Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Australia should cease to be subservient to USA foreign policy – John Hewson

John Hewson: We need some homegrown diplomacy in North Korea http://www.smh.com.au/comment/john-hewson-we-need-an-independent-position-on-north-korea-20171005-gyuojr.html John Hewson 

The evolving tragedy that is North Korea is now at the mercy of a mere miscalculation, or accident, an isolated piece of stupidity, or a Trump shot from the hip – even just a piece of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) dropping on Japan.

This vicarious situation necessitates Australia adopting a strong, independent, foreign policy stance on this challenge, in our national interest. The inflammatory rhetoric from both Trump and Kim Jong-un seems to have no limit, but achieves very little, except more missiles and tests from Pyongyang, and more threats of military options/retaliation from the US.

Sanctions are important, especially now they have been given greater grunt by China, but they will take many months to be fully effective. Clearly, military engagement would be catastrophic, so every effort should be made to foster effective diplomatic engagement and, ultimately, hopefully, negotiation. Obviously, the major powers, the US, China, Russia and Japan, would be fundamental to any effective resolution.

In this context, Australia needs to consider what more we can do, if anything, as a middle-ranking power, but capable, at times, of punching above our weight, especially from the point of view of our national interests.

I fear that we are far too embedded in the US position, and where it may go. I am concerned that our political leadership is simply happy to be subservient to the US, leaving them, Trump, to define us. Yet, we could play a more significant role, diplomatically, in attempting to manage the emerging crisis.

In attempting to understand and strategise on how events might unfold, we would have to contemplate the possibility, even if we gave it a low probability, that an effective target for North Korean aggression could be Pine Gap – it would not kill many of us, but would represent a very significant blow to US intelligence capability.

To be absolutely clear, despite all the US bluster, I sincerely doubt that Pyongyang will ever be the aggressor, would ever initiate a war. Apparently, China has told the North Koreans that they will only come to their defence if they are attacked, but not if they are the aggressor. But have no doubt, the nuclear tests, and rocket launches, will continue, with rockets directed towards say Guam, but to land outside their territorial waters.

The point is that we need to look after our own interests, and position ourselves most effectively, from that perspective. In these terms, we could announce a desire to establish an embassy in Pyongyang, with a view to opening and developing a dialogue, perhaps, ultimately leading to a resumption of the Six Party talks.

Other back channels could also be exploited. For example, I was somewhat surprised that our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, didn’t create the opportunity to meet with her North Korean counterpart at the recent UN meetings. Australia could also play a significant role in co-ordinating the responses of many of our Asian neighbours, from sanctions to missile interception and defence capabilities.

We presently run our “diplomacy” with North Korea, with a non-resident ambassador, based in Seoul, making trips up North. This would surely be insulting to the North Koreans, and easily dispensed with as just another “branch of the US”. It doesn’t begin to give Pyongyang the global recognition that it so desperately craves.

We need to be seen to be able to stand on our own two feet, and we might be surprised at just how much influence we could achieve.

Despite all the sabre rattling and inflammatory rhetoric, the world needs a diplomatic solution on North Korea.  Sanctions may ultimately force Pyongyang to the negotiating table, but there will be no alternative to face-to-face, hard-headed negotiations that, surely, must initially accept North Korea as an emerging nuclear power, and then focus on deterrence. Think about it from their point of view. The world seems to happily accept countries such as India, Pakistan, and Israel, as nuclear powers, but where is the balance of risks? These are risks that we don’t want to talk about, while at the same time saying that North Korea is a “clear and present danger”.

The government needs to be prepared to discuss publicly its assessment of the North Korean situation. I really don’t understand why we don’t use the processes of Parliament, and encourage a parliamentary debate, leading to a broader debate across civil society.

All too often, the way government has worked in this country is that government closes down debate on an issue, calls all the shots, and, in the end, we drift into a situation that is not necessarily in our national interest. Recall the futility of Howard’s sycophantic support of Bush junior in the Iraq war. We never should have been involved.

On North Korea, we are again letting the issue drift, driven by the possible irrationality of the US. We will end up where, in our national interest, we won’t want to be. Yet, we could play a globally significant role in resolving the matter.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy and a former leader of the Liberal Party.

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October 6, 2017 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics international

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