In the early hours of the morning Australian time, voting for the two-year temporary seats on the Security Council. Five years in the making, we thought that the ballot would be tight, that it might take until the second round of voting, if at all, before we secured one of the two vacancies on offer. The odds were good, two out of three nominees would get up. Our competition was Luxembourg and Finland, with many believing the latter to be the overwhelming favourite to secure the first spot.
Ultimately, and surprisingly, Australia prevailed after the first round. One hundred and forty votes was more than enough to get us over the line in a contest requiring 129 votes, a two-thirds majority of the UN General Assembly.
The importance and efficacy of the position on the UN Security Council was questioned by some. What could a temporary spot on a flawed body, where a veto power exists, offer Australia? That was the main question asked. The absence of an explanation, other than having a seat at the table, surely added to the confusion and a lack of interest domestically over what such a role might bring.
In effect though, a short-term chair on the UN Security Council will actually mean little or nothing in the short-term and even less in the long-term.
However, while the benefits of having a spot on the Security Council are few and far between, now that we have won the election, it is important that the role is taken incredibly seriously despite the fact that there are many factors which make the role practically pointless.
Australia must, over the two-year term, make a lot of noise and throw itself at the role without fear or favour. To not now fully and actively engage with the actions and processes, whether flawed or not, would actually damage our relative standing in the world.
This government and the next must be willing to sufficiently fund the position for the entire period we occupy that temporary spot. By virtue of the fact that the Labor Party, through former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd actually launched the bid and continued with it, it is clear that the ALP have a commitment to fully funding the 24 months that we will have a vote on the Security Council.
It is also equally as clear that while the Liberal Party disagreed with the priority of seeking election to the UN body, and still appearing sceptical of the benefits of such a move, they will commit to taking the temporary tenure seriously if in government. The Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed as much this morning.
But that commitment from the Coalition does not come without conditions and rightly so.
As Julie Bishop said, the Gillard Government must now, since it really failed to prior to the bid, set out a clear list of priorities for the two years we have on the Security Council.
Later this morning, after Julie Bishop’s comments on breakfast television, the Prime Minister outlined the key issues that will be pursued and not surprisingly Afghanistan was at the top of that list, closely followed by Syria. Action has already been pursued in relation to the former and ongoing commitments will undoubtedly be wholeheartedly supported by the Security Council and the UN as a whole entity.
In the case of the latter, Syria, concrete and decisive action has already been blocked by the obstructionist body, with Russia and China using the veto power . In that sense, Australia, needing to pursue action in relation to Syria, are and will be fighting a losing battle.
We must have a focus and also a recognition that we cannot save the world from itself, even individual countries, in such a short period of time.
In commenting on the win this morning, Julie Bishop made another very sound point. We must use our time on the Security Council to push for reform of the UN. That task is immense and we will inevitably fail. The threshold to force change in the processes and workings of the UN and the Security Council is as high as the bar is to actually get resolutions to pass. But this is too important to not voice an opinion on and a strong conversation at the very least has to be commenced.
The time for complaining about the bid is now over. The emphasis now has to be on giving our diplomats the resources and governmental support needed to give a difficult task their best shot. To do otherwise would mean showing contempt for the world.
Early tomorrow morning foreign policy wonks will be sitting in front of their televisions, the radio or madly refreshing the pages of news websites as they wait to see whether or not Australia has secured a temporary two-year spot on the United Nations Security Council. Two of our senior politicians, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have ventured to the UN in New York in recent weeks, scrambling to attract the vote of countries not already locked in behind either Luxembourg or Finland, our competitors for the two available places.
Domestically, there is not bipartisan support for the UN Security Council campaign. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched the bid and that has been carried through by his replacement, Julia Gillard. The Labor Party have plunged about $25 million into this electoral gamble, with relatively good odds. The Opposition on the other hand are against the bid labelling it wasteful and pointless, preferring a regional focus to foreign policy.
With the vote taking place in less than a day, what exactly would be gained by a victory in the vote at the United Nations tomorrow? What will change?
The obvious and most simple and straightforward answer is a seat on the Security Council, the most significant body within the UN structure. We would be able to say things, nice things and bad things about different peace and security issues at the table rather than from the periphery. Would that not be wonderful for us, to be able to chest-beat at the most significant international forum for a couple of years? How wonderful for us.
Then there’s the not insignificant factor of being able to engage with other nations at the UN Security Council. Well, that’s just brilliant. For two years we can have greater engagement with the world, a closer proximity that we couldn’t possibly have had without the UN. How our region would love it if we were to focus a little less on it for two years in favour of pretending we have the ability to save the world.
Australia would not just be able to praise or prod other nations with our words, or enjoy a temporary closeness with more of the world, oh no, we would even be able to vote despite the fact that we would only be there and able to vote for two years.
That vote would actually mean something too, sometimes. Sometimes our vote might align with the US, the UK, China, France and Russia. Well, most of the time we are probably going to be saying the same thing as the United States of America and United Kingdom, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, you know, allies and all that diplomatic and defence type stuff.
In other cases our votes might not align with the five permanent members of the Security Council and is that not the best eventuality ever? If just one of those 5 countries decides they do not like a resolution, they are more than welcome to tell a numeric majority of members where to go. That wonderful veto power has the ability to stifle action in some of the most grave matters the Security Council deals with. By doing so, it would render our voice useless.
So there you go. Basically we get to gamble away $25 million, win or lose. That’s great odds as far as gambling goes, for little actual gain if we win. For that price we have the chance to be great pretenders for two years. Twenty-five million dollars will buy us the right to have our middle-power thoughts disregarded from time to time over two years. But that’s okay given that we can share a short closeness with nations we could not possibly have engaged with outside of the Security Council. Then, after two years, everything will go back to the way it was. What then? Money well spent hey?
Wayne Swan has opened his mouth again. It seems that just about every time the federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister opens his mouth it’s more often than not to attack particular groups in the community and in politics. More often than not, this year it has been to attack the federal Coalition, but also state Liberal Governments around the country. There’s also been the small matter of a concerted campaign of verbal barbs from Mr Swan, aimed at the mining billionaires, not all billionaires, just those that dig stuff out of the ground. The latest words attacking people coming out of the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer’s mouth were aimed at certain members of the Republican Party of the United States.
These words, directed at certain Republican representatives were a very weird, obscure and politically dumb foray into American domestic politics from a senior politician that should know better.
This isn’t the first time that a political representative from Australia has lectured a foreign power or its’ parliamentarians. Indeed, this isn’t the first time a Labor Minister has tried to tell the Republican Party how to do politics, Bob Carr has also done this recently. If you’re looking for an example of someone from the other side of politics something bad about foreign political parties and their figures, look no further than Prime Minister John Howard prior to the election of Barack Obama as US President.
Essentially, at the heart of the comments is economics and the US budget which is in terrible shape with debt about 15 times the size of the Australian economy.
In a speech to the Financial Services Council, Mr Swan said, “let’s be blunt, the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over parts of the Republican Party.”
Basically, this was aimed at the Tea Party section of the Republican Party which exploded onto the scene with high political prospects, but failed to live up to electoral expectations. They also had little success in wresting a large number of Republican congressional and Senate seats which was expected of them. Their idea of small government even sees the majority of the Republican Party as champions of big government.
The state of the budget in the United States is in complete peril. Under both Republican and Democrat administrations, the debt has exploded, particularly since the presidency of Bill Clinton. This has been both through long, expensive wars and the subsequent costly foreign policy as well as in more recent times, increased social spending and a loss of revenue thanks to that large event, the GFC which still sees a large number of countries struggling financially.
The point is that both sides of the political fence in America will at present not be able to solve the huge problems that the US needs to deal with on the fiscal policy front. Neither side really has a solution to the debt and deficit problem and yes, it really is a problem there.
Yes, there are “cranks and crazies” in the Republican Party, that is undisputed, but there is a big difference between political extremists and working, in whatever way, toward eturning the fiscal position of the United States of America to a more sustainable position.
Wayne Swan if he was really being genuine and had to go off on a verbal rampage again, though still not wise for an outside power with a mutual political interest, he would have been best served in acknowledging that the American future isn’t particularly rosy whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. Any solution, though that term is used rather loosely, would involve severe political and economic pain, it’s a matter of when the political leaders and the people decide is best to go through that pain, because really, it cannot be avoided.
Ideally, if Wayne Swan decided it was necessary to embark upon this not so diplomatic pathway, and he shouldn’t have in the first place in the way he did, it would have been best raised behind closed doors rather than for attention-grabbing headlines. Public lectures of foreign powers, no matter how strong our economic position, just look odd and arrogant, especially when it’s partisan attacks.
Last night the first 200 of what will eventually totally 2500 US Marines arrived in Australia amid mass media attention in the dead of night, backpacks on, firearms strapped to their bodies ready to undertake ongoing joint exercises with their Darwin based Australian counterparts at Robertson Barracks. The first Marine deployment was welcomed at the airport by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel Warren Snowdon, the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich and Australian Defence Force brass and other personnel.
Australia and the United States have enjoyed a particularly good relationship since the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951, of which our southern ocean neighbour, New Zealand is also a part. That agreement was struck in the decade after World War Two where the US fought closely with Australians, including in the northern part of our territory.
This latest announcement and the now commenced deployment will only further that defence and broader bilateral relationship between our two nations as we head toward that much talked about “Asian Century” where greater US involvement in the security and economic activity of the nation is a necessity both for America herself and for the region.
The early days after the announcement brought some public disquiet from China, a nation firmly on the economic and military build-up march toward a modern economic superpower, uncertain just what it may mean for the peaceful bolstering of the military in China that any nation expanding rapidly would see as a necessity and a reality.
Our good friends of late in our region, Indonesia also took to looking at the deal with some scepticism and worry with what a greater US focus in the region may mean for it and those other nations around it.
Yet so far both those nations have been quiet in their commentary on the move as it has begun to proceed to the actual deployment stage of troops which has now begun, with crickets now for some time, even now the talk of the plan has proceeded to action.
This seems to indicate that initial fears have now been quelled by some quiet diplomacy between all the parties, recognising that the move should not be seen as a threat the the economic advancement of any nation.
Back home though, the now commenced US troop deployment will bring Australia another benefit outside of the security and bilateral relationship that such a project fosters and helps build further. This deployment of eventually 2500 US Marines will mean great economic benefits for the Northern Territory, in particular, Darwin.
On one count it will be great for the local small and large businesses around the base where the troops will spend their deployment, with a steady additional income stream of significant numbers now available from a captive audience of troops who will frequent local businesses when recreation time permits.
Not only that, but tourism businesses around the Northern Territory and even those in broader Australia will benefit from the substantial tourist dollars that two and a half thousand troops will bring. US troops, will surely want to visit crocodile farms, wildlife parks and even enjoy the substantial fishing opportunities that exist in the Northern Territory.
The deployment has begun and the complaints seem to have died down markedly to basically non-existent. Now all that is left is for the Australian and United States governments to enjoy the greater cooperation between our two nations and the economic and security benefits that brings. Far and above that, the immense economic benefits should not be ignored and should be celebrated along with the other equally important benefits.