Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fear OF Security- A history of Australian Foreign/Foreigner/Other policy

What I am reading: Fear of Security by Anthony Burke. I am nearly done, it has taken months between the rest of my life to navigate this single book.

Burke is a crit, and like most crits does that which he seeks to deconstruct in others- constructing a polemic narrative that deliberately illuminates the bits that suit the argument while often missing or shading over the bits that don't. That being said, he makes a litany of good points and has built a persuasive picture of Australia's history of dealing with security as something based of fear, and predicated on the removal of security from others.

This is not in itself a shocking hands-to-face revelation. Even a cursory reading of John Howard's favourite discipline, history, performed with the tightest blinkers on, cannot fail to uncover some obvious points:

* We tend to go to war in situations where we are not actually under threat...

* Against people who are not threatening us...

* Having hocked our foreign policy making to a great power somewhere.

And while a Windbag can split hairs over the means, motivations, and exact details, there is no doubt as a simple before-and-after question that this country was once populated by hundreds of tribes of indigenous people, a population now far smaller and scraping a life off the very bottom rungs of the Australian 'ladder'.

And the fact that as a nation we're hysterical over people who arrive in small numbers in boats is self-evident; provable in pure quantitative terms by comparing numbers of different types of arrivals and the reactions they inspire.

But still.

Put together, it is not hard to build an almost-unrelenting image of a nation scared to write its own foreign policy and irrationally defensive, and from that also aggressive, about issues of race and identity.

We may mewl about it now, but a century ago much of the population viewed Aboriginals as a "detested incubus" (in the observation of one Reverend John West) to be hunted down and removed from the land.

We have never learned the apparent, obvious and extraordinarily harsh lessons of World War I in respect of hocking our foreign policy to others and sending young men to die on foreign soil.

Never mind the warm-hearted humanitarian angle- this is also bad policy when viewed from almost any sophisticated analytical lens. Realism? A bright, literate realist would not trust great powers with our interests, and would never go on a venture overseas that demonstrably makes us less secure. Liberals? They aren't supposed to breach plenary principles of international law and snub multilateral fora.

All we are left with is dumb and insecure. It's a sad comment on how far we have to go to become a mature nation.

1 comment:

Ann oDyne said...

When/if we ever "become a mature nation" I wonder which other nation is up there on the dais with us?

2. has the 'fear' base you discuss, developed from early settlement C17th where the Dutch, French, Portugese explorers were all circling our coast without actually ramming the flag in the sand, and bloody Phillip1788 felt he had to stake the Botany Bay claim* and then 'repel all boarders'.

*I am just as willing to replace this with "wrench land from rightful occupants", and the fact that the English know they stole this land, means they would think someone else might subsequently steal it from them, and it's all a hangover from that)