which came out of the Bretton Woods conference of July 1944.

The Cold War was a major concern for over 40 years. During that period Australia participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Our participation in the Korean War was in support of both the rules-based international order and our powerful friends. Our participation in the Vietnam War was very much a Cold War battle against communism in Asia; and was seen as necessary to maintain our security relationship with the U.S.

The East Timor situation caused tensions between Australia and Indonesia from Whitlam to Howard. Since East Timor’s independence, there have been tensions between Australia and East Timor over where the sea boundary lies and over who owns the oil and gas reserves of the Timor Sea.

With regard to apartheid and racism in southern Africa, Australian governments, particularly those of Fraser and Hawke, played significant parts in the downfall of apartheid, as well as helping to bring about black majority rule in Zimbabwe, previously Southern Rhodesia.

The Keating government played a role in developing a political solution, under the auspices of the UN, of the Cambodian situation in the 1990s. As part of the solution, Michael Costello, a DFAT deputy secretary, in a period of 20 days, attended 30 meetings in 13 countries.

There has been an increasing focus on the Middle East, as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and our participation in “Desert Storm”. This has intensified with the rise of Islamist terrorism since the attack on New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001.

Other issues of note have been: the White Australia policy, immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, arms control, climate change, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997–98, the global financial crisis, trade – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – law of the sea, and Antarctica.

Gyngell, while acknowledging that there have been failures, concludes that “given the circumstances of the time and the resources available, the interests of the country … have been advanced, and the values and norms in which it believes promoted. By these criteria Australia’s [foreign] policymakers have surely succeeded.”

He also concludes that our “foreign policy has been the preserve and preoccupation of a small elite of politicians, officials, commentators and academics. That seems unlikely to last” as the public is beginning to question “the benefits of globalisation in their lives” and express opinions opposed to “those of the foreign policy establishment”.

The main editing weakness in the book is in relation to the numbering of footnotes: sometimes a number was missed and sometimes duplicated. It happened often enough to be annoying.

There was, at least, one error of fact: the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor occurred on November 12, 1991, not December 12, as stated.

At one stage Gyngell appears to show a lack of knowledge of the American political system when he says: “Reagan, who had fought the Cold War to the end but knew when to accept victory, stepped down in January 1989.” He seems to be unaware that Reagan’s administration was ending at that time because he had completed his two consecutive terms as president.

With regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Gyngell refers to a World Bank report from 2016 that says that it “would boost the Australian economy by just 0.7 per cent by the year 2030”. There may be good reasons for Australia not to have joined the TPP, but the “slight” economic impact shouldn’t be the only one. After all, the 0.7 per cent boost to the economy by 2030 would mean Australia’s gross domestic product of $1.69 trillion in 2017 would increase by nearly $12 billion.

Gyngell is eminently qualified to write this book given his background. He has been a diplomat, senior foreign policy adviser to Paul Keating, founding executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and head of the Office of National Assessments.

He has produced a very interesting, well written, easy to read and informative account of our foreign policy since 1942. It is generally even-handed between the way foreign policy was pursued by both Labor and Coalition governments.

He successfully illustrates how foreign policy is entwined with international trade and economics, national security, immigration and the domestic politics of the time. I recommend it for those who are interested in foreign policy and for the general reader.

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