What chance do we have if Gillard can't stamp her authority on foreign policy?


What chance do we have if Gillard can't stamp her authority on foreign policy?

By Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop

Australia’s two-year term as a temporary member of the UN Security Council presents a significant challenge for the Gillard government.

Yet the early indications of the government's approach are already cause for concern.

For Australia to make a relevant contribution and serve with distinction there will need to be a significant additional investment in terms of resources and personnel.

It is telling that no additional resources have yet been allocated and it will be a key test of Foreign Minister Bob Carr's influence within cabinet to see if any such funding is included in the next budget.

The government's failure to either allocate increased resources or articulate a clear-eyed view of what Australia can achieve does risk diminishing our potential contribution.

Likewise, Carr's campaign to publicly undermine Julia Gillard's position on a recent UN motion regarding the status of the Palestinian territories sets a dangerous precedent for future foreign policy decisions.

A term on the Security Council is a serious undertaking.

Last year, the Security Council passed 53 resolutions on matters regarding numerous security concerns around the world, from international terrorism, weapons proliferation and child soldiers to the International Criminal Court.

The issues are invariably of significant global importance and require those nations serving on the Security Council to take a deep and considered interest in each and every resolution and the consequences.

The coming year is likely to see a deterioration of the situation in Syria, with growing international alarm at the potential for chemical weapons to be deployed and for the conflict to spread beyond Syria's borders.

The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the increase in responsibilities for the Afghan government remains a challenge.

Iran's nuclear ambitions are likely to lead to increasing tension, particularly with Israel, which has not ruled out a military strike.

Australia will be required to take a stand on a number of difficult and complex issues.

As Carr lobbied the Labor Party to override the Prime Minister's support for Israel and abstain on the Palestinian vote, it is vital that the government urgently clarify the lines of authority between the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

Otherwise our ambassador and permanent representative to the UN is placed in an untenable position should Gillard and Carr clash again over their differing positions on support for Israel or any other matter.

Australia must also take a particular interest in issues closer to our region.

If Australia's voice is to be relevant, then we should encourage the Security Council to play an active role in mediating territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

There is growing concern about the potential for armed conflict between Japan and China over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands.

Should the dispute deepen through deliberate provocation or miscalculation, the matter may well come before the UN.

Given China's veto power, this would place enormous pressure on the mechanisms of the Security Council to mediate matters and prevent military confrontation between two world powers.

Australia must also take a keen interest in any matters before the Security Council regarding Fiji and moves by the military regime towards democratic rule.

This makes it vital that our UN mission is adequately supported in its work.

While we can have faith in the professionalism of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Gillard government's commitment is already a cause for scepticism.

A failure to provide adequate funding or an appropriate focus for the UN mission makes the job challenging enough, but add the demonstrated lack of prime ministerial authority over crucial UN votes, and the task gets that much harder.

As things stand, every nation must be aware that the Australian Prime Minister cannot guarantee the passage of her own foreign policy commitments through her cabinet and caucus.

That is not an auspicious start to our two-year term on the UN Security Council.


Copyright 2007 mideast-times.com