The departure of Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister is no cause for regret. Her tenure was marked by hypocrisy, selective application of international law, and blindness to geopolitical realities.
The foreign minister Julie Bishop has resigned as a minister and been replaced by the former defence minister Marise Payne. There is unlikely to be any change in Australia’s foreign policy, which under Judy Bishop’s supervision has been marked by a number of policies that are almost impossible to reconcile with her frequently pronounced commitment to “a rules based international order” or that Australia will stand up to defend “peace, liberal values and the rule of law”.
In fairness to Ms Bishop, she was not the only minister of the present government to espouse such “values”, and in doing so she was acting on behalf of and in accordance with, the policies of the various prime ministers under whom she served.
The ‘values’ ‘rules’ and ‘law’ that she espoused were essentially those of the Western powers who put the prevalent geopolitical framework in place after World War II and have endeavoured ever since to maintain a pre-eminent position, and not hesitating to threaten, sanction, overthrow the governments of, and in many cases bomb, invade and occupy those that defied their concept of whose law and whose rules should prevail.
In pursuit of those policies, chiefly led by the United States, alone or in tandem with various “coalitions” cobbled together for the purpose, Australia has been a willing and almost entirely unquestioning, “joined at the hip” ally. Ms Bishop was not the first to maintain these policies, and she almost assuredly will not be the last.
Her time as Foreign Minister (2013-2018) has seen a number of significant geopolitical events. In each of these, Ms Bishop’s response has been characterized by making judgments that owe more to her governments ideological proclivities than they do to what one might expect from a minister with a legal background: an evidence based opinion reflected in cautious policy.
Her pronouncements on the Ukraine; the shooting down of MH 17; the alleged chemical weapons used in Syria; and the farcical Skripal saga all perfectly illustrate the rush to blame Russia when the evidence is either non-existent, or, as in the Syrian examples, contradicted by independent analysis.
Again for someone professing a belief in the rule of law, her silence in the face of blatant violations of international law has been another dominant feature of her tenure. Australia is in unenviable company in the United Nations in its record of voting against or abstaining on votes critical of Israel, a serial violator of international law in the Middle East and whose treatment of the Palestinians is an enduring disgrace.
If Ms Bishop has ever made a speech or released a media statement critical of Israel’s serial violation of international law, then I must have missed it. A search of the DFAT website produces no such examples.
Ms Bishop is not silent on Yemen, but she might have been better had she done so. Her sole public utterance this year has been to blame Iran for its support of the Houthi rebels, although actual evidence of anything other than political and humanitarian support is lacking. As to Saudi Arabia’s sustained assault upon that country, armed as they are by the United States and the United Kingdom, creating an humanitarian disaster of catastrophic proportions, she is completely silent.
Criticism of those who breach international law, even allegedly, is confined to Ms Bishop’s perceived enemies, never her friends. Thus, the entirely illegal missile attack on Syria following the alleged use of chemical weapons is described as responding “forcefully” in a “calibrated, proportionate and targeted response”. Never mind articles 2 and 51 of the United Nations Charter; never mind this is before the OPCW had even commenced its investigation; and never mind the now overwhelming evidence that it was not the Syrian government that staged these events.
President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA is only “disappointing,” and it is Iran that is “strongly urged to abide by its provisions.” Again, never mind that the independent reporting team from the IAEA had repeatedly certified that Iran was complying with its obligations.
A further blind spot is Ms Bishop’s complete lack of understanding about the major geopolitical changes occurring in what Australian politicians are fond of calling “our region.” It is now well over two years since Ms Bishop last visited China, not only the pre-eminent power in “our region,” but also Australia’s largest trading partner by a significant margin; its largest source of foreign students and foreign tourists; and the third largest foreign investor.
Huge changes are occurring, including but not limited to the BRI, the SCO, the EAEU, and the progressive transition to a non-dollar based system of global trading. The changes are not just economic. As even the Americans admit, both Russia and China now have advanced weapons systems against which they (and by extension us) have no defence.
These and other changes demand a wholly different approach to changed geopolitical realities. Ms Bishop showed no signs of the least appreciation of this. Her former Cabinet colleagues were no better, and the changes in personnel announced by the interim Prime Minister Scott Morrison give one no cause to believe that any improvement is likely to be forthcoming in the future.
Ms Bishop will be remembered as only the latest in a long line of unimaginative foreign ministers determined to adhere to the failing US empire, regardless of the cost to Australia.
Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at [email protected]u