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Wither Australia and the Security Council

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 9 April 2013


In January On Line Opinion highlighted the under resourcing of Australian membership of the United Nations Security Council. The Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, responded and more staff were assigned to service the demands of membership.

However the pressure remains, with the deterioration in security on the Korean Peninsula, a military, political and humanitarian crisis in Syria, ongoing tension in the middle east around Palestine and fall-out from the Arab spring and a territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China and other littoral states. These are issues that require a response; they are issues to which the Australian delegation to the UN must brief the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

However, as important as they are, these are reactive issues. The challenge for Australia is whether it can develop creative and proactive policy for Security Council consideration; bringing before the Council issues of concern to Australia, globally and within the region. The alternative is to shun initiative, maintain a low profile and cultivate a reactive presence; voting on issues as they come before the Security Council with like-minded members or in other words following the lead of the United States?

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It is now obvious that in pursuing membership of the Security Council, Rudd as Prime Minister and then Foreign Minister had no agenda other than satisfying his vanity and ego. Asked after the last OLO article what role he saw for Australia on the Council he responded with a list of current issues requiring a response. There was no imagination at play, no creative agenda, no consideration of issues that might affect Australia and our region.

As Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, is similarly bereft of constructive ideas on how this unique opportunity of our Security Council membership might be utilised in pursuit of an Australian agenda. In a sense it is not surprising considering how shorn of ideas and morally bankrupt the Labor Party has now become and before the conservatives snort with glee at this drubbing of their punch drunk rivals, they are, in my opinion, toying with policy from within an intellectual vacuum and moral free zone, if one takes Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison at their word.

If Carr has an inclination to act constructively with respect to the Council he should do so now before his credibility is destroyed by ICAC. Mendaciousness is said to be a hand maiden of diplomacy and that would see Carr well equipped for his current reincarnation, however credibility is a cornerstone of creative dealings between statesmen and women, once it is lost deals are harder to strike.

Prime Minister Gillard, with Ministers Carr, Emerson and Shorten are taking off for China on Friday to try and strengthen the framework of the relationship. China is not consulting with Australia on important issues. Given the amount of trade there is a feeling amongst bureaucrats, academics and other observers that China is taking the diplomatic relationship with Australia for granted, but that cuts both ways and Australia has sent some very strong signals that it shares US security concerns about China to the point of agreeing to the basing of US military assets in Australia, including Marines in Darwin.

Australia should be using the Security Council to engage on issues of concern to China. It should be using the Council to develop a dialogue with China, independent of US position papers and briefings. A constructive dialogue on the Council would help develop the architecture necessary for a strong relationship of mutual respect and understanding with China.

Australia should take the initiative and begin the process for the Council to consider the placement in Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of NATO, of a UN Human Rights monitoring team with particular reference to protection of the rights of women and children, with future UN and international aid conditional on those rights being upheld.

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Australia should also press, through the Council, for a UN peace keeping force to be deployed in Sri Lanka to protect Tamils currently suffering rape and abuse at the hands of the Sri Lankan military. They might also seek access for UNHCR to process asylum seekers within Sri Lanka under the protection of the peace keeping force.

The issue of the export of live animals for food should be regulated under an international protocol. The live trade in animals is unsustainable. As a major exporter of live animals Australia has the experience to negotiate an agreement with a fifteen or twenty year sunset clause leading to the phasing out of the live trade in favour of chilled and frozen meat. Australia should use the prestige and leverage which membership of the Council bestows to commence the process.

The need of islands states in the face of climate change is an issue that Australia might take up as a Council member. To do so would play well with our Pacific neighbours.

Australia might seek UN focus, through the Council, on the need to look again at the UN Convention on Refugees with a view to simplifying the wording whilst at the same time tightening provisions obliging states to provide protection. It might also seek to have the rights of refugees clearly stated and lobby for an increase the number of member states that are signatories to the Convention.

Australia might also seek to negotiate a convention on the right of the individual to potable water.

Carr is coasting. Some in his department consider him lazy, a poor listener, shallow and superficial. Be as that may, the real test of a foreign minister is moral courage and judgement. Imposing unilateral sanctions on North Korea, as Carr proposes, shows little judgement when he could seek to lead a bilateral focus through our seat on the Council.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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