Embracing multilateralism

A commitment

Brendan Lim

In an interconnected global community, Australia cannot afford to be cutting her connections. Can we be selective in when and how we choose to embrace multilateralism? I suggest not. With threats to peace and security at the forefront of foreign policy, Australia must be prepared to pursue co-operative solutions to common problems. Interconnectedness demands that much.

Threats to our peace and security are many and diverse. They include not only the well-acknowledged spread of terrorist groups and proliferation of weapons in our region but also the scourge of poverty, oppression, human rights abuses and environmental degradation taking place on our doorstep. The former threaten our immediate safety. The latter must necessarily be eradicated if there is to be any hope of sustainable security. I would like to suggest that our commitment to a better world is dependent on our engagement with the United Nations and our dedication to an international rule of law. I argue the case for a multilateral approach to peace and security especially in the contexts of terrorism and postwar Iraq.

Turning our back

Dr Herbert Evatt, whose Foundation gives us this evening's seminar, was a great Australian who was instrumental in the very creation of the United Nations in 1945. There is a sad irony that Australia is now a nation perceived by many to have turned its back on the international system, circumventing Security Council opposition to war in Iraq in favour of unilateral military action and defying the criticisms of the committees on human rights, to advocate some sort of "selective exemption" from international scrutiny. What values do we sacrifice when we go down this road? We sacrifice the belief that the use of force, beyond that used in self-defence, must have the support of the Security Council. Consequently, we suggest that lawlessness rather than diplomacy is a legitimate option for a state which cannot garner UN support.

We sacrifice the belief that no state, democratic or undemocratic, is above the international rule of law. This gives undue support to less-than-model nations who would ignore their obligations and impose regimes of oppression and terror. Fundamentally, we sacrifice the important belief that nations can work co-operatively to achieve common goals. Robbing the UN of legitimacy and lending credence to the arguments of defiant states in this manner undermines security. Such a policy contributes to breaches of the peace and contributes to continued oppression of people in our region, undermining the very structures which can support the precarious foundations of peace.