The Shangri-La dialogue and aUStralian strategic thinking

Jun 6, 2023
View of the main entrance of the Shangri-La Hotel host of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Interpretations are being offered about prime minister Albanese’s speech to the so-called Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. This sounds like an Asian event but is hosted each year by the International Institute for Strategic Studies of London, an august and AUKUSian institution of such eminence that I was once invited to join. I declined. Life is too short.

Confronted by an event in the middle of the non-West the IISS no doubt thought best to invite sub-AUKUS himself, the Australian prime minister, to be the dinner speaker on the first evening. The Prime Minister modulated his language a little about China which may help ease contempt in Beijing for our posture, but I spent too long over half a century ago trying to make meaning from utterances out of the Chinese cultural revolution to spend more time doing what I then described as endeavouring to understand the political economy of Nepal by sampling the water of the Ganges at its mouth. Which is to say I have no idea who commands aUStralian strategic thinking and I do not think it warrants effort imagining. I cannot get my mind past donating $400 billion or more to the US defence budget to pay for some submarines under US command, only possibly of value to the US in mounting a war with China, which we oppose. I prefer to think about things that could be done to build a civil society and green the continent and assist our neighbours against climate change.

I am also troubled by the continuing garbage from the government on defending democracy from autocracy when we have had such a succession of autocratic decisions from this prime minister. Ask the cross-bench Teals in the parliament for a definition of autocracy. I am troubled also by the inability of the general public to see this absurdity. I won the game, says school bully, I owe you nothing.

We belong to the so-called West, a grouping of countries in North America and the European Union. About one eighth of the world population. Not least because of the power of the US dollar, the West shaped the world from 1945. As most people seem to know, that era is ending or has ended. More eminent minds than mine say we are entering an era of contestation between the US and China for command of the region and some brazenly say that American arms will prevail. You will be popular in Australia if you say that. But it’s bollocks. We are at the end of single power or military superpower dominance. We approach the end of the era of genuflective statement “rules-based international order” (shorthand for American bullying) and are entering an era in which the nonWest seek a world order based on international law based around the United Nations. There is a wide sea of difference between those concepts.

It is useful to apply to utterances by the West, including Australia, on strategic matters, the question which may arise in marriage counselling too: “is this the sort of way you talk when you know you’re losing?” Or is it just hope of sustained status by shouting.

We do not have another federal election until 2025. Many things will happen before then in the world. Indonesia will hold elections in February 2024, Russia in March 2024, the US in November 2024.

The US elections in November 2024 hold more attention in Australia, as in the West generally. This is a useful guide to polling. My concern is that the US Democratic Party has lost its moorings and affiliation with ordinary people. It is a party of war, with a dirty history. No one in Australia seems to have woken up to the fact that an official report, the so-called Durham report,, last month showed how the whole Russiagate business in the 2016 elections, which sought to unseat the Trump campaign, was a criminal collaboration between people in the FBI and the Clinton campaign. Clinton herself and key staffers are still powerful.

Australians of refined demeanour tend to wish they could vote Democrat. While some see Biden as top-good-guy, they are generally unaware of his family history of shady deals in wartime. Hopefully even Blind Freddy can see that, re-elected, dependent on Sullivan, Blinken, and Nuland, Biden will not lead us out of the wilderness of war.

And if you look at the polls, the election belongs to Trump, or beyond 2024 the government of the United States belongs to Trump by whatever means. I cannot bring myself to imagine that the Republicans could nominate DeSantis, wishing to export his fundamentalist Florida and his war against Disney for Disney’s openness to LGBTIQ. Were he king of the West, the West and the US would be so divided and he would have to find comfort with the Russians and Saudis, but they won’t have him.

So is Trump our safest bet? I’d like to be a fly on the wall when K Rudd meets D Trump.

The future is fascinating. Enjoy the ride. Steer it when you can, but not uphill. Write your operational plan in case a submarine pops up in your street. South Australians, please don’t just be gullible and bought.

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