Australians face a set of decisions in foreign policy arguably more important to us than any national decisions since the Second World War, writes John McCarthy, former ambassador to Washington, Tokyo, Jakarta and New Delhi. How we navigate them could even have existential implications.
In a new global era, Australians as a country and community have to change the way we think about external policy. It should no longer be seen as a matter only for government.
There are four key themes, each of which relate deeply to the interests of ordinary Australians, that should be the focus of this new way of thinking: Foreign policy as an existential question; our relationship to our region; our reputation as a nation; and the importance of a functioning, rules-based international system.
To address the first of these themes requires us to reflect on a little history.
Most Australians either do not realise, or have forgotten, that we assumed control of our own foreign and defence policy from Britain only in 1942.
When my contemporaries and I joined the then Department of External Affairs in the late 1960s, Australia had been in the foreign relations business for itself for only about a quarter of a century and we had bosses who had been pioneers in the Australian foreign service.
It makes Australia relatively new to the business of managing external relationships. When we did begin to manage these relationships, the USA replaced Britain as our protective umbrella. And since then we have never been without it. As the years have gone by, our anxiety to preserve that protective umbrella has become entrenched in our strategic thinking, leading to our involvement alongside the USA in wars from Korea to Iraq.
It has meant that with the exception of the Second World War we have never truly had to think of external policy as an existential issue.
Now we do.
Please click here to read the full “Time to focus on foreign policy for the sake of Australia’s future” article published at AsiaLink, adapted from the annual Sugden Oration, “Winds of Change? Australian Foreign Policy After the Election”, at Queen’s College, University of Melbourne, on 6 May 2019 delivered by Mr John McCarthy AO FAIIA, Chair of the Australia-India Council, Deputy Chair of the Australia-India Institute, Chair of the Advisory Board of the Griffith Asia Institute and Co- Convenor of the Australia -Indonesia Dialogue.