on 31st August 2004

by Des Moore

Director, Institute for Private Enterprise



> Relevant background: RCDS; in Treasury (OIC, Aus External Economic Relations Policy & Third World Report); since left Treasury = Defence Efficiency Review & now ASPI Council. My Institute’s web site ( ) has speeches and articles on FP.

> Talk about F Policy in broadest sense – not only general relations with other countries/international orgs but also specific issues relevant to Aus position in the world – policies on defence (including Iraq), trade and economic relations, and even immigration.

> How should FP be determined? – not simply being "friendly" and agreeing/accepting policies/actions of other countries or international organizations – when in T, my colleagues in FA were too inclined to be friendly- FP should be a bit like establishing good relations with other humans – expect respect for/acknowledgement of our interests and rights as well as theirs - FP needs to start from basis that Aus has vital interests that should not easily be forsaken or conceded – the first Australian white paper on foreign policy (1997) was titled "In the National Interest".

> But what are Aus NIs? – basically, to try to preserve our political independence, safeguard our territorial integrity and promote economic growth. That also requires that we work for a world – not just a region – conducive to our achieving those interests. That in turn brings in the need to protect/preserve/promote the values we believe in – such as democracy, the rule of law, freedom of choice and property rights –why? – because such values most likely to ensure freer, more prosperous world - and Aus too – doesn’t necessarily mean countries not observing such values should be verbally or physically opposed – but may need to do so if our values are directly threatened, such as when our overseas trade is stopped or our territory threatened or even attacked, as in WW 2 and in Vietnam war – in summary, our FP should say we will be friendly and will respect your rights, provided you respect ours.

> Of course, FP is not simply a matter of outright opposition or agreement – there are often difficult judgements to be made on how strongly to oppose or support others - But the underlying priority should remain the achievement of policies consistent with our values.

Others Values and Immigration

> What happens if others’ values differ from ours? Provided they don’t constitute a threat to us, that generally OK.

> But our values, our political system, our law, and our institutions do make us Western in civilization – in our interests to sustain that.

> Our immigration policy should play a part – limits to absorptive capacity and should give priority to those with similar cultural backgrounds - that means in practice to migrants from outside Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

> Pauline Hanson has not brought this policy about – her attitude largely reflected views already held by most Australians - 70 per cent of Australians have British or Irish ancestry with natural attachments to Western institutions – similarly, most want to stop illegal immigrants - and to give priority to officially recognized refugees.

> Australia cannot be regarded as having an unnecessarily selective immigration policy -one in four born overseas – and migrants come from around 180 different countries - about half our annual increase in population comes from migration, higher than for most.

>Nor is our immigration policy based on racist or anti-immigrant views – reflects a desire to maintain our culture and limiting the risk of social and political divisiveness seen in many other countries with major mixes – some of those countries are increasingly realizing the potential threat to their culture -the UK has announced migrants must undergo compulsory citizenship programs requiring English lessons and knowledge of British history.

Should Our FP Have A Special Regional Focus?

> Leaving immigration aside, some argue Australia’s geographic position in Asian region still means FP should give priority to relations with Asian countries.

>But are those countries "nearby" more likely to pose a threat? Would closer relations help avert that and provide more opportunities for expanding trade? Would closer relations be more consistent with our multi-cultural society and would it be desirable to differentiate ourselves more from so-called "old" world of Europe - former PM Keating seems to want?

> Of course, Asia is important to us - and there is potential for serious problems, even threats, to emerge in changed conditions - but there is no justification for even an " Asia-first" approach, as once suggested by Minister Downer, let alone the emphasis Labor puts on Asian relationships, particularly relationships with China.

> Seven reasons for not giving our FP a special Asian emphasis, viz:

1. Australia’s distance from Asian countries is far enough to provide a protective asset rather than a worry - facilitates border control and means that any serious military attack would be a major undertaking requiring considerable defence capacity. Some forget, for example, that Jakarta -our nearest Asian capital – is about as far way from Canberra as Kabul is from London, while Peking – the Asian capital most distant from us – is actually further from Canberra than it is from Dublin.

2. Trying to be more friendly would not stop a determined aggressor and substantive threats from Asian countries appear limited judging by the absence of intent of those countries - and most have their own quite serious internal problems.

3. Asia is not a single entity - conglomeration of countries with differing values –and even if it represented one value that would be unlikely to correspond with our Western values

4. What happens on the other side of the world can be far more important for Australia's security than what happens right next door - two world wars in Europe and the threat of another initiated by the USSR in 20th century demonstrate that - terrorism has now emerged as a serious threat, but that is world-wide and not concentrated in Asia.

5. Although only a few Asian countries supported US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia’s involvement has not caused relationship problems - they see terrorism as a threat too.

6. Australia’s trade with Asia has not suffered because of our FP or because we have not concluded specific trade agreements with Asian countries:

> Excluding Japan, between 1988-89 and 2002-03 the share of our exports going to other principal Asian countries rose from 25 to 34 percent and the share of our imports from 17 to 33 percent (total exports increased as a percentage of GDP from 12.5 to 15.5 percent and total imports from 13.3 to 17.9 per cent)

> We have no bilateral trade agreement with China but the % of Australian exports going there has more than doubled and the % of our imports coming from that country has increased nearly five times – this expansion basically reflects China’s progress towards a more market-oriented economy – but it still only takes about the same proportion of our exports as Korea.

> Australia has taken various trade initiatives, and is continuing to pursue them, with ASEAN, Thailand, Japan, China and Korea – although only one substantive trade agreement concluded (with Singapore), this largely due to general hesitancy of Asian countries to liberalise – ASEAN itself has a ten year old preferential trade agreement, but only limited progress made in reducing restrictions .

7. Finally, Australia has an important alliance with the US that helps provide security against aggression in the Pacific – indeed stability and trade development in the Asian region depend importantly on the US maintaining a strong military presence in the western Pacific – the US is itself an Asian–Pacific nation and has substantial regional economic interests (including 50 per cent greater trade across the Pacific than across the Atlantic).

How Important is our Relationship with the United States?

> The most important component of our FP is undoubtedly the close US relationship - reflects the support of the US for similar cultures and values to ours, its adoption of a world leadership position that is vital in supporting/defending democracy and national sovereignty, and of course its strength.

> Our US relationship is formalised in the much-quoted ANZUS Alliance - under that each of the parties commits to ACT to "meet the common danger" in the event of an armed attack on any of them – but the treaty is more than that = a symbol of our shared values and similar strategic interests, as well as our history of defence cooperation.

> The strength of the US means it enormously important as an ally - it has the largest share of the world economy (21 percent of GDP), the largest share of world exports (14 per cent) and a GDP per head that is about 32 percent higher than the average for European Union countries (26 per cent higher than ours).

> And even though the US is now allocating a much smaller proportion of GDP to defence (about 4 per cent) than during the Cold War, that still gives it a defence force with a high capability.

> Critics of the US portray it as an aggressive, expansionary and even dangerous nation ruthlessly pursuing its own interests - but this anti-Americanism is a fundamental misinterpretation and it reflects envy and jealousy – true, the US has established itself as a strong economic and military power – but that strength does not derive from exploitation –it is largely self-made through domestic policies and institutions conducive to economic growth – and the US does not seek territorial expansion.

> The US provided enormous strategic help to Aus in WW2 and, most recently, with East Timor – indeed, although not directly involved, the US’ assistance with ET ensured Australian success.

> Of course, Australia should not, and does not, accept every policy the US pursues –it should not go "all the way with LBJ" - but as the major actual and potential contributor to stability world-wide, US foreign and defence policies and activities should normally be given both military and moral support.

> This is particularly relevant to Australia’s policy towards the new terrorism and the US’s response to that development – behind this new terrorism are individuals and groups who have the evident intention of undermining, if not destroying, Western civilization - the US’s decision post 9/11 not to wait until attacked but to attack first is therefore of vital importance to our security and our values more generally – it adds greatly to the alliance’s importance.

>The global objectives of new terrorism emphasize the need for Australia’s strategic and defence policies to be global and to adopt a similar response to the US’, particularly regarding Australians with terrorist links – the Bali bombing was a terrorist act within our region, but new terrorism is not confined to our region.

>The new terrorists have fundamentally changed international relationships because Western countries can no longer rely on deterring their aggressive and violent actions – terrorists with global objectives of destruction are not deterred, particularly when based on extremist interpretations of the Muslim religion - this means that a state that refuses to act to eliminate such terrorist groups may now justifiably become subject to pre-emptive action by those who could be attacked – a matter of self-defence – a similar situation exists with states having access to weapons of mass destruction and pursuing their own expansionist/aggressive policies.

> that was judged by the US, the UK and Australia to justify intervention in Iraq – Saddam Hussein was clearly a dictator with no compunction about attacking other countries, no compunction about killing or imprisoning thousands of Iraqis, and with the potential capacity to use WMDs in repeating attacks on other countries in the M East, including Israel – even if no "live" WMDs are found in Iraq, that does not remove the justification for the intervention – Saddam had previously developed such weapons and it was just too risky to allow him to continue in power, providing him with the opportunity to re-develop them.

> The intervention in Iraq has to be seen not in isolation but as part of a more upfront reaction to other countries that pose potential or actual terrorist threats of one kind or another, particularly in the ME – it is also a recognition that the UN cannot be relied upon to respond firmly or quickly enough - diplomatic negotiations are not appropriate with ruthless dictators.

The Defence Component

> FP necessarily overlaps with defence policy – and vice-versa - Defence Minister Hill indicated recently that "the prospect of having to use the ADF to counter conventional military attack remains very low".

> But that does not mean Aus should have minimal defence forces – in the past our defence forces have predominantly been involved in actions well offshore- indeed, Australia and the US are the only two countries in the world to have sent combat forces to each of the five major wars of the 20th century – this is not a matter of fighting other peoples’ wars - we fought because, if the other side had won, our own political independence, and probably territorial integrity, would have been impaired.

> Australian forces have had substantive overseas deployments in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and East Timor (all of which are continuing), as well as peacekeeping type operations in Somalia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bougainville and the Solomons.

> these substantive military operations overseas indicate that, in practice, successive Australian governments have recognized that the defence of our territorial integrity often needs to start offshore and outside our immediate region

> the doctrine that one’s strategic interests diminish with distance is outdated – this so-called concentric circles theory of international relations became current in the 1980s – the idea was that Australia’s forces should mainly be for the narrow defence of Australia itself and its maritime approaches.

>But, within the limits of our capacity, Australia should have the equipment needed to undertake deployments outside our region when our interests and values are under serious threat – and to take action in advance of any direct or immediate threat to Australian territorial integrity - the emergence of new international terrorism in a world where weapons of mass destruction are becoming more widely available makes having this capacity even more important.

> given our relatively small forces, that would almost certainly involve action in conjunction with another like-minded nation or nations - in practice, that means the United States – and that in turn means our forces need to be equipped to operate with US forces.

> regrettably, the overall capacity of our defence forces has been falling and our capacity to undertake difficult military operations overseas is limited - our governments have allowed defence expenditure to fall from 2.6 percent of GDP in 1986-87 to the current level of 1.9 per cent of GDP - and the current stated policy of increasing defence expenditure by only 3 per cent pa implies even lower allocations of GDP, as the economy generally grows at more than 3% pa

- since the mid 1980s regulars in the defence forces have declined from around 70,000 to 50,000 and there has been no increase in defence equipment, much of which is getting outdated for modern conflict – a major review of defence capability is currently underway and the government will hopefully lift overall defence spending.



1. The central priority of our foreign policy should be our national interest and the values we regard as of fundamental importance to that interest, such as democracy, the rule of law, freedom of choice, and property rights. Policies proposed by other countries should not be accepted simply to maintain or develop friendships.

2. There is no case for giving Australian foreign policies a special "Asian" priority. Australian exports to and imports from Asian countries have been growing strongly and have not suffered from not having closer relations with Asian countries.

3. The US is the major actual and potential contributor to stability in the Asia-Pacific region and world-wide. It is also a leading exponent of the values that are in our national interest. In these circumstances, Australia should normally be prepared to provide both military and moral support to US overseas policies and activities.

4. Our policies should proceed on the basis that the new international terrorism has fundamentally changed international relationships – pre-emptive action may be needed because deterrence is now of limited value and the UN is too slow and unwieldy to handle potential threats by terrorist groups or dictator-run nations – we must confront Australians with links to overseas terrorist organisations.

5. The US, UK and Australian intervention in Iraq was justified given the proven record of Saddam in attacking others and his past record of acquiring WMDs – it was too risky to try to negotiate with such a dictator – this intervention should be seen as part of an eventual wider up-front reaction to dictator-run states.

6. As the defence of Australia’s territorial integrity may need to start offshore and outside our immediate region, our defence forces should be structured on the basis that they are most likely to have overseas deployments and that such deployments are most likely to be in conjunction with US forces.

7. Overall, defence spending is too low and there is a need to lift our capacities to contribute to military and intelligence activities.