Australian Foreign Policy decisions over the past 25 yearsECONOMIC FACTORS HAVE BEEN THE DOMINANT CONCERN IN AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN POLICY OVER THE PAST 25 YEARS.’
During the past 25 years, Australian Foreign Policy has consisted of a balance between economic and security priorities. No government can afford to focus on one to the detriment of the other. During the Hawke and Keating era (1983-1996), economic factors were of significant importance as we were in a region that was growing rapidly, faster than any other region in the world. Although having said this, it can be argued that there were exceptions whereby security initiatives were of equal concern to the government. In the current day (Howard era), it is possible to view that there is a higher emphasis on security initiatives than ever before due to being situated in a heavily volatile region (Arc of Instability). Having said this, there once again has been emphasis on the economic growth and prosperity of our nation at the same time, via the use of Trade Agreements and other forms of economic policy. This indicates that although there have been concern on economic factors in the past 25 years in relation to Australian Foreign Policy (AFP) decisions, there has also been a balanced emphasis on security factors during this period.
There is no doubt that during the Hawke/Keating era (83-96) economic
priorities received significant emphasis in Australian Foreign Policy decisions. To promote the economic growth and increase of trade in the Asia Pacific Region, the Hawke government embarked on a period of enmeshment’ within the region. Keating proposed this enmeshment with neighboring “Tiger Economies” by co-founding the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Corporation), in 1989. Focused on facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region, it was seen as being crucial to maintain healthy international diplomatic relations within the Asia – Pacific region. This was largely due to the strengthening trading blocks such as the EU (European Union) and NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement). These trading blocks exclusively stipulated that major trading was being transacted via these member economies and was ruling Australia out of many valuable markets. This reinforced that Australia must turn towards its own region for the concentration of developing itself as a strong economy and therefore founded the APEC organization under its Policy decision to achieve this. This became a major focus during the Hawke and Keating era and was of concern when making new Foreign Policy decisions.
Another contributing factor that saw the focus on economic foreign policy decisions during the Hawke and Keating era was the establishment of the Cairns Group. As access to global markets and the effective liberation of agriculture trading, Australia engaged itself in the Cairns Group of Fair Trading Nations (which was founded by Australia). Founded in 1986, its aim (interest) was to ensure open markets for agricultural goods and promote that agricultural trade issues would be given a high priority in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. This was imperative to Australia’s national interest as under the USA’s Export Enhancement Program, the USA undercut Australian agricultural trading alliances with countries and overtook them in markets such as Japan, one of our greatest trading partners. This limited and severely affected Australian agricultural exports and markets to trading nations as now that market was covered by the USA, who were competing at subsidized prices and undercutting our markets. This resulted in the Cairns Group being invoked that pursued the goals of the liberation of agricultural trade. This assisted Australia in maintaining an agricultural market that ensured the safety of the market. This foreign policy decision by the government clearly indicated the concern of economic factors in the region and showed how economic conditions are imperative to the national interest of a nation.
However, during the Hawke and Keating era, there was also a balance of security priorities maintained by the government along with these economic priorities. The participation of Australia in the 1991 Gulf War clearly indicated Australian security policy initiatives. The keenness to assist the USA in the 1991 Gulf War showed the Australian government to have closer diplomatic ties and increase the relationship in the aim of strengthening our insurance policy’ with the USA. This insurance policy was based on the assumption that by making regular down payments to the USA such as assisting in Gulf War 1, or the War on Terror it would have insurance and have the assistance of the USA if they saw the need to invoke the ANZUS treaty. This is a vital interest to the security of Australia in such a volatile region as it gave them a Great and Powerful Friend’, who would possibly assist them in times of need. By participating with the USA this further strengthened our relationship through ANZUS in hope to have a stronger security stance and shows the vital interest security initiatives have had during the Hawke / Keating era. Having said this, the ANZUS Treaty obliges the parties to do no more than consult if one or more of them is attacked. This is not to say that more might not be done; but the treaty of itself imposes no obligation to do more. This forces Australia to assist the USA in as many aspects as it can in accordance to have assistance from the USA not just consultation’. Although, it is not certain that Australia will have US assistance when it’s in its time of need, it gives us possible insurance from attacks from possible aggressors, as conflict with Australia, may also be conflict with the USA. It also gains us access to US military equipment which provides us with state of the art equipment for security purposes. This is further highlighted by the Australian Defense Force who proves that “The kind of ADF we need is not achievable without the technology access provided by the US alliance.” This emphasized interest on maintaining security alliances with our “Great and Powerful Friend” can also be seen through the Pine Gap initiative. US intelligence centre, Pine Gap is an intelligence centre which helps detect targets or possible missile strikes. The Australian government clearly indicated that it would rather maintain its security alliance and continue to gather intelligence information from Pine Gap to help with the security on Australia, rather than receive alleviation from the US Export Enhancement Program. This clearly demonstrated the security priorities of the Hawke / Keating era and emphasized the argument that AFP has consisted of a balance between economic and security priorities and that no govt. can afford to focus on one to the detriment of the other.
In the current Howard era, it is possible to gather that the Australian Government has placed a significant balance on the security priorities of the nation, but has also maintained a steady foreign economic policy stance in light of recent security threats. Located right next to the arc of instability, it is clear that Australia does not want to be situated in a position of fear of volatile or potentially failed states’. This is due to the possible fear of these volatile or failed states being susceptible to gangs and terrorists buying the nation’. These states can then be used for terrorist activities such as; private military training, launching projects, laundering money, smuggling people, and other activities that are highly prejudicial to Australia’s interest and national security, as Barrett further highlights. Australia’s security interests can clearly be expressed in the intervention of the Solomon Islands, under the initiative “Helpem Fren”. Initiated in 2003 by the Howard Government, this initiative was directly in aim of achieving the stabilization of the country via military and economic assistance. This was due to the fear of the Solomon Islands becoming a failed state and being exposed to these terrorist activities and is of major concern as “Their insecurity is Australia’s insecurity”, as quoted by Graham Barrett, which once again reinforces the strategic security interests of the Howard Government.
Another possible way of identifying the emphasis the Howard Government placed on security interests is via the “Enhanced Co-operation Program”. Directly involved with Papua New Guinea, Australia currently provides more than $300 million in development assistance to PNG each year, which reflects our close geographic position and strong economic and historic links. Australia’s aid program has helped PNG make significant development progress, especially in education and health. This reinforces the key strategic security interests Australia has to invest in the success, longevity and the prosperity of PNG, in order to maintain it from becoming a failed state and being exposed to the potential consequences it can have from it. These consequences will be detrimental to Australian national security as failed states that have been bought by terrorist groups are surrounding Australia in the Arc of Instability which is cause for further security concerns. This highlights the emphasis that is placed on Australian security policies and has been dominant during the Howard era and made evident the point, as Barrett highlights the suggestion to” move in or watch someone of questionable motivation do so”. Australian leadership in the region is pivotal to maintain its security interests in such a volatile region.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the Howard era has also seen a balance of factors such as economic decisions when initiating Australian Foreign Policy Decisions. A major foreign policy agreement made by the Howard government was the Free Trade Agreement with the USA. As Hugh Morgan reinforces, “This FTA will deepen Australia’s economic and investment relationships with the US beyond what we might reasonably expect from World Trade Organization arrangements to improve access for Australian business in key markets.” As markets and trading circles are becoming more and more exclusive (EU, NAFTA), Australia is still yet to become part of an organization with strong trading links. As they wait for the opportunity to become part of ASEAN, the Howard government sought to improve relations with the US once again and invoke an agreement of free trade in the aim of improving our market, economic growth and prosperity. This was seen in Australia’s national interest by the Howard Government as it gained us free-er’ access to the US market which is one of our top 3 trading partners (number 1 import partner). This can be seen to be beneficial to the Australian economy as there would be trade liberalization and the ability of the two countries to bi-laterally trade more efficiently and effectively without tariffs, quota’s and other government subsidies and therefore be in Australia’s national interest and be of major policy concern. These benefits from this policy action include; increasing dairy exports by 354%, the removal of all tariffs by 2015 and many benefits to the Australian manufacturing industries. Although this form of trade liberalization has occurred there are still some strict stipulations that are set in order to benefit local markets and protect both economic interests. This highlights the key emphasis the Howard govt. has placed on foreign policy decisions whilst also maintaining high security priorities.
During the past 25 years, Australian Foreign Policy has consisted of a balance between economic and security priorities. During the Hawke and Keating era it can be suggested that there was a balance between economic and security initiatives with a dominant focus on economic policies. The founding of APEC and the Cairns Groups particularly assisted Australia in promoting economic growth in the Asia Pacific Region, whilst also maintaining a fair market for the trade of agricultural goods. On the other hand particular focus was also placed on the national security interests on Australia with the participation in the 1991 Gulf War, in an attempt to strengthen our military ties with the USA and also strengthen ties via the ANZUS Treaty. However it can also be seen during the Howard era that Foreign Policy focus was primarily on a balance between security and economic objectives via the implementation of the “Helpem Fren” initiative in the Solomon Islands and Enhanced Cooperation Program in Papua New Guinea, there were also factors that determined a focus on security initiatives along with this economic focus. This was through Australia’s participation in the Gulf War to improve our military relationship and insurance policy’ with the USA. Economic factors that were also in the Australian government interests for the nation, was the bilateral free trade agreement with the USA. After evaluating both of these national parties and eras it can concluded that no government can afford to focus on one area of foreign policy to the detriment of the other.