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Amity and co-operation

November 30th, 2004

Linking a couple of recent posts, it ought to be obvious that Australia is in pretty dire need of improved trading access to the kinds of countries with which we run trade surpluses, that is with ASEAN members rather than the US. So it might be a good idea to promise not to invade those countries. But since Howard thinks that playing the regional hyperpower will play well in the western suburbs and with GWB, we won’t do it.

Meanwhile, rather contrarily, we’re pressuring them to ban landmines, an issue on which they can point to the US as a model.

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  1. Graeme Bond
    November 30th, 2004 at 21:13 | #1

    A case of ‘hoist by one’s own petard’ if ever there was one.
    Two things seem obvious to me.
    1. No Australian government would fail to take covert pre-emptive action, as a last resort, to thwart a terrorist attack on Australia.
    2. Should such action ever occur, it is likely that it would suit the purposes of both Australia and the government of the country in which the intervention occurred to express surprise and lack of knowledge about the event. ‘Plausible deniability’ I believe is an apt expression.

    Howard has made this impossible for any government he leads and extremely difficult for any coalition government in the forseeable future.

  2. November 30th, 2004 at 21:15 | #2

    Playing the “regional hyper-power” seemed to go down pretty well with the opressed masses of E. Timor in 1999, at least according to a certain Nobel peace prize winning redneck hailing from the “western suburbs” of the South Pacific:

    [Horta] said it was thanks to Prime Minister John Howard that the United Nations intervention had succeeded, saving thousands of lives.

    ASEAN, and sections of the Left, will never get over the fact that a capitalist militarist racist was the saviour of a socialist republic owned by people of colour. And it required more than a fetching smile and supplicant attitude to get the job done.

  3. tim g
    November 30th, 2004 at 21:41 | #3

    No Australian government would fail to take covert pre-emptive action, as a last resort, to thwart a terrorist attack on Australia

    Absolutely correct. This assumes, however, that said terrorists are sufficiently dopey to have their plans discovered by Australia’s (very) limited intelligence resources in the region. And few terrorists worthy of the name would be this inept.

    In all likelihood, the best forewarning any Australian government is likely to get is the vague, non-specific kind we have received in the past, usually second-hand from US intelligence. There is little chance that it would be sufficiently clear-cut to make a pre-emptive strike either politically or logistically possible.

    So it’s really an academic argument. And, of course, a jealously-guarded piece of political propaganda, which is really what the whole thing is about.

    The other factor here is what is meant by an attack “on Australia”. Does this mean an attack on Australian interests overseas, or an attack on Australian soil? If the latter, we would be relying largely on our domestic counter-terrorist intelligence to have any forewarning. So it goes without saying that we’d have no inkling whatsoever. Especially if the terrorists have the wit to attack on a long weekend, when the phones at ASIO are switched over to voicemail.

  4. November 30th, 2004 at 23:31 | #4

    Howard doesnt look comfortable dealing with Asia, he never has. His populist politician speak can be ignored by the US and UK, even when offensive, as Australian politics is immaterial there, but in Asia it has weight because of our economic size. His statements on unilateralism were ill-advised and Downer backed off them quick. But even so, this is probably just to embarrass him.

    As pointed out, we already signed up to something similar with the UN. And the treaty itself has enough loose language that a politician could drive an “on-message spin bus” through it.

    It appears to be predominantly a feel-good treaty, and given the original signatories, Suharto and Marcos, I am sure wasnt intended as a be all and end all. It probably just sticks in Howard’s craw to have to come grovelling to ASEAN to get a regional trade pact.

    Whatever Howard does, Australia will end up in ASEAN, our economy is too big to be left out. That will be a good thing too, Australian security and prosperity can only come through Indonesian security and prosperity.

    It is funny that the world changed on Howard, he is looking like a 65 year old popular politician from another era. America went imperial, China and India are rising as economic super-powers, Indonesia has democratized, Thailand and Malaysia have turned toward bilateral advantage and the tiger nations are creating a trading bloc which if Australia is excluded from could make us diplomatically and economically less relevant regionally.

  5. observa
    December 1st, 2004 at 00:10 | #5

    As John’s link to the story in The Australian points out

    “ASEAN leaders, plus China, Korea and Japan, yesterday decided to establish a separate East Asia Summit, which will meet for the first time in Kuala Lumpur next year.

    Officials had initially proposed to invite India as well as Australia and New Zealand, but leaders instead deferred a decision on the final attendees.”

    Perhaps Howard is taking a wait and see attitude to the final wash-up of an Asian superbloc here. If it looks like getting up, he could push for the logical inclusion of minnows like Taiwan and ET and then ask if they’re all agreed on signing a mutual non-agression pact, like he so considerately would be by then.

  6. Down and Out in Sài Gòn
    December 1st, 2004 at 02:54 | #6

    Observa: any idea whether it is both Koreas, or just the South?

  7. December 1st, 2004 at 06:26 | #7

    And so, almost uninterrupted, John Howard’s slow diplomatic train to regional isolation for Australia continues.

  8. December 1st, 2004 at 09:01 | #8

    Cameron Riley at November 30, 2004 11:31 PM talsk a modicum of good sense:

    Howard doesnt look comfortable dealing with Asia, he never has…His populist politician speak in Asia…has weight because of our economic size.


    Who cares how “comfortable with Asia” Howard appears? Foreign policy is not therapy.
    ASEAN people are comfortable with AUS, voting with their bucks and feet. ASEAN trade with AUS is booming like never before. ASEAN student exchanges with AUS are at an all time high. ASEAN tourisim with AUS seems pretty high. AUS’s (benign) military presence in ASEAN/OCEANIA area is at an all-time. The natives seem happy enough with that.

    His statements on unilateralism were ill-advised and Downer backed off them quick.


    This policy, for a person or polity, is simply an application of the principle of self-defence in the era of terrorist sucker-punches.
    Howard’s public statements of the pre-emptive strike policy were ill-advised. He should, in public, back-down from the pre-emptive strike policy. But, in private, he should let it be known that AUS security forces will not sit around and do nothing if terrorist harbours, and their semi-official sponsors, start making trouble in our region.

    But even so, this is probably just to embarrass him.


    Correct. Howard humiliated ASEAN which sat on its hands throughout the Timor crisis. Mahatihar, who has a fair few “western suburbs” types in his nation, has been urging pay-back ever since. The ASEAN’s are trumping up this trivial charge as a means of putting AUS in its place.
    Political playing to the “western suburbs” grandstands in any nation will not affect the substance of professional and personal relations between these jurisdictions.

  9. December 1st, 2004 at 09:19 | #9

    Pr Q negelected to mention Downer’s reasonable defence of AUS non-support to this purported non-aggression pact:

    Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told parliament Australia would not sign the treaty, citing its incompatibility with the ANZUS alliance.
    He said one of the key principles of that treaty, signed in 1956, was that countries would “abstain from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve the particular interests of any of the big powers“.

    This makes the non-aggression Treaty look like a re-hash of the Bandung Conference, ie a chance to poke the ex-British Empire in the eye with a diplomatic stick. So do we trade in ANZUS for a puff of ASEAN diplomatic air?
    Pr Q also avoids the subject of humanitarian military intervention. What if a Milosevic-type faction launches ethnic cleansing in an ASEAN nation. Do AUS troops sit around like the Dutch “Army” watching various peoples being butchered? A humanitarian intervention looks like “agression” in those circumstances.]
    Or is sucking up to Mahathir AUS’s most
    pressing foreign policy concern?

  10. still working it out
    December 1st, 2004 at 10:31 | #10

    Jack,

    I wondered about that one. But then I realised that New Zealand seems keen to sign and have not said that the ANZUS treaty is an obstacle.

    Downer’s argument sounds like a fig leaf to me.

  11. observa
    December 1st, 2004 at 12:50 | #11

    Well it seem’s like they’ve all signed up and are happily Karaoking ‘Wossing Mahtiwha’. Another big tick for Johnny and Co.

  12. Steve Edwards
    December 1st, 2004 at 16:39 | #12

    The ANZUS treaty is not an obstacle to NZ signing because it is all but a dead letter in that country. Coupled with NZ’s lack of an airforce, they can sign this treaty with virtually no material effect on their country.

  13. Razor
    December 1st, 2004 at 16:48 | #13

    Guy – how come Australia has been invited to the next conference in Malaysia and is part of the Free Trade negotiations?

    I think this thread was killed over night by the leaders of the ASEAN nations apparently not agreeing with the sentiments of the majority of the posters on this thread.

    Howard obviously scared them with the interest rate lie!

  14. Steve Edwards
    December 1st, 2004 at 19:38 | #14

    The racist pariah Howard dictatorship has done it again!

  15. December 1st, 2004 at 20:46 | #15

    Hey jack,
    I applaud the howard government for taking it up to the indos.But after 25 years of sitting on their blood stained hands australia’s politicians had to do something.
    I believe that when the militias were killing timorese the australian people had had enough.
    I have never felt a community feeling before that something had to be done,I believe that howards hand was forced by public opinion.
    Downer and howard had already used every weasel word known to man to let the indos off the hook as far as murder went.Of course we had ignored hundreds of thousands of murders over the previous 25 years ,including a couple of aussies.
    We were well served by the timorese during WW2 and we screwed them over,shame,australia shame.
    There are veterans of sparrow force here in western australia who never gave up fighting for the east timorese,they are the heroes-not john howard.

  16. Matt
    December 1st, 2004 at 21:37 | #16

    “ASEAN people are comfortable with AUS, voting with their bucks and feet. ASEAN trade with AUS is booming like never before. ASEAN student exchanges with AUS are at an all time high. ASEAN tourisim with AUS seems pretty high. AUS’s (benign) military presence in ASEAN/OCEANIA area is at an all-time. The natives seem happy enough with that.”
    I think that last sentence sums Jack’s view up rather well (a long quote to guard against accusations of taking him out of context.) I believe in the past that view might have been called colonialism

  17. December 1st, 2004 at 23:30 | #17

    Not so long ago one of our neighbours, PNG I think it was, got into trouble for being so undiplomatic and un-PC as to remind its neighbours that it was entitled to extend its own anti-insurgent efforts beyond its own borders if it came to it, under the long standing international law doctrine of “hot pursuit”. And it got into trouble just for reminding people of its inalienable right as a legitimate state.

  18. December 2nd, 2004 at 06:35 | #18

    Razor – while the fact that we have been invited along again next year is definitely positive, I’m sure the move was not without some pointed reservations by the ASEAN leaders.

    Like it or not, we are still viewed as a something of an outsider in the region, at least when it comes to non-economic issues.

  19. December 2nd, 2004 at 11:34 | #19

    Matt at December 1, 2004 09:37 PM quotes me in context in a lame attempt at gotcha commentary:

    The natives seem happy enough with that.”
    I think that last sentence sums Jack’s view up rather well (a long quote to guard against accusations of taking him out of context.) I believe in the past that view might have been called colonialism.

    Real Politics of Failing States in the Era of Tribal Warfare means that it is time to call a spade a spade. The Oceanic Islanders are becoming restless natives alright, and Her Majesty’s Australian Ships, flying a traditional Ensign, arrive on the scene to restore order.
    Australia is now underwriting the defence and internal security arrangements for much of Oceania, including Timor. In the South Pacific region AUS is a hegemonial, not an imperial, power.The islands of Oceania are AUS’s client states, just as we are clients to the US.
    Who pays the subordinate piper calls the hegemonial tune.

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