Sunday 17 Oct 2021 | 00:12 | SYDNEY
Sunday 17 Oct 2021 | 00:12 | SYDNEY

Sharp Finn lands Australia in diplomatic soup


Rory Medcalf


13 October 2008 16:26

A key rival to Canberra's 2013-14 UN Security Council bid is Helsinki. And Finland has just scored another feather in its cap for creative small power diplomacy, with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former president Marti Ahtisaari. His claims to fame includes helping broker peace in Aceh — Australia's immediate neighbourhood.

The success of the Aceh peace process and the subsequent EU monitoring mission is a reminder that distance and detachment can amount to real advantages in acts of good international citizenship. The Aceh problem had reached a hurting stalemate and, in the aftermath of the tsunami, was ripe for resolution. But an Australian effort to mediate and monitor would likely have met with deep (if deeply misplaced) suspicion that Canberra was trying to dismember Indonesia, Timor-style.

This does not mean Canberra should be indiscriminately seeking to fix far-off conflicts. There is plenty Australia could do in parts of Africa where European interventions might be impeded by the baggage of colonialism. But our diplomatic and security assets are limited, and Australia faces a more crowded regional security horizon than most European countries (a resurgent Russia notwithstanding). So we will need to target our good deeds cleverly.

Perhaps the only straightforward lesson for now is that Canberra's Security Council bid, which was never going to be easy, has just got tougher.