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Howard’s Australia – How foreign policy decisions shaped a nation

Bean, Christopher (2010) Howard’s Australia – How foreign policy decisions shaped a nation. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Unlike liberalism, the realist theory of International Relations leaves very little space for individual leaders or other domestic factors to influence the direction of a state’s foreign policy. It therefore provides an insufficient explanation for the enormous influence former Australian Prime Minister John Howard had on Australian foreign policy-making. When considering potential domestic influences on a state’s foreign policy, such as public opinion, Australia’s political institutions and societal structure, John Howard’s influence far outshone them all.

Howard claimed to be a realist and indeed his actions generally confirmed that. Yet the fact that he was able to shape Australian foreign policy in his mould, from the more liberal internationalist bipartisanism of the previous few decades, ironically demonstrates the importance of domestic factors in the making of foreign policy over international ones. While in Australia the Prime Minister has always had far more influence in this field than any other factor, this is a trend which Howard consolidated.

Howard’s influence was so great not only because of the centralised nature of the Australian foreign policy-making structure he inherited upon winning office in 1996, but because of conscious decisions made during his prime ministership. These decisions included the establishment of the National Security Committee, the promotion of the Australian Federal Police at the expense of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the increased prominence of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Howard was then able to use his influence in Australian foreign policy-making to shape Australia in his own image.

The case studies of the 1999 peace-keeping operation in East Timor and the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of the United States-led “Coalition of the Willing” demonstrate this argument. Not long after Australian troops entered East Timor – Howard’s first real intervention in foreign affairs – Howard outlined to parliament what quickly became known as the Howard Doctrine. This speech foreshadowed the full expression of Howard’s vision of Australia, a vision that was:

… centred upon the Anzac tradition; mateship; military valour; mourning; remembrance; the martial defence of Western values [and] the most intimate association with Australia’s two wartime great and powerful friends, the United Kingdom and the United States (Manne, 2004, 50).

The War on Terror, especially Australia’s contribution to the invasion of Iraq, represented the most extreme expression of the Howard Doctrine, and demonstrates most clearly Howard’s dominance of the foreign policy-making arena.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Politics and International Studies
Supervisor(s): Hameiri, Shahar
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