In Part 1, I discussed some of the contradictions of Australia’s recent foreign policy agenda. At the end of the blog, I argued that under new Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, there is an exciting opportunity to articulate a vision of Australia in the world that could expand upon the vision that Carr presented in his maiden speech to Parliament:
Running foreign policy is not just about protecting our national interest although by every tenet of diplomatic doctrine that comes first.
It is also being an exemplary global citizen when it comes to protecting human rights and the world’s oceans.
Carr’s vision of foreign policy speaks to the constructivist agenda in International Relations – ‘evidence of progressive moral change in world politics lies in the very raising of our ethical expectations which themselves can be demonstrated over time’ (Richard Price 2008: 303). In short, it speaks to the idea that in the long-run our own national self-interest is best served by endeavouring to support a safe, harmonious environment for everyone else. If foreign policy is perhaps the only branch of politics that permits the articulation of vision beyond the three-year election cycle, we have some luxury to debate what Carr’s foreign policy vision could entail.
As I argued in the first part of this blog, promoting security and economic foreign policy engagement amongst the great powers has not always been Australia’s forte. The stakes for powerful countries are simply too high and Australia lacks influence on these issues for very understandable reasons. But there are many areas of policy where great power interest may be less sharp or well defined and in these areas Australia could make a lasting contribution. There is some track record. Australia championed the 8 hour working day, was second only to New Zealand in recognising women’s suffrage, the signatory state to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees that brought the instrument into force. It had a relatively generous refugee intake scheme for decades and made an early and enduring commitment to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Of course, there is a dark side as well: Tampa, Iraq and collusion with rendition spring to mind as recent examples. But on balance, Australian governments have tried to be a force for good which is why perhaps the time is right to make promoting human protection a theme of Australia’s foreign policy. This could help us maintain, as Price suggests, a strong ethical expectation of ourselves at home and abroad.