Valery Timoshenko – Australian Policy Towards Asia-Pacific Region at the Turn of the XX-XXI Centuries

In the beginning of 2004, the Australian government announced plans for an unprecedented expansion of military forces in the country that will turn the“green continent” to one of the leading military powers in order to “become a key ally of Washington in conflicts all around the world” [1]. Such controversial decision was the result of major changes which occurred in the foreign policy of Australia at the turn of XX-XXI centuries.

In the late 80-ies difficult economic situation in the Asia-Pacific region and the realization of economic vulnerability has led to the emergence of a new strategy for Australia’s foreign and national defense policy. It was based on two main ideas, regionalism and multiculturalism. The essence of which was that Australia, both geographically and politically is a part of Asia, and Australian society is a part of Asian society.Creators of the “Asian direction” of foreign policy are former Prime Ministers of Australia G.Evans and P.Keating who suggested to create favorable conditions for economic and political stability in the region by means of Asian collective security. For the first time in the history of Australian government linked the future of the country and its security with the establishment of close military and political ties with Asia- Pacific countries.

The idea of ​​a new regional security is not purely an Australian invention. It fits into the concept of “collective security” which was established in Europe in the 80 years. The European motto “to achieve security together with nations, not against them” was perceived positively in Australia. Mr. Evans said that the limited military capabilities of Australia and its geographical position have left no choice but to create a kind of collective security in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the type of the OSCE in Europe [2].

In March 1996, a coalition of Liberal and National Party came to power in Australia, led by John Winston Howard, which has questioned the correctness of the foreign policy carried out by their predecessors. Strengthening of regional and global instability, the threat of terrorism in all its manifestations forced the Howard’s government to declare relations with the United States as defining in foreign-policy because US is a sole superpower in the world. Australia, according to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, should “help the United States to maintain their advanced military deployment in the region” [3]. Already in May 1996 during a visit of U.S. Navy Commander John Dalton to Australia, the government proposed the use of the northern territory for the temporary deployment of U.S. rapid reaction forces.

Howard Government welcomed any steps aimed at strengthening of U.S. presence in the region. In this case, according to analyst M. Bhatia, occurred the opportunity to “take a break from the Asian problems, while Americans in the town” [4]. Moreover, the agreement also provided a series of military exercises in Australia, with the participation of almost seventeen thousand American troops. J. Howard noted with satisfaction that with the signing of the new agreement eliminated the need for Australians to “choose between our history and geography” [5]. Since, the country’s role in the security system was defined as “service as a” southern anchor “of the American presence in the Asia-Pacific region” [6].

The second half of 1997 and full year 1998 was marked by dramatic changes in the economic and political space of Australia. Economic crisis which happened in the Asia-Pacific region have an impact on the political situation in the region. Indonesia’s crisis has led to the overthrow of the Suharto regime, in Malaysia there was a conflict between the Prime Minister and his deputy, leading to a mass riot. Growth of xenophobia in South Korea, the mass expulsion of immigrants from Malaysia, the pogroms of the Chinese population and a surge in Islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia, also were results of the crisis. On Asian Regional Forum, held in Manila in July 1998, it was stated that the situation has created a real threat to security in the region [7].

The Asian economic crisis has put into question many vitally important to Australia’s assertions about economic and political situation in the region. It became clear that previous statements of experts about the regional stability did not correspond to reality. Widely advertised “model of Asian economic” in reality was a “mixture of capitalism, corruption and financial incompetence, based on foreign investment and export-oriented economy in states of authoritarian type” [8]. “Asian democracy” based on Confucian and Islamic values ​​has been criticized for triadizm, nepotism and elitist system of government that facilitate people’s discontent, and can easily lead to political unrest, demonstrations, riots and even revolution [9]. The discussions also revealed the inadequacy of regional organizations such as APEC and ASEAN to solve problems out of the difficult economic and political situations. Contradictions between the included states were stated. In particular, occurred the friction between Malaysia and Indonesia on illegal immigrants, between Thailand, on the one hand, Malaysia and Indonesia – the other, on cooperation with the IMF, between Malaysia and Singapore – due to the refuse of the last to turn Singapore dollar into the collective currency of ASEAN.

Great concern to the Australian public has caused the rise of nationalism and religious extremism in the region. History shows that nationalism, as a rule, places the responsibility for their own internal failures on some external force. Search for an external enemy – the usual practice of the nationalists. Head of the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies (Australian National University) P.Dibb, in this respect, notes that in the event of an economic crisis, national leaders begin to seek scapegoats to maintain their own weakened position [10]. Australia, with its colonial past and a broad presence in the region could well claim to be a “scapegoat”.

It is quite understandable that such a negative assessment of the causes and consequences of the Asian economic crisis led to a change in attitudes of Australian public opinion to the country’s policy, pursued in recent years in the region. Course on “entry into Asia”, and slogans like “Australia – part of Asia” has found no support among the majority of Australians. In the society re-emerged the debate about national identity of Australians and Australia’s place in the world system. Intensified the racist and anti-immigrant sentiments. Most Australians were influenced primarily by racial, cultural and historical factors rather than geography and national interests [11]. It reaffirmed the constitutional referendum on issues of republic in 1999, where the majority of Australians expressed their loyalty to “the great old lady-mother,” the Queen of England and his “grandfather Sam”, affirming “old fundamental feature of Australian foreign and defense policy based on more powerful friend” [12].

Australia’s successful exit from the crisis, maintaining high rates of growth in country even temporarily engendered among the Australian ruling elite, a kind of sense of superiority over their Asian neighbors. Howard Government in the didactic tone was demonstrating magnanimity and generosity of the country, and provided Asian countries with substantial economic assistance. Indeed, Australia has participated in all three programs of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending in Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, Australia agreed upon deferment of payments on Indonesian debt, lobbied for easing the conditions for granting loans to Asian countries, consistently emphasizing that a true friend is known in trouble. J.Howard, demonstrating its disassociation from the policy of the Evans-Keating, said that the safe passage of Australia through the crisis made the statement about the country’s dependence on Asia outdated, inappropriate and misleading. Australia ceased to be Asia’s beggar, begging attention and recognition, and became a close partner and sincere friend of the regional [13].

The policy of national defense and security has also undergone substantial revision. Changes in this area were already traced in the Strategic Revue by Ministry of Defense of Australia in 1997. It noted that the economic crisis slowed the pace of military modernization in Asia and significantly increased Australia’s strategic weight [14]. In these circumstances, the Australian armed forces must solve the broader problems in the region. In these circumstances, the Australian armed forces must address the broader problems in the region. As minister of defense said “we are not convinced that the current level of the armed forces will be sufficient to resolve conflicts outside of our territory. We must be sure that the forces we are developing really give us the opportunity to resolve the crises that threaten our interests” [15]. Hence there is a conclusion that Australian forces should be modernized and become “more assertive in the face of potential military threats in the region, which primarily include the threat of sea communications, the attacks of ballistic and cruise missiles and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [16].

For the first time in the national defense strategy has not been given much attention to the possibility of attack from the sea directly to the Australian continent. The Strategic Revue alliance with the U.S. was seen as a “political tool effectively counteract any potential aggressor” including the case of possible nuclear attacks, and at the regional level block ANZUS was defined as “an important component contributing to the preservation of U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia” [17].

Intensive care of the unit ANZUS, which effectively ceased to exist after withdrawal from New Zealand, largely contributed to the Clinton administration’s policy in the Asia-Pacific region. United States, seeking to maintain stability in the region have strengthened their political and diplomatic activity. The implementation of the new “Pacific Clinton Doctrine” to establish “the logic and order” in APR in order to “resolve regional challenges to U.S. interests, demanded the presence of APR reliable and strong allies” [18]. These allies primarily include Japan and Australia. In this case, due to increased pressure from Japan’s opposition against U.S. bases in Okinawa, Washington sought alternatives for placing their armed forces [19]. After unsuccessful attempts to expand military cooperation with Thailand and Malaysia, a special place in U.S. policy began to occupy Australia.

The desire of the ruling circles to redefine the role and place of Australia in the region and the world has led to the emergence of the so-called “Howard Doctrine”. In the journal “Bulletin” on September 28, 1999, published an interview with John Howard, in which he announced a new role for Australia. Country should become a “sheriff assistant”, which meant the United States, for the entire Asia-Pacific region [20]. While John Howard later denied the words attributed to him, most analysts do not doubt that in the interview was presented the Australian Government’s view on the future pattern of Australian foreign policy.

Further foreign policy moves of the Australian Government said about the begging of the “Howard Doctrine”. In the first place, Australia has refused from the main principle of regional cooperation, established in ASEAN, under which shall be no interference in the internal affairs of its neighbors. Most clearly new approaches of Australian foreign policy has been demonstrated during the crisis around the Indonesian province of East Timor. Back in 1976, this former Portuguese colony was occupied by the Indonesian army and incorporated into Indonesia. This was done with the blessing of the United States of America, who saw in the Suharto regime bulwark against communism in the region. Australia not only supported the Indonesian position, but was practically the only state in the West, which has accepted the Indonesian territory of East Timor. In addition, in 1989, was signed Australian-Indonesian agreement about the division of the continental shelf belonging to East Timor and established the so-called “Timorese zone” for joint development of rich oil fields. The situation was complicated only by resistance movement emerged on the island, headed by the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of East Timor (FRETILIN). Guerrilla movement in East Timor strengthen especially after the economic crisis of 1998 and the fall of the Suharto regime. The Organization of United Nations, with U.S. support, began to demand the revision of the status of East Timor and to hold a referendum on its future status on the island.

The Australian position on East Timor, also began to change. Since 1998, in the statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Australia, constantly cited the need to review the status of the island. In December 1998, John Howard sent a personal message to President Habibie in Indonesia, which proposed to hold a referendum on the status of the province [21]. Moreover, Australia has expressed readiness to provide its armed forces to conduct peacekeeping operations on the island, in violation of earlier agreements with Indonesia on the recognition of borders and non-interference in internal affairs.

It is obvious that the policy of Australia in East Timor is fully correspond to “Howard doctrine” and was an attempt to consolidate the leadership in regional relations in new ways, not excluding the use of force, with appropriate support from the United States. By the way, the future government of East Timor would have been totally dependent from Australia in economic, political and military way, and Indonesia with a weak government and demoralized army after the anti-militarist student speeches, hardly would have gone to a military confrontation with Australia, U.S. and UN.

In late 1999, according to the UN Security Council resolution №1243 on East Timor began to arrive the first units of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). Contrary to the position of Indonesia, who opposed the participation of Australia in these forces, the Australian unit accounted for more than half of all multinational UN force (5 5000). Moreover, at the head of the International Force was put Australian General P.Cosgrove. In the operation were also involved Australian naval and air forces. In spite military spending, Australia has committed to provide economic assistance to East Timor in the amount of 48.8 million U.S. dollars [22]. Australia’s position on East Timor has caused negative reactions in most countries in Southeast Asia, fearing a repetition of such “humanitarian intervention” in their own countries. Malaysian Prime Minister M. Mahathir, sharply criticizing the Australian politician, said: “Australia has already spoken, that it is the Asian assistant of American police. This undisguised arrogance. When Australians claim to become Asian, it means – they want to dominate in Asia” [23].

Australian-Indonesian relations sharply deteriorated. Indonesia considered the policies of its southern neighbor as an unexpected “blow back” caused by a seemingly old and trusted partner. She accused the Australian government to encourage separatist tendencies in other Indonesian provinces, and fears a repetition of Timorese options in other parts of the country. Indonesia also terminated an agreement on security and recommended its entrepreneurs to shift from Australia to suppliers from other countries.

Actions in East Timor were not the sole case of participation of Australian forces in peacekeeping operations in the region. A real headache for Australian politicians have become events on the island of Bougainville, which is a part of the former Australian colony of Papua New Guinea. In 1989, local population of the island rose arevolt against the predatory exploitation of natural resources by foreign companies (the main wealth of the island – large deposits of copper containing gold and silver). In April 1998 a multi-year guerrilla war ended with the signing of an agreement between the PNG government and the rebels on a termination of the fire. Australia sent a staff of 240 people as observers. However, part of the rebels refused to accept the agreement and threatened to shoot if they controlled the area will Australian observers [24]. Similar problems occurred in several provinces of the Solomon Islands. As noted by observers, peacekeeping is too expensive for Australia. Only to maintain peace in Bougainville in 1999 were spent $24 million [25].

Peacekeeping operations in East Timor and Bougainville were the largest events not only for the last decade, but in whole Australia’s history. They testified to the embodiment of the new Australian foreign policy. But at the same time, the implementation of the “Howard Doctrine” require major changes to the state budget. Many Australians began to wonder will country’s economy stand up the increase in military spending. Answers to these and other issues the government tried to give a “White Paper” issued by Ministry of Defense in year 2000.

“White Paper” has determine three main priorities of defense policy: “self-reliance” in defense of the Australian continent, involvement in regional affairs (East Timor, Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands), as well as the extension of long lines of defense (support of U.S. in possible conflicts in the region and beyond). In this case, the document states that no country has the intention or ability to use armed force against Australia [26]. Therefore, other potential conflicts that could threaten the interests of the country were classified internal unrest in almost all countries in the region, international conflicts around Korea and Taiwan, as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Australian forces must be ready to solve precisely these problems in conjunction with a major strategic ally – the United States of America, which “will remain the dominant economic, cultural and military power in the Asia-Pacific region in the next, at least 20-30 years” [27]. Therefore, the alliance under ANZUS would be confirmed in full extent, including cooperation aimed in constraining of possible nuclear attacks. The White Paper also notes that Australian interests include the establishment of a “new defense relationship” with Indonesia, that New Zealand is still seen as a “valuable military partner “, and Papua New Guinea will be a key strategic partner in the South Pacific region” [28].

In connection with the new challenges of a special place in the future of the Australian Army will have to take a professional, well trained and well-armed rapid reaction force suited for peacekeeping operations, and operations to enforce peace” [29]. This applied not only to adjacent to the Australian territories, but also the entire Asia-Pacific region, which corresponded to the spirit of the “Howard Doctrine”. Indeed, in new strategy a high priority is given to the development of ground troops, attack aircraft, intelligence units and software. Presupposed also the greater coordination with civilian agencies on the development of the coastal observing system, the fight against illegal immigration, smuggling, illegal fishing and maritime terrorism.

Restructuring of the armed forces demanded that the government of J.Howard will increase the spending on defense over the next ten years. Only in 2000-2001 the military budget was increased to 10, 42 American dollars. Also was planned subsequent increase in spending by three percent per year [30]. Many experts have expressed doubts that the program will be executed because of possible financial problems. However, further events have disproved those doubts. Howard’s Government, having received the trust of voters at the next parliamentary elections, has grown the spending on defense. This allowed Australia to take an active part in U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, to ​​conduct a tough anti-immigration policies, even to threaten neighboring countries military actions in the event of a terrorist threat. Announced in early 2004, the new defense concept leaves no doubt as to the commitment of Australia, to “Howard Doctrine”, but this time in even more enhanced version. Role of the “American’s sheriff “gradually gains not only regional, but also global nature.

Timoshenko Valery Nikolayevich, doctor of History, head of the World history department in Far Eastern State University of Humanities (Khabarovsk, Russia). This article was written expressly for the New Eastern Outlook.

Translation by Marina Osipova.

Bibliographic notes:

  1. The Guardian, 5 February 2004

  2. Foreign Relations Journal. Philippine Council for Foreign Relations. Manica, 1990, Vol. 5, No 3, p. 13

  3. “Australia and the United States: A Vital Friendship”. A speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. May 29, 1996//
  4. See: W.T.Tow, “Assessing U.S. Bilateral Security Alliances in the Asia Pacific’s “Southern Rim”: Why the San Francisco System Endures”//; Robin Lim. Australian Security after the Cold War // Orbis. Philadelphia, 1998, Vol.42, No 1, P. 99
  5. See: Manjit Bhatia, “Advance and Retreat: The Domestic Sources of Australia’s Foreign Policy Turmoil”// Pacific Focus. Vol. XIII, No. 1 (Spring 1998). Inhon, Korea, p. 89

  6. The Australian, 28 August 1996

  7. ARF Ministerial Meeting, 26-27 July 1998//Australian Member Committee of Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. Strategy and Defence Study Center, Australian National University, Canberra, 2001//
  8. See: Mohan Malik. Recent Security Development in Asia-Pacific// Australian Member Committee of Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. Strategy and Defence Study Center, Australian National University, Canberra, 2001//
  9. See: Christopher W. Hughs. Globalization and Security in the Asia-Pacific: An Initial Investigation// CSGR Working Paper No 61/00, University of Warwick, UK, 2000, p. 10

  10. Paul Dibb. The End of Asian Miracle? Will the Current Economic Crisis Lead to Political and Social Instability?// Australia National University, Strategy and Defence Study Center Newsletter, Spring 1997/summer 1998//
  11. See: Cavan Hogue. Perspectives on Australian Foreign policy, 1999// AJIA, Vol. 54, No.2, 2000, p. 142

  12. See: Cavan Hogue. Perspectives on Australian Foreign policy, 1999// Australian Journal of International affairs, Vol. 54, No.2, 2000, p. 141

  13. See: Garry Smith. Perspectives on Australian Foreign policy, 1998// Australian Journal of International affairs, Vol.53, No 2, July 1999, p. 195

  14. Australia Department of Defense. Australia’s Strategic Policy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1997, p. 5//
  15. See: Garry Smith. Perspectives on Australian Foreign policy, 1998// Australian Journal of International affairs, Vol.53, No 2, July 1999, p. 201

  16. Australia Department of Defense. Australia’s Strategic Policy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1997, pp. 30-31, 37-38//
  17. Australia Department of Defense. Australia’s Strategic Policy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 1997, pp. 18-19

  18. See: Robin Lim. Australian Security after the Cold War // Orbis. Philadelphia, 1998, Vol.42, No 1, P. 99

  19. See: Manjit Bhatia, “Advance and Retreat: The Domestic Sources of Australia’s Foreign Policy Turmoil”// Pacific Focus. Vol. XIII, No. 1 (Spring 1998). Inhon, Korea, p. 88

  20. See: Cavan Hogue. Perspectives on Australian Foreign policy, 1999// Australian Journal of International affairs, Vol.54, No 2, 2000, p. 148

  21. Age, 16 November 1998

  22. Australian government. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Annual Report. 1998-1999//
  23. См.: С.А.Полхов. «Восточный Тимор в контексте американо-австралийских отношений»// США и Канада. Экономика. Политика. Культура. № 1, 2003, с. 45-58
  24. Цит. по: С.А.Полхов. «Восточный Тимор в контексте американо-австралийских отношений»// США и Канада. Экономика. Политика. Культура. № 1, 2003, с. 61
  25. Восточный Тимор и внешнеполитический курс Австралии//
  26. Азия и Африка сегодня, № 1, 1999, с. 37 – 38
  27. Defender. The National Journal of the Australia Defence Association. Autumn 2001, p. 14 -15//
  28. Defence Review 2000 – Our Future Defence Force, Department of Defence, Canberra, June 2000, p. viii

  29. Defence Review, p. 47

  30. Defence Review, p. 59

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