Vol. 20, No. 1
The Task Ahead
27 December 2021
When Richard Casey arrived in Washington as Australia’s first independent diplomatic presence in the US in March 1940, it was to the tune of the beating drums of war. Casey was Australia’s first foreign envoy, followed in 1941 by former Minister for External Affairs John Latham to Tokyo and Frederic Eggleston to the Chinese wartime capital of Chungking. Casey exchanged regular correspondence with John McEwan until the fall of the first Menzies Government in August the following year.
During September 1941, Casey was busy fostering a US partnership with public diplomacy; inventing Australian soft power. On the 17th he took a call from the director of the New York Zoo seeking Australian airlift assistance out of China for a baby giant panda. He noted in the same diary entry that he continued “trying to sell the idea to Walt Disney of creating two new animated cartoon characters – the Kangaroo and the Koala.” And on the 1st of October an exhibition of Australian art, the subject of Louise Ryan’s rich contribution to this issue, opened in Washington.
After the swearing in of John Curtin a week later, Casey would answer to Curtin’s new Minister for External Affairs, H.V. Evatt, who wasted no time in cabling Casey, requesting that he return for consultations. Casey remained, toiling for a further two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour on the 7th of December. Two days after Christmas, Curtin said “Australia looks to America”. Casey met with Churchill who was in Washington on that day: “I pressed him hard, which led him to say, ‘You can’t kick me round the room; I’m not kickable!’” Casey’s biographer W. L. Hudson records the “Free of any pangs” speech in the following terms: “Casey was in a position to know that Curtin did not take Australia into new waters, that the USA did not come to Australia’s aid because of Curtin’s appeal, but because Churchill and Roosevelt divided much of the world into war theatres and, entirely for their own reasons, placed Australia in an American theatre.”
On an undated manuscript fragment located in his safe after his death, Casey recorded an interview with President Roosevelt shortly after Curtin’s famous statement: “He expressed the greatest distaste ... making it clear that he was speaking to me privately and not officially. He put me under the seal of secrecy... He said that if it was thought that such a statement as Mr Curtin had made would help Australia with the United States, he assured me it would not.”
Great Powers tend towards their own interests. Irrespective of how alliance with them is spun to a domestic audience, middle power partners seldom act in theatres of war of their own choosing. This issue of the Evatt journal offers a series of observations of Australia at the precipice not of war, but a federal election. In the wake of AUKUS, Australia’s most significant security agreement since ANZUS, the election is (unusually) likely to feature international relations and defence considerations –– a so-called khaki election, perhaps.
Andrew Mack, a member of the Evatt Executive, delivers a scathing analysis of AUKUS. James Curran, author of both Curtin’s Empire and Unholy Fury: Whitlam and Nixon at War, weighs the new challenges confronting Australia’s alliance with the US and Geoff Raby, former Australian Ambassador to Beijing, proposes a sharply rational assessment of the peril and futility of trying to contain China, while Marianne Hanson, co-chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, discusses the ethical and reputational questions associated with bringing nuclear submarines into the Australian fleet.
A Khaki election will no doubt focus on Defence. Both Melissa Conley Tyler and Thomas Lonergan debate where the spending ought to go to create a resilient nation, both diplomatically and militarily. The conceptual notion of such national resilience is analysed by Chenjun Wang, and Doris Asante highlights one of the most fascinating and overlooked challenges for Australian security services (forgotten perhaps since the global war on terror has receded from the headlines): the significant and vexing regional threats that defy the traditional role of Defence, performed by uniformed men with guns.
In an exploration of identity, values and the projection of an Australia worth defending, Rose Jackson, President of the Evatt Foundation, and Yun Jiang address the notion of insidious discontent persisting in Australia in terms of racism, right wing extremism, hypocrisy and a diversity deficit within our public voice on foreign policy. Australia possesses extraordinary soft power assets whilst simultaneously discounting the merits of a coherent program of public diplomacy. Naren Chitty, the director of Macquarie University’s Soft Power Analysis & Resource Centre confronts Australia’s opportunities after AUKUS in the field of public diplomacy.
However, what seems to be beyond the control of anyone, from an armchair diplomat to the leaders of China or America, is the fate of the global environment. It is for this reason that the Executive of the Evatt Foundation has chosen to lead with an important essay from Allan Behm, Director of the International and Security Affairs Program at the Australia Institute. Collaborative action to combat catastrophic global warming is imperative and must be the central pillar of Australia’s Foreign Affairs agenda. As a regional leader, Australian inaction has been heinously irresponsible regarding our Pacific Island neighbours, irritating to our Great Power sponsors and an offensive affront to Australia’s soft power and reputation as an influential middle power. The Foundation’s Frank Stilwell responds to Mr. Behm’s essay and the issue with a closing sentiment of optimism.
The Task Ahead takes a close look at Australia’s current dance with China and America and her place in the world. It conducts a realist survey of Australia’s policy making choices over the next few years, and examines options available to leaders, Ministers, department secretaries and academic commentators on how they might react to the various scenarios that may unfold.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE: CLIMATE & COOPERATION
EYEBALL TO EYEBALL: CONFRONTATION & CRISIS
ARM IN ARM: RESILIENCE & DEFENCE
PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: IDENTITY & PROJECTION
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