Home > Books and culture, Oz Politics, World Events > Wake-up call, part II: revenge of the snooze button?

Wake-up call, part II: revenge of the snooze button?

May 11th, 2011

A while ago I wrote a post responding to a Lowy Institute blurb for a new book by Michael Wesley, called There goes the Neighborhood and described as ‘A loud and clear wake-up call to Australians’. In response, I said that ‘At the global level it’s hard to think of a time when we have been less threatened, at least within living memory’, and concluded ‘unless commenters can point to something I’ve missed, I’m going back to sleep’.

Michael Wesley has now responded, and sent me a copy of the book, which I hadn’t read when I responded to the blurb. It turns out that he agrees with me that most of the threats that worried us in the past have dissipated. Also, as I surmised, his main concern is about the way in which the rise of India and China changes our strategic environment. He concludes

In short, we’re entering a world not of threats but of agonising choices that will come at us constantly. My bet is that we’ll look back on the vanished threats that Quiggin talks about with nostalgia for a world that all seemed so simple.

I agree with Wesley that the rise of India and China makes life more complicated in important ways. In the past, our foreign policy consisted, in essence, of the US alliance. That alliance gave us some protection against our local fears, most notably with respect to Indonesia, while also exposing us to some big costs (the need to join faraway wars in which we had no say) and an increased risk of nuclear annihilation, which faded away along with the Cold War, though it hasn’t disappeared.

In the new world, Wesley correctly argues, an uncritical adherence to the US alliance would be a disaster, particularly in the event of a major dispute between the US and China. I agree, and I think most serious foreign policy types already know this. Kevin Rudd’s recent visit to Washington seemed to be devoted, in large measure, to hosing down any expectation that Australia would line up with the US against China in any future dispute (a much more sophisticated line than the updated “All the way with LBJ” line, typically repeated by visiting PMs, up to and including Gillard). Even under the Howard government, generally gung-ho about the US, our diplomats sent the same kind of message from time to time.

Wesley also wants the Australian public to be more engaged and informed, pointing to the deplorable ignorance and anti-Indonesian prejudice surrounding the Schapelle Corby case. Actually, I think this was a good learning experience – most people eventually worked out that, while she cut a sympathetic figure in prison dress, Corby was given a fair trial, (if fact, the Indonesian courts had bent over backwards to give her justice, admitting evidence that would never be allowed in Australia)[1]. Australians are gradually adjusting to the idea of Indonesia as a friendly neighbor rather than a foreign threat. Even so, I think they are well justified in leaving to the experts the kind of diplomacy involved in telling three great powers what they want to hear, while committing ourselves to none of them.

 

fn1. While I’m on this, I’ll welcome the news that the death sentence imposed on Scott Rush has been commuted. This case was a far worse travesty of justice than anything in Corby’s case, but those most to blame were the Australian Federal Police, who sent Rush to possible death in Indonesia, rather than warning him off (as his parents begged them to do) or arresting him on arrival in Australia (which would have reduced their chances of convicting the ringleaders).

  1. sam
    May 11th, 2011 at 14:48 | #1

    “Australians are gradually adjusting to the idea of Indonesia as a friendly neighbor rather than a foreign threat.”

    Also, Indonesia is gradually becoming a friendly neighbor, rather than a foreign threat. In the Suharto era, there were genuine reasons to be concerned.

  2. Alice
    May 12th, 2011 at 08:54 | #2

    Agree re Scott Rush being allowed to be arrested in Indonesia when the Australian authorities were aware of the situation here. Absolutely deplorable. As an Australian citizen he is entitled to the Australian system of justice, not to be sent knowling to a fate under a harsher system where the death penalty still exists, a penalty Australia no longer has.

    Really disgusting on the part of the Australian Federal Police.

  3. sam
    May 12th, 2011 at 10:53 | #3

    @Alice
    I don’t support the death penalty for drug mules, but warning Scott would have compromised the AFP’s investigation. Anyway, he’s only getting life in prison, so all’s well that ends well!

  4. May 13th, 2011 at 10:13 | #4

    Agree re Scott Rush being allowed to be arrested in Indonesia when the Australian authorities were aware of the situation here. Absolutely deplorable. As an Australian citizen he is entitled to the Australian system of justice, not to be sent knowling to a fate under a harsher system where the death penalty still exists, a penalty Australia no longer has.

    Really disgusting on the part of the Australian Federal Police.

  5. Alice
    May 13th, 2011 at 11:31 | #5

    Who is this Robuster who plagiarised me?

  6. John Quiggin
    May 13th, 2011 at 13:42 | #6

    Its a spambot, Alice, using a content scraper to pass itself off as a human. I’ll implement a block.

  7. Alan Wright
    May 14th, 2011 at 18:26 | #7

    Very sloppy John. Your ignorance of the Corby situation is stark, and neither the facts of the case, the evidence, the political sentence, or her alarming deterioration, warrant your reference.

    You should also note that your unsubstantiated allegation against her struggling family has been tested in an Australian court (Channel 7), and proven to be false.

    Using her to make political points is squalid in the extreme.

  8. May 14th, 2011 at 22:21 | #8

    Her’s my new response to the above blog post (rebutting the ill-informed comments about Schapelle), now conveniently rolled into one very simple link . . .

    http://womenforschapelle.blogspot.com/2011/05/schapelle-corby-john-quiggin.html

  9. John Quiggin
    May 15th, 2011 at 01:57 | #9

    I’ve deleted a bunch of abusive comments, and I’m closing comments. As a general response, I’ll say that I think all the sentences in the cases in question are greatly excessive, and that I hope that both Schapelle Corby and the members of the Bali Nine receive clemency.

  10. May 15th, 2011 at 03:47 | #10

    Oh, I thought comments were closed? No worries, I’ve just added this response & questions . . .

    http://tiny.cc/8ls5a

    . . . to my blog post above.

Comments are closed.