A Mixed Bag of Dilemmas: Australia's Policy-Making in a World of Changing International Rules

Research Paper 24 1999-2000

Dr Coral Bell
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group
20 June 2000


Major Issues


Norms and Their Evolution in The Society of States

The Origins of the Contemporary Normative Shift

The Long-Term Implications for Australian Policy-Making

Immediate Issues



Major Issues

The paper seeks to identify and discuss some significant changes underway in the global context in which Australia conducts its foreign relations. International relations since the era of ancient Greece have always involved 'norms'-expected and required behaviour at a particular time in the society of states. These international norms did not change greatly for the three hundred years after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648): an anti-slavery norm was added in the nineteenth century and an anti-imperial and colonial norm was added from the early twentieth century.

However, the pace of change in relation to international norms has increased greatly, especially in the past decade. Areas in which new or revised norms have become evident include the rights of national governments in relation to minority peoples (for example in Kosovo) and the responsibilities of contemporary decision-makers for past actions by still-functioning governments or authorities (for example, the Papacy in relation to past attitudes towards Jewish people).

Three factors may be seen as contributing to the current normative shift. Firstly, there has been a process of institutionalisation of diplomacy which has seen greatly increased regular communication among officials and governments. Secondly, the advent in the post Cold War era of a 'unipolar world' with the United States as paramount power has fostered the promotion of revised norms. Thirdly, the 'knowledge revolution' based on new technologies is having a powerful influence, not least because it has the potential to redistribute power, both within and among states. It has for example, greatly facilitated the establishment and operation of non-governmental organisations who may seek to challenge prevailing norms (as they did during the World Trade Organisation meetings in Seattle). Further contests for influence over international norms are likely, especially between those advantaged by globalisation, and others who see themselves as disadvantaged by it.

The process of change in relation to international norms will have long-term and immediate implications for Australia. In the long-term Australia may be affected by developments in international norms about relationships with 'First Nations' (indigenous peoples) and over environmental issues (such as greenhouse gas emissions). Normative shifts may also complicate Australia's regional engagement, given Australia's strong identification with Western institution and values.

In the immediate future, in a unipolar world which may also experience considerable instability, Australia's defence policymakers should emphasise the need to maintain capacities for 'interoperability' of Australia's defence forces with those of the US. Australia may also be affected by the increased willingness of the international community to support intervention in cases of serious dispute between national governments and dissident provinces or oppressed minorities and by the increasing emphasis on regional approaches to maintaining security ('security regionalisation'). If Australia is likely to be more involved in peacekeeping operations, consideration should be given to the kinds of forces which can best pursue such roles. For many of the roles of peacekeeping, a 'second wave' or 'guardian force' rather than combat forces may be more appropriate and more feasible to deploy and sustain.



The context of Australian policy making in international matters has changed quite radically in the past few years. The most obvious factors in that process of change are East Timor, the Asian economic crisis of 1997-99, the recent tension in the Taiwan Straits, the turbulent Pacific, the nuclearisation of the India-Pakistan relationship, and the economic uncertainties of globalisation. But beneath the surface of those developments there is a more subtle, less visible and much less well-understood phenomenon: a profound normative shift in the society of states. It is already affecting Australian policy-making in both domestic and international matters, and its future impact will be greater, not less.

Normative shift may sound like a vague sort of movement of opinion, interesting only to sociologists and legal theorists. But this one, although as yet only eight years in full operation, has already shaken two established sovereignties (Yugoslavia and Indonesia), has altered the political destinies of two small peoples (the Kosovars and the East Timorese) and has seen several people previously accounted politically invulnerable (like President Suharto, General Pinochet, General Wiranto, maybe President Milosovic) either facing legal tribunals or in danger of being hauled before them. It has induced the Pope to apologise for the Crusades, Tony Blair to apologise for the Irish potato famine and Bill Clinton to apologise for the ill-treatment of black Americans. It has seen Swiss banks and German corporations having to make restitution for injuries inflicted more than fifty years earlier, in the Nazi period. It has caused some of those who had been comfortably riding for years on traditional gravy-trains like the European Commission and the International Olympic Committee to have suddenly to account for perks previously taken for granted. It has induced the Pentagon to invent a new military norm, a 'force protection' norm, which has already dictated strategy in NATO's first campaign, Kosovo, and which will affect defence establishments and doctrines in many countries, including Australia.

Most important of all, for decision-makers in Canberra and Darwin and Perth, it has induced a new international focus on minorities, especially those who used to be called 'Indigenous Peoples' but are now more respectfully called 'First Nations'. That name-change alone is an important political and diplomatic signal.

With all that to its credit (or debit, according to your point of view) normative shift is clearly a phenomenon that needs to be understood by policy-makers. Especially as the social and technological factors which drive it are, in my view, still in their infancy, but are putting on muscle at great speed. As Churchill asked in the early stages of the Cold War, 'If these things are done in the green wood, what shall be done in the dry?'

Norms and Their Evolution in The Society of States

So what are norms, and why do they shift domestically and internationally? The derivation of the word is illuminating: from the Latin for a carpenter's set-square. The set-square tells the carpenter what a right-angle is 'expected and required' to be. A domestic social norm defines 'expected and required' behaviour in a particular society at a particular time.

An international norm likewise defines 'expected and required' behaviour at a particular time in the society of states.

It may instantly be objected that national societies have radically different norms and therefore that it is a contradiction in terms to speak of international norms. It is certainly vital to bear in mind those national differences: behaviour in accordance with the social norms of Canberra could get you stoned to death in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the society of states, in its successive incarnations since the brilliant little world of the city-states of ancient Greece, has always had both norms and institutions. (That particular society of states, for instance, had the institution of the Olympic Games and stringent norms about behaviour while they were on.)

What makes the past half-century of international history, and especially the last decade, distinctive is that normative shift began to speed up about fifty-five years ago, and has been moving at a positive gallop during the past decade. The contrast with earlier history is striking. For the three hundred years from the Peace of Westphalia(1) in 1648 to the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the normative basis of the society of states hardly changed at all. An anti-slavery norm was added in the nineteenth century, but that took ninety years, from the British legislation against the slave trade in 1806-7 to the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s. An anti-colonial and anti-imperial norm emerged in the early twentieth century, but that also took almost a century to become fully effective, if you count from the first emergence of demands for Indian independence through the winding up of the European overseas empires by 1975 to the falling apart of the great contiguous Russian empire (built by the Czars and maintained by the Soviet Union) at the end of 1991. Contiguous empires, or mini-empires like the old Yugoslavia, can readily be disguised as unitary or federal states, unlike overseas empires. (That was known as the 'salt-water fallacy'(2).) But on the evidence of the past few years, such empires may still have a lot of falling apart to do.

An anti-war norm has striven to emerge from the time of the First World War, and has been hopefully embodied in various bits of international legislation since the League of Nations Covenant in 1919, but obviously there have been so many wars since then that the best one can say on that point is that the right to make war has been circumscribed, and that war between democracies now seems very unlikely.(3)

I will come presently to the reasons for the current radical speeding-up of change. First it must be noted that (even more importantly) there has also been a radical extension of the sphere of governmental action prescribed or forbidden by international norms. The old norms dealt primarily with actual relations between governments: 'external affairs' as the Canberra department that dealt with them used to be called. But the new norms often deal with matters that used to be defined as essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the sovereign state and are still 'internal affairs' in the eyes of many governments, and of many electorates.

The most familiar category, and by now a widely accepted one, has been the new environmental norms: greenhouse gases, the ozone layer, tropical rain forests, whaling, fisheries and such. That group of norms has potentially momentous economic and social consequences for Australia (and will present some political dilemmas); but they have developed fairly slowly over the past forty years, and are now fairly well understood, so I will not say much about them here.

A second familiar category is that of weapons development, especially weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological and chemical). That area of normative shift is actively beneficial to Australia: we turned away from any prospect of making nuclear weapons three decades ago, and the more their proliferation can be restricted, especially in Asia, the less we are likely to be caught in any 'fallout'. A nuclear encounter between India and Pakistan, with China perhaps intervening, would be among our worst nightmares. Australia has had some modest success in forwarding anti-proliferation norms.

No doubt restrictions on what governments can do to their environments, and what weapons they can develop and deploy, both erode sovereignty a little around the edges. What actually strikes to the heart of the concept, however, are normative changes which affect the relations of governments with their own peoples. That is why the international interventions in both Kosovo and East Timor were major milestones and precedents for the whole society of states, and have been widely seen as such. (In fact, also seen as potential landmines in the society of states for some vulnerable sovereignties. That may well prove to be so.)

The norm that was asserted and upheld by a military operation in both cases was the same: minorities, however troublesome in the eyes of the government which claims sovereignty over them,(4) are not to be massacred or expelled, or deprived of their human rights as defined in the 1948 UN Convention on Human Rights.

The implications of that norm for fragile sovereignties will be explored later. First it is necessary to consider a point which offers a vital clue to the process of normative shift as a whole. Those two crises took place in 1999: the UN Declaration was in 1948. If, as I would argue, the Kosovo and East Timor crises were the first to be 'norm-driven', rather than 'interest-driven',(5) what accounts for the lapse of fifty-one years (which saw many, many crises, some with far worse humanitarian consequences than these two) between the official enunciation of the relevant principles and the decision on military action to uphold them?

My hypothesis (quite tentative(6)) is that a confluence of factors which attained 'critical mass' only in the final decade of the twentieth century accounts for the timing of the change. The boulders which made up the avalanche, so to speak, may have been accumulating for fifty-five years or more, but only at the end of that time did they attain the critical mass which sent them thundering down the mountainside quite suddenly, thus changing the normative landscape of the society of states.

Confirmation of that hypothesis seems to be provided by a striking anomaly in the timing of some other relevant events. By 1946, the victims of the Nazi period, and the guilt of those who had collaborated with that nightmare regime, were apparent for all to see.(7) Yet it was again more than fifty years before, for instance, Swiss banks had to account for their dealings in Nazi loot, and German corporations who had been using slave or forced labour had to pay compensation.(8)

In my interpretation, that timing illustrates one of the primary characteristics of normative shift: it allows the landscape not only of the recent past but of the relatively remote (or even the very remote) past to be seen in a new light. So what had earlier been accepted with a shrug as just part of history's long record of 'the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind' is seen instead as the outcome of policies agreed by past decision-makers of still functioning historic entities, like the Papacy, or the U.S. Presidency, or the British Cabinet. So the current chief representatives of those institutions apologise for policies which are recognised to have been fully in accord with the norms of their predecessors' times but which, in the light of current norms, appear abominable. (9)So the Pope in the Middle East, for instance, apologises for anti-semitism in past Church doctrines, and for the Crusades, and the Inquisition. It does not alter the past, and it does not please all those of other faiths,(10) but at least it both recognises and furthers the current normative shift, and may assist the process of reconciliation.

I am not by any means implying that the existence of inherent and inalienable human rights is a new idea; far from it. The US Declaration of Independence, for instance, defined them briefly but quite forthrightly as 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' almost two centuries before the UN's more long-winded version. The notion of humanitarian intervention is to be found in Grotius,(11) and Gladstone in 1876 was campaigning against atrocities in the area that then included Kosovo, the old Ottoman Empire.

So the new factor is not the concepts themselves: it is that the structure of world politics has recently changed in ways that enable those concepts to be treated as norms (actually 'expected and required behaviour') rather than as merely noble principles or ideals, or pious sentiments. Only in a few cases, however, could one expect them to be enforced by military intervention. President Milosovic could be coerced by NATO's air campaign into withdrawing his troops from Kosovo, but President Putin cannot be militarily coerced into taking Russian troops out of Chechnya, nor President Jiang Zemin into taking them out of Tibet.

Does that mean that norms are only ever likely to be enforced against rather weak sovereignties? As far as military enforcement is concerned, that is probably the case. But in the contemporary world of global interdependence, military force is not the only or the likeliest means of influencing even the powerful and tough-minded governments of great powers. Neither Moscow nor Beijing can entirely disregard the pressures of international precedent and consensus, especially as both Russia and China need economic favours from the rest of the society of states-Russia for economic reconstruction and China for economic development.

The use of that potential lever would clearly create some dilemmas for Canberra's policy-makers, particularly with regard to markets in China, but I would not expect much serious international effort along those lines for the foreseeable future. The great powers of the society of states have to deal with each other, as hedgehogs make love, very cautiously. The ancient norms of prudence and proportionality, dating right back to the 'just-war' doctrine of the 5th century,(12) require that the maintenance of peace and good relations between them must outweigh all but the most dangerous forms of aggression and delinquency.

Norms are not the only kind of rules that governments are supposed to observe: there are also, of course, laws and rules of protocol. A clear conflict has been evident in some recent international episodes between a newly-effective norm and an older law or rule of protocol. The case of General Pinochet is an important milestone in that kind of conflict, with profound implications for future political and military leaders.

When Pinochet arrived in Britain in 1998, almost everyone believed he was protected by 'sovereign immunity', a traditional rule of protocol. But the British Law Lords decided that the old rule had (apparently to the Government's own surprise) been suspended by Britain's ratification in 1988 of a UN Convention against torture.(13) So Pinochet was placed under house arrest for eighteen months until judged not fit to stand trial and allowed to return to Chile. The Home Secretary's final decision on health grounds does not vitiate the original legal precedent: former (or present?) heads of state are no longer protected by 'sovereign immunity' from having to answer for acts perpetrated by their minions while they are in power. In effect, people like Karadic, Mladic or Idi Amin thus now cannot leave their respective refuges without risking arrest.

When the principle is applied to existing heads of state it presents as yet unresolved diplomatic problems. President Milosovic is already an indicted war-criminal: would Western governments be able to negotiate with him in the event of a crisis in which Serb forces seemed likely to invade a would-be independent Montenegro? Was the new Australian ambassador in Belgrade truly obliged to present his credentials to a head of state who is subject to an international arrest-warrant and who would be picked up by NATO troops if he ventured outside Serbia? Such matters are still for future decision in the society of states.

The Origins of the Contemporary Normative Shift

Three factors may be seen as contributing to the current normative shift. The first is the institutionalisation of diplomacy, dating from 1945, after a 'false dawn' in 1919. The second is the advent of the 'unipolar world' in 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. The third is the great technological change called the 'knowledge revolution', dependent on contemporary modes of communicating information, which was only fully developed with the Internet's universalisation, in about the mid-1990s. I will look at each of these briefly in turn, but all of them deserve much fuller examination.

Institutionalised diplomacy on both the global and the regional level imposes on decision-makers (presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and their equivalents) and policy-makers (mostly high bureaucrats) quite a burden in the way of frequent meetings. But that time-consuming process does create a familiarity (especially at the regional level) and a sort of 'collegiality' plus a sense of common interest in the preservation of the institution concerned. That factor sometimes helps to get things done with surprising speed in unexpected settings, as when the APEC meeting in Auckland (originally scheduled to discuss trade matters) was converted into a forum in which the Australian Prime Minister could put together his 'coalition of the willing' for the intervention in East Timor.

The same factor of institutionalisation has sometimes for policy-makers a less welcome capacity: that of headline-generating. An unfavourable report in a UN committee, or in an ILO meeting, will be picked up by the media and the Opposition in any democratic country, (not just Australia) and be used to point out to the targeted government the error of its ways. The obvious case in Australia recently has been the issue of mandatory sentencing in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. A brisk rain of criticism is probably good for the souls of policy-makers: the trouble is not that, but the almost universal tendency for criticism from any foreign quarter to excite nationalist resentment at the grassroots level, resentment which may be manipulated for party-political ends. In the United States, the UN has been made widely unpopular by that sort of reaction, and members of Congress play up to it by refusing to pay the US's assessed share of costs. At a pinch, a super-power can defy international opinion: the UN needs the US more than vice-versa.

For a middle power like Australia, however, the situation is quite different. Both its security and its prosperity depend on rules-based systems, such as international organisations are created to promote. So catering politically to nationalist-populist sentiments would be damaging to Australia's long-term interests in the viability and prestige of the overall system. Although the rulings of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the World Trade Organisation may quite frequently go against Australia, the system as a whole is an asset for Australian security and welfare, even if it sometimes seems a burden to policy-makers. And whether we like it or not, the level of what grassroots critics will call international interference in domestic affairs will certainly increase, not diminish, for reasons connected with other developments to be discussed presently.

The second factor in the current normative shift, the advent of a 'unipolar world', with the US as paramount power, obviously dominated the 1990s, and in my view is likely to continue to dominate world politics for the next three or four decades. In effect, the old central balance of power,(14) which set the main agenda of the society of states for five hundred years, is for the time being 'in intermission' or even in abeyance. That was rather unexpected: originally this phase of diplomatic history was called 'the unipolar moment' and was expected to be quite brief.(15) However, the current vast military superiority of the US, plus its economic dominance and its dominance also in what has been called 'soft-power' (cultural and diplomatic influence) are for the foreseeable future the context which every other government in the world has to make its policies.

America has had several foreign policy traditions, but the one dominant in the current normative shift is Wilsonianism: the concepts and doctrines associated with Woodrow Wilson, the US president during World War I and subsequent peace-making.(16) The reason for regarding the ghost of Wilson as the presiding spirit of the contemporary normative shift is his emphasis on self-determination and minority rights, as well of course as his role as Founding Father of the League of Nations, and thus grandfather, so to speak, of the United Nations. Every potentially separatist minority in the contemporary world (and there are scores of them, from Aceh to West Papua and Zanzibar) might well want to emblazon on its banners a maxim attributed to Wilson: 'every people has the right to choose the sovereignty under which it shall live.' (Of course, his definition of 'a people' was not quite the same as those of some contemporary separatists.)

Bill Clinton, like Wilson, is a Southern Democrat who has had a good deal of trouble with Republicans. Insofar as one can discern a 'Clinton Doctrine' in US foreign policy since 1993, it looks at first sight like just Wilsonianism updated to fit the context of this unipolar period. But it is to my mind a bit more subtle than that. The 'declaratory policy'-i.e. the enunciation of ideals, such as the universalising of democracy and human rights, along with market economies, has a strong Wilsonian ring to it. And in many of what may be called the attempted 'revive and rehabilitation' efforts-Korea, Middle East, Northern Ireland, India-Pakistan, Haiti, Somalia, early Bosnia-though often far from successful, have clearly been attempts to put those norms into operation. The more surprising and more successful strand of policy has been Clinton's considerable skill, to my mind, in preserving and expanding what I would call the US diplomatic 'bandwagon', which is one of the underpinnings of the unipolar world. That has meant primarily maintaining and enlarging America's Atlantic alliance, NATO. Post Kosovo, its realm now covers all of South-East Europe, and is creeping towards the Russian frontier. That process would have been a dangerous strategic adventurism if it had been pursued at the cost of the alienation of Moscow but, on present indications, that has not been the case.(17) On an optimistic interpretation, indeed it looks as if it might mean that most of Eastern Europe, even possibly Russia itself, might in time be assimilated into a 'security community' stretching, in the words of a previous Secretary of State, from 'Vancouver to Vladivostok'. (President Putin has said on TV that he could contemplate Russia's joining NATO.)

If diplomatic relations can be inched in that direction, it will have profound implications for China. Despite the difficulties over Taiwan, (which must probably be expected every time Taiwan has a Presidential election) a reasonable working relationship has been preserved between Washington and Beijing, and Japan has been induced, in the 1997 revision of its US Security Treaty to take on some extra strategic obligations. So despite the enormous difficulties created by Clinton's inability to persuade the Republican congress to agree to anything much, except on issues like the approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (P.N.T.R.) for China,(18) I would tend to argue that a well-maintained and even strengthened American alliance structure in both the Atlantic and the Pacific will be the chief diplomatic legacy of the Clinton years. Over the long-term, the normative shift of those same years also seems to me likely to be on the credit side of the ledger, despite the interim difficulties with the Third World.

If Al Gore makes it to the presidency, that policy line will certainly be extended, although probably with more pressure for the observance of environmental norms, and a new Secretary of State. If it is George Bush, the changes should be marginal at most. Like his father, Bush is fully a member of the internationalist wing of the Republican Party. Indeed, it would probably be easier for him than for Gore to get some useful policies (except maybe on Taiwan) through Congress, especially if both houses remain Republican.

The political reasons are the same as those which enabled Nixon, a hard-core Republican, to make the initial breakthrough with China,(19) and the elder Bush to be the first American envoy in Beijing, back in the 1970s.

Whichever US party happens to be in power for the next three or four decades, the structure of the society of states seems likely to remain unipolar, for reasons deriving from the difficulty the potential 'peer-competitors' are facing in attaining that status.(20) For that length of time at least, Western influence on international norms will almost certainly continue to be an irritant to many non-Western countries, who have strong cultural and social norms of their own, and who are resentful and apprehensive that their younger generations may be seduced into American ways of life. That is not much of a problem for most members of the Western camp, but for Australia it could mean, so to speak, a potential tug-of-war between the East Asian camp of our neighbours, and the Western camp to which history and culture assign us. On a worst case analysis, there might be at some future date a necessity to choose between the American alliance, on which our security is founded, and the Asian markets, on which our prosperity mostly depends. But that kind of dilemma will probably remain in the realm of theory rather than actuality, because the major Asian powers most relevant to us-China, Japan and Indonesia-are all, for very different reasons, for the time being as anxious for a co-operative relationship with Washington as Canberra itself. While that remains the case, the irritants should remain minor, like exclusion from ASEM (the Asia-Europe meetings) and from the East Asia economic grouping as it develops. (There are, however, enough internal tensions in the East Asia region to make that prospect seem a little questionable.)

The third factor in the normative shift is more subtle, more open-ended, more unpredictable and potentially far more transformatory in its long-term effects than the other two. It is the 'knowledge revolution' based on the new technologies. All its consequences are unpredictable but the least so is its ability to redistribute power, both domestically and internationally.

On the domestic side, that redistribution of power is currently most apparent in Western democracies. But it cannot be confined to that part of the world. In China, for instance, there were reportedly, in 2000, about 10 million people on the Internet, with the numbers doubling every year. Even a government as authoritarian as that in Beijing is reluctant to do much to discourage that process, since the knowledge revolution promises to engender national prosperity, which is the central norm of its regime. ('To get rich is glorious' as Deng Xiaoping put it.) Assuming the current rate of change will continue, there should be about 100 million Chinese on the net before the end of the decade, and similar increases elsewhere. Staying with China for a moment, one can only speculate about what that will do to the society. Will it enhance Chinese military capacity as some Western strategists fear? Possibly, but is it not rather more likely to begin changing the nature of the society, and the distribution of political power within it, empowering dissidents of all sorts, especially ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged?

That has certainly been the experience elsewhere. The 'battle of Seattle' in December 1999 and the siege of the Washington meetings of the Bank and the Fund in April 2000 ('Son of Seattle') have, at the time of writing, been the most vivid demonstrations of how the political empowerment of dissident opinion groups works via technological change. The world of the Internet and e-mail was made for them.

It has never been easier or cheaper to put together an NGO (non-governmental organisation) on a normative basis, or to concoct its plans and plot its strategies. The numbers of such organisations operating worldwide reflect that fact. It rose from about 5000 early in the decade to about 26 000 towards its end. The WTO meeting in Seattle could be regarded as having been defeated by 'an NGO swarm'.

Taken together, globalisation and the knowledge revolution are tending to create a three-way battlefield of norms, those of nationalism, internationalism and cosmopolitanism. The last two, internationalism and cosmopolitanism, are often equated with each other, but they are quite distinct, and indeed fundamentally at odds with each other. Internationalism still puts 'the nation' as represented (allegedly) by its current government at the centre of the action: inevitably the sovereign player in the world drama, so to speak. The Bank, the Fund and the WTO are, obviously, all international institutions, put together by governments to defend or advance their respective national interests, (especially in economic matters) as defined by the government of the time.

Confusingly, both governmental organisations like those three and NGOs are called 'international' by the UN and almost everyone else, but the NGOs should more accurately be called cosmopolitan. That is, their basis is not 'the nation', still less 'the government'. It is the individual. A whole-hearted cosmopolitanism is entirely dismissive of the concepts of nations, nationalism, national interest and especially national sovereignty. The concept assumes that humanity is one single great society, all of whose members are citizens of the 'cosmopolis', (literally, the 'universal city') and are entitled to the same rights, regardless of the views of the governments which claim authority over them at any given time.(21)

I would not for a moment imply that the protestors at Seattle were predominantly adherents of cosmopolitan norms. A great many of them were economic nationalists, disguising resentment at the loss of American jobs and capital as concern for the labour standards of the downtrodden workers in, for instance, American-owned factories in Indonesia. On the surface of events, the battle of Seattle was between internationalism on the one side versus on the other a combination of economic nationalists and assorted adherents of cosmopolitan causes (like the rights of dolphins and turtles and monarch butterflies), plus a handful of anarchists. Paradoxically, the high-tech, globalised, capital-driven developments which the protesters at Seattle were so intent on denouncing and combating nevertheless have constituted a major factor in promoting the cosmopolitan tendency in normative shift. A great many of the protesters were students, most of whom would have used computers since they were in primary school. They are citizens of cyberspace, or 'netizens': a highly cosmopolitan concept. The net has indeed been called 'the wired cosmos'.(22) Over the long-term, a fully globalised world economy would probably create and require a cosmopolitan normative structure. One can already see its beginnings in the environmental and human rights movements.

But for the time being, cosmopolitanisation and globalisation are at daggers drawn, and the battles may not be all fought out for decades yet. The resentments of those disadvantaged by economic change can engage the sympathies of those-the worldwide cohorts of students, and comfortable middle class radicals-who are likely to be advantaged by it. The internationalist institutions which deal with economic change-the Bank, The Fund and the WTO-are inevitably going to be caught in the middle, unless and until they can come up with adequate means of tempering the wind to the shorn lambs of global change.

In the past, cosmopolitanism has been a concept advantaging only very small elites: the wandering knights of the early middle ages whose swords might carve out a career with any sovereign, or the 'scholar gypsies' of the early universities who had a common language, Latin. Or the monarchs and gentry who ran the 19th century Concert of Europe. In each case, they were a tiny fraction of their respective populations. But globalisation and the new technologies are currently creating a very substantial class who are advantaged by it. At the base of that class, the vast worldwide contemporary cohort of students, who in the prosperous countries now constitute a high proportion of the relevant age group, and who (although they may deny it) are a sort of elite-in-waiting. At the top are the entrepreneurs themselves, and their staffs and bureaucracies, (US high-tech companies, for instance, recruit PhDs by the thousands from places like India and Taiwan). In the middle are the media people, and academics and the 'chattering classes' in general. These also include, in the prosperous world, a very large group of shareholders who have stakes in the fortunes overseas of their respective 'telcos' and airlines and mining companies and every other sort of enterprise that has transnational ambitions.

So altogether, there is now quite a substantial 'beneficiaries' cohort: mostly Western, of course, but not exclusively so even now, although the process is still in its infancy. When and if globalisation is full-grown and truly universalised, as was implied earlier, cosmopolitanism might prove to be its logical normative partner. But that is still a long way off, and in the meantime there remains also a very large cohort of the disadvantaged. They remember the 'nest-warmth' of the old familiar ethnic community, before the 'newcomers' arrived, and remember also the old protective tariffs that they believe ensured their jobs: 'all-round protection', as John McEwen used to say. The political tensions of the immediate future seem likely to be often between the 'party of the beneficiaries' and 'the party of the disadvantaged' in many countries. Australia has already had a small taste of that, in the rapid rise and decline of 'One Nation'. But it will be far more serious elsewhere, producing perhaps armed clashes or neo-fascist politics.

The technological changes will redistribute power internationally as well as domestically, but the precise nature of those shifts are difficult to see. At the moment they seem to be favouring most English-speaking countries, especially those with what used to be called a surplus of the educated labour force. For instance Ireland in Europe and, in our region, India, which has a large middle-class which still speaks English. The language of the Internet and of the most advanced technologies is primarily English: teaching it as a second language is already an earner of foreign currency and will probably be more so.

The Long-Term Implications for Australian Policy-Making

This essay has already mentioned in passing some of the likely impacts of normative shift on Australian policy-making. The most obvious case is the realm of relationships with Australia's 'First Nations', the Aboriginal peoples. The pacesetter of change in this general field has been Canada, although even its remarkable pioneering has not entirely exempted it from UN criticism. At the very least, Australian policy-makers should watch with great care the development of events in Canada's indigenous self-governing territory, Nunavut, which offers a Parliament and a Premier of their own to the Inuit people. That is the sort of policy area in which 'best practice' may rapidly become internationally-expected 'required practice', i.e. the norm for governments like Australia's with vast territories and disadvantaged Indigenous Peoples.

A second fairly obvious area is that of environmental norms, especially greenhouse gas emission. Australia was lucky to escape so lightly at the Kyoto conference, and perhaps will not do so again, especially if Al Gore makes it to the US presidency. He has long taken the dangers to the environment more seriously than any other prominent American politician, and Australia's per capita rate of greenhouse gas emissions may well exceed that even of the US if the projected American controls go into operation. If we cannot move away from the use of carbon-based fuels, we should at least move towards the least polluting of them, natural gas, and put a lot more high-tech research into modes of cleaning the emissions from power-generation, and developing alternative forms of fuels for cars and trucks. Reliance on re-afforestation as a 'carbon-sink' will not seem particularly convincing to overseas critics, but scientific research is suggesting some other possibilities, even in the detested algae blooms. If there was ever a field in which Australia should aim to be at the cutting edge of scientific research, this is surely it, as much for the sake of our small Pacific neighbours, and some very large Asian ones, as for our own. If the worst that is predicted for global warming actually comes true, they will be far more affected then ourselves, and their peoples may have no alternative but to seek refuge elsewhere. Our present 'boat-people' problem could seem like a pinprick in comparison.

More immediately obvious and troubling is the dent that normative shift has put into our policy of regional engagement. Australia is inescapably, by history, culture, political institutions, diplomatic affiliations, economic status and ethnic majority a member of the 'Western Club'. None of our neighbours is in any doubt about that, and they are not likely to be convinced by any rhetorical pretence to the contrary. We cannot escape the Western consensus, including its current normative shift which, as was pointed out earlier, is unmistakably Western-driven, and is feared, resented and resisted by many non-Western societies, including many (most?) of those in Australia's general neighbourhood.

I do not believe that this 'action-reaction' syndrome is likely to change much for several decades. It is part of a worldwide phenomenon, a sort of enhanced cultural self-consciousness brought about by globalisation and the knowledge revolution. Both those processes, as was mentioned earlier, are in their relative infancy. So are the conflicts they will precipitate. We are already seeing the beginnings of all that in the East Asian regionalism from which non-Asians (like Australians and Americans) are being firmly excluded.

Immediate Issues

Those basically are long-term factors, but there are a few which will influence more immediate and specific choices, especially on the defence budget.

Australia's decision-makers in the field of foreign and defence policies will have to bear in mind three major factors: normative shift, security regionalization and the revolution in military affairs. Those factors have already altered, and will continue to alter, the strategic context in which both alliance policy and the structure of the defence forces must be formulated. Over the long-term, they need not necessarily work to our disadvantage but in the short-term (the next few defence budgets) they do present quite a variety of dilemmas.

No doubt we shall mend our diplomatic fences more or less adequately with Indonesia in due course, and even Dr Mahathir will probably forgive us our activism over East Timor in due course. The problem, long-term, is not specific relationships with specific governments or decision-makers, but that some Asian and Pacific prospects-economic, political, military and diplomatic-which had looked 'set fair' for the decade or two until mid-1997 have since then become more uncertain, less predictable, less hopeful. Our security policies have always had to be reached, of course, on a balance between two sets of assessments, global and regional. As a matter of historic record, it has in fact been the global rather than the regional developments that have shaped Australia's destiny: the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the forty-year-long Cold War, the winding-up of the European overseas empires. Despite that evidence, the leaders (and prospective or past leaders) of the actual or potential alternative governments in Canberra have for the past few years been given to talking as if the regional context was the only one that would matter in the future. That may have been (consciously or not) just a polite and necessary diplomatic fiction, but it has tended in my view to obscure some highly relevant international developments, or at least lead to their being underrated.

As was argued earlier, the structure of the society of states is at present unipolar. That is to say, the current paramount power, the United States, faces no serious challenge for the foreseeable future. That has important implications for the kinds of wars the world is most likely to see, and consequently the kinds of defence structures that will be most useful.

A few over-optimistic people originally assumed that the end of the Cold War made any future military conflicts unlikely. The past decade has continually proved that view was an illusion. Nevertheless, there was one slim strand of reality at its heart. Post-Cold-War power-relationships have at least made hegemonic war (Armageddon-style all-out global conflicts like World Wars I and II) almost impossible for the next few decades. And since it is only in that context that direct military attack on Australian territory (as from Japan between December 1941 and May 1942) would have any military logic, the need to defend the 'sea-air gap' to our north is for those three or four decades(23) the least likely of the prospective contingencies we need to provide against. On the other hand, the Cold War was not the first hegemonic struggle in international history, and unless history has taken a sudden benign turn, it is not likely to be the last. And since the security of our territory is the most vital of our vital national interests, that does need to be at the top of the defence planner's preoccupations, even if on the basis of 'thirty years hence' kind of lead-time for weapons procurement.

Fortunately, the kind of equipment necessary to defend the 'sea-air gap' is also the kind necessary for a much more probable contingency we must provide for: a major regional conflict in which our less direct but still vital national interests are involved. The usual scenario here, at least as the Pentagon sees it, is a major crisis in the Gulf (to be major it would have to involve either Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia) which inspires the erratic chief decision-maker in North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, to 'chance his arm' in some desperate adventure against the South. (Just possibly it could work the other way: a crisis in the Korean peninsula or the Taiwan Straits inspiring a bit of opportunism in the Gulf.) The Pentagon's budgets are intended to provide for logistic capacity, troop deployments and advanced weaponry to cover two such regional crises at once, but even the Pentagon's budgets have been shrinking recently. They have fallen to 2.9 per cent of America's GNP, as against almost 15 per cent at the height of the Cold War (1953). Of course that dwindling percentage is of an enormous and fast growing GNP, but even so resources would be a bit stretched if two simultaneous crises did eventuate, especially if the current US troop commitments (or new ones like Montenegro?) in the Balkans were still in operation. So Washington would undoubtedly call on its NATO allies for help in the Gulf, and its Pacific allies, including Australia, for help over Korea or Taiwan.

That brings us to the complex question of 'interoperability' with US forces. While high or complete levels of interoperability are certainly expensive, in terms of state-of-the-art data-exchange systems, command and control systems, and surveillance systems as well as weapon-systems, it is a matter of Australia's own vital interest (not just the alliance interest) that we should continue to compete as well as we possibly can in this field. For we should need to be as proficient as possible in advanced technologies of those kinds if push should ever come to shove in our own defence. And we should also of course need American help, which would be more efficiently given assuming interoperability.

The campaign over Kosovo was very instructive about the importance of the technological edge which the US gets from its enormous military research and development capacity, which no other power can at present (or foreseeably) match. Not only were 70 per cent of the air sorties American (some from bases in the US) but the whole surveillance and location system was American. As the new Secretary-General of NATO noted, the other eighteen members of that alliance together spend about two-thirds of what the US spends on defence, but they do not, even together, get two-thirds of the military 'clout'. And that certainly showed in the 'distance warfare' which secured the final deal over Kosovo, without any ground combat by the NATO armies. That kind of 'distance warfare' may be the likeliest analogy for the defence of the 'sea-air gap' to our north. Maintaining the best level we can of interoperability with the US is therefore the most feasible way of maintaining the technological edge which would be vital if such a strategy were ever forced on us.

In view of the current global structure of the society of states, the probable duration of this unipolar phase of international history, and the current regional balance, it would not be unreasonable, when contemplating large purchases and the impending 'bloc obsolescence' problem, to think of emerging technologies like Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and J Joint Direct Attack Munition systems (JDAMS)(24) rather than more sophisticated versions of contemporary aircraft. Again the lessons of Kosovo deserve careful scrutiny. The revolution in military affairs is not necessarily likely to slow down: that episode seems likely indeed to cause it to put on more speed. The 'force protection norm' as successfully demonstrated in zero combat casualties for NATO in Kosovo, has been quite an object lesson for Washington, of the 'payoff' for R & D in very advanced systems. Political pressure from Congress, whoever is elected this year, will ensure that 'zero casualties' is likely to become a standard demand for US troop involvement in any crisis not touching on vital US interests. Which means almost every crisis, because in a unipolar world challenges to US vital (as against marginal) interests are quite unlikely. Moreover, the 'force protection' norm must spread from the US to its allies as it did in Kosovo, since allied governments cannot risk the accusation that they are being less careful of the lives of their troops than Washington is of its troops.

That seems to me to mean that as far as the Air Force and Navy are concerned, interoperability with US forces must remain a primary concern, as much for its usefulness as a means of maintaining the 'cutting edge' of skills we may some day need in our own defence as for its importance in maintaining the alliance. Our access to US intelligence information and advanced technologies is for us, as for the much richer NATO countries, a diplomatic bargain with a very favourable cost-benefit ratio. According to The Economist, the other eighteen NATO powers would have to at least quadruple their defence spending to achieve as much strategic security as they at present enjoy, if they should ever lose the US connection. The same sort of calculation would no doubt apply in Australia's case.

However, neither hegemonic war nor major regional crisis is the likeliest source of demands for an Australian military presence in the next few decades. Instead it is the expected prevalence of what may be called 'identity wars' and the consequent need for peace-enforcement or peacekeeping detachments, as in East Timor. It is in this connection, among others, that the ongoing normative shift has to be taken into consideration. The international community, usually (but not always) through the UN is now much more likely to intervene in relations between a metropolitan power and a dissident province or an oppressed minority. It is difficult to believe, for instance, that if relationships should deteriorate further in either West Papua or the Solomons, Canberra could militarily wash its hands of the situation. And while logistic or surveillance tasks for naval and air detachments might no doubt be very useful, the demand is almost certainly going to be also for 'boots on the ground'.

The brings us to the problem of the future role of land forces. It can hardly have escaped anyone's notice that though the Army detachments sent into both Kosovo and East Timor were combat troops, their tasks have not been primarily combat. Diplomacy, combined in the Kosovo case with an air campaign, had secured for each contingent a 'permissive environment', i.e. the withdrawal of the main adversary force, leaving behind in both cases assorted local militants with a quite inevitable (if deplorable) urge for revenge. So we have from Kosovo, for instance, seen TV shots of British soldiers, all hung about with advanced weaponry, getting out of armoured personnel carriers to deliver meals-on-wheels to ancient Serb widows who dare not emerge from their apartments in Pristina. No doubt it is necessary, but it is not what combat troops are for.

In fact, after the first wave of combat troops have secured a territory in a 'peace-enforcement' operation, what is needed for the subsequent 'peacekeeping' operation is what might be called a 'guardian force' rather than a combat force. Its tasks would be in fields related to civil order and civil reconstruction in the society 'under guardianship'. Judging by various official statements from NATO and the UN, that period is expected to last three years or even more in the cases of both Kosovo and East Timor. In Bosnia the troops are still there after five years of 'peace'. And for reasons indicated earlier, quite a few similar situations to those three are likely to recur, some of them obviously calling for Australian help.

One of the advantages of giving thought to a 'second wave' or 'guardian' force is that its members could be drawn from a different age-group to that which supplies recruits for the traditional forces. Combat forces may need to be very fit young people between twenty and thirty-five or so. But a 'guardian' force could recruit reasonably fit people between thirty-five and fifty-five, and a much higher proportion could be women. That kind of composition could even be an advantage, since the local people they would be dealing with would mostly be women and children, the elderly or infirm, and in general the sad civilian casualties of modern wars. The decline in birthrates throughout the Western world means in any case that young people are going to be a scarce and dwindling resource. So it would be judicious for the services to think outside the groups they have traditionally sought. Reservists would be ideal of course, because of their previous training and their familiarity with military discipline and rules of engagement. But such a force could also attract those who have never felt drawn to military effort, but have skills which would be useful in reconstructing societies as devastated as that in East Timor, and who could feel a real enthusiasm for the work. When future requests for an Australian contingent in another UN peacekeeping force come in, as they undoubtedly will, a 'reserve' along those lines would reduce the pressure on the regular forces and the police. It would also be readily interoperable with the sort of contingent New Zealand, on present indications, would be likely to volunteer, and with contingents that might be available from Pacific and South-East Asian societies. On the other hand, for a major regional crisis involving the US, an Air Force or Naval detachment which could find a 'niche' role and be fully interoperable with US forces would be the appropriate token of diplomatic support.

In mid-2000, with Australian troops still in East Timor, coups in progress in Fiji and the Solomons, uncertainties in Papua New Guinea, and Indonesian resentments (both at official and grassroots level) likely to be exacerbated by developments in West Papua, a division of labour along those lines appears likely to prove useful. Whatever its potential discomforts for future Australian decision-makers (and it may often put them between a rock and a hard place), the process of security regionalisation is already under way. One can see it clearly in the crises over Kosovo and East Timor, especially perhaps in the initial reaction in Washington to East Timor. The change is driven by forces that Australia can neither control nor resist: worldwide forces like the knowledge revolution, globalisation, the revolution in military affairs and normative shift. Over the long-term, those forces are more in accord with our own value system and mode of living than with those of most of the existing sovereignties in our neighbourhood. But in the immediate future, they will require careful thought about strategies of crisis-management and damage limitation.


  1. After the Thirty Years' War. The primary international norm established at that time was expressed in the Latin phrase 'cuius regio, eius religio'. For modern times that may be rendered as 'The ruler is entitled to make the rules in his own domain'; i.e it established a 'non-intervention' norm. That non-intervention norm was re-asserted in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter in 1945, being espoused particularly at the San Francisco Conference by the then Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Evatt. It is interesting to note that the very issue, criticism of Australian treatment of aborigines, which is causing comment in 2000, was presciently foreseen in 1945 while the UN Charter was still being formulated. The author, then a very junior officer of the then Department of External Affairs, was directed at the time to gather together existing books and articles on the treatment of aboriginals, and report on what ammunition they might provide for UN critics. Departmental embarrassment was enhanced when the most important work turned out to be by one of its own officers, Paul Hasluck, later Governor-General.

  2. The idea that empires were only empires if they were across salt-water.

  3. Some scholars maintain that major war is actually obsolete. See for relevant arguments 'Is Major War Obsolete? An Exchange' in Survival, (the Journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies) vol. 41, no. 2, Summer, 1999.

  4. The Kosovars were undoubtedly a thorn in the side of the Serbs, though the East Timorese were not the same sort of problem for the Indonesians, except for a few officers and others with investments there.

  5. In many earlier crises one can discern a 'mix' of national interest motivations and normative motivations. In the Gulf crisis of 1990, for instance, the national interest was clear: the importance to all the participating nations of Middle East oil supplies. But a norm was also asserted and upheld: that aggression should not be allowed to prosper.

  6. Because we have only two examples so far.

  7. And apologies had been delivered by many German political leaders.

  8. About $10 billion was awarded in 2000 to the few who then survived, or their descendants.

  9. There seems to be a considerable element of personal temperament and political orientation in willingness or otherwise to apologise. It is not surprising that Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, both 'with-it' politicians of Social Democratic orientation could do so quite readily. The Pope's case is, at first sight, more surprising. But although on social doctrines (birth control, abortion, celibacy, women priests) he has strongly adhered to past Church norms, on the Church's diplomatic and political roles he has been quite adventurous.

  10. As was fully apparent on that occasion in the attitudes of some Muslim and Jewish religious dignitaries.

  11. Hugo de Groot (1583-1645), a Dutch lawyer, who published in 1625 the fundamental tenet on international law, De Jura Belli ac Pacis, (Of the Laws of War and Peace).

  12. The doctrine was developed by St Augustine and other early fathers of the Church to establish norms for the authorities of those times in their many conflicts with each other. For making war, the requirements were (1) legitimate authority; (2) a just cause; (3) a right intention; (4) the action had to be proportionate to the wrong; (5) the end to be proportionate to the means; and (6) there had to be a good prospect of success.

  13. Protocol mostly deals with fairly trivial matters of diplomatic etiquette but can, as in this case, have very substantial implications.

  14. Which was bipolar from 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, but in earlier centuries had mostly been multipolar.

  15. The reason for now expecting so long a duration of unipolarity are set out in the author's 'American Power and the Pretence of Concert' in The National Interest (Washington, Fall, 1999).

  16. He lost office in 1920, having earlier also lost his fight to take the US into the League of Nations.

  17. Clinton's visit to Moscow in June 2000 was surprisingly successful, in view of his acknowledged 'lame duck' status at the time. It could not be expected that Putin would agree to the projected US missile defence schemes, but the door was left open for some possible future deals.

  18. Permanent Normal Trade Relations, previously called M.F.N. American business is ardently for trade with China, so two-thirds of Republicans voted for China's new trade status. Democrats are heavily dependent on the unions for funds and votes, and they are fearful of loss of jobs to China. So two-thirds of Democrats voted against. In some cases, votes were also influenced by China's human rights record.

  19. A Republican president, though not exempt from Republican criticism in the House and Senate, can usually count on Democratic support for conciliatory policies towards Russia and China, whereas a Democratic president with the same policies would be met by Republican efforts to block him, and might not be able to count on Democratic support, party discipline not operating in the US.

  20. See the author's previously cited article for reasons.

  21. Until the second half of the twentieth century, very few institutions were actually or even nominally cosmopolitan in their outlooks. The Christian church was so originally, of course: 'in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek'. But over the centuries, doctrinal splits identified particular sects with particular nations or regions. The Communist Party went down rather the same path, developing particular doctrines for local circumstances. The Chinese party has made it official, speaking of 'Socialism with Chinese characteristics'.

  22. Time, 24 April 2000.

  23. This assumption is based on the assessment of the time any potential 'peer-competitor' (i.e. serious economic rival or military challenger) of the US would take to reach the level of near-equality which would make an actual challenge feasible. China and Russia, singly or in alliance, are the only powers usually considered.

  24. Unarmed Aerial Vehicles and Joint Direct Attack Munition systems (a cheaper substitute for cruise missiles).


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