Australia Future in Foreign Policy

Australian Foreign Policy Through 2031

The next 2 decades will be challenging for the foreign policymakers of the middle powers of the world as the balance of power ebbs and flows between the West and the East. These shifts in power will make long-term planning difficult, and even short-term plans will require numerous contingencies in order to remain responsive in an increasingly globalized and highly dynamic environment. Because there is no crystal ball available that can help foreign policymakers forecast the future, it is important for Australia to develop such contingency plans today to respond to these changes in meaningful ways while keeping the best interests of the Australian citizenry in the forefront. To this end, this study sets forth a proposed foreign policy for Australia for the next 20 years, including supporting rationale for the different approaches described below. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the study's conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Generalist Overview of Current Australian Foreign Policy

In order to present a generalist overview of current Australian foreign policy, an operationalization of the term itself is required. For this purpose, McDougall (2009) notes that, "The Australian study of foreign policy has always been part of the broader field of international relations in this country. By foreign policy I mean the ways in which governments have attempted to achieve their objectives in relation to the international environment" (p. 375). Because foreign policy objectives are inextricably related to national interests, the foregoing definition of foreign policy must be expanded to include the influence that domestic policies and political interests play in shaping a country's foreign policy. In this regard, McDougall adds that, "Foreign policy by definition focuses on the behaviour of states, although students of foreign policy can give attention to the impact of domestic politics on such behaviour. Similarly, if one focuses on the global environment more generally, foreign policy analysts will certainly emphasise the role of states but can also take account of the whole range of political actors" (p. 376).

In reality, foreign policy is a relative recent addition to the political apparatus that drives Australia (Firth, 2005). For instance, Devetak reports that it was not until the 1920s or so that Australia developed what could be viewed as a coherent foreign policy, but acquiring a foreign policy was not the same as acquiring the ability to exercise it at will. As Devetak notes, "Australia's acquisition of an international voice should not be confused, however, with international recognition of independence. By the mid-1930s, the very idea of an 'Australian foreign policy' began to grow in plausibility and appeal. Still, arguments in favour of an independent Australian foreign policy had to be carefully worded to avoid accusations of 'anti-Britishness'" (p. 336). The nation's significant sacrifices during World War II further reinforced the need for a viable foreign policy in a fundamentally reorganized world order, as well as the need for a more independent foreign policy free of British influence following its conclusion. According to Devetak, "The experience of the Second World War hastened Australia's emergence as an independent state. It acquired its own foreign policy bureaucracy, and was clearly formally sovereign. As far as foreign policy analysis was concerned, there continued to be a very strong focus on the concerns of the Australian government and community (p. 376). Another so-called "great and powerful friends" would replace Britain, though, thereby diminishing the complete independence of Australia's foreign policy during the second half of the 20th century (Rosati, Link & Creed, 1999). For example, McDougall reports that, "During the Cold War the United States assumed the role of Australia's major ally. There was clearly some concern with Britain as one of Australia's 'great and powerful friends,' particularly during the 1960s when Britain first applied to join the European Economic Community and then announced its decision to withdraw its military forces from east of Suez.' However the main preoccupation for Australian governments was to maintain and develop the relationship with the U.S." (2009, p. 376).

The other areas that gained prominence in the foreign policy arena during the second half of the 20th century were the developments taking place throughout Asia (McDougall, 2009). While Japan became linked with the United States by virtue of a mutual security agreement in the early 1950s which was renewed in 1960, the mean areas of interest for Australia foreign policymakers was the emergence of China as a community power and a newly independent Indonesia (McDougall, 2009). This setting represented a three-pronged challenge for Australian foreign policymakers as they balanced the shifting interests represented by Asia (particularly China) and its changing relationships with the U.S. And Britain (McDougall, 2009).

Based on the foreign policies in place throughout the second half of the 20th century, Australia contributed military forces: (a) the Korean War (1950-53); (b) the Malayan Emergency during the 1950s; and, (c) the Vietnam War (from the mid-1960s) (McDougall, 2009). Taken together, these foreign policy initiatives were based on a forward defence strategy where perceived threats to Australia's internal security were fought abroad, a foreign policy approach that would characterize this period in Australia's history (McDougall, 2009). By the turn of the 21st century, though, new threats to Australia's security demanded a further reevaluation of existing policies in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and Australia's relationship with the United States and Britain (Gyngell & Wesley, 2003). The importance of formulating reasoned and balanced foreign policies in response to these and other emerging threats such as nuclear-equipped North Korea and other aspiring members of the nuclear club in the Middle East such as Iran became abundantly clear at this point in time. Developing relevant long-term foreign policies in a world where the forces of globalisation are creating major changes in the balance of power and trade is a challenging enterprise and the decisions that are made today have enormous implications for the future. In this regard, the Australian Department of Defence's White Paper clearly states that, "Defence planning is, by its very nature, a complex and long-term business. Defence planning is one area of public policy where decisions taken in one decade have the potential to affect, for good or ill, Australia's sovereignty and freedom of action for decades to come" (Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, p. 11).

Despite the difficulties and potential failures that are involved in the process, there is a need for an informed and reasoned assessment concerning how the world will shape up over the next 20 years or so in order to craft foreign policies that are capable of responding to new conditions (Berger & Borer, 1999). As the Australian Defence Department's White Paper concludes, "The Government must make careful judgements about Australia's long-term defence needs. Such judgements are even more important in times of fiscal or strategic uncertainty" (Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, 11). Therefore, identifying the significant changes that will likely affect the national interests of Australia over the next 2 decades that the implications of these changes for the nation's foreign policy is required, and these issues are discussed further below.

Summary of Significant Changes in Policy to Deal with Future Projections

The past 20 years have left a hefty legacy for Australian foreign policymakers over the next 20 years. For instance, according to Jenkins (2010, p. 1), "Today, with a coalition government centred on Greens and rural independents, agrarian socialist ecologism appends a highly constrained domestic agenda to a foreign policy not yet recovered from the neo-con agenda of Howard and his then advisors in the Pentagon." Although it is still too early to tell with any degree of certain, Gillard appears to represent a sea change in foreign policy focus. In this regard, Jenkins (2010, p. 1) adds that, "We await the rulings of Gillard, Brown and Abbott, while Rudd continues to implement some foreign policy as FM, while working within the confines of a domestically oriented 'national interest' paradigm. Is the future history of Australia in the World defined by the past, the present, or a visionary forecast for various possible tomorrows?" In response to this question, Flitton advises that there likely be additional opportunities for public debate over which direction Australia foreign policy should take in the years to come that will help align goals with national interests: "Like any country, Australia will always grapple with foreign policy issues. Perhaps with the increasing recognition that the 'national interest' is open to argument, the public debate will contain a wider range of fresh views that will ultimately help improve Australia's approach to international affairs" (2004, p. 230).

The "800-pound gorilla in the room" in the Australian foreign policy arena is obviously Asia, and most especially China. According to Mcgibbon, "Two major changes have characterised Australian foreign policy in the last sixty years. The first was a move away from the British orbit and the second, engagement with Australia's position as a Pacific country, especially the perceived need to defineā€¦