International relations are the work of desperate hope, assailed by brutal lessons.
For the society of states, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s monstrous rendezvous with history in Ukraine is a trauma, a test and a teaching moment.
Turning Russia into a pariah, Putin demonstrates that force does not always do good.
It’s a painful time for one of Australia’s top foreign ministers to reflect on morality in foreign policy.
Gareth Evans was released last week Good international citizenship: the case of decencyan essay in Monash University’s “In the National Interest” series.
Australia’s Foreign Minister from 1988 to 1996 (alongside Alexander Downer, RG Casey and HV Evatt as the longest serving), Evans sheds a harsh light on our performance on the world stage: “[O]ur overall record has been patchy at best, dismal at worst, and is currently embarrassingly poor.
Evans argues for good international citizenship with a generally general question: “Why should we in Australia, or any countries, concerned about poverty, human rights abuses, health epidemics, environmental disasters, arms proliferation or any other issues affecting distant countries, when they do not have, as c ‘often the case, of direct or immediate impact on our own security or prosperity?’
He builds the case for “boy scout” tricks against “self-proclaimed political realists” who argue that “the core business of foreign policy” is to advance and protect the national interest.
The Scout’s answer is that morality is not an add-on; it is in the heart. Idealism can be realistic.
The traditional duo of security and economic interests must rub shoulders with a third equal category: “national values”. The intellectual judo thrown at realists is that morality is a core interest that can support and advance these geopolitical and prosperity goals.
When values and morals are treated as optional, Evans argues, Australia is “swept up in the kind of buy-in that has characterized the conduct, on both the Coalition and Labor sides, of much of the relationship Australia’s international and domestic politics in recent years”. ‘.
Politics is swept away by opinion polls and focus groups and “the sometimes idiosyncratic predilections and biases of party leaders”.
The problem, Evans believes, is not the attitude of Australians, but the cynicism and prejudice of our governments. He proposes three types of “ruthless return” for a state that acts as a good international citizen.
Problems Without Borders: a collective international mindset is needed for the big problems that no single state can solve – global warming, pandemics, cross-border population flows, drug and human trafficking, terrorism, extreme poverty and the abolition of weapons of mass destruction.
Reciprocity: Let’s make a deal. I will help you today; you help me tomorrow. Reciprocity, writes Evans, “is not always explicit or transparent, and subtlety will often be an advantage in achieving this. But no practicing diplomat will ignore the reality and utility of this dynamic, and no government policymaker should ignore it.
Reputation: more intangible, but perhaps the most important. “The general image of a country, the way it projects itself – its culture, its values, its policies – and how it is in turn perceived by others, is of fundamental importance in determining the extent to which it succeeds in advancing and protecting its traditional national interests.”
Evans scores Australia hard on key international citizen benchmarks: foreign aid generosity; response to human rights violations; responding to conflict, mass atrocities and refugee flows; and contributing to the fight against the existential threats of climate change, pandemics and nuclear war.
On aid, Evans writes that Australia is “the worst performer in any rich country” in “the decline of our generosity over the past five decades”. The aid provoked his toughest budget fights as foreign secretary – ‘an all-powerful fight’ and ‘the bloodiest I have ever had to fight in cabinet’. Australia has been reckless about cutting aid, he thinks, because “it’s not generally seen by politicians and senior civil servants as a fundamental national interest”.
The human rights record is considered “mixed”. Much of the advance in Australia, Evans writes, “has been driven more by culture change from below than by leadership from above”.
In the conflict category, Evans says Australia have been both responsible and irresponsible players. The “blood installments” were a naive effort to buy defense insurance from the United States: “We went to war in Vietnam and Iraq, and stayed in Afghanistan much longer than we should have, not because those fights were justified by law or morality, but because the United States wanted it, or we thought it wanted it, or because we wanted it to.
On existential threats, the pandemic has been “a huge wake-up call”, while on climate change, “the ranks of doubts about its nature and impact, even within the Conservative Australian government, are rapidly dwindling”.
Putin’s wielding of nuclear weapons could have disrupted what Evans calls “an alarming degree of complacency, both among the public and among policymakers,” toward nuclear war: “The fact that we have no not having had a nuclear weapon used in conflict for over 75 years is not a result of statesmanship, the integrity and infallibility of the system, or the inherent stability of nuclear deterrence . It’s pure luck.
As an “incorrigible optimist”, Evans ends, as he begins, with two big reasons why Australia should be a good international citizen – “not just because it’s the morally right thing to do, but because it is also in our personal interest’.
Australian leaders must be both idealistic and pragmatic.
The simultaneous ambition follows the warning of a Scottish Labor MP, Jimmy Maxton, who coined an oft-heard phrase from Gareth Evans: ‘If you can’t ride two horses at once, you won’t ‘have no right to be in the bloody circus.’
We don’t get much poetry in The strategistbut as Putin tries to sweep away “a piece of the continent” to shrink Europe, turn to John Donne’s advice in “Meditation XVII”:
No man is an island,
Whole of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
Part of the main.
If a clod is washed away by the sea,
Europe is the least,
As well as if a promontory were,
As good as if a mansion of your friend
Where yours were.
The death of every man diminishes me,
Because I am involved in humanity;
And so never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It rings for you.