Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 01:13 | SYDNEY
Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 01:13 | SYDNEY

Diplomacy: Things are tough all over


Andrew Shearer

29 June 2009 17:19

Readers interested in the debate about Australia’s resource-starved diplomacy generated by the Institute’s report on Australia’s Diplomatic Deficit: Reinvesting in Our Instruments of International Policy might be interested in a couple of recent contributions from retired international statesmen.

The first is an article written by no fewer than eight former Secretaries of State from both sides of US politics. Among the points they make are that:

  • Sending diplomats abroad without language skills is like deploying soldiers without bullets (that's one our Prime Minister would agree with).
  • 20 per cent of regular positions in US embassies and in the State Department are unfilled.
  • Despite the pressing need to deploy technical experts in important reconstruction and stabilisation tasks, USAID has fewer staff today than it had in Vietnam alone in the 1970s.
  • Rebuilding these critical US capabilities would cost in the order of $US3.5 billion spread over a number of years; this would equate to less than half of 1 per cent of defence spending (not even including the cost of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq).
  • Avoiding a single war or defusing a major crisis through diplomacy would save many times the increase in funding and relieve strain on the military.

Maybe Alexander Downer, Gareth Evans, Bill Hayden and Andrew Peacock should put pen to paper to throw their weight behind Stephen Smith when he faces the ERC razor gang to argue the toss for the next DFAT budget?

The second is an article by former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark arguing that the running down of Canada’s diplomatic and development budgets is undermining its traditional vocation for middle-power diplomacy and its capacity to address significant international challenges. Sound familiar?