Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 21:54 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 21:54 | SYDNEY

The Malcolm Fraser view


Sam Roggeveen


29 June 2009 18:16

There are rich pickings in this op-ed from former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Although Fraser is sometimes mocked for having become a rather squishy small-l liberal, his foreign poicy realism is apparent from the beginning of the article ('Great powers do not act as a consequence of goodwill. They act in their national interest.')

Yes, there's a pretty strident anti-American tone to the piece that will upset many on the right, but that view seems to be informed by Fraser's unromantic vision of the world, in which states never act out of loyalty.

There are a few claims in the piece that I would question. First, this:

US attempts to persuade both Japan and Australia to participate in such a (missile defence) program in the Pacific were also destabilising and could only be aimed at China.

It's the 'only' that bothers me. Successive Democrat and Republican administrations have said the program is aimed at North Korea, not China. But even if you think that's a flat-out lie, it's impossible to look at the technical capacity of America's missile defence system and conclude that it could not be used against North Korea. So even if the program is aimed at China, it's clearly not aimed solely at China.

Japan has within its capacity a missile system as technically advanced as any and a capacity with minimal delay to place warheads on those missiles that would do much to alter the strategic balance.

This seems to be a reworking of the claim that, because of its nuclear power industry and stored plutonium, Japan is just months away from a nuclear weapons capability. But although it might be possible for Japan to make a crude weapon in a matter of months, miniaturising a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile, as Fraser suggests, would be the work of some years.

China has North Korea to the north and Afghanistan and Pakistan to the south. This disturbing instability so close to its borders may explain China's military expansion; it makes more sense than the implication that China could become an expansionist potential enemy.

Instability in Pakistan and North Korea might explain an expansion of Chinese ground forces, but how is it relevant to China's maritime expansion? And if China fears that instability in Pakistan may lead to some kind of military intervention or confrontation, why does Beijing sell Islamabad so many weapons?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.