Thursday, May 03, 2012

That Southern Sort Of Sanity

Usually the thought of a National Bureau of Asian Research interview of a director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy would send me running for the hills.

However, the NBR interview with Rory Metcalf is a worthwhile read, realist in the most positive sense of that loaded word. (Link)

I must confess a particular affinity for one of Metcalf's propositions, though my heart knows it to be little more than a vain wish:
And certainly the closer the Australia-U.S. alliance becomes, the more confident Canberra should feel in offering candid counsel to Washington about Asia policy.
I had always hoped that the government of this blessed land might play a such a role in its dealings with the United States, that of the friend who grabs the other friend's shoulder and says, "Will you please just calm down and consider the repercussions, for just one second, before you react?"

Having the world's second largest economy and a significant capacity to carry out soft power initiatives should have given this blessed land enough leverage to stand its ground and talk sense to the United States, when the United States, for its own internal domestic political reasons could not make sense of a situation. However, strategic confusion within this blessed land as regards its neighborhood, with the right wing ramping up the DPRK abductees issue and fears of strategic abandonment over Futenma to the point where intelligent debate over Japan's own position in the world was driven to the fringes, quashed the development of an intellectual alternative to whatever-the-United-States-says-as-long-as-we-do-not-have-to-provide-troops bureaucratic default response to any of the world's crises.

Of course, internal strategic confusion was only half of the problem. The U.S. prides itself as the defender of democratic values. However, the sheer size of the U.S. security apparatus means those values do not necessarily extend to the U.S. listening to what any of its friends and allies say. The size of Japan's population and economy could have made this blessed land a worthwhile sounding board for the saner minds in Washington, However, the relationship between Japan and the U.S. was and is radically asymmetric, with the U.S. committed to the defense of Japan while Japan is not committed to the defense of the United States. Japanese expressions of caution would have fallen on deaf ears.

A similar asymmetry exists in the Australia-U.S. relationship. Given Australia's intense economic integration with the People's Republic of China and its diplomatic relations with the DPRK, Canberra should and does have a different and useful take on the politico-economic development of East Asia, one the U.S. could profit from if its government and non-government players choose to listen. Unfortunately, because the U.S. is such a disproportionately huge presence not just in the region but around the globe, it will likely refuse to listen to advice, no matter how sound. "Shut up and take our Marines," will be the response from the Washington echo chamber, where flexibility and patience are not considered the worthwhile counsels of serious thinkers.

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