22 December 2017

White papers and the changing world

It's a few weeks back and out of order but still relevant. The recent Foreign Affairs White Paper has the Canberra corridors aflutter. None less than those of Hugh White. He's a renowned local defence/foreign affairs person and has written a string of works on the matter. He mentioned his Powershift and China choice in his talk and recognised they were both somewhat incorrect or dated in their own ways. The latest is his Quarterly essay, Without America : Australia in the new Asia. He launched it at ANU and we were there. First up, he presented this graph (fig 2.4, GDP estimates to 2030, p.26) and commented that it's in the recent Foreign Policy White paper* but not mentioned in the text, but it's an essence of his argument. By 2030 (Treasury reckoning) China will have 2x the GDP of the US (China $42.4t vs. US $24t). Given China's unexpectedly quick growth, its deep resolve against US's weak resolve and its artful use of power, he argues the US will withdraw from Asia and leave primacy to China. Look at the collapse of influence of the US after debacles in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and now Trump's "bizarre disfunction" and America's "collapsing statecraft". But as they say, follow the money. How quick and what evidence? White says it's already the most likely outcome, despite the fantasies of Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man / Francis Fukuyama, 1992) or perhaps because of their acceptance. But the big problem is that a US hegemon remains at the heart of Australia's recent White Paper. Our debate is failing, due to credulity, poor quality of policy and failed political leadership. The APS lacks creative intelligence. Our defence is building "a really dumb force in an unbelievably stupid way ... we could not get it more wrong". We should consider self-reliance (costing perhaps 4% GDP vs. 2.5% today, and maybe nuclear (+1%). China may behave as a hegemon, but we don't yet; India and China may agree to leave each others' regions alone (they are separated by the Himalayas which are impenetrable to military force); China uses it culture of soft power (not alone there!). Just a few snippets of a fascinating and concerning talk with implications that seem unconsidered by Government. You'd expect no less with our politics these days. To read more, there were tons of articles around about the issue a few weeks back and the Quarterly essay is available now (Without America : Australia in the new Asia / Hugh White [Quarterly essay 68, 2017]).

Hugh White launched his latest Quarterly essay at ANU.

  • * 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper / Australia
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