Australia in the 21st Century (A21C): We need a transformational foreign policy

Australia in the 21st Century (A21C)

We need a transformational foreign policy: Submission to the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the White Paper on Foreign Affairs and Trade‘, Pearls and Irritations, 9 December 2016

The submission is headed ‘FILLING THE NEW VOID: PROPOSALS FOR AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN POLICY IN 2017 AND BEYOND’. It says the election of an inexperienced United States president means a period of volatility but also offers opportunities. Australian leaders should not assume the Australian public will not tolerate change.

Australia should have a vision of our preferred world, and should seek to direct existing rules and realities towards the goal where our interests and values converge. We are now challenged as we have not been since 1942 to identify the changes we prefer and implement them … Australia faces a dilemma between a “rules-based” order on the one hand and “tribal” solidarity with our Western allies on the other. The former is now a better option for Australian interests.

While the alleged benefits to Australia of the American alliance are often spelled out, there should be no assumption that the United States will be infinitely willing and able to defend Australia against threats. In future, ‘reconciling our dominant security alliance with the US with the reality of China as our largest trading partner – and that of most of our neighbours – will require careful policy consideration and skilful diplomacy’. There are many important choices to be made.

A transformational approach to foreign policy will require a reprioritisation of bilateral relations away from the Middle East to focus on the Indo-Pacific region. It will also require a recalibration of multilateral approaches to such pressing global challenges as climate change, terrorism, nuclear threats, and the use of force to settle international disputes. In particular, as Australia did in 1972, we should at the earliest opportunity withdraw our forces from wars distant from Australia, which have unintended and perverse consequences and do not serve Australian interests. Governments should refrain from such commitments in the future.

The A21C group was formed in November 2016. The signatories to the submission include three former secretaries of Commonwealth departments, former senior diplomats, academics and others. Among the 23 signatories there are three distinguished supporters of Honest History, Alison Broinowski (Honest History’s vice president), Richard Butler and John Menadue.

Other material on the implications of the Trump election victory can be found here. The Honest History Book, coming in April 2017, includes a chapter by Alison Broinowski addressing similar issues to those raised in this submission.

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