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

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.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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3 Responses to RICHARD WOOLCOTT. Australian security and trade policy for 2017 and beyond.

  1. michael lacey says:

    The mainstream media seem to follow only one line constantly which is not this one or for that matter that of James O’Neill!

    You mentioned that the terrorists do not have an airforce but on occasion they do it is the Coalition airforce!

    Good article! Cheers!

  2. Kathy Heyne says:

    Hugh White also said
    “None of us in these countries want to live under China’s shadow. But few, if any, believe that we can avoid making some kind of accommodation with China’s growing power and ambition. We accept that one way or another China is going to take on a greater leadership role in Asia. At the same time all of us want the United States to stay engaged in Asia, to help balance China’s power and set limits on how far its regional leadership develops. We look to the United States to ensure that by accommodating some of China’s ambitions we do not end up submitting to its hegemony.”

    Speak for yourself, please Hugh. China didn’t put my father in harm’s way in Vietnam or my son in Afghanistan. That was a consequence of living under the USA’s shadow.

    Let’s judge a nation by what it does, as Richard Woolcott suggests. If memory serves me correctly, China’s last act of force against another sovereign state was in 1979 – almost 40 years ago. The US, on the other hand, dropped its last bomb and/or sent its last drone 4 minutes ago.

    Thank you so much for this article, Richard Woolcott. I’ve read quite a few pushing the Chinese containment line – troubling, when you are one who judges nations by what they do, not what they say. I don’t want to submit to any hegemon, thanks.

    Time Australia charted its course as a peaceful, little guy of comfortable means who can defend himself when necessary, but doesn’t pick fights by hanging out with the schoolyard bully.

  3. “It was curious that none of our political leaders sought to contradict McCain’s distorted analysis.” Not really curious Richard. Can you recall a single example where our political leaders have differed from whatever inanities issue for Washington? You will recall Holt’s “all the way with LBJ”. Only the personnel have changed, the message remains the same.
    I do respectfully differ from you on the role of ISIS. There is ample evidence that they are an instrument of US geo-policy, either directly or through proxies such as the Saudis. The little reported fighting at al Taj where the US and its allies (including Australia?) are bombing Syrian Army positions in support of the terrorist groups aiming to take control of the strategic Highway 1 that links Damascus with Baghdad.

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