Teal is important but blood red international issues are dangerously neglected

Aug 1, 2022
So many questions over the world
Image: Pixabay

The Whitlam Government took office with public support for fundamental changes in our approach to our region, to embrace reality. The Albanese government is tangled in the neocon skirts of Morrison and Dutton.

There is a serious risk of drift into a situation comparable to the mind-closure of apartheid South Africa. Despite gentle tones of the Foreign Minister, our broader strategic perspective has gone bung.

The Albanese government has been confronted dramatically with international issues from its first day. The Whitlam government was similarly confronted but there was a major difference. The Whitlam government came in with passionate concern to make changes: to end our involvement in the Vietnam War and shift our recognition of government of China from the authorities in Taipei to the authorities in Beijing… to attune Australia to the realities of our region, including in immigration policy. Those things were done swiftly despite hostility from the authorities in Washington DC. This year there has been a muddle of passions on international issues, rather than clarity about national interests. It’s a difficult year with the interaction of pandemic, climate, environment, and fear of war entangled.

In several international matters we are dangerously up the creek. These must be discussed nationally, openly and in the parliament. Citizens worry and need sound information.

First. We are silent while the Speaker of the US House of Representatives is planning a visit to Taiwan. This is opposed by President Biden, but seems to include planning for US defence force involvement, defence forces of course under command of the president not the speaker. Republican leaders, including Trump’s secretaries of state and defence, are in vociferous support of a visit by Ms Pelosi, second in line of succession to the president. This plan carries more risk of war in the Pacific between major powers than anything since World War II. Even without planet-threatening use of nuclear weapons, the global economy would crash.

It has been part of the alliance fabric that Australia be consulted by the US on matters of fundamental security concern… and any decent ally should speak up. On this matter of the possible Pelosi visit, Australia needs to be sending a clear message, writing to the speaker and the president, and publicly. There is little public awareness of this risk. A government statement is essential, not least to keep the initiative away from Dutton.

Second. We still have a muddle of views on China. The Prime Minister as well as the outspoken Deputy Prime Minister are advised by deeply conservative people who have neocon perspectives but no understanding of China. China is not a threat to Australia unless we continue to develop hostile approaches to China. Apart from the absurdity of believing we have a sense of entitlement to send warships to the straits between Taiwan and the mainland (where in any case most of the commercial shipping of direct relevance to Australia and needing ‘freedom of navigation’ is between Australia and China) there is the question of how we would feel if China patrolled the waters between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. There is widespread understanding and concern not just in China but throughout Southeast Asia that AUKUS and the long ranging nuclear powered submarines make Australia an aggressive and destabilising force, not a friend. We need to embrace the future, not pretend there is some white mans empire to be proud of.

Third, we have signed on to a notion of “rules based international order”, alliances of democracy versus autocracy. This not the same as a law based international order as advocated by China, instead it is an American desire to sustain a unipolar world, dominated by the US: it’s America’s rules. The rules based international order is destroying the planet. This notion of omnipotence has been falling apart for decades since it first arose in the braggadocio after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In these decades the Champions of Democracy have been responsible for more deaths and destruction in interventionist wars than in any other conflict since World War II. Notions of alliance with the United States enhancing Australian security are illusions in a changed world. If at the G20 Summit in Indonesia the Australian prime minister rattles off the nonsense of international rules and AUKUS, he will be seen as a fool by countries in our region. He could do better.

We have now joined a war far from Australia’s interests, continuing to arm and avoiding peace negotiation, in support of a country, Ukraine, ranking 122 on the ‘corruption perception index‘ of Transparency International. With a secret police organisation child of the KGB and as numerous as the FBI, for a population one eighth of the US. Political opposition and independent media are stifled, closed, imprisoned, hunted. The population of Ukraine has declined by 20% since 1990. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women have been trafficked. The rights of the 40% of the country speaking Russian and culturally Russian have been removed,. Agreements signed in Minsk, with France and Germany participating, for a regional system to protect minorities in the east, have been ignored. The war is not new this year, not begun by Putin, but begun with a coup in Kyiv enabled by the US in 2014, against an elected government that had chosen economic association with Russia rather than the EU. There was abundant warning of the inappropriateness of carrying an anachronistic militant NATO up to Russia’s borders, long before. Listen to President Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Ramifications of the current war in Europe are expanding. European governments are destabilised; they tire of the whip of Zelenskyy and his implausible demands for money. Much as with the Euro crisis a decade ago, the big countries Germany and France are expecting smaller members to make sacrifices for them. The Italian government has collapsed and the party most likely to lead a new government is Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) heir to Mussolini’s fascist party. There is a muddle of voices in Germany, few critical of the rearmament program of the Social Democrat-Green government, but there are blunt statements at state and federal level from social democrats and Greens that the winter without fuel will produce great anger and political upheaval. In France the centre-right banker President Macron has lost control of the National Assembly to the left. In Britain… who can say what coherence is possible. high risk of another crisis in the Eurozone as there was a decade ago.

In response–even to questions about the effect of the Ukraine war on gasoline prices–the US President has said the war will be fought “for as long as it takes”…. Takes to do what? There can be no military victory, there will be no humiliation of Russia. Peace becomes more elusive as Ukraine is destroyed. Ukraine is not a level platform. The territories in the east cover what was an energy and resources powerhouse of the Russian empire, and the Soviet Union. Rebuilt after each World War, run downhill by oligarchs after independence, and battered in war since 2014. The Russians cannot stop advancing while US heavy weapons stand back and hit not only military opponents but civilian populations in Donets. Our rules based order is murderous here as elsewhere in the world. Democratic ideals need to respect rights of minorities. Gigantic defence budgets need to be diverted to save the planet.

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