the real world today

Australia’s minor power mentality.

There has been a growing debate in Australia over its subservient defence and security relationship with the USA. This debate is also leading into a meeting next week, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) national conference. There is a campaign among some ALP branches and the Old Independent Left to change the current government’s approach to AUKUS (the military alliance of the Anglo-Americans), the nuclear submarines deal, and the war powers legislation, by which a kangaroo court of Ministers may declare war with no Parliamentary accountability. 

This debate has occurred particularly in Pearls and Irritations, where notable contributors include Paul Keating (former Prime Minister),  Mike Scrafton (“The Courage to End the Alliance”), and Mike Keating (former Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, when Paul Keating was PM, “Australia’s International Strategy”). Oh, and once or twice, me. There I wrote:

Only by breaking the seal on the prison of impunity can America reverse the forces of disintegration. In early 2021, Tooze wrote, “the haunting question remains: Is the United States as a nation-state capable of responding in a coherent and long-term fashion to the challenges of the great acceleration?” After more than two years of rule by an old, mad, blind, despised and dying king, can any honest person answer, ‘Yes’?

And what of the peoples of secondary status on the periphery of the empire? Like Australia. While the unhappiness of America reveals itself to the world, this outer reach of the empire could choose its own way, like some middle powers not suborned to America. But the haunting question remains: Is Australia as a nation-state capable of responding in a coherent and long-term fashion to disarm the vengeance of an unhappy American empire?

I discussed these issues and my article, Australia, Little Country Lost (that is, lost in space somewhere in the “free and open Indo-Pacific”) on my appearance on the Hrvoje Moriç TNT Radio Show this week. Thanks to Hrvoje for another great interview, and I will post next week my edited segments on my YouTube channel (do please subscribe, I am almost at 1,000 subscribers!) .

One comment in Mike Keating’s article helps illuminate Australia’s dilemma. He argued there is a contradiction between Australian defence and foreign policy, and implied perhaps some healthy difference of views between security and foreign policy thinkers.  He hints that the defence and security elites are all the way with Old Joe Biden and American unipolar dominance. On the other hand, he holds out hope that the foreign policy establishment has a more subtle appreciation of the new realities of the multipolar world. Mike Keating wrote that:

In sum, it is clearly in Australia’s interests to work with both China and the US. But we need to get on the front foot in working to establish the multipolar region that Foreign Minister Wong talks about. That will require Australia to work closely with the many other like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, and if necessary, be less subservient in our future dealings with America.

I agree with this direction, but remain sceptical of the idea of the “Indo-Pacific region”. Moreover, the Foreign Minister’s phrase that Australia is interested in a “multipolar region” is an unconvincing bureaucratic fudge. 

Why talk about a multipolar region when a multipolar world is being born? It is a way to retain American dominance in the Western Pacific, when American withdrawal from military presence all over the world is the essential step to secure a truly peaceful, multipolar world. It is a skilful diplomatic argument by Mike Keating to appeal to the hint of reality that emerges from this phrase used by Penny Wong. But ultimately I find that this phrase in Australian foreign policy doctrine is an unconvincing head feint. We have a “multipolar region” already, but unlike Australia’s current elites I want a truly multipolar, free and fair world. The use of this phrase by the foreign policy establishment shows they are not yet ready to act as a middle power independently in the multipolar world, and remain suborned by bad American strategy in a minor power mentality. 

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