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Reader riposte: Diplomatic depletion

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This post is part of the Australian budget debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

COMMENTS

13 May 2010 09:39


This post is part of the Australian budget debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

John Hannoush writes in response to my post:

Is it reasonable to assume that number of overseas missions is a reliable indicator of diplomatic efficacy? Maybe Iceland or Finland are being a bit wasteful. A targeted approach might work better: for example, we could use as an indicator numbers of staff working in countries of high priority. If we were significantly cutting staff numbers at the Washington mission, for example, that would presumably be of concern.  If we decided to get rid of the mission to the Holy See and accredit from Brussels, that might not be of such moment.

Good point. At the time of the Blue Ribbon Panel report, around 40% of Australia's posts overseas were small posts, a number which has grown sharply since 2000. With the best of intentions, staff at small posts often struggle to meet the most basic commitments, and if accredited to more than one nation, there's little scope for much beyond the minimum required to maintain formal diplomatic relations.

Our argument, though, is that we need more diplomats overseas, and not simply a shuffle between posts. In the face of budget pressures, the simplest solution is often to cut overseas posts because they are costly to maintain.

There are some anomalies in the OECD nations' diplomatic representation overseas. France, Spain and the UK have more posts than the US (perhaps a post-colonial legacy). The Iceland and Finland strategies definitely look peculiar.

However, on any view, our 91 missions compare poorly with the OECD average of 150. Australia has the 14th largest GDP but comes in 26th in terms of number of diplomatic missions. While this might be a clumsy measure of diplomatic efficiency, Australia needs effective overseas representation in a time of increasing globalisation. Our argument is that cutting posts overseas because of relentless budget pressures does not serve our international interests.

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

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