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Gallipoli Memorial Lecture: Fear of Abandonment - Australia’s Response to Changing Global Orders
In its recent Foreign Policy White Paper, the Australian Government described how the ‘significant forces of change’ buffeting the international system are reshaping Australia’s region ‘in ways without precedent’ in its modern history.
Drawing on material from his latest book, Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942, Allan Gyngell explored Australia’s past responses to changes in the global order and the new challenges it faces with the rise of China, shifting American policies and the changes in Europe after Brexit
Transcript of Allan Gyngell delivering 'Fear of Abandonment: Australia’s Response to Changing Global Orders':
Since 1831, the Royal United Services Institute has been providing the vital common ground to enable professional experience to inform research in defence and security affairs. The Australian Institute of International Affairs was formed a century later, but like RUSI, it is also committed to the task of helping our community understand and respond to transformative changes in the world.
Such changes, and the need to respond, are upon us again.
So it’s a very great honour to have been asked to deliver this Gallipoli Memorial Lecture.
All orders – the universe, the human body, the international system – fall inevitably into entropy and require the injection of energy to resist it.
I want to use this lecture to reflect on the way Australia has responded to three separate changes in the international order over the past century.
The world of 19th century Europe and the balance of power ended on the Western Front. But in 1919 and afterwards the system could not muster the energy sufficient to impose a lasting order. The United States pulled back from international engagement, the provisions of the peace treaty marginalised Germany and drove its continuing resentment, social revolutions weakened Europe, the international economy collapsed under the weight of protectionism.
The contrast with the end of the war that followed was marked. In the years after 1945, American power provided the energy required to create and anchor a new order. The United States accounted for around half of global GDP. The liberal nature of the order it proposed engaged the interests, and therefore the energy, of other nation states. It established the preconditions for regionalism to succeed in Europe and later Asia, adding additional elements of order.
Of course, the world was also very dangerous at times during the Cold War. But that contest was also one of the elements which gave the order its energy and drove its globalising aspirations.
In 2018, the order we have known for the past seventy years has ended. It’s not being challenged. It’s not changing. It’s over.
The two previous international systems terminated in war. This one seems to be draining away as its core components lose confidence in its purpose, and emerging powers see opportunities to assert their interests. Can a new order be marshalled without conflict? The urgent question now facing the world is where the energy will come from to sustain a stable new international order and resist the entropy?
When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, it did not consult its Dominion governments about the decision. No Australian politician thought that surprising.
The Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, sent an immediate message to London offering the Mother Country ‘20,000 men of any suggested disposition to any destination desired’. The Opposition leader, Andrew Fisher, declared, in turn, that Australia would stand by Britain ‘to help and defend her to our last man and last shilling’.
This unstinting support was driven not just by a deep sense of Britishness but by a consciousness of Australian interests as well. If Britain was threatened, victory in Europe was necessary to preserve the Empire and therefore to provide Australia with security against what Billy Hughes, who succeeded Fisher as prime minister in 1915, described as the ‘teeming, sweating millions’ of the East looking ‘with covetous eyes on our continent’. It was Japan he had principally in mind.
Gallipoli saw the first major action by the members of what was now called the Australian Imperial Force. The history of the campaign, part of the effort to force the Dardanelles Strait and capture Constantinople, is well known. It was a failure, a strategic cul-de-sac and had no part in the ultimate victory.
More British and French forces were killed than Australians and New Zealanders. But as the first accounts of the actions of the ANZAC troops reached Australia, the effect on the community was galvanising. The British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett reported that ‘There has been no finer feat in this war than the sudden landing in the dark and storming of the heights and above all, the holding on whilst reinforcements were landing’ . His reports were soon backed up by the Australian war correspondent and historian, Charles Bean.
The reports of the fighting at Gallipoli spurred a surge of new enlistments by young men who could no longer be in any doubt of the sacrifice that overseas service would require.
The courage and the qualities of independence and mateship that Australians discerned in the way the ANZAC troops fought, provided what the historian Joan Beaumont has described as the ‘foundational narrative of Australian nationalism’, a heroic story that would soon be ‘embedded in the commemorative rituals, literature and public discourse’ of Australian life.
The remarkable thing about that legend is how effectively it has reshaped itself over the years from pride in a sort of separate Britishness to full-blown multicultural nationalism which embraces even the Turkish enemy. You can see evidence of its persistence in the Australian scholar Carolyn Holbrook’s estimate that Australian funding to commemorate the centenary of the Great War exceeded that of the UK, France, Germany, Canada and New Zealand combined.
But my focus in this lecture is not the war of which Gallipoli was a part, but how Australia responded to its end.
If, as Carl von Clausewitz tells us, war is the continuation of politics with other means, then foreign policy is the form of politics that has failed when war begins and which resumes fully when it ends.
Australia and the end of the First World War
There can be no doubt about the depth of Australia’s sacrifice during the Great War. From a population of five million people, 350,000 served overseas and 60,000 died. The consequences of injury and trauma lived on with many of those who returned and their families.
A bitter debate around two plebiscites proposing conscription for overseas service had divided Australian society, largely along sectarian lines.
When the war ended, the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, was determined that Australian interests would be taken into account in the peace. In contrast to Australia’s response when war was declared, he complained that Britain had not consulted the Dominions before signing the Armistice agreement.
Born in London to a Welsh father, Hughes had begun his career in the Labor movement but split with that party over the issue of conscription.
He was, in fact, an inveterate splitter, representing no less than six different political parties over the course of his 50-year career as an Australian parliamentarian.
He was driven, irascible, charming, an effective communicator, authoritarian in his tendencies, physically frail and very deaf.
On international affairs, Hughes was a grim realist: ‘while we are in the jungle we must beware lest the wild beasts devour us.’ Australia was ‘an outpost’ of the Empire ‘situated at the extreme fringe of the world, surrounded by a thousand million men whose ideals and ideas differ essentially and materially from ours in almost every particular’.
He certainly believed that Australia should be consulted when imperial policy was being made, but the Empire itself was ‘the rock on which the house is built, the cross to which it clings’.
During the Paris Peace Conference Hughes wore two hats, one as a member of the British Imperial delegation and the other as a representative of Australia. He had three clear objectives: to ensure that Australia held onto German New Guinea, which it had seized during the war; to secure generous reparations from the war’s losers; and to prevent Japan inserting into the Charter of the League of Nations a racial equality clause which might challenge the White Australia policy of restricted immigration.
He worried that after the war the United States might increase its relative power in the Pacific compared with Britain. He loathed Woodrow Wilson and his Fourteen Points, including the League of Nations. The feeling was mutual. Concerned that Hughes might stir up trouble in America with his hard-line position on German reparations, Wilson advised his secretary of state that if the Australian Prime Minister were to apply for an American visa he should be refused.
After a fight, Hughes more or less got what he wanted out of the conference and Australia joined the League of Nations, which was open to self-governing states, dominions or colonies.
Gallipoli and the experiences of the First World War had given Australia a stronger sense of national identity, but not of national power. Australia’s response to the change of order was hesitant. It had a greater consciousness of its own distinct international interests but was reluctant to acknowledge how much the world had changed. It wanted to avoid making hard decisions about its future.
Exhaustion, bitterness, and economic crisis drained both sides of politics. Split between leftist factions, trade unionists, pacifists and Irish nationalists, the Australian Labor Party slumped into something more like isolationism than Australia has since seen in one of its major parties.
Australian international policy debate, such as it was, was driven by a handful of officials and a tiny group of interested academics, lawyers and businesspeople, many of them connected with the new Australian Institute of International Affairs.
The structure wasn’t there; neither was political leadership, administrative effectiveness, or much knowledge of the world.
Later leaders were no more inclined than Hughes to expand Australian ambitions or test the boundaries of its power.
S. M. Bruce, who succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1923, told Parliament that the ‘elemental fact’ , as he saw it, was that ‘the British people represent one nation, and not many nations as some have endeavoured to suggest’. The task for Australia was to ‘find the best possible method by which we can have a voice in the determination of the foreign policy of the British Empire’.
Throughout the 1920s, the contrast grew sharper between Australia’s fear of abandonment and the desire of other Dominions – Canada, the Irish Free State and South Africa – to establish a new place for themselves in the international system.
When the Australian parliament had the opportunity to ratify the 1931 Statute of Westminster, designed to give the Dominions a clearer status in the world, it balked, lest the action give support to the idea of separatism from Great Britain.
The Australian atmosphere at the time was summed up by one of Australia’s most consequential foreign ministers, the Liberal Party’s Percy Spender. ‘It is difficult to recapture’, he wrote later, ‘the degree of ignorance of and indifference to foreign affairs which existed in Australia, even in its parliament – before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, indeed right up to the time when the Japanese swept like a torrent almost to the shores of Australia’.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Australia again found itself engaged by virtue of the ties of Empire. As Prime Minister Robert Menzies told the Australian people on 3 September 1939, ‘Great Britain has declared war upon [Germany] and … as a result, Australia is also at war’.
Then came the even more shocking news of the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor and the fall of Singapore. The impact on Australia was more dislocating that anything the country has experienced since.
It was now abundantly clear that Australian interests could differ urgently from those of the United Kingdom, and that Australia needed a better way of understanding the world. Australia was propelled into the international identity which it had been resisting. Parliament finally ratified the Statute of Westminster. The first treaty Australia signed in its own right was the ANZAC Pact with New Zealand in 1944.
The Liberal International Order
The broad shape of the international order after the Second World War had been foreshadowed in the Atlantic Charter agreed by Roosevelt and Churchill in August 1941. The Charter described a liberal internationalist system that would embrace collective security, economic openness and social progress. It would attempt to combine the reality of power with moral force in a way that avoided the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations.
Australia was not in any position to challenge the direction of the emerging order, nor did it want to. But it did, by now, have a stronger sense of its own capacity to shape the world at the margins, and in its own right, not just by working through the Empire.
Parts of the liberal agenda were challenging. Like other allies Australia had agreed as part of the Mutual Aid Agreement with the United States during the war to the ‘elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce and…the elimination of tariffs and other trade barriers’. This demanded a revolutionary change in the way the country thought about its economic interaction with the world.
And although it had been clear since the Labor Party Prime Minister John Curtin’s announcement of Australia’s ‘turn to America’ in December 1941 that the nation’s security future would involve the United States, Australians wanted to believe that Britain would also be involved.
Australia was lucky during this period to have in Curtin, his successor, Ben Chifley, and the External Affairs Minister, HV Evatt, political leaders who, notwithstanding individual frailties, understood that the world had changed and wanted to be prepared for it.
A ‘post-hostilities section’ was established in the newly-professionalised Department of External Affairs just months after Singapore fell to help prepare for the post-war world. It was proposed and run by Paul Hasluck, the future Liberal Party foreign minister.
While the war was still being fought, Australia became an active participant in the series of conferences on agriculture, labour and economic cooperation which began to shape the structures of the new system.
When Churchill, Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek agreed at the Cairo Conference in November 1943 to terms of peace in the Pacific without consulting Australia, Evatt was determined that Australia’s interests should not be ignored in future.
Intellectually gifted and emotionally complicated, Evatt was the leader and driver of the Australian response at the San Francisco conference in 1945 where he was an influential figure, achieving changes to the draft UN Charter that increased the role of the smaller states and expanded the new organisation’s economic and social remit.
Some things hadn’t changed – the continuing suspicion of Japan and its possible rearmament, which was the impulse that drove the negotiation of the Anzus treaty, and a determination to maintain the White Australia Policy.
The emerging foreign policy had to respond to the nation’s central strategic dilemma: how does a small population located far from the centres of global power and the markets for its products, secure its audacious claim to a great continent?
Every government in Canberra after 1945 saw the same three ways of addressing that dilemma.
The first way was to hold close to what Robert Menzies famously called ‘our great and powerful friends’. He had in mind both Britain and the United States. But as Britain began its long withdrawal east of Suez and negotiated entry to Europe, the relationship with the United States became clearly the more important.
The second response was to engage with the neighbouring region of Asia and the Pacific in an effort to make it as conducive as possible to Australian interests. The principal driver for much of Australian foreign policy over the following fifty years, from India’s independence to East Timor’s, was the great process of European decolonisation in Asia. The Chifley Government’s decision to lend support to the independence fighters in Indonesia rather than to the returning Dutch administration was the first great test of Australian foreign policy.
Engagement with Asia also involved over time a profound economic shift. First with Japan, then South Korea and China, Australia found itself in a propitious alignment providing the raw materials and later the services that the booming Asian economies would need.
The final way in which Australia addressed its strategic challenge was through support for a rules-based global order. It recognised that as a country large enough to have real interests in the global system but too small to get what it wanted by throwing its weight around, it was always going to be better served in a world in which established rules, which it played a part in setting, prevailed over ad hoc deals.
So Australia was an active participant in the development of many of the rules and norms which now set the parameters of international behaviour, including the Bretton Woods institutions, the Law of the Sea Convention, the Antarctic Treaties, humanitarian law and arms control.
This post-war order suited Australia perfectly.
American support for open international trade helped drive unprecedented global growth. Its network of alliances in Europe and Asia provided a stable security framework which enabled this to happen. There was an easy alignment between Australia’s principal ally and its main economic partners.
Australia had a voice in the multilateral institutions in which rule-making and norm-setting took place. It could enthusiastically support the rules-based order, because it was essentially set by us and our friends.
But the central tenets of the liberal order - American belief in the system and willingness to invest in it; an effective network of alliances; and broadly functioning multilateral institutions - are now all in doubt.
The reasons for their decline are many, and beyond the scope of this lecture. But they begin with its very success in generating the economic growth that made global development possible and reduced American pre-eminence. Globalisation restored the nexus, all else being equal, between population size and economic weight that had been severed by the industrial revolution.
So let me turn finally to the question I posed at the beginning of this lecture. How will Australia’s response to this change in order compare with 1919 and 1945?
We can get some insight into official thinking from the Australian Foreign Policy White Paper, which the Turnbull government released last year.
Foreign policy, which engages every element of world politics from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets to Donald Trump’s ego, is not well suited to long-term planning. But the White Paper is a thoughtful and complex document, and as analytically frank as could be expected from any official statement. It is also more radical than I suspect the government has acknowledged, even to itself.
What is new is the directness with which it declares that ‘Significant forces of change are now buffeting’ the international system and its uncertainty about where these changes may lead. ‘It is possible’, it notes, ‘that some of the trends identified in this White Paper will move against Australian interests in ways that will require further responses’.
The paper notes the ‘greater debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership in parts of the international system’. It judges that ‘without sustained US support, the effectiveness and liberal character of the rules-based order will decline’.
In Australia’s own region, it argues that without American political, economic and security engagement, power is likely to shift ‘more quickly’. It is, in other words, the speed rather than the overall direction of change that is in question.
The White Paper’s analysis is deeper than its discussion of policy responses, but those three elements that weave through Australian foreign policy since 1945 – the alliance, the region, the rules-based order – are all reaffirmed. As it acknowledges, however, each of them is changing.
The two countries which most shaped our 20th century history – the United States and the United Kingdom – are undergoing profound adjustments.
President Trump is pursuing interests and values in a number of areas which differ more clearly from Australia’s than those of any Administration we’ve seen before.
Whatever comes next, we have almost certainly seen the high water mark of American efforts to reshape the geopolitical landscape in both their Republican and Democrat manifestations.
And with respect to all of you here, global Britain will be no substitute for imperial Britain, and less helpful to us as an entry point to Europe.
The second pillar, the Asian region, is changing just as much.
China is at the centre of this. We are dealing with a China which is richer, more confident and more assertive than at any time in modern history.
Its aspirations are clearer than its strategy. It wants to resume a place of influence in the world commensurate with its size and civilisation. But it is not yet sure how to do that and not big enough to achieve it by its own force.
One important policy change – central to the structure of the White Paper – has been the reframing of Australia’s strategic environment from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific.
A number of countries have for various purposes discovered their own Indo-Pacifics recently. But for Australia, the framing makes particular sense. It includes both the oceans surrounding our continent, with Southeast Asia acting as the linchpin between them. It encompasses the energy supplies, production chains, infrastructure and security connections that link the Middle East, West Asia and East Asia. It also incorporates US security and economic connections across the Pacific. It engages India more directly in Australian policy, and it places China in a broader strategic framework. It has been endorsed in official documents from both sides of politics.
The central test for Australian policymakers will lie in whether the ambitions expressed in two consecutive paragraphs of the White Paper can be reconciled:
‘The Government will broaden and deepen our alliance cooperation and encourage the strongest possible economic and security engagement by the United States in the region.
Strengthening our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China is also vital for Australia both to pursue extensive bilateral interests and because of China’s growing influence on the regional and global issues of greatest consequence to our security and prosperity.’
As well as noting these changes in the world, however, it’s also important to reflect on how different the country responding to the changing order is from the Australia of 1919 or 1945.
It’s more populous, diverse and richer. The economy has now been growing for 27 years without a recession.
Australia ranks sixth among the 25 countries measured in the Lowy Institute’s recent multifaceted Asia power index, after the United States, China, India, Japan and Russia.
National confidence may be the largest single shift in the Australian position since 1945. ‘We are one of the oldest democracies and the most successful multicultural society in the world’, says Malcolm Turnbull in his introduction to the White Paper. ‘More than ever Australia must be sovereign not reliant’.
Values, too, are different from those Australia expressed during the last two changes of order. ‘Australia does not define its national identity by race or religion, but by shared values, including political, economic and religious freedom, liberal democracy, the rule of law, racial and gender equality and mutual respect’, the White Paper declares.
The struggle for a restricted immigration policy, at the heart of Hughes’s response in 1919, and still important in 1945, is long gone. Non-Europeans formed just 0.3 per cent of the Australian population in the 1947 census. Now one in every ten of us has some Asian background. A new generation of migrants and millennials will be less inclined to see geography as predicament and less given to thinking about themselves as regional outsiders. They will understand the past – and therefore imagine the future – in new ways.
Openness is one of the White Paper’s leitmotifs. Australia’s vision, the Paper says, is for a ‘neighbourhood … where open markets facilitate the free flow of trade, capital and ideas.’ Several Opposition frontbenchers have also used openness as a theme in recent speeches and monographs.
This openness is not ‘an absolute’, the White Paper makes clear. But at a time when attitudes towards economic protectionism and cultural nativism have become a central dividing line in the politics of many Western countries, the bipartisan support for openness in the political centre of Australian politics is unusual and important. It is also, as the experience of old friends reminds us, fragile.
The latest Lowy poll shows a sharp rise in the number of respondents who think that the Australian migration rate is too high and a growing concern about foreign investment from China. Even so, the majority (54%) still agree that ‘Australia’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation’.
No single power will be able to generate the energy needed to shape and sustain a new international order alone. China cannot do so, nor can the United States. Energy will have to come from a networked grid, not a single power source. That’s going to place far more weight on the individual elements in the system to contribute order-generating energy.
In Australia’s case, this will mean broadening the company we keep and seeking out partners whose interests in this enterprise align with our own. We will have to combine our energy with that of other middle powers in Asia - like Japan, Indonesia and India - in Europe, and in parts of the world that are relatively new to our diplomacy such as Latin America and Africa, to reinforce a rules-based order, to support vital regional institutions, and to develop the ideas that will enable us to address new challenges from the spread of protectionism to the control of lethal autonomous weapons. The work Australia, Japan and others did to rescue the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after the US withdrawal was exemplary.
The strategic and economic ecosystem that will be required to organise this new environment will be varied and changeable. It will look very different from the hub and spokes of the 20th century alliances and the broad multilateral institutions which sought to manage global politics and economics.
In The Twenty Years’ Crisis, his classic analysis of the failure of the effort to build an order after 1919, E.H. Carr described ‘the abrupt descent … from a utopia which took little account of reality to a reality from which every element of utopia was rigorously excluded’
The need to find policies that successfully bridge the perpetual, and necessary, tension between a tragic imagination that can contemplate catastrophe and an inspired imagination that can envision a better world is about to be tested. The outcome is far from assured.
Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA is National President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and an Honorary Professor at the Australian National University. His long career in Australian foreign and national security policy included appointments as Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, as the inaugural Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, and to senior positions in the Prime Minister’s office, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has spoken and written extensively on Australian foreign policy, intelligence issues, Asian regional relations and the development of global and regional institutions. He is the author of Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World Since 1942, (La Trobe University Press: April 2017) and, with Michael Wesley, Making Australian Foreign Policy (Cambridge University Press: June 2012). He is an Officer in the Order of Australia and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
The Gallipoli Memorial Lecture was until 2001 held annually at Eltham Church in south-east London. Subsequently, the Gallipoli Memorial Lecture Trust requested that RUSI carry on the tradition of an annual lecture. Lectures have since been delivered on the great issues of present day defence and security