Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:45 | SYDNEY
Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:45 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: What is a 'middle power'?


Sam Roggeveen


28 March 2008 09:25

In reponse to my commentary on Kevin Rudd's foreign policy speech, Hans van Leeuwen writes:

I'm no champion of the Howard-Downer foreign policy, but is it possibly a little unfair to characterise them as not having engaged with the UN? After all, didn't Australia make a determined push for a seat on the UN Security Council a few years ago? And didn't they recently send a very senior ex-minister (Robert Hill) to be 'our man at the UN'? And didn't they want the UN in East Timor, unlike the US in Iraq? Admittedly, however, an indication of Australia's poor engagement with the UN might be the failure of the bid for a Security Council seat -- perhaps (I speculate) because we were seen as an automatic vote for the US rather than an independent and multilateralist voice? In which case, it's worth asking whether Rudd actually intends to, or is capable of, turning that image around.

I'm also amused to see that Rudd shares the Downer fantasy that Australia is a 'middle power'. I'd be interested to know what the characteristics are that define middle-powerdom. If it's military projection, significance and activity, then Poland is a middle power (and far more important than Australia). If it's strategic significance, then Korea is a middle power. If it's economic clout, then Spain is a middle power. These three (except possibly Korea) are almost invisible to us on the world stage; just as we are invisible to almost everyone else. (Indeed, I've sometimes noticed, in the foreign press, Australia left off lists of countries supplying troops to Iraq.) In fact, on any rubric of 'middle power' that includes Australia, there are so many middle powers that the term is basically meaningless.