Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: January to June 2003

By O'Neil, Andrew | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: January to June 2003


O'Neil, Andrew, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


One of the foremost challenges confronting any scholar who chooses to review Australian foreign policy is consistently to bear in mind the vast gulf between the practice and the academic analysis of foreign policy. As Gyngell and Wesley observe, the "very different worlds occupied by academics and practitioners" means that they often conceive of "foreign policy" in starkly divergent terms:

   The practitioner's view of foreign policy is of a world of
   complex detail and incessant demands on time, attention and
   resources [...] Practitioners look for exceptions to general
   statements about foreign policy issues. Their experience of
   trying to implement policy in the difficult, wilful, resistant
   world of IR [international relations] makes them sceptical of
   high-sounding schemes and principles, as well as the moral
   simplicity and unqualified solutions offered by academics
   [...] (1)

A government's foreign policy rarely, if ever, embodies genuine overall consistency. To some degree this can be attributed to the "real world" pressures of Government which invariably encourage a degree of "ad hocery" in everyday decision-making. In many ways, the period between January and June 2003 provides stark testimony of that reality: policy-makers face myriad (and often competing) pressures that often produce incoherent outcomes in the foreign policy "big picture".

Australia's participation in invading and occupying a Muslim state in the Middle East was by far the dominant issue in Australian foreign policy during the period under review. The Howard Government's decision to contribute forces to, and tender unqualified political support for, the US-led military assault on Iraq permeated all aspects of Australian foreign policy. It served to solidify further the intimacy of Australia's alliance relationship with the United States; it raised serious questions about the official handling of intelligence assessments; it distracted the government from addressing the acute dangers posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program; and it provided something of a template for Australia's mooted (albeit solicited) intervention in the internal affairs of a South Pacific neighbour. In short, Australian involvement in the war against Iraq ineluctably shaped the Howard Government's overall foreign policy in the period under review.

Waging War Against Iraq

In many respects, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the most telegraphed war in modern history. In US policy-making circles, the sense of "unfinished business" left over from the first Gulf War, simmering resentment over the humiliation of 11 September, and an increasingly firm belief that American global power was unassailable meant that military action against Iraq was rapidly pushed up the policy agenda in Washington following the events of 11 September 2001. President Bush's "axis of evil" State of the Union address in early 2002 and the identification of Iraq as the preferred case study for implementing America's emerging doctrine of pre-emption set the tone of the administration's rhetoric for the remainder of the year. Washington's lukewarm support for the re-introduction of UN weapons inspections in late 2002 appeared to confirm that the Bush administration had firmly placed Iraq in the cross-hairs.

Throughout 2002, the Howard Government, while acknowledging that war was indeed increasingly likely, nevertheless remained circumspect about whether Australia would provide military support for any US-led campaign. (2) This was despite the fact that in July that year Cabinet's National Security Committee (NSC) had approved the involvement of senior Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in US Central Command deliberations on detailed operational planning for military action against Iraq. (3) In effect, by the beginning of 2003 Australia had become intimately linked to US operational planning for a war that the Howard Government maintained would not necessarily involve Australia. …

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Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: January to June 2003
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