The rapidly approaching Australian election will see a renewed focus on foreign policy issues as the main parties debate such matters as the best approach to the Iraq War and how to manage Australia’s relations with our near neighbours.
Although the differences between the main parties are not very great, as both will, for instance strongly support the US alliance and the need to secure Australia’s borders against “unwanted” arrivals, what differences do exist will be magnified to give the impression fundamental choices are being offered.
It is tempting to accept this limited range of debate on foreign policy issues. Australia, after all, does not have much influence on the world and the traditional alternative to relying on the US for our security; the “Fortress Australia” concept is so absurd that few can take it seriously. The election debate will almost certainly narrow into the usual battle over whether we need to assert ourselves slightly more while still being faithful US allies or not assert ourselves at all while still being faithful US allies.
But despite what most experts will say these are not the only alternatives facing us. In a world where in some countries obesity is a major health risk while in others it is starvation, a world where we are among the wealthiest and most privileged, there should be more to foreign policy than the question of how best to preserve our privileged position (such as hiding behind US power) and keeping people out of our privileged land.
In fact we need to consider building a different, more just, international system. This is not simply a humanitarian goal but a necessary one, as the policy of defending our relative privileges through border protection and wars that we follow abroad will only be the prelude for more wars and more “need” to protect our borders.
A different international system may seem difficult to visualise but in fact it is easy to visualise and to build. And Australia can play a role. To give a general idea I will use the European Union (EU) as an example. Those parts of Europe that started the EU (when it had a different name) have steadily transformed themselves from centuries of mutual hostility, warfare and economic inequality to develop a zone of peace that includes economic development and respect for human rights.
As it has evolved the EU has accepted new members and its zone of peace and prosperity slowly grows. It has its flaws but it is immeasurably superior to the self defeating warfare, exploitation and slaughter that preceded it. The world can achieve the same by slowly developing a Human Union which abolishes internal borders and which only admits countries which have respect for, or are making progress towards, democracy and human rights.
Building a Human Union is the political challenge of the 21st century. The idea may seem far fetched now but 60 years ago the idea of building a European Union after Europe’s centuries of warfare and conflict was just as far fetched.
A Human Union can start small. For example, the EU started with a Declaration by France inviting others to join a common authority for iron and steel. A Human Union can start with just one country making a “Human Union Declaration”: a declaration that it is willing to negotiate the terms for forming a Human Union with any other country that is interested and thereby commencing a process that may steadily develop into something better.
Issuing such a Declaration would be a way Australia could actually play a meaningful role in the world. It would not just make a difference, but start a process that would transform the world over time. It would be a meaningful issue to debate in the coming election rather than the endless debate about just how precisely we need to follow US policy to guarantee our security.
For those who are concerned about poverty and exploitation on a global scale, our foreign policy seems corrupt, as Australia’s interest is always put ahead of the rest of humanity. It would not be so if we were debating how to start a Human Union. For those who are concerned about protecting our planet’s environment, debate about foreign policy also appears meaningless as Australia’s national interest is always put ahead of any planetary agreement.
If we start to build a Human Union we will start to dissolve the mindset that makes us put our so-called national concerns ahead of our fellow humans and our planet.
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