The Guardian 6 July, 2005

"Better" foreign policy needed

Peter Symon

Mr Richard Woolcott*, the doyen of Australian diplomats and former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is the latest public figure to join in substantial criticism of the Howard government’s foreign policy. He writes (Weekend Australian Financial Review, June 4-5, 2005) that Australia needs a "better", "more sophisticated" foreign policy.


He calls for an agenda which includes a "less pre-emptory and more consultative approach", "managing our relationship with China (including the Taiwan issue)", "handling Australia’s involvement in Iraq" and "seeking achievable reforms of the United Nations".

He says the "government should work towards a more dignified balance between its apparent unquestioning support for the Bush administration and our interests in countries of comparable importance to us, such as China, Japan, Indonesia and India". Mr Woolcott calls for a "revised and updated security arrangement with the US based on today’s geo-political realities".

"Finally", he writes, "the government should adhere to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Co-operation".

Welcome as his criticisms are, many of his points are extremely vague and, as they stand, have little meaning.

What does "managing" our relationship with China really means? The same can be said of "handling" Australia’s involvement in Iraq, "rejuvenating" Australia’s role in APEC, "achievable" reform of the UN, and a more "dignified balance" in our relations with the US.

The real problem for Mr Woolcott and Australian governments — and not just the Howard government — is that foreign policy has always been based on the mind-set and the economic and political objectives of, firstly, British imperialism (The Boer War, WW I, intervention in Malaysia) and then, US imperialism (Korean War, Vietnam and now, Iraq and Afghanistan).

Australia has its own imperialist ambitions, which have led it to an occupation of the Solomon Islands and an attempted intervention in PNG which at the moment has partly come unstuck.

While not actually participating in all of the wars of intervention by the main imperialist powers, Australian governments backed them — the US dirty wars in Central and Latin America, the various wars to break up Yugoslavia, Israeli aggression against its Arab neighbours, etc.

Not for one minute do the imperial powers, including successive Australian governments, believe that the demise of the Soviet Union and socialism in Eastern Europe spelt the death of socialism.

The policy decisions behind this support have sprung from the objectives of the main capitalist and imperialist governments to spread the capitalist system and subjugate all states to the economic and political interests of the most powerful capitalist states, particularly that of the US. Hence we get "neo-colonialism", "occupation of countries", "pre-emptive strikes", "failed states" and "rogue states" as justifications for aggression and wars and for other forms of open intervention in the affairs of other countries.

Richard Woolcott limits his criticisms to the obvious problems that the implementation of these policies has encountered. In calling for a review of the ANZUS Treaty and for Australia to adopt a more independent foreign policy, he has in mind Australia’s economic and strategic interests, in particular our future relations with China, India, Japan and the Russian Federation.

His specific attitudes towards the massive and aggressive in nature, military build up by the Australian government are not given in this article. This build up has little to do with the defence of Australia (which is not threatened by any country), but is intended for military operations against the other countries, in particular as deputy Sheriff for the USA.

Different principles

Australia not only needs a "better" foreign policy but one based on different principles. Such alternative principles are already incorporated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation that has been adopted by all ASEAN countries and most other Asian countries including India, the Russian Federation and Japan.

Although Richard Woolcott proposes that Australia adhere to the Treaty it is not clear whether this is a mere tactical proposal or is a commitment to the principles of the Treaty. Its principles call for the peaceful settlement of disputes between nations, the equality of nations, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and mutual benefit in relations between countries.

These principles rule out wars and aggression, or interference in the affairs of other countries, pre-emptive strikes, the big dominating the small and any thought of colonialism.

It is because of these principles that the Howard government has so far refused to sign the Treaty. With the mounting pressure on the government from such prominent and experienced people as Richard Woolcott, there are suggestions that Howard is now, for tactical reasons, likely to sign the Treaty.

The genuine adoption and implementation of its principles supply the alternative course that would transform and consolidate Australia’s relations with all its Asian neighbours and bring long term peace to the region.

There is so far little indication that public opinion is yet strong enough to bring about the fundamentally new approach required.

*During his long diplomatic career Richard Woolcott has held the positions of Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Indonesia and the United Nations and other diplomatic positions in Malaysia and Ghana. He was also Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has advised seven prime ministers (Menzies through to Howard) and 12 Foreign Ministers (Casey to Downer). He is highly regarded in Australian and international ruling class circles.

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