Australia needs to realise the international community has changed

In light of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speeches to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Lowy Institute and recent United States visit, it appears his intended foreign policy agenda has been made clear. In stark contrast to the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and the future paved by Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Ministers for decades before him- Morrison has pivoted towards the fear-mongering of Trumpism, Brexit and now Boris Johnson, and turned his back on the diverse global community that has served Australia so well.

Sovereignty is no longer the concept it was in the pre-WWII era. China and India have enjoyed masses of economic growth and pulled millions out of poverty through free trade, a globalised economy and regional partnerships. Australia has enjoyed in the closer ties bought about by economic interdependence and the creation of a global community. A community that was created by the US and provided the US with the power and influence it has today. Power and influence Trump seemingly believes they will continue to have, whilst simultaneously turning toward the isolationism of pre-WWII United States. The US before it was a global superpower.

Prime Minister Morrison stresses the need for a return of days where international cooperation centred on that between Western Liberal Democracies, based on mutual respect and rule-abiding. This fails to acknowledge the exclusionist nature of such cooperation and the need to open this community to all states, particularly those Asian states in Australia’s region. To only cooperate with those that are culturally and ideologically similar, is to turn Australia’s back on the Asian community that has provided it so much.


It is foolish of developed Western democracies to think they can turn shape the international community in a manner that better suits them. Involvement in this community is no longer a choice. Countries are interconnected through the increases in transportation and communications technology. Economies are also more interconnected than ever- this was clear in 2008 during the global financial crisis and has only increased since. Interconnectedness and the breaking down of “traditional” sovereignty is good for Australia. Australian should be promoting international cooperation, not chastising it. Xenophobia and fear-mongering cannot take over Australian foreign policy in the way it has impacted the UK and US.


Australia has enjoyed 23 years of economic growth through trade with China and other South-East Asian states. Yes, Australia is more dependent on others for its economic stability now than it was before, but it is also enjoying levels of prosperity and stability it has not in the past.


Australia has power and influence on an international level because of the voice it was given by the US in structuring the international community that exists today. A seat at the table, it is lucky to have, and influence that is not afforded at the same level to every state even today, unfortunately. It is a pillar by which the international community was founded that states are recognised as sovereign nations; all states have authority over their borders- not just wealthy Western states. As a middle power, and a small population, Australia should be encouraging a system built on equality- the true representation of sovereignty- and not pining for the days in which the wealthy Western powers had the authority to make decisions and impinge on and define the borders of their “lesser” neighbours. 


Instead of echoing the cries of our counterparts in the UK and the US, Australia should focus on what is going on in its backyard. The Asian region is at a decisive and pivotal point in history- with Chinese hegemony in the region seeming likely it is time Australia focus on regional and international cooperation. Canberra can no longer close its eyes to its neighbourhood and pretend a US relationship is enough. Stability in the Asian region is vital for continued prosperity, stability and peace in Australia.


Cooperation is the only means by which Australia can play a role in balancing and stabilising the region. We cannot spend the next decade following the US into conflicts across the world and turn to our own interests- interests that cannot be facilitated in the exclusionist version of the international community expressed by Prime Minister Morrison. 


Let’s stop being a follower, let’s stop blindly striving towards US interests and act in our own interest. Our future is not American, our future is in South East Asia and the international community. Asia is our community – international cooperation is what we need, not fear-mongering and isolationism with a declining superpower that seems to be turning its back on the international community that made it so powerful.


Grace Anderson is the Australian Foreign Policy Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

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