Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:34 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:34 | SYDNEY

Howard was the foreign policy radical, not Rudd


Bill Bowtell

14 December 2007 08:09

If being 'radical' is defined as a wild deviation from a pre-existing “normal” state, then whether Mr Rudd’s foreign policy can be characterized as 'radical' as compared to Mr Howard’s simply depends on what “normal” Australian foreign policy settings might be, and determining if and when the radical deviation from them took place. By these criteria, it is Mr Howard, not Mr Rudd, who was the wild-eyed radical disrupter of the long-established norms of Australian foreign policy.

To the extent that he can be judged after less than a month in office, Mr Rudd is bringing about a welcome reversion to the sound, pragmatic principles that have underlain the foreign policies of successive Australian governments since the Gorton Liberal government assumed office in 1967. Burnt by the appalling consequences of blindly following the United States into the Vietnamese imboglio, Mr Gorton’s government pursued constructive engagement with Asia and a engineered a judicious distancing from the 'all the way with LBJ' settings of his Liberal predecessors Menzies and Holt.

Mr Gorton thus laid down the foundations of Australian foreign policy followed by successive governments for over three decades.

Among other things, these principles and policies embraced support for multilateralism, a judicious weighing of the American relationship against competing interests, positive engagement with China, accommodation with Indonesia and the promotion of human rights, general nuclear disarmament and the pursuit of social justice in all its forms under the rule of international law.

The radical break with these settled and popularly accepted norms and principles came with the election of the Howard government in 1996.

Mr Howard reverted to the foreign policy assumptions of his idol, Robert Menzies – the central element of which was the ever-closer alignment of Australian national interests to those of the United States of America.

Mr Howard’s quixotic deviation from the policy settings followed by Prime Ministers Gorton, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating had serious consequences. The most egregious of these was his government’s deeply unpopular commitment of Australia’s resources and prestige to the disastrous folly of the American invasion of Iraq – an eerie reprise of Menzies’ equally foolish support for  American intervention in south-east Asia. The Howard Government’s embrace of the Bush Administration’s ludicrous denial of the fact of global heating may yet, however, have consequences that eclipse even the Iraq fiasco.

The litany of the many less spectacular but still serious failings of the adventurism of the Howard-Downer decade will doubtless be the subject of many post-mortems. But there will be little mourning or regret for Mr Howard’s eccentric and truly radical stewardship of Australia’s foreign policy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I originally posted an earlier draft of this item. This is a revised version.