[The Acton Forum] The Analysis of the Australian Foreign and Security Policies in the 21st Century under the Paradigm of Liberalism

Joseph Jongeun Seong
Bachelor of Arts student, University of Sydney
4 April 2021

I. Introduction

Under the paradigm of liberalism, the complex interdependence theory, the neoliberal institutionalist theory, and the democratic peace theory are applicable for analyzing the Australian foreign and security policies in the twenty-first century due to the Australian government’s interdependency with the United States government in several aspects, emphasis on the role of multilateral institutions in international affairs, and maintenance of peaceful relations with the majority of free, democratic countries around the world.

II. Literature Review

First of all, the neoliberalist “complex interdependence theory,” which Joseph S. Nye and Robert O. Keohane co-developed, effectively explains Australia’s interdependence with the United States in multiple ways. Such interdependence is shown in former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin M. Rudd’s academic activities in the United States, the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and the Australian government’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Second, the so-called “neoliberal institutionalism,” which is a theory supported by scholars like Lisa L. Martin and Keohane, thoroughly describes the Australian government’s prioritization of international organizations. Australia has been actively contributing to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); Australia has also been cooperating with member states of the United Nations Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) to promote the non-proliferation of nuclear arsenals, and disarmament of chemical and biological weapons (Fink, 2012, p. 94) in the Asia and the Pacific region. Third, the “democratic peace theory,” which is a liberalist political theory developed by Dean V. Babst, and supported by Michael W. Doyle (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 110), accurately explains Australia’s foreign and security policies. The Australian government currently maintains peaceful relations with democratic countries, as exemplified in treaties signed with western countries such as the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (FVEY), to safeguard Australia’s national interests in terms of cybersecurity (Shin, 2020, p. 2), and is characterized as a law-abiding, ‘good international citizen (GIC)’ (Abbondanza, 2020, p. 1).

III. Complex Interdependence Theory

Australia’s foreign and security policies can be effectively explained by the complex interdependence theory, as shown in Australia’s interdependency with the United States in several ways. Neoliberalist scholars, including Nye and Keohane proposed several points of complex interdependence theory, with the first point being that there are “multiple channels” (Rana, 2015, p. 292) that connect the societies. To be specific, “not only formal and informal interaction between governmental elites are a source of connecting societies…but also ties among transnational organizations are gaining more importance” (Rana, 2015, p. 292). “Non-state actors in international relations” (Wijninga et al, 2014) can also be considered one of the “multiple channels” that connect societies as they encourage the interaction of peoples coming from different nations.

After the twenty-sixth Prime Minister of Australia, Rudd, retired, he went to the United States to dedicate himself to academia. Kevin worked at Harvard Kennedy School as a Senior Fellow” (Burns et al., 2014). He also worked as “the Chair of the International Peace Institute” (International Peace Institute, 2017, p. 26), a transnational organization based in New York that specializes in global peace and security issues. Rudd’s academic activities at Harvard University and his role as the Chair of a transnational organization can be analyzed by complex interdependence theory because “relations between states nowadays are not only…between state leaders” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 105). Although Rudd is not the incumbent Prime Minister of Australia, his activities are one of the “multiple channels” (Rana, 2015, p. 292) that connect the Australian and American societies in terms of academia. Also, “non-state actors in international relations include non-governmental organizations…, academic institutions, and lobby groups” (Wijninga et al, 2014). Since the International Peace Institute, where Rudd is the Chair, is a non-profit lobby group, it can be considered one of the “non-state actors” that affect Australia and the United States’ international relations.

The second point of the complex interdependence theory is that “military force is a less useful instrument of policy under conditions of complex interdependence” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 105). The Australian government and the United States government have never been involved in any military conflict against each other, but instead, the two countries have become economically interdependent since 2002. For instance, President George W. Bush “authorized the U.S. Trade Representative to notify the Congress…to enter into negotiations for a free trade agreement with Australia” (U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement, 2004). Since the military force is “irrelevant in resolving disagreements on economic issues among members of an alliance” (Rana, 2015, p. 292), and the two countries have peacefully negotiated the details of the Free Trade Agreement such as tariffs, without military intervention, the complex interdependence theory is applicable. Theoretically, military force involvement in complex interdependence is less critical. However, military force can be “simultaneously important for the alliance’s political and military relations with its rival bloc” (Rana, 2015, p. 292) within complex interdependence. The significance of military force for Australia and its allies against their “rival bloc” is exemplified in the Australian government’s participation in the QUAD with Japan, India, and the United States; the objectives are to “support a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” (Lee, 2020, p. 2) and prevent “the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific” (Lee, 2020, p. 14). Hence, it is evident that Australia’s foreign and security policies can be analyzed by Keohane and Nye’s complex interdependence theory.

IV. Neoliberal Institutionalist Theory

Neoliberal institutionalism, a theory supported by Martin and Keohane, can be used to analyze the Australian government’s foreign and security policies. There are two main arguments of neoliberal institutionalism. The first point is, according to Martin and Keohane, “in complex situations involving many states, international institutions can step in to provide constructed focal points that make particular cooperative outcomes prominent” (Martin and Keohane, 1995, p. 45). Currently, Australia is actively engaged in councils that multilateral institutions host. For instance, Australia’s contribution to the UNSC as a non-permanent member from 2013 to 2014 (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017, p. 82) indicates that Australia acknowledges the importance of multilateral organizations for its national interests and practical cooperation with other states. Although neoliberal institutionalists agree that “international institutions can make cooperation easier, however, they do not claim that such institutions can guarantee a qualitative transformation of international relations” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 107). It is stated in the official reports of the Australian government that “the United Nations system is frequently cumbersome and sometimes responds too slowly to urgent challenges” (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017, p. 82). This report officially shows that Australia does not solely rely on international organizations but emphasizes such institutions’ involvement in international affairs, proving that Australia is a neoliberal institutionalist nation.

The second point of neoliberal institutionalism is, according to Keohane, “institutionalization significantly reduces the destabilizing effects of multipolar anarchy
destabilizing effects of multipolar anarchy” (Keohane et al., 1993, p. 12), which means that “institutions help reduce states’ fear of each other” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 109). For example, Australia cooperates with the member states of the UNRCPD to promote peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, the Australian government remarked that “North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs risk provokes significant shifts in the strategic system in North Asia” (Australian Department of Defense, 2020, p. 13). One of the objectives of the UNRCPD is to promote the non-proliferation of nuclear arsenals…” (Fink, 2012, p. 94), and the Australian government has been cooperating with member states of the UNRCPD in terms of security to “help create a climate in which expectations of stable peace develop” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 109). Ergo, it is evident that neoliberal institutionalism is appropriate to explain the Australian foreign and security policies in the twenty-first century.

V. Democratic Peace Theory

The so-called “democratic peace theory,” which is a liberalist theory developed by Dean V. Babst and supported by Michael W. Doyle, describes the Australian foreign and security policies in detail. The first notion of the democratic peace theory described by Babst is that “liberal democracies are more peaceful and law-abiding than are other political systems” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 110). Australia is a nation that is “often described as a good international citizen (GIC)” (Abbondanza, 2020, p. 1), which is a concept in International Relations that describes nations that “respect the international law, promote multilateralism, and pursues humanitarian and idealist objectives” (Abbondanza, 2020, p. 3). For an appropriate example, Australia “played a remarkable role with Canada in the establishment of the middle power notion at the United Nations, and participated in a number of United Nations-sanctioned peace support operations…,which has fostered the development of modern international law” (Abbondanza, 2020, p. 3). Such “GIC” traits of Australia proves that the democratic peace theory is applicable in explaining Australian foreign policies because Australia is globally perceived as a “peaceful and law-abiding” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 110) nation.

Babst proposed another notion of the democratic theory, asserting that “democracies never go to war against each other” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 110). This notion is exemplified in Australia’s maintenance of peaceful relations with free, democratic nations worldwide, as exemplified in Australia’s security policies. For example, the Australian government participated in the “Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance (FVEY),” or also known as the “UKUSA Agreement,” which is a “Penta-alliance between Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States to share each other’s signals intelligence (SIGINT)” (Shin, 2020, p. 2). Doyle further explains the reasons why “democracies are at peace with one another” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 112). One of the main reasons is that “democracy encourages peaceful international relations because democratic governments are controlled by citizens, who will not advocate or support wars with other democracies” (Jackson and Sørensen, 2016, p. 112). The democratic nations such as New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia are categorized as “full democracy” nations (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020, pp. 8-9). Since such “full democracy” nations have never gone to war against each other in the twenty-first century but have maintained peaceful relations by being interdependent in terms of cybersecurity, it is evident that the democratic peace theory explains Australia’s foreign and security policies.

VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, there are indeed limitations of the complex interdependence theory, the neoliberal institutionalist theory, and the democratic peace theory in analyzing the Australian foreign and security policies in the twenty-first century because different facets of political theories can also be used for analysis. Although Australia has been pursuing interdependence with other nations, there is a limitation to explaining Australia’s foreign policies under the paradigm of liberalism. It is because “Australia has been supporting the status quo of the hegemony of the United States in terms of cybersecurity” (Shin, 2020, p. 38), which is to prevent the rise of China in the Asia-Pacific region. As such Australian foreign policy shows the characteristics of realism (Shin, 2020, p. 38), it indicates the limitations of liberalism. Notwithstanding the limitations of liberalist theories mentioned above, they remain the most applicable theories for analyzing Australia’s foreign and security policies in the twenty-first century for three reasons. First, the complex interdependence theory is applicable because Australia has been academically interdependent with the United States through a “non-state actor” (Wijninga, Oosterveld, Galdiga, and Marten, 2014) and economically interdependent by signing the Free Trade Agreement. Second, the neoliberal institutionalist theory is appropriate because Australia emphasized the importance of multilateral institutions in its international affairs as reflected by its active engagement with the UNSC and the UNRCPD. Third, the democratic peace theory can be used to explain Australia’s foreign and security policies since Australia has traits of a GIC, and maintains peaceful relations with free, democratic nations.

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