Our Prime Minister has been strutting the boards in New York, trying to whip up support for Australia’s gaining a two-year seat on the Security Council. The chances aren’t all that flash, apparently. The front-runners are Finland and Luxembourg, which have been campaigning for several years, and have as much credibility as Australia has.
This bid is not Julia Gillard’s doing. It was announced by Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in 2008, and pursued further by him as Foreign Minister during his term in that office. Kevin 07 was and is a foreign policy wonk, and so it is not surprising that he thought the bid was important. But why Ms Gillard thought she should continue it isn’t so clear.
From time to time I think that Australia is infected with a kind of competitive virus, a disease that makes everything a reason for competition. We are spending a lot of money to get this seat, and I wonder what, if anything, we would do if we won, and how Australia, let alone the world, would be better.
The arguments for it are straightforward. We haven’t had a seat for twenty years, and it means that we play with the big kids. That’s one, though I haven’t expressed it politely. It is argued that we could play a more internationalist role, which would make us look less like the the American side-kick in the Southwest Pacific. Maybe so. We already do a lot in the world, and so being a member of the Security Council is simply appropriate – this is the line that our Prime Minister has been pushing.
I don’t find any of it persuasive, but I ought to confess that I am not much of an internationalist. The nation state is still the best way to deliver a good life to the great majority of people, and though Australia has done marvellously well in the last half-century, there is much more that needs to be done. Of course we need to be good neighbours, so an interest in, and help for, the countries near to us is just good sense.
But the United Nations seems to be another gallant failure, and its General Assembly a place for theatre and not much more. The Security Council is the place for veto and stubborn argument between the permanent five. Some of the other international organisations that the UN has spawned do not fill me with much confidence. But I guess we have to be part of the UN system, if only to know what is going on.
If it were up to me, I would be pressing ahead with making Australia a better place. Everyone wants to live in a safe, harmonious and productive society, where each can develop his or her talents, bring up children, enjoy the diverse creativity of the society, and plan for the future with some confidence. Demonstrating that Australia is doing it, and that we have some real clues about how to do it well, seems a better path for us to follow than striving to be an international wannabe.
I’ll add a bit more. I would rather we followed the Swedish model, avoiding bilateral partnerships and alliances, developing our own defence forces, pursuing a neutral foreign policy, and avoiding getting involved in other people’s wars. Yes, I know that we have had an alliance with the USA for seventy years, but I am not sure that has been any more effective for us than the course I proposed above, while it has cost the lives of a lot of young Australian men.
We have a number of great advantages as a nation in the 21st century, and in my view we should build on them. The razzle-dazzle of New York, and the meetings with one leader after another, seem to me to be a distraction from the real task, which is building a better Australia.