Australian Foreign Policy Through 2031 Assessment

Excerpt from Assessment :

28). The directions that this new "great and powerful" friend takes in the next 20 years will have a pronounced effects on what type of foreign policy is needed to maintain the middle road aspired to by Australian foreign policymakers. In the Australia's Defence Department's White Paper, "Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific century: Force 2030," published in 2009, a number of eventualities are examined in terms of the appropriateness of an independent, dependent, interdependent or coindependent foreign policy in the future, depending on how the world changes. In the chapter, "Australia's Defence Policy," the White Paper makes the following points:

1. A nation's 'strategic posture' is the expression of how it seeks to secure its strategic interests, including by reducing the risk of conflict in the first place, and how it would potentially use force in relation to its strategic interests. In terms of strategic posture, an Australian government might take the view that armed neutrality was the best approach in terms of securing its territory and people. That posture would require us to disengage from alliances, such as that which we have with the United States, and probably to increase defence expenditure significantly.

2. A government might alternatively take the view that it should rely predominately on the multilateral security system, with the United Nations at its pinnacle, to safeguard its territory and people, and its strategic interests.

3. It could take another view altogether that its strategic interests would best be secured by focusing primarily on military operations with like-minded partners against common threats, across the globe - on the implicit assumption that these partners would render assistance if our security was threatened.

4. It could take yet another view - the one espoused by this Government - that the most effective strategic posture continues to be a policy of self-reliance in the direct defence of Australia, as well as an ability to do more when required, consistent with our strategic interests and within the limits of our resources (2009, p. 46).

The next 20 years will undoubtedly witness significant shifts in the balance of international power, but the implications of these changes for Australian foreign policy remains uncertain at present. Indeed, these issues have formed the basis of a growing debate on the appropriate role of Australia's middle power within an increasingly interconnected international community. By keeping a focus on changing definitions of what constitutes "national interest," though, foreign policymakers in Australia in the future will be able to fine-tune Australia's relations with other countries in ways that avoid the "ugly Australian" tendencies of the 1990s and early 200s and build on the significant progress made in building coalitions in various jurisdictions.

An overriding consideration in the formulation of foreign policy over the next 20 years is the need for developing appropriate security responses to terrorist threats at home and abroad. The manner in which Australia responds to these virtual certainties will have an enormous impact on the country's future, making contingency planning today an absolute necessity (Copper, 2002). In this regard, Gyngell & Wesley note that, "As the terrorist attacks [of September 11, 2001] showed, a globalising world is by no means homogeneous, and it is not necessarily more secure" (2003, p. 235). This observation indicates that as the accelerating processes of globalisation represent a dual-edged sword for Australia over the next 20 years. As Gyngell and Welsey point out, "The forces of globalisation not only place more international policy demands on foreign policy makers, but many of these demands have a tendency to contradict each other. Not all the consequences of globalisation have the same implications for Australia and its society: some may be positive, others may be negative" (2003, p. 235). These observations suggest that to the extent that Australia's foreign policy is aligned with what the nation's citizenry regard as being in Australia's -- and their own -- best interests will likely be the extent to which the foreign policy du jour is regarded as appropriate and successful.

These observations also suggest that these perceptions will change over time as the effects of globalisation continue to reshape the balance of trade and power in the international community in the future. In this regard, Gyngell and Wesley note that, "Of course, such judgements ultimately depend on society's own conceptions of what is beneficial and what is to be avoided. While the facilitation of Australia's export trade and the greater access of Australian industry to international investment are seen by many as positive aspects of economic globalisation that must be acted on to Australia's benefit, others regard the prospect of increased labour movements as part of a globalising economy as less attractive" (2003, p. 242). While the aggregate effects of globalisation can be likened to a rising tide raising all boats, this increasingly level economic playing field will have some concomitant adverse effects for Australians over the next 20 years or so (Leaver & Kelton, 2010). For example, Gyngell and Wesley add that, "Similarly, while the globalisation of communications and travel enhances the welfare of Australian society in a number of ways, these same developments also generate new, or magnify existing threats to the security and well-being of the national community: terrorism, drugs, HIV / AIDS, [and] organised crime" (2003, p. 242).


The research showed that a middle power such as Australia must walk a middle road in the future that balances the needs to fulfill the nation's responsibilities to the international community to safeguard the institutions of democracy around the world while avoiding entanglements in which the country has no compelling interests. There are a number of approaches that could be used to achieve this objective, but the research was also clear in showing that the decisions taken today will have enormous consequences for the long-term, many of which may be irreversible and all of which will undoubtedly be expensive in one way or another. Rather than hitching Australia's foreign policy wagon to the American, British or Chinese horse, though, the research also showed that it is not only possible for Australia to pursue an independent foreign policy in the future, it will likely be in its best interests to do so while the major powers duke it out on the economic and potentially military battlefields.


Berger, M.T. & Borer, D.A. (1999). The rise of East Asia: Critical visions of the Pacific century. London: Routledge.

Copper, D.A. (2002). Competing Western strategies against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: Comparing the United States to a close ally. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific century: Force 2030. (2009). Australian Government:

Department of Defence -- Australian Policy Online. Retrieved from


Devetak, R. (2009). An Australian outlook on international affairs? The evolution of international relations theory in Australia. The Australian Journal of Politics and History,

55(3), 335-337.

Firth, S. (2005). Australia in international politics: An introduction to Australian foreign policy.

Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin.

Flitton, D. (2004). Issues in Australian foreign policy: July to December 2003. The Australian

Journal of Politics and History, 50(2), 229-231.

Gyngell, a. & Wesley, M. (2003). Making Australian foreign policy. Cambridge, England:

Jenkins, a. (2010, October 11). The history of Australia in the world. Compiled messages (PDF).

Leaver, R. & Kelton, M. (2010). Issues in Australian foreign policy: January to December 2009.

The Australian Journal of Politics and History, 56(2), 259-261.

Mcdougall, D. (2009). Foreign policy studies…

Cite This Assessment:

"Australian Foreign Policy Through 2031" (2011, January 10) Retrieved January 19, 2018, from

"Australian Foreign Policy Through 2031" 10 January 2011. Web.19 January. 2018. <>

"Australian Foreign Policy Through 2031", 10 January 2011, Accessed.19 January. 2018,