RICHARD WOOLCOTT. Australian security and trade policy for 2017 and beyond.

May 31, 2017

The key issue is not what President Trump says on behalf of the United States but, what the United States actually does.  

I agree with Hugh White’s comment that the “pivot to Asia”, or rebalancing as it was later called, is now dead.  It put Australia in an invidious position during President Obama’s visit to Australia in November 2011 when he – not our then Prime Minister Gillard – announced in our Parliament the rotation of United Stats marines through Darwin.  At that time Malcolm Turnbull was rightly critical of Gillard’s handling of the matter.

It is only logical that whatever President Trump or his key advisors may say for public consumption, the underlying reality is that a rising China is asserting a regional strategic priority in the South China sea, just as the United States asserts around Hawaii and the Florida Keyes.

It will benefit the region, and the US itself, if the US acknowledges that it is legitimate for China to assert its influence in its surrounding region. Although the US denies it, US activities are directed at containing China. The US, as well as the larger countries, China, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and South and North Korea, all share the need for a peaceful and stable South East Asian, North Asian and South West Pacific Region.

The “rules based order” of post World War 2 was shaped mostly by the US. It should be replaced by an updated order which the countries of the region should shape .  Essentially I agree with Hugh White’s five points,except his comment that the old order “served well”. In fact, it led to one failed war (Vietnam), two losing wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and the probable failure of the intervention in Syria, organised by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

This week in Sydney John McCain described  Australia as “our closest ally” and said that Russia’s President Putin was a “greater threat to global security than Islamic State and the greatest challenge the US faced”.

McCain is quite wrong.These Islamic groups do not constitute a State. They have no airforce or navy. They have no boundaries. They are a number of related Sunni groups and they benefit from being called a State. Nevertheless,they are clearly a greater threat to global security than President Putin’s Russia . It was curious that none of our political leaders sought to contradict McCain’s distorted analysis.

The selling of weapons valued at $110 billion to Saudi Arabia by the US is preposterous. Some of them will inevitably be used in Yemen and increase human deaths and destruction there. Why are we allied with Saudi Arabia? The only way to limit the growth of extremism and shocking terrorist actions like Manchester (and Paris) is for the US to cease intervention reinforced with Saudi Arabian funding.

The Turnbull Government’s decision to send an additional 30 soldiers to Iraq indicates, yet again, that Australia,despite Government denials , is still responding to US requests and is on a course which is not focused on our region of the world – South East Asia, North Asia and the South West Pacific, and which increases – not decreases – the danger of such extremist activity taking place in Australia.

The Australian people are in much greater danger now than they were five years ago as a result of our involvement in the Middle East.

Richard Woolcott is a former Head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and former President of the UN Security Council.

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