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What do we want with a Security Council seat?

  • October 23rd, 2012

The Aussies have won a two year Security Council seat at the UN. Reportedly it took approximately 10 foreign service EFTs 3 years and over A$26m in directly attributable lobbying expenditure. Plus the strategic aid grants and other use of foreign relationship capital needed to buy swing votes from Africa and other countries.

And what will they get? Clearly for those who want the world stage, much more attention while they hold the seat.

But how is that a benefit for a country which is trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Australia's special relationship with the US is part of a containment policy. Yet Australia is a debtor nation, dependent like us on overseas money to continue spending more than it earns (standard of living). It also depends on continuing Chinese buyers for what it digs out of the ground. And now, unlike a few years ago, there is a world surplus of iron ore and coal and other resources. Ask Solid Energy. So China will not necessarily 'cut off its nose to spite its face' if it interrupts imports from Australia from time to time  to remind them where their bread is buttered. Australia will not want to offend China.

So how could it be good to be on the Security Council now. It may enhance one's value to the US and the idealistic Scandinavians and other western countries that aspire to moral geopolitics. But why get under such a spotlight where one is trying to stay in with, or avoid offending the two parties most likely to spar on the Security Council?

The Australian special relationship with the US responds to fear of 240m potentially militant Islamists immediately to their north, and a China that may not be confined by the idealistic constraints of the Anglo American century,. Instead it might throw its rapidly growing weight around in ways much more familiar to humans, as imperial power nearly always has been. The Chinese experienced the normal order of things at the hands of Europeans for the previous century, then more brutally under the Japanese. Realpolitik is seen in Tibet and of course wherever Chinese interests are aligned with power in Africa and Asia. China could easily arm and finance proxies (Indonesia) to cause trouble for Australia without even directly involving itself.

Apparently we harbour ambitions to occupy a Security Council seat in 2015-2016. Why? We are even more vunerable to a conflict between our beliefs about human rights, and our international rhetoric and our friends interests, on the one side, and on the other, our trade interests and our terrifying inability to muster the political consensus to live within our means. We are vulnerable to even minor twitches and sneezes from those who keep lending us the money to maintain our lifestyles (enviably more comfortable, by the way than most of those in the countries lending to us).

And we do not have a special relationship with a big friend to call on. We told them to stuff off with a unilateral reneging on a treaty. So why on earth would we not prefer to creep around hoping our irritating moralising does not stir anyone into swatting us.  The day when we are no longer hopelessly incapable of deciding to be self-reliant, let alone being self reliant, may be the day to start strutting again on a world stage.

But clearly it is very hard to dump the habit.  Our Minister of Foreign Affairs has been lecturing the world on Syria. With no apparent modesty or even caution about what may replace the current brutal ruler, we are lambasting those who have to pay for mistakes under intense uncertainty about outcomes. We seem to think moral conviction makes up for not having an air force, or a fighting navy or an economy that could pay its way even with allies in armed defence of our interests.

I have to hope he is a mouthpiece for a Foreign Affairs establishment that acquired the lecturing habit a long time ago. Or is this our Security Council election strategy?  Are we going for the votes of countries that always support people and causes embarassing to the big players? If so, how many future Afghanistans will we have to suck up to pacify our traditional friends who may find our new friends unpalatable.

Is there theory behind our ecclesiastical bombast in weakness. Lets hear it, along with the moralising if we must have both.


  • Johnny
  • October 24th, 2012
  • 2:17 pm

Elegantly put sir. You restore my confidence in myself as a nobody who posted each point (UNSC and Syria) on blogs, only to get resoundingly howled down. Thank you.

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