Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: July to December 2003

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: July to December 2003

Article excerpt

Like any country, Australia will always grapple with foreign policy issues. The latter half of 2003 brought the usual ensemble of challenges that arise in any given six months, some anticipated, others not. Australia commenced a planned deployment of troops to the Solomon Islands, along with a simultaneous (and perhaps not entirely unrelated) withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq. Another Middle-Eastern country, Saudi Arabia, precipitated an unexpected crisis by rejecting a ship loaded with thousands of Australian sheep, leaving the vessel to drift haplessly while Australian diplomats anxiously sought out a willing berth. The government played host to two of the world's most powerful individuals, the presidents of China and the United States (US), as a suspect French national with alleged links to international terrorist organizations helped keep the threat of terrorism the ascendant political and public concern.

Yet while these and other issues further reinforced the central place that foreign policy occupies in Australian politics today, the months from July to December 2003 also featured a number of important intellectual evaluations of Australia's international relations. Commentators shifted away from merely describing the rash of momentous international events that have confronted Australia over the past few years. Concerned analysts also sought to assess Australia's general standing in the "world after 11 September 2001", or the "age of terror", as it is sometimes labelled. Scholars, politicians and journalists joined in this essential, albeit so far informal, public debate; an ideas contest too long absent in recent times. Earlier in 2003, Jim Richardson, the venerable emeritus professor of international relations at the Australian National University, identified "a need to foster unconventional viewpoints which address the issues neglected in the official discourse" about foreign policy. (1) Whether or not the ensuing months provided Richardson with a satisfactory response, he certainly got his wish for a revitalized discussion.

Arguing Australia's "National Interest"

Toward the middle of 2003 John Howard ended speculation about his impending retirement and announced that he would continue as Australia's Prime Minister. Among the various reasons he offered for staying on in the office was his desire to confront "the war against terror [which] is going to be around for quite some time". (2)

Launching the second half of the year with a major speech on foreign policy, Howard detailed his government's intended approach for steering Australia through future international challenges. Emphasising "bilateral relationships built on mutual interests", he singled out one country in particular for special focus.

   Australia's enduring links with the United States are crucial to
   this nation's future. America will grow more, not less, important
   to Australia as the years go by. (3)

For Howard, Australia's contribution to the war against Iraq in early 2003 had made a "deep impression" in Washington, one that "will not be readily forgotten". Australia's security, in both a military and economic sense, lay in forging ever-closer ties with the United States. This conviction kept the bilateral relationship firmly atop the agenda of most foreign policy discussions.

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage quickly reinforced the Prime Minister's claim that "our relationship has never been stronger or closer". Speaking during a visit a few weeks later, Armitage flattered his hosts by pronouncing Australia "a critical player on the world stage", one that provides "essential" leadership with a unique perspective: "Asian in geography, Western by tradition, but global in scope." More than just a solid alliance partner, Australia is "a good mate of the United States". (4) Treated to such aggrandizing rhetoric, the Howard government certainly appeared to be reaping the benefits of its close association with American foreign policy. …

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