Between Two Worlds. Australian Foreign Policy Responses to New and Old Security Dilemmas

Australian foreign policy is entering an era of complexity and strategic uncertainty.  Globalisation has spawned the rise of new threats in the form of transnational crime syndicates smuggling drugs, people and weapons together with transnational terrorists specialising in asymmetric warfare.  At the same time the world is beginning to resemble a traditional geopolitical chessboard with regional power centres forming in Europe and Asia that ultimately seek to balance American hegemony.  The international system thus appears split between a 20th century paradigm centred on the nation-state and a 21st century world in which sub-state and trans-state actors take on increasing importance.  Globalisation has connected these two worlds through ease of travel, communications and financial flows, but it has not integrated them.

The split is particularly pronounced in the Asia Pacific region, and requires a foreign policy flexibility that can address both old and new security dilemmas simultaneously.  This paper analyses the nature of these dilemmas and the foreign policy traditions that shape Australia’s response to them.  The authors argue that Australian strategic thinking remains muddled in some quarters by a utopian internationalist and/or regionalist approach that has been reinvigorated by the inaugural East Asian Summit in December 2005.  But multilateralism alone cannot do the work of maintaining a stable balance of power in East Asia whilst transnational threats in South East Asia are likely to respond better to a reassertion of sovereignty at home and new partnerships and alliances abroad.  Australian foreign policymakers should take their cues from Hobbes and Machiavelli rather than Kant.