Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 00:43 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 00:43 | SYDNEY

'Oz Sightings': Fun for policy wonks


Graeme Dobell

19 May 2010 12:16

Come play 'Oz Sightings' with the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, that venerable New York publication with the light blue cover which fades so gently to pastel.

As previously explained, we are hunting three sorts of sightings. There can be actual mentions of Australia; implied sightings (where Oz is part of a group or is a player in an issue, but just doesn't get a specific sighting), and, finally, there are over-sightings, where Oz could have got a mention, but  just didn't rate.

The first article in the May-June print edition of Foreign Affairs is a piece by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, on helping others defend themselves. The Gates references to key allies and the application of the Nixon doctrine to help partners and allies means this rates just as an implied sighting.

Bingo with the next article, The Brussels Wall: Tearing Down the EU-NATO Barrier. Here's William Drozdiak's second paragraph:

When NATO's 28 leaders gather in Portugal later this year to draw up a new security strategy for this 21st century, they will consider a range of options, including military partnerships with distant allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea.

And with that single sighting, Oz disappears from the piece.

Drozdiak offers a couple of wonderful bits of bureaucratic arcanum. I liked his example of how rarely the two key Brussels institutions talk: only a few years ago, it was considered a minor miracle when the EU's foreign policy czar and NATO's secretary-general decided they should have breakfast together once a month. Ah, yes, the importance of a good breakfast.

Drozdiak also records the US military translation of the NATO mission in Afghanistan: ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is rendered as I Saw Americans Fight. This rates along with the US view of the true meaning of Mountbatten's South East Asia Command during WW2: SEAC stood for Saving England's Asian Colonies.

Then on to the sightings cornucopia in Robert Kaplan's The Geography of Chinese Power: How Far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea? What first grabbed my attention was the map used to illustrate the article, showing the Approximate Zone of Chinese Influence in Asia. Australia is shown just outside the Chinese zone. But interestingly, Australia is not marked as one of the Countries That Will Resist Chinese Influence. The only two nations that are shaded as China resisters are India and Japan. 

The map seems to adopt the Samuel Huntington view that Australia will be a torn country, seeking to defect from the West to redefine itself as Asian. The Huntington prediction was that Australia would stand with Indonesia on the neutral sidelines while the US confronted China in the South China Sea.

Kaplan plays both sides of the torn country divide. On one side he lists Australia as an element in a Mahanist grand design: the idea out of the US Naval War College of a Great Wall in reverse. This naval Great Wall is built on what China sees as the first island chain: the Korea Peninsula, the Kuril Islands, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia: A well-organised line of US allies that serve as a sort of guard tower to monitor and possibly block China's access to the Pacific Ocean.

Kaplan can also conceive of Australia straying into Huntington's torn zone if US commitment to the region ebbs along with the decline of American hegemony. Then Australia could shift along with other US allies, to move closer to China and thus allow the emergence of a Greater China of truly hemispheric proportions. The option Kaplan prefers is for the US Navy and Air Force to add Oceania into the equation. Mark this as an extension of the Guam superbase strategy onto a much larger canvas.

The Oceania effort would build up US strength just over the horizon from the informal borders of a Greater China. The Australian dimension of this would take in the Ashmore Islands and the seaboard of Australia from Darwin to Perth. Now that is an Oz sighting with a bit of geographic heft.

Note also the Kaplan Q&A session, where he suggests one little-noticed advantage of the growing US use of special envoys for issues such as Israel-Palestine and Afghanistan-Pakistan. More special envoys, please, because they free up time for the Secretary of State to go to Asia where the US really needs to compete. Here's how he follows that thought, with an implied Oz sighting:

We recognize that the Western Pacific, East Asia, South Asia really is the centre -- the strategic centre of the world. And we engage these countries. One of the problems with the Bush administration was we didn't show up enough at conferences at a high enough level. We do that, and we also leverage allies -- Japan, South Korea, India, other countries. At the same time, we reach out to China and try to draw them into a kind of concert of powers, patrolling the seas from the Horn of Africa all the way up to the Sea of Japan.

So, welcome to the fun of Oz sightings, even if it is merely a place among the 'others'.

Image courtesy of Foreign Affairs.