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Posted on April 2nd, 2012, by

Heads of Government of the United States, Great Britain and Australia have always considered particularly important the close alliance and partnership between the countries. In recent decades, Australia’s international relations have been based on close relations with the U.S. and New Zealand through the organization of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty), with Southeast Asia through the ASEAN, and with Oceania in the Pacific Islands Forum. The main efforts of the state are aimed at liberalizing trade; Australia also provides assistance to many developing countries. However, one of the main priorities of the state is to provide national security, together with raising the level of national independence concerning decisions on national security. Further the paper discusses the issue of these two contradictory tasks, their causes and effects on the contemporary foreign policy of Australia.

Historically, though the Australian Government did not have independent foreign policy, it always showed an evident interest in the problems of the Pacific. Australian delegates defended the interests of their country at a conference on the colonies in 1902 and the imperial conferences of 1907 and 1911. In 1909 the post of High Commissioner for Australia in London was established. Australia did not have special claims to an independent foreign policy, but it would like to send its requests to the British government and receive information about the politics of the UK.

Until the mid-20th century, the foreign policy of Australia was carried out by London. Australia participated in the Second World War on the side of Great Britain and the USA. At the final stage of the War, the U.S. and Australia created anti-fascist united front. After the war, Australia became a strategic U.S. ally in the Pacific; its foreign policy was concentrated at the U.S., which sometimes mirrored in domestic policy and the bilateral relations of these countries (Devetak, 2009).


For example, in 1951, in Washington an agreement was signed on the establishment of the Pacific security pact (ANZUS), which included Australia, New Zealand and the USA. In 1954 Australia was also one of the founders of the Treaty of Southeast Asia (SEATO) (Lee, 1995). Australia is a member of the regional economic organizations: the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Council Pacific Cooperation, etc.

While before World War II the Australian military defense was provided by the UK, the armed forces of which included the Australian navy and army forces, after the Second World War, Australia implemented the policy of Advanced Defense, trying to create a barrier against possible threats on the distant approaches to the continent. At this time, Australia was part of defensive anti-communist unions and participated in the Vietnam War. But the reduction of the U.S. presence in the region since the late 1960-ies forced the Australian government to abandon the policy of the Advanced Defence and move on to the formation of defense strategy directly around the borders, basing on its internal resources. This doctrine received its complete theoretical design in a parliamentary paper Defence of Australia, 1987.

In general, since the coming of G. Whitlam’s Labour government Australia’s foreign policy became more independent, given that the threat of communist expansion in the region at that time began to decline. After coming to power of Labourists in 1983 Australia was the initiator of a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific (in particular, the Rorotonga contract 1985 on the limitation of placing nuclear weapons).

In its foreign policy, Australia shifted from passive following in the wake of the U.S. and Great Britain to the efforts to establish, first, bilateral and then multilateral ties after the U.S. presence in the region eased. In the end of 1980-ies, this policy led to the establishment of the largest regional organization APEC at the initiative of Australia, which aimed at the removal of trade barriers between countries of the region (Lee, 1995). The culmination of efforts towards regional integration was the policy of the Government of Paul Keating. Keating planned to implement a large-scale change in the life of the country as a whole, using a liberal ideology to prove the need for economic openness and cultural and political integration with Asian neighbors.

The shift of Australia towards the policy of regional integration in the 1990-ies was the result of a long historical process of interaction with the countries of the region and political development. This process in the entirety of its components has gone through several phases: defense policy, economics, political and diplomatic cooperation.

Since then, the organization the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum became a leading forum in the Asia-Pacific region (Clapton, 2009). Through this organization its member countries strengthen regional links and follow the path to achieve common trade and economic goals. Membership in this organization expands Australia’s opportunities, promotes the country’s exit beyond its domestic market and offers great opportunities for creating new jobs and profits. Australia’s business provides services to over 2.5 billion consumers, accounting for about 60% of total income received by the member countries of the Organization of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Lyons, 2005).

These countries also get nearly three-quarters of total exports of Australia. Over the past decade, exports of member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation has more than doubled and amounted to almost 5 trillion Australian dollars. Furthermore, the member-countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation created 195 million new jobs, the economic growth in these countries amounted to 70% of world economic growth. Therefore, it is not surprising that Australia is primarily to develop trade relations with countries-members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Clapton, 2009).

At the same time, the main foreign-policy dilemma for Australia is to maintain a balance between the country’s closeness to the Asia-Pacific region and the dominant Western political culture. To the north of Australia there are the countries that had the most dynamic economy until the Asian economic crisis of 1997-1998. However, in the recent past, Australia, as a rule, conducted its foreign policy, primarily, in accordance with the position of Britain, its metropolis, which it still retains close ties within the Commonwealth of Nations and beginning in mid-20th century, with the U.S., an ally in the military-political bloc ANZUS.

The Government of John Howard that was in power from 1996 to 2007 pursued a foreign policy oriented to the priority of the development of relations with traditional allies of Australia – U.S. and Britain – harmfully to the support of international multilateral efforts within the UN. Bush administration signed the security agreement with the Australian Government. This document contributed to bilateral cooperation in the sphere of national defense, combating terrorism, exchange of the latest military technology and equipment, etc.

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