Was PJK right?

Paul Keating’s intervention during the 1996 election campaign when he claimed that Asian leaders wouldn’t deal with John Howard is almost universally recognised as a big mistake. Of course, a lot of odd things are said on the hustings – well, that is to say, impromptu odd things as opposed to the repetition of odd mantras like “Ease the Squeeze” and “We will determine who comes into this country”. Even political commentators who regularly scored every day of the 2004 election campaign as a “win” for the Coalition admitted that John Howard’s attempted wedge of Latho by loudly claiming that Australia reserved its right to make a pre-emptive strike against Asian nations who might be harbouring terrorists was a big mistake. A mistake compounded by Alexander Downer, who – quite in contrast to the Fortress Australia line – tried to soften the blow by saying he was quite cool with Indonesia bombing us if we were harbouring terrorists. Shortly after the election, Howard was seen to have junked this odd position.

But, in the wake of his pow-wow in a poncho in Chile with Dubya, our fearless leader is now refusing to sign a non-aggression pact with ASEAN nations in the name of pre-emption. Given that Australia has had to fight long and hard to even get a seat at the ASEAN table, and that crucial free trade area negotiations are to take place at the upcoming ASEAN summit in Vientiane, is this wise? Did we really vote for a steady hand on the tiller in times of trouble?

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Tony.T
2021 years ago

I don’t get it, Mark. Are you suggesting that when Keating said what he said in ’96, he might have been right because now, after EIGHT years of getting along OK, Howard’s playing hardball over the NAP and somehow wants to get Asia all steamed up? Are you suggesting Howard has a “Dodgy Tiller”?

PS: Those “commentators who regularly scored every day of the 2004 election campaign as a “win” for the Coalition” were drowned out by those talking up Latham’s “triumphs”.

Alex
Alex
2021 years ago

I note that ‘The treaty of amity and co-operation calls for each signatory to commit to “non-interference in the internal affairs of one another”, a “renunciation of the threat or use of force” and the settlement of disputes by “peaceful means”‘. The question I have is, do the nations which have signed/are intending to sign really believe in these things, or is it just a wishy-washy statement of vague ideals, which will be ditched immediately any nation decides that things have gone too far with one of its neighbours? Who could believe that Russia, for example, would not intervene in the affairs of another nation if it thought it was warranted?

The broader issue that this raises, which has already caused difficulties internationally, is the extent to which human rights can be subsumed to national sovereignty. I only need to mention Kosovo, Iraq and East Timor to make it clear that, in the real world, deciding the merits of these two is not something that can be done in advance. Perhaps JH is not as silly as he looks.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

Tony T – I was being facetious. I don’t think PJK was right – in fact, I think this comment was probably evidence of his indiscipline and the strategic mistakes of the 1996 campaign (not taking Howard seriously, the scare campaign about Howard, the “Leadership” slogan). I’m just trying to make the humorous point that silly things get said in election campaigns.

Your comment about commentators probably reveals something about the different perceptions different people have of the media!

Alex, you may be right, and there is a very serious issue about the conflict between human rights and national sovereignty. My concern here though is how Howard’s actions are being interpreted by Asian leaders – in light of his previous statements about pre-emption. He needs to clarify what he’s on about if he has a different reason. Otherwise, his indisciplined comments are going to continue to damage our national interest.

Alex
Alex
2021 years ago

Mark, in the short term you may be right. However, generally nations seem to have a short memory about these things, and decide their course of action on the merits at the time. I don’t think anyone in Malaysia is still getting excited about Dr Mahathir being called a recalcitrant. In some ways it is valuable to proclaim friendship with other nations, but at the same time remind them that this friendship is to some extent conditional on their behaviour. And the reality of international relations is that this is always the case.

The other comment I would make is that I am sure the ASEAN countries recognise that Howard’s remarks during the election campaign were intended for domestic consumption. Nevertheless, it would be helpful for Howard to clarify his reasons for not signing the treaty. Perhaps he has already done so, but in private.

Tony.T
2021 years ago

I’m extremely disappointed Mark.

I lovingly craft a framework of 52 carefully chosen words to set up devastating pun and you entirely miss it.

Ohh, the shame.

The second point: Yes, I barrack for the right. I wish more people admit they barrack for one side or the other.

observa
observa
2021 years ago

We have for some time now been the strongest regional power in the southern hemisphere bar none. Our intervention in ET made that clear to all and for which we make no apologies. Howard is well aware that we can call a recalcitrant a recalcitrant in SE Asia now, free from any need to concern ourselves with their sensitivities. However, he is far too astute to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor. Instead he shows the real mark of a powerful and senior statesman by attending Yudhoyono’s inauguration. See how I come among you as equals ASEAN friends? They are well aware now, that some are more equal than others of course.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2021 years ago

So – observa – Howard is now justified in claiming some sort of position of supremacy and endangering multilateral diplomacy? That’ll work well in terms of co-operation in the War on Terror!

Alex
Alex
2021 years ago

On the issue of human rights vs national sovereignty – there’s a lot of hypocricy about this issue at moment. For example, (some) European nations, as well as many individuals, jumped up and down with indignation over the breach of Iraq’s sovereignty, but there was little of the same regarding the breaches of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty in the 90’s (which included some of the same nations which criticised the US and its allies over Iraq).

Some of the issues surrounding this were the subject of Robert Kagan’s recent John Bonython lecture for the Centre for Independent Studies. It’s worth a read.
http://www.cis.org.au/Events/JBL/JBL04.htm

Link
2021 years ago

Howard is already deeply unpopular in Asia, save China. (phew). He should’ve have just smiled nicely and signed. Not signing a document with the title ‘Non-Aggression Treaty’, speaks volumes and some will see it for what it is, keeping the option open for warfare, if not a declaration of such.

Howard rushed to BBY’s inauguration, probably because Megawati wouldn’t have a bar of him. Apparently she just refuses to speak. How are relations with the US and Indonesia going? Swimmingly I hope!

If he wanted to back out of such a treaty at the 11th hour, he only has to go ask Uncle George if its OK?

Scott Wickstein
2021 years ago

Could someone please explain the benefits and costs of this treaty before we rush to put pen to paper?

DrShrink
2021 years ago

Its a question of Interest.
What will we lose by not signing, Ie Mark mentions the trade deals. If those are at risk howard would be a fool to not sign.

If hes not signing it to protect the notion of pre-emptive strikes then hes simply harming our relationship with the region to support an unlikely policy option, that only has importance in terms of domestic political image and consistency and little actual reasoning or benefit to Australia.

But if he thinks its just about standing and liable to be forgotten soon without cost tthen there isnt much reason to sign outside symbolism. Our co-signers wont follow it if the times suit them and neither will we. We have little to fear from the region for at least a decade, and that decision will be based on power not words.

So if we can gain standing or trade deal from signing a feel good piece of paper then we probably should.

Norman
Norman
2021 years ago

Howard’s comments re pre-emptive strikes is a non issue, apart from its use as an emotional political red herring. The concept is part of standard international law, and the only moot point relates to the circumstances in which it may be invoked, and the extent to which it should be applied.
No Federal Leader, whether Labor or Coalition woild deserve to be looking after the Nation’s interests, if he rejected even its possible use.

observa
observa
2021 years ago

As Alex points out Kagan outlines the issues fairly well and they are applicable to Australia’s relationship with SE Asia today. It would appear we are no longer the poor white trash of Asia, if not quite the wealthy white and brash nowadays. Howard could simply put an end to this ASEAN peace treaty nonsense, by asking for the proviso that members be exempted from its protection if they harbour neighbourhood threats like terrorism and piracy, whether by their inaction or deliberate policy. Of course the option of calling such a neighbour and using preemptive/preventative strike would still invoke the same quagmire of the US and EU perspectives.

The question the multilateralists have to ask themselves is- Would they be comfortable with Indonesians continuing to abuse ET human rights under such a treaty? Australia under Howard clearly is not and is quite prepared to say as much with our stance. Now that may have some economic repercussions with trade, but I doubt it. With our US FTA at least a symbolic road, if not exactly a superhighway into US markets, it would seem countries like China and Thailand are falling over themselves to ignore our recalcitrance and sign up to bilateral FTAs. If particular Asian nations want to be the last dominos to fall in this regard, Howard will be quite prepared to let them. Freed from the expedient necessities of the Cold War, our liberal values are no longer for sale or compromise.

I’d sign up to multilateralism and Westphalian Treaties too under the banner of a United Liberal Democratic Nations, with certain minimum entry standards for members. With military intervention I’d happily be bound by representative democratic votes, dependent on population size. The sooner we leave the apologists for terror and tyranny to the current UN the better. What better headquarters for the ULDN than the Twin Towers site eh?

Eunoia23
Eunoia23
2021 years ago

I thought the reason for not signing the NAP is that it affects our loving relationship with Uncle Sam. It will invalidate sections of AusUs treaties, as in sorry Mr President your missile ships and bombers may not use our ports if you wish to strike Laos or Cambodia.

This is merely a reminder that we may have to stop being Anglo-Saxon and to be our(Asian)time sector.