Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 23:28 | SYDNEY
Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 23:28 | SYDNEY

Voltaire in Canberra


Rory Medcalf


19 March 2008 15:17

For a footnote-rich survey of the global strategic landscape (and incidentally a handy primer for those new to the field of international relations), Senator Russell Trood’s new Lowy paper has garnered an impressive amount of media interest.

Of course, the story was all about the fact that a Liberal parliamentarian had dared publicly to differ, however carefully, from the Howard orthodoxy. But if a Liberal parliamentarian cannot do that at a time when the party is in utter post-defeat disarray (or, more generously, this time of creative flux), then the spirit of Voltaire really has no home on the Right of Australian politics. In many democracies, a single politician differing from the party line would not even be news.

For his part, Liberal leader Brendan Nelson was in quite the Voltairean mood when launching Senator Trood’s paper earlier this week. Admittedly, he seemed to spend more time disagreeing with the contents of the paper than saying what they were, but at least he defended their author’s rights of expression.

Analytically, I have my own differences with some of Senator Trood’s conclusions and recommendations (I should disclose here that the paper was published under my program at Lowy). For example, I believe his call for a new long-term intelligence and strategic assessments capability within DFAT does not take into account the bolstered capacity that ONA has acquired in this regard in recent years (then again, also in the interests of disclosure, I used to work at ONA). On the other hand, I agree entirely with his recommendation for DFAT’s budget to be protected from further cuts, which, were they to proceed, would be absurdly counterproductive for any government with an even remotely ambitious foreign policy agenda. 

If the current Government should take heed of any of Senator Trood’s other conclusions, my suggested first pick would be the term ‘selective global activism’. It sounds like a sensible organising concept in foreign policy for any Australian government in a world and a century where our interests far outweigh our power.