Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:21 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:21 | SYDNEY

The limits of the Howard Doctrine


Malcolm Cook

12 February 2008 11:40

Australia’s lead role in the United Nations Mission in East Timor in 1999 is seen by many as the start of the so-called 'Howard Doctrine', in which Australia commits itself to being the provider of first resort of regional security in the Pacific. Concerns about the nexus between state failure and new security threats from organized crime to communicable diseases animate this activist doctrine and has seen Australian police and military fan out across the Pacific from East Timor to the Solomon Islands. It is also behind the significant increase in defence spending over the last few years and the growth of the AFP’s International Deployment Group.

But the latest political crisis in East Timor should remind us of the limited, uncertain role foreign governments and forces can play  in the process of state rebuilding (in the case of the Solomons) and state building (in the case of East Timor). Sending more troops and police likely will do little to change the fraught situation in East Timor or tackle the state failure nexus. Foreign governments cannot provide the 'solutions' to local problems of state failure. It is time for us to revisit the Howard Doctrine and focus on the very real limitations of our interventions into the local political problems of our neighbours. Maybe it is time to starting thinking of a 'Rudd Doctrine' of limited interventions with clear time frames and exit strategies or no interventions at all.