Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 07:59 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 07:59 | SYDNEY

Innocents abroad


Andrew Carr


28 February 2011 17:16

In the past week, Kevin Rudd has delivered a major foreign policy speech and an op-ed declaring that the uprisings in the Middle East 'profoundly affect Australia's interests'. What does this mean'

Realists will reject the claim outright. Australia's trade relationship with the Middle East is negligible save for our wheat industry. Security-wise, Australia is relatively unaffected by the changes; at most, the War on Terror may shift gears, but it will be years before we can be sure of what effect this will have on the threats against Australians and Australian interests.

Instead, Rudd is arguing that this is an opportunity for Australia to show itself as a 'creative middle power': 

Australia can play a unique role in the Middle East as an engaged middle power. We are not hampered by historical baggage, nor do we have a hidden agenda. We have political and economic clout, backed up with strong traditions of innovative diplomacy. Our experience in dealing with cultural and religious diversity is especially valuable for bringing about effective, non-traditional partnerships. In short, Australia has both the capability and the responsibility to act. We also have the firm will to do so.

Given our remoteness, I'm sceptical that this fits the 'niche' diplomacy model of Gareth Evans — exemplified in the Cambodian peace process — or if the major players in the region will accept Australian activism. 

Regardless, it is worth highlighting Rudd's intentions. He displayed bursts of similar idealism and activism while Prime Minister, before becoming distracted and disorganised. If DFAT staff can help Rudd overcome the bottlenecks that plagued his time as PM, and make this a long term, well resourced effort, I could see Rudd become a worthy successor to Evans. The risks from trying to insert Australia into international discussions are low, and it could result in worthwhile identity and credibility gains. Realists too often ignore the many indirect benefits of action and innovation by smaller players.

Of course, Gillard will need to sign off on the approach. While she doesn't need to lead the charge (Hawke and Keating let Evans work independently), the PM does need to be supportive and engaged. Whether she is willing to take on that burden, and give enough latitude to her former boss, is questionable.

One side note: Rudd uses the uprisings in the Middle East to rubbish the idea of Fukuyama's End of History concept. Yet, if anything, the protests seem to justify the idea. Surely he has read it'