CAVAN HOGUE. Business as Usual in the World.

May 27, 2019

Australia’s vote in the UN on the Diego Garcia issue suggests there will be no change in our Government’s approach to foreign policy.

One of the messages coming out of the elections is that Australian voters don’t like complex policies that they find  hard to understand and the other is that we don’t like dramatic changes in direction. The world has ceased to be a simple place and our place in it is becoming more and more complex .  The world is changing dramatically and simple messages like we trade with China and have an alliance with the USA are rapidly becoming our of date.

Morrison ran a clever campaign based on the old advertising truth that you identify your target and hit it simply, relentlessly and repeatedly. It worked. But there is no slogan for the changes taking place in the world and how they will affect us. The government is going to be faced with the need for a sophisticated and flexible policy to deal with a complex situation and dramatic change so what  worked against Labor will not work against the world. Morrison is clearly a clever and effective communicator but will he be able to handle this situation or will he be out of his intellectual depth.? The simplistic approach taken so far is not going to be a long term answer to a declining USA and rising China competing for power.

The record so far is not encouraging. Neither Morrison or his foreign and defence ministers have shown a willingness to come to grips with an uncertain future. The vote at the UN on Diego Garcia where Australia voted in a minority of six suggests that nothing has changed.  The British ambassador made a statement saying that strategic interests were more important than the people so the US bases needed to remain and the inhabitants should not return. The bases have bombers used in Iraq and Afghanistan and possibly other activities. The six countries were the UK, US, Israel, Australia, Hungary and the Maldives which says it all.  The legalities are uncertain and the issue is complex  but the vote was non-binding so it is not likely to be implemented. 116 countries voted in favour with 56 abstentions.

President Trump rang Mr Morrison to congratulate him and we are told they discussed strategic issues. We may assume that Iran was one but it looks highly possible that Trump also put the pressure on for support on the Diego Garcia issue.  The Prime Minister also received early briefings from the Australian intelligence community which probably reinforced the US/UK position. This suggests that Australia will continue the existing policy of putting the US alliance first until the world forces us to take a more balanced approach more consonant with Australian interests. But it is likely to be a rocky road.  As the late Doris Day was wont to sing Que sera’ sera’.

Cavan Hogue is a retired Australian ambassador who has served at the UN, Moscow and a number of Asian countries.

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