Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 23:39 | SYDNEY
Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 23:39 | SYDNEY

Canberra's UN Security Council folly



28 July 2009 09:21

The last 18 months have been inauspicious ones for the bold, multilateral foreign policy agenda that Kevin Rudd seemed to embrace with such enthusiasm.

First, there was the Asia Pacific Community, hastily conceived and motivated by no less an ambition than to banish power politics from Asia, either through new institutions or by refashioning old ones or, as it now appears, through an annual one and a half track dialogue.

Then there was the disarmament commission, mapping out a path toward a nuclear weapons free world, only to discover that the steps needed to get there — namely, massive reductions in the major nuclear arsenals — represented a nightmare strategic scenario for Japan, our reluctant ICNND co-chair.

Of course, these are largely harmless initiatives — a little embarrassing perhaps, but inexpensive and without any real bearing on Australia’s foreign relations.

The same, however, can not be said of Canberra’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which comes with real opportunity costs, as Glen Milne recently highlighted, and, even more alarmingly, is predicated on a serious miscalculation of Australian interests.

For years now, an implicit organising principle of Australian foreign policy has been to maximise our bilateral relations with China and the US, but to decouple those relationships from each other, keeping them firewalled as a way of insulating ourselves from the danger of a major deterioration in Sino-US relations. So far, this hasn’t been too difficult because Washington and Beijing have been getting along reasonably well.

But it does beg the question: if the sum of Australian fears involves having to chose between the US and China, why would we want to sit at a table with both of them, forced to make public and explicit choices between them, however symbolic, on the most contentious global issues, from North Korea and Iran to Darfur and Zimbabwe?

Given the intimacy of our relations, it’s difficult to imagine us playing hard-ball with the US. On the other hand, the last few weeks are nothing if not a reminder of the consequences of denying China the deference and solicitude that it’s beginning to expect as a great power. So who do we disappoint, and when?

This initiative, like others, has not been properly thought through, nor embedded within a coherent strategy which is tightly wedded to Australian interests. Indeed, the best course from here would be to gracefully bow out of the race or, failing that (should it prove too unpopular or humiliating, or both), to officially stay in the race but quietly abandon the campaign.

Photo by Flickr user broddi, used under a Creative Commons license.

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