Maintain engagement with Middle East while refocusing on near abroad: new research

Australia must be careful not to allow ties with the Middle East to fall into neglect as it refocuses its foreign and defence policies on its near abroad, a new Lowy Institute analysis paper argues. In the report, titled Australia in the Middle East: Enduring risks, interests, and opportunities, Dr Rodger Shanahan writes that Australia’s relationship with the Middle East is much deeper on a greater number of fronts than it was when the country committed military forces to the region two decades ago in response to the September 11 terror attacks. He says any future conflict or humanitarian crisis in the region is likely to generate larger domestic political repercussions in Australia than it would have prior to 2001.

“Australia’s increased connectivity with the region means it now has distinct national interests and equities in play, outside of simply signalling its enduring support for the alliance,” Dr Shanahan writes. “By dint of circumstance, the Middle East is now more, rather than less, directly relevant to Australia than when it committed forces there 20 years ago.”

Lowy Institute Director of Research Hervé Lemahieu said the report was a timely review of Australia’s engagement in the Middle East, and a reminder at a time of the first anniversary of the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan that dynamics in the region will continue to shape our global interests. 

Key Findings

  • Despite ending its 20-year military operations in the Middle East, Australia’s diplomatic, defence, and economic equities in the region are now more substantial than when the global war on terror was declared in 2001.
  • Due to migration patterns, any future conflict or other form of humanitarian crisis in the Middle East is likely to generate proportionally greater domestic political repercussions in Australia than would have been the case prior to 2001.
  • Canberra must view its foreign policy in the region not simply or solely through the prism of its alliance with the United States. The Middle East will remain of direct and growing consequence to Australia’s national interests.


The analysis report Australia in the Middle East: Enduring risks, interests, and opportunities is published at the Lowy Institute website.


Shane McLeod
Director, Media and Communications
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