Braving a New World Order

Conservatives and right-wing types, wherever and whoever they might be, need to face up to the reality of the emerging world order. We are entering an increasingly fraught and unpredictable age, and those who like to think strategically about any topic whatsoever are left with few dots to connect and little certainty when doing so. The events of past few weeks in Israel, which look as though they could erupt into even larger conflaguration at any moment, are only one symptom.

The clearest sign that things had changed was the catastrophic United States withdrawal from Afghanistan. There was a distinctly late-Soviet vibe about it, and not just because the Afghans were involved. America, the great world hegemon, pressed the panic-button and left utter chaos behind. And not just utter chaos, but many of their own citizens. The great power of our post-Cold War age was obviously waning.

This event can be coupled with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a time when people believed future wars would be fought on computers and with robots, a conventional land war in Eastern Europe has provided a reality check. While neither of the direct combatants is among the great powers of the day, Russia has proven adept at ensuring its alliances include China, whilst Ukraine is the United States’ proxy.

The Ukraine War showed that geopolitics was back, replacing the optimistic foreign policy focus of economics that dominated the previous three decades. International relations and foreign policy is, in the end, a fight for space and resources. If one takes geopolitics seriously, then the idea of a world order is a mirage. There is no order per se; only blocs, which morph depending on the strategic desires of the members of those blocs.

Diplomacy will now be carried out in part with guns rather than merely with US dollars. The idealism that gripped much of the “End of History” elites in the West until 2016 still lags in some circles, but surely recent days in the Middle East have destroyed once and for all any optimistic view of international relations.

The appalling terror attacks in Israel by Hamas prove beyond doubt the old neoliberal world order is gone for good. The era of liberal hegemony at an international level was shockingly brief, given that economic growth and liberal democratic evangelism was meant to bring unheard of stability across the globe. The fact that this was a pipe dream is now laid bare.

In reality, access to resources is at the centre of any nation’s calculations about the present and the future. Ideology, be it liberalism, Nazism, communism, Islamism, nationalism, or civilizational ideologies on display in Russia and China, are only ever thin crusts on the surface of base self-interest. Nations need things — be it people, grain, oil, weapons, lithium, uranium, coal, drinking water, access to the sea; economic diplomacy is one way of getting these things. But successful economic diplomacy assumes that ships and planes can travel safely, carrying with them the goods nations need.

In a world that is increasingly unpredictable in military terms, economic diplomacy takes a back seat to military diplomacy, and military diplomacy sometimes means war. The war in Israel threatens, menacingly, to expand into a regional war, and who knows where that leaves us when Russia and Iran are friendly with one another. The foregoing analysis doesn’t even take into account President Xi’s version of the Sword of Damocles that hangs over Taiwan.

Where does this leave Australia? The alliance with the United States, which was celebrated this week by Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese, remains the cornerstone of our country’s foreign policy, and treaties like AUKUS make sense in a world where regional allies either remain suspicious of Australia or are just plain hard to come by.

Apparently there are submarines involved in the Anglophone AUKUS, but it is hard to imagine us ever seeing them or operating them. The real purpose of AUKUS is to further tie us to our natural allies. The United Kingdom is not a regional friend, but it is an old friend and a close one. ANZUS lies at the foundation of AUKUS, and a US alliance secures our geopolitical position in our region against threats from the north. Some things must remain stable in a world in flux and this is one thing that is unlikely to change, no matter who is in the White House.

In an increasingly unpredictable world, self-reliance must become a priority. At the moment, Australia is vulnerable both militarily and economically. We have only limited capacity to defend ourselves from military threats. Our economic situation is decent, but our ability to build things that we need is limited. We rely on supply chains that carry people and goods from overseas to an extent that should make us all nervous.

If movement in the Pacific or Indian Oceans, for example, becomes limited, then we face a prospect much worse than what we experienced with supply-chain issues during the pandemic. If our trade partners become embroiled in a war, then our sources of goods could be constrained. We surely need to start building things ourselves once again. We need to see much more “Made in Australia” tags everywhere.

THE ABOVE set of uncertainties presents opportunities for conservative policymakers. In the first instance, conservatives ought to be the most natural nationalists. “Australia first” industrial policies can’t be implemented across the board, but in an economically-constrained situation, Australia cannot survive off the fumes of our domestic service industry.

Improving Australia’s defence capability should also be an easy win for conservatives. Recruiting more personnel to become combat-ready should be one prong of the strategy, and moving to more self-reliance in terms of defence technology another. There has been great excitement in recent years about Australia’s medical innovation industry – the same should said about our military industry in years to come.

One final policy piece that flows out of the emerging geo-strategic environment relates to immigration. Australia has an inexorably immigrant character, which is not to be regretted. Many of our migrants love it here and want to join in mainstream Australia and embrace Australian values.

In an age where war and geopolitics are important, domestic coherence is necessary. Immigrants who have not, or do not, prove to be capable of joining in mainstream Australia should not be welcomed into the fold. Some things, like celebrating Islamist terrorism, are difficult to square with our political and cultural inheritance.

A level of wariness over certain kinds of international students would not be unreasonable, given the medium term strategic outlook in the Pacific region. Our universities might be merely surviving due to immigrant student populations. But a financial restructure beckons, in any case, and this could be an important, strategically-minded shift for conservative policy-makers.

Australia needs to prepare itself for the unexpected and unpredictable. That means moving to better control how we defend ourselves, what we make for ourselves, and who lives here. Geopolitics is back. Economics is relevant, but not foremost in strategic thinking for the new world order. Domestic policy needs to shift to reflect this, and conservatives should lead the way towards making Australia’s a stable nation in an unstable world.

Simon Kennedy is the Associate Editor of Quadrant. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and a Non-resident Fellow at the Danube Institute.

10 thoughts on “Braving a New World Order

  • Ceres says:

    “We have only limited capacity to defend ourselves from military threats. ” So thank god for our allies such as the USA. Which raises the question of immigrants’ loyalty to Australia in dire times. Italians, Greeks and Europeans who migrated here had, and have, similar values. Problems started with immigrants from Lebanon and then large numbers of muslims from islamic countries with their obvious incompatible values. Good luck recruiting those who support hamas terrorists, to our defence force. Wouldn’t want them anyway. Same goes for Chinese immigrants with anything involving China. A nation of self interested tribes now. That’s the reality.

  • pmprociv says:

    One critical element in all this, which worries me but seems to be overlooked by many commentators, is our national fuel reserves, apparently at the level of 3 weeks at present usage rates. All China needs do is block fuel tankers leaving Singapore for a short period, and we’re in deep trouble, with not enough fuel even to deliver food to supermarkets. Bring on the battery powered-trucks! (that’s a joke, BTW).

    • vickisanderson says:

      Yes, it has always bedevilled me why our fuel security rarely attracts serious discussion. While it may be cheaper to buy refined fuel from OS, the closure of our refineries was a strategic mistake of monumental proportions. At the very least, we should ensure the storage here of a serious amount of fuel should the situation in the South China Sea suddenly jeopardise our domestic supply.

  • Occidental says:

    There are an awful lot of assumptions or shibboleths in this article. Australia has gone to war atleast seven times since federation, if you count the Malayan Emerhency involvement by Australian forces as a war, and six times if not. Not once was Australia interested in resources or “things”. I don’t want to count the UK or USA military endeavours, but I doubt “things” or resources were important or even considered in any of them in that same period. And seriously does anyone really think Putins invasion of one of the poorest countries in Europe is about resources. Wars are fought for a lot of reasons, and “things” are becoming less important. There never was a “liberal hegemony” because that concept is an oxymoron. There was perhaps a “pax americana”, but by definition it was not particularly liberal. Yet most of the conclusions in the final paragraph sound reasonable, so I suppose it is time for people to think a little less about parts a and b of the the family tax benefit, and a little bit more about the world in general. One thing is for certain, human beings are too stupid to give up war.

    • David Isaac says:

      Sometimes war is the smartest way of getting what you want.

      Until we have a centrally-administered global tyranny or a world populated entirely by clones or lotus eaters it will remain a threat.

  • Farnswort says:

    “Immigrants who have not, or do not, prove to be capable of joining in mainstream Australia should not be welcomed into the fold. Some things, like celebrating Islamist terrorism, are difficult to square with our political and cultural inheritance.”

    Yes, excessive, poorly-managed immigration is a national security threat and needs to be treated as such. Australia urgently needs to reduce immigration to more manageable levels (NOM is presently running at an insane 500,000 per annum), tighten up its citizenship laws, and abandon state-sanctioned multiculturalism.

    As Geoffrey Blainey warned back in the 1990s:

    “For the millions of Australians who have no other nation to fall back upon, multiculturalism is almost an insult. It is divisive. It threatens social cohesion. It could, in the long-term, also endanger Australia’s military security because it sets up enclaves which in a crisis could appeal to their own homelands for help.”

    He was, of course, right. Pity our policymakers were too arrogant to heed such warnings.

    As Australia grapples with the radical elements it has voluntarily imported, thousands of whom marched in the streets of Sydney and Melbourne calling for the end of Israel as we know it, our ruling class must face up to the fact that their multiculti utopian ideals have resulted in imported tribalism and hatreds. We now have large numbers of non-Western people in our midst who are, at the very least, indifferent to our values and have little affinity for the historic Australian nation.

  • cbattle1 says:

    Yes, Geoffrey Blainey got it right. Perhaps there is some inherent flaw in our system of representative democracy, which is essentially based on a pre industrial revolution model. With our vast bureaucracies full of administrators, self-serving political parties, etc, it is hard to recognise the term “democracy”. Was a plebiscite ever held allowing the Australian people to say who they wanted to come to this country, and how many?
    This article had a caption under a cartoon at the top, saying:
    “Australia imagined it enjoyed a stable relationship with China until the Morrison Government raised the matter of the Wuhan virus. Instantly, Beijing reacted with trade bans and cartoons like this. That’s how quickly things change and threats arise.”
    The reaction from China was a problem created by the ignorance of the Morrison government, and wouldn’t have happened if we had remembered the lessons we were supposed to have learned back when Keating was PM. At that time, becoming part of Asia was all the buzz, teaching our kids Bahasa Indonesia, etc. One thing we became aware of was that the cultures of South-East and North-East Asia are very different from ours. We learned that “loosing-face” was an serious issue within those cultures, and that it was very bad manners to criticise others, lest they “loose-face”. If we had remembered that lesson, then we wouldn’t have gotten out the megaphone and started haranguing and blaming China for the Covid19 outbreak. Communications should have been made in private, and not in an accusatory manner. Obviously the Chinese government was upset about the virus outbreak, and criticism would only create an angry defensive reaction, which it did.

    • vickisanderson says:

      Disagree. The Wuhan origin of a virus that was super contagious was always an issue that had to be explored. The irony is that evidence is now suggesting that much of the research being conducted at the Wuhan facility was actually partially financed by American research institutes – such as the EcoHealth Alliance of Peter Daszak – as bizarre as that may seem.

      This is still an issue that ha had enormous effects on the world, which needs to be understood by all those who were affected.

      • cbattle1 says:

        vickisanderson: I was not suggesting that the origin of Covid19 should not be explored, what I was saying is that it would have been consistent with “Asian Values” to conduct those enquiries via discreet diplomatic channels. If that produced no more information than the approach the Morrison government took, we would still be ahead because offense wouldn’t have been caused, and punitive tariffs and embargoes would not have been applied to the importation of Australian goods and commodities.

  • Davidovich says:

    “Nations need things — be it people, grain, oil, weapons, lithium, uranium, coal, drinking water, access to the sea;”. Not mentioned in this article but critical to Australia’s fortunes and future is cheap and reliable energy which is not coming via Labor’s ‘renewables’ roll-out. Until we throw out the Net Zero nonsense and go back to reliable, efficient and cheap energy we will continue to lose our independence.

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