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The joys of empire

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6 January 2010 09:20

Middle sized powers like Australia often have to accept their limited spheres of influence. Australia's dominion spreads across the Pacific, where its power and influence are felt so intensely that its labels and appellations have ranged from 'bully' to 'Deputy Sheriff'. But over the break there was a striking example of this all-controlling might, involving one of Australia's most dependent satellites.

Tiny Nauru — population 9,771 people — which receives the vast majority of its GDP from Australian ODA, showed just how constrained it felt by Canberra's muscular reach. 

In an unorthodox foreign policy move, it decided to take the bold step of joining Venezuela and Nicaragua in recognising Russian-backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The cost to Russia was a little steep — $US50 million, or just over $US5,000 per Nauruan — although the Nauruan Finance Minister later insisted the gesture was based purely on principle and not because of promises of aid.

There would appear to be a few lessons in the saga. First, apparently Nauru feels confident it faces no repercussions from Australia for acting contrary to its benefactor's interests. Second, apparently Russia is getting desperate to get other countries to sign up to its division of Georgia (even satellites like Belarus aren't interested). Finally, you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the Nauruans in finding ever more imaginative niche markets for their tiny country.

Unfortunately, the gesture probably won't count for much — the US State Department spokesperson, commenting on the move, apparently had only limited knowledge of Nauru:

MR. KELLY: -- on that ladder. On the first issue, the issue of the island of Nauru – is that how it’s pronounced, Nauru? I didn’t say it right – recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, I would just say that the recognition by Nauru, in and of itself, does absolutely nothing in our eyes to help establish or underpin in some way the legitimacy of the de facto governments in both of those separatist regions.

We continue to support, as the absolute vast majority of countries around the world, the territorial integrity of Georgia, and that means that we consider these entities as parts of Georgia and not as separate entities. We call on all states to uphold their commitments under numerous UN Security Council resolutions and the French-brokered ceasefire agreement, and we call on all countries to support, as we do, Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

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