This week saw three curious events in Australian foreign policy. First, the Prime Minister’s attack on a US Presidential candidate, the release of allegations against David Hicks, and a letter from the US Department of Defense stating that the F22 Raptor will not be made for export. Two of those can be assumed to be mere administrative functions of government, but they aren’t. All three are inherently political. These events also point to the framework of the Great and Powerful Friends doctrine of foreign policy [GAPF] no longer being suitable in describing the Liberal Party’s foreign policy.
The GAPF doctrine has dominated Australian foreign policy since Billy Hughes. It is the policy of making Australian foreign policy subservient to the current hyper-power in return for security and economic benefits. Prior to 1942 the friend was Britain, since then it has been the United States. Whenever the doctrine has been tested, or placed under stress, it has failed. However it remains popular with the two major parties and much of the electorate. The latter is partly the fault of politicians who have built the ‘US Alliance’ into almost mythical terms in public.
So where does Howard’s approach differ from the standard GAPF doctrine? Allan Gyngell and Michael Wesley write that the Howard Government have worked “to focus foreign policy more openly on the national interest and link it more directly to the domestic political agenda.”
The original GAPF doctrine was developed over fears of Australian weakness, in defence and economic clout, consequently the government sought to advance the powerful friends interests in return for security and economic benefits. The Howard Government’s focus on a domestic political timetable, where foreign policy becomes another political tool, has meant that the GAPF under Howard now represents Australian domestic political weakness – but not just that – it means domestic Liberal Party political weakness.
This makes the national interest part of Gyngell’s and Wesley’s statement no longer valid. Judith Brett has also commented on the focus of the Howard Government:
I get little sense from the way Howard governs that he thinks of the future much beyond the next electoral cycle. … In keeping its eye so firmly on the ball of the present, the future seems to elude the government’s view …
This interpretation of Howard’s policy making fits with the three events in the opening paragraph of this article. Since the lead up to the Iraqi conflict, the Howard government has approached the Bush Administration in a meta-national political relationship. The purpose has not been Australian advantage, but domestic political advantage for the Liberal Party. The only argument for this approach is that what is good for the Liberal Party is good for Australia, but I suspect many voters in Australia repudiate that statement.
I originally thought that Howard’s comments on Barack Obama were unfortuitous errors, but with the release of the particulars against Hicks and the letter from Gordon England on the issue of the F22, I am now of the opinion that Howard was deliberately trolling the media in order to shore up his flagging political support.
His comments have no care for the future nor a possible Obama Presidency and a Democratically controlled Congress in the United States which is why they are such diplomatic idiocy. Yet the media has focused on the war on terror and national security, an area where the Liberal Party always polls well in public opinion. It has also kicked climate change and global warming off the front pages.
The other areas in national security and defence where Howard was carrying political liabilities are the problem of David Hicks and the Capability Gap between the retirement of the F111 and the procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter. In both these cases the GAPF has not been for the national interest, but for fending off domestic Liberal Party political weakness. The Hicks particulars of charge come undated, unsubstantiated, after five years of detention in an off-site holding camp, and with no guarantees of a trial date or a hearing in a civil court. This is not to solve the problem, but to deflect political concern in the population.
The same with the letter from Gordon England, who is the US Deputy Defence Secretary. The letter stated that the F22 Raptor will not be for export. This is another area of Howard Government weakness, the management of Australian capability between the retirement of the F111 and commissioning of the JSF is looking more and more like a massive screw up.
Again this is Liberal Party weakness, but in the US system it is Congress that places restrictions on exports. The US House of Representatives has already voted to export the F22 and the bill (AFAICT) is waiting to be voted on in the Senate. Japan and Israel have also expressed interest in the platform. Kim Beazley, Robert McClelland and some defence specialists have also advocated using the F22 to fill the capability gap while more recently an ASPI policy report projected that buying a full complement of F22s is as cost effective as the temporary measures the Howard Government is planning.
So how do you define the ‘US Alliance’ now? It is temporal too, and cannot survive in its current form beyond the Bush Administration and the Howard Government. The relationship is purely political and between the executives in the two nations. It is not about nation-to-nation relations or diplomacy, it is about solving domestic political problems – the relationship is a transnational or globalised politicisation of the nation-state. Globalised politics is nothing new, Greenpeace has been doing it for years, what is different is that the executives of two nation-states are not representing their nations, but instead their party machines with the power of the state behind them.
Update: It seems the US Senate and House in a joint committee in September 2006 upheld the ban. Under the US Arms Export Control Act the Department of Defense and Department of State can veto military exports.