CAVAN HOGUE. Russia and Australia: The Empire strikes back?

Russia is the prime suspect in the poisoning but cannot be convicted on the basis of the circumstantial evidence before we get the report of the independent commission. But this article is concerned about what this exercise tells us about Australian priorities. We have joined 28 NATO countries to put sanctions on Russia and ignored the165 countries that did not. We made no attempt to discuss our action with our Asian friends. Where do our priorities lie? Russia is a Pacific power so might it not have been a good idea to discuss things with some  Asian powers?

My concern here is not what Russia has or has not done but what Australia has done and not done.

Unless you buy some of the wilder conspiracy theories, Russia has to be the prime suspect in the Scribal poisoning even though there is no smoking gun and the independent commission has not yet presented its report. Russian motives may be unclear but there is no evidence to convict anyone else even if countries like Ukraine might have a motive to set up the Russians. Putin is certainly capable of ordering the poisoning if he sees it in his interests but it does not necessarily follow that he did it this time. There may be just enough circumstantial evidence to charge Russia but not yet enough to get a conviction. It would be wise to keep the lynch mob at bay until the independent commission presents its findings just in case we end up with another Iraq. So far the main effect of the NATO action has been to help consolidate Putin’s domestic support as he racks up the nationalist frenzy against the wicked witch of the West.

My concern is with what Australian action tells us about Australia. Our initial statement was that we were showing solidarity with our traditional partners and intelligence brethren. After diplomats were expelled and the Russians retaliated in kind, Julie Bishop said that “Australia’s action was in concert with 28 other nations expelling a total of 153 Russian diplomats in an unprecedented demonstration of global solidarity with the United Kingdom”.  Bill Shorten said the Government’s action was appropriate and proportionate. The media has, on the whole, supported the official approach.

There are 193 member states of the United Nations which means that 165 countries did not join this global action. Presumably, the reference to global solidarity referred to the Globe Theatre in London? More importantly, all except Canada, USA and Australia were European so it was basically a NATO group plus a few hangers-on. Russia is a Pacific power but no Asian country was involved even those with common borders with Russia. New Zealand did not expel diplomats but expressed solidarity with Britain; no other Pacific countries got involved.  The only Commonwealth countries to support the mother country were Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Australia is further away from Russia than every country in Asia.

We do not appear to have even pretended to consult any of our neighbours before taking this action. So what does this tell us about Australian foreign policy priorities? Clearly, NATO is more important than ASEAN and Australia looks to the past rather than our future. History is more important than geography or perhaps ideology is more important than strategic realities. Luckily for us, Australia is not important to Russia so we will probably not suffer much if at all. However, this approach does tend to support Dr Mahathir’s claim that Australia is a European enclave in Asia at least in strategic terms.

On the wider front, the action by both NATO and Russia heats up a new Cold War. Both sides try to claim the moral high ground and threaten the others. So far the action has been restricted to withdrawal of diplomats which in itself does not suggest war is imminent but continued escalation brings to mind WW1 rather than WW2. The USA, UK and others have assassinated enemies without trial so they are hardly in a position to claim the moral high ground over Russia which also has a history of this kind of thing. The bombastic rhetoric by all sides cannot be taken too seriously and nobody is in a position to cast the first stone.

So where to from here? Australia seems set to follow the NATO pack come what may. NATO will blame Russia come what may and Russia will deny involvement come what may. Hopefully, hot air will be the only weapon used but there is always a danger of escalation with someone like Trump in the White House egged on by John Bolton against an equally determined Putin who will not back down either. Australians should look at this situation in the light of wider and long-term Australian interests. Where does our future lie? Why should Australia get involved in something which does not directly affect Australian interests? How long can Australia rely on a declining West to protect it against a rising East? Might we not ask why countries like India and Japan chose to stay out of this fight? Hopefully, our Asian neighbours will not take our posturing too seriously. Most of them have no interest in supporting Russia nor in antagonising the Russians so they will just want to stay out of this exercise. Getting into a fight between leaders like Putin and Trump is not the kind of thing you want to take sides in.

Cavan Hogue is a retired Australian diplomat who was Ambassador in Moscow but specialised in Asia including five Asian posts.


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4 Responses to CAVAN HOGUE. Russia and Australia: The Empire strikes back?

  1. Michael Hart says:

    Cavan Hogue raises a very important matter concerning Australia’s Foreign Policy with respect to our continuing US-Eurocentric view of our position in the world of nations. To have a serious discussion about policy really requires us individually and as a Nation to deal with some very harsh realities about our history and ourselves.

    I would argue we have never had an independent foreign policy that truly reflected Australia’s geographical reality but has said everything about our cultural and racial history. We started out as a colony to ship and dump the social problems of Britain with the added bonus of new lands to exploit and plunder for British Capital interests. It took nearly a century for us to achieve some form of national political or partial legislative independence but we were still beholden to and did the bidding of British Capital interests. Only two Prime Ministers had to face the problem but they were faced with greater problems, Curtin in World War 2 and Whitlan in the 1970’s. Early in our history we merrily allowed the cream of our youth to be slaughtered in European wars for which we had no real geopolitical interests other than cultural and ethinic affinity to our white anglo saxon heritage. We allowed British capital interests to determine our disastrous economic policies during the 20’s and 30’s (Challenged only by one lonely State Premier). We blithely ignored the British Empires collapse but took the consequences rushing again to Empire, with our armies imprisoned in Asia after the early Japanese success and the rest marooned in a war front in the Middle East. As the British Empire finally dissolved we swapped our allegiances and sought refuge psychologically and economically with the Americans. As always few truly questioned if this was a wise or properly independent position to take. Our economy which showed great promise through local development and capital was again taken over by American Capital, when we thought Japanese capital would save the really only true industry we have managed, mining and agriculture, we worked hard on forgetting past anglo saxon enmity to persons oriental or asian. Throughout this period we completely ignored in any real sense our Pacific neighbours other than as exploitive opportunities and continued to demonstrate with our domestic policies our indifference to the indiginous people of Australia as we continue to kill and steal their lands.

    Our alliance with the Americans and the British from time to time, gave us war and more wars, one could call it the 60 years war; Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Syria. Occasonally we would do something original like Timor but we still stooped to stealing resource rights from those people as well.
    So we were beholden to English Capital, American Capital and more lately a mix of European and Asian capital. The outcome is plain to see. Apart from extractive industry and Tourism there is not much left of worth (that Australians really own) that could not be sold off or shut up tomorrow. Apart from Whitlam and then Keating, we steadfastly ignored Asia and Asian peoples. These issues and these facts have never been properly explained or debated, except by those with anti-asian european biases and the collapse of alternative political thought and ideas under the onslaught of American Neoconservative triumphalism and our blind acceptance of the simplistic fantasies of neoliberal economic theories has now severely damaged and continues to damage our own economic social structures and institutions. We have state governments paralysed by the loss and sale of key economic assets now incapable of understanding or implementing policy and programs that have a greater good.

    So at the national level we simply go along with whatever. We have sat idly by and let the Americans by stealth and by deliberation damage and nullify the only world body capable of providing order and governance, the United Nations. We have refused to participate in meaningful dialogue and agreement on nuclear arms. We ignore the unfolding calamity of a changing climate as we live on the most arid continent on the planet with a historically proven erratic and variable climate.

    At every juncture at all these points in time the interest of foreign capital and the wealthy few (the mates of government State and Federal) have trumped our own sense of identity and capacity for national independent foreign policy, climate policy, social policy and humanitarian values.

    We now sit by perplexed and paralysed but nonetheless tag along in ignorant stupidity as the Americans attempt to prove their delusional status as the Worlds preeminent civilisation, economic and political entity and try to contain or even destroy the two countries on the planet (whose combined land mass and populations is probably about a quarter plus) who are also now highly armed and possess equal means of assuring mutually assured destruction. Are we really so stupid as to not realised that neither of these nations will ever again permit the horror and damage inflicted on them during WW2 to happen again, ever.

    We now sit on the precipice of World War 3, and if it happens we will only know about it twenty five minutes after it started, when Canberra, Alice Springs, and Darwin are destroyed, as Churchill once pointedly said, ‘This is the age of consequences’. We cannot have an independent foreign policy until such time as we, all of us take stock, honestly and with grace, of our past who we have become and who we are truly beholden too (And the are not Australians).

    Those are the issues as Mr Hogue has said it is not about Trump or Putin or even Xi.

  2. Tony Kevin says:

    I very much liked Cavan’s analysis of the foolishness of Australia’s kneejerk and self-defeating policy reactions to the Skripal affair here. As always, he reminds us of important truths about what Australian diplomacy should be prioritising.

    I did not at all share his sitting-on-the-fence, but leaning towards the Western official side, on whether Putin or May, or their respective intelligence establishments and dark outriders, are more likely to have tried to poison Skripal pere et fille. I have travelled further along the road to pro-Russian enlightenment than Cavan these past years, and I no longer start from the proposition that Britain is more likely to be telling the truth on any issue in international contention than Russia.

    For those who would like to see a detailed analysis of the Skripal case as it developed over the month 4 March to 4 April, and where it might go from here , please see my 2500 word essay at…/EastWestAccord.

  3. David Verrall says:

    I’m not sure where you can claim ‘there is no evidence to convict any one else’. That conclusion is just stupid. This assumes someone has to be convicted, and then assumes that because of the blind conviction Teresa May has made, that needs to be up held. Australian knee jerk Political sycophants jump aboard.
    Mr. Hogue, you take a position of having been convinced, with the assertion that any other opinion becomes ‘wilder conspiracies’ i.e. that Russia just walk away from the loonies, and see what happens, which is not such a poor resolution. You are persisting with this as if it has meaning. It’s wild Accusation worthy of little except that to which you give it, then rattling on assuming your position is therefore valid.
    “Showing solidarity with our traditional partners and intelligence brethren” or monkey see… suggesting that displays intelligence. OK then.
    We need to reflect on the intelligence offered to the UN by Colin Powell, 2003, regarding the Proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. How thin ones memory conveniently become Mr. Hogue. Despite Australia’s continued aggressive presence to solve these Weapons of Mass Destruction 16 years ago, and after1.5+ million civilian deaths, have they found any yet? Yes, why are Australians there except for “our brethren’s intelligence”. I’d follow that lead.
    ‘From here?’ became your next question. Firstly turn off the Moron TV which only tells the CNN, Washington post, New York Times, Google, Murdoch one voice perspective to an entrained Australian audience, which qualifies itself as unbiased information. In Australia there is no other opinion, and the pretence that your opinion is in any way critical keeps the dumbed down Australian consumer believing the one opinion/voice they are told.

    • Tony Ryan says:

      I can empathise with David’s anger and frustration but I do think he is being a little harsh on Cavan who, at the very least, is acknowledging the salient issue. Which is, of course, Australian politician’s sycophantic and knee-jerk adoption of US/Israel/NATO policies and actions (for the sake of brevity and diplomacy, I am pretending that those are single political entities).

      The cold reality is that, since 1946, every one of these allied actions has been morally wrong and more often than not, illegal as well. We went along with these because the Australian electorate is denied valid information which might activate our moral and legal compasses. Since 1973 our media has been controlled by American media mogul Rupert Murdoch; and our universities and think tanks are under the thumb of Murdoch/Rockefeller associate, Frank Lowy.

      Because this troika controls the outcome of elections (as acknowledged openly by Paul Keating when he realised that Fairfax, Packer and Murdoch had dumped him in favour of John Howard), all Australian political decisions are guided from without.

      Former PM Malcolm Fraser eventually comprehended this and his legacy to the people of Australia was the dire warning, delivered no less than seven times before he died, that the US had already betrayed us and that if we continued to believe that the ANZUS Treaty tied the US to Australian defense (a myth) we would inevitably be sucked into WWIII… to no advantage whatsoever.

      I have counted seven actual nuclear targets in Australia, with the likelihood of nine if two projected US installations in the North proceed (a possibility which the media ignores).

      But back to Russia: no independent observer of geopolitics gives any credence to the claim of Russian assassination in UK for the simple reason it makes no political sense. But it makes absolute political sense that lacklustre western politicians, who would struggle to achieve 40% electoral popularity, would want to vilify Putin,who enjoys variously between 72% and 87% popularity in his own country. Moreover, Putin has run military and diplomatic circles around western politicians during the past decade, which has humiliated our ‘leaders’.

      Secondly, Russia supplies cheap and reliable gas to Europe, a market which the US coverts. We are talking envy and trade war politics here.

      Thirdly, the claimed nerve agent is held in a UK facility not 12 kilometres from the attack site, and also by the Americans and Israelis. The very aggressive latter country sees Russia as the only obstacle to initiating a nuclear attack against Iran, along with the invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon; objectives long shared with the US.

      My distaste for all Australian commentators thus far is that none have eluded to the permanent Australian solution: the expulsion of Murdoch and break-up of the media duopoly; the outlawing of political donations; and a constitutional amendment requiring major military decisions (ie declarations of war) to be mandated by national referendum.

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