Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:18 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:18 | SYDNEY

The Howard Government foreign policy legacy (part 2)


Sam Roggeveen


20 November 2007 15:57

Part one of this post looked at how our 26 experts from Australian media, academia, business and think tanks rated the lowlights of the Howard Government's foreign policy. The participants also nominated their top three, four or five highlights:

Although the Howard Government gets good marks for acts of traditional diplomacy - balancing Asian and US relationships, joing the EAS, relations with China - it seems our experts were also impressed with selfless acts like the Tsunami response, our financial aid after the Asian currency crisis and the Timor intervention. Australia had good national-interest reasons to do all these things, but they weren't nakedly self-interested. And for a country like Australia, these kinds of policies make sense: where great powers can use coercion or even force to get their way, middle powers must rely on cooperation and good will, so I think our experts were right to mark such acts highly. Still, it is not clear why the Timor intervention should be seen as favourable by so many more of our experts than the Solomons operation, given that neither has been a great success so far.

Some notable quotes from our survey participants:

…those with RAMSI in their highlight list have been imbued with the same Pollyanna view that advised the mission in the first place. Shame that more of these Canberra and think tanks warriors never actually get the responsibility for staying put and making their ‘good’ ideas work on the ground before they accept the applause…

The Howard government has in many ways done better in Asia than its Labor predecessors. Evidence of this is in the strong bilateral relationships with China, Japan and Indonesia, and Australia's acceptance into the East Asia Summit.  One of the advantages of the Howard approach was that it did not involve, as one Asian diplomat privately describes the approach of the Hawke-Keating era, 'looking to Asia with a hungry face'.

The Bougainville (peace monitoring) operation has received insufficient attention internationally as a model of how states can engage in practical and non-threatening peace-building in a fragile or failed state — although the Europeans acknowledged it as one inspiration for their Aceh peace monitoring mission. 

Cultivating excellent relations with the US is a real plus, but the tone and tenor of the way in which the alliance has been handled, as well as some of the more concrete commitments, will tie Australia's foreign policy hands in the coming years…

Australia’s reaction to the Boxing Day Tsunami built a relationship with Indonesia and was positively received in Asia generally.

Iraq was, for us, all gain and very little pain. The problem is that so many commentators seem to think we are more important than we are. 

That both Bush and Hu addressed the Commonwealth Parliament on consecutive days in October 2003 — with both given equal billing by the Howard Government — was a real coup for Australian foreign policy. It showed that we don't have to make the choice yet...

Survey participants: Alan Gyngell, Anthony Bubalo, Neil James, William Bowtell, William Tow, Daniel Flitton, David Bidmead, Gary Smith, Greg Earl, Hugh White, Hugh Funder, James Cotton, James Curran, Malcolm Cook, Mark O'Neill, Mark Thirlwell, Martine Letts, Michael Fullilove, Michael Wesley, Milton Osborne, Nick Bisley, Peter Abigail, Rory Medcalf, Trevor Rowe, Stuart Harris, Richard Woolcott.