Disarming the lifeboat – Australia’s place in the world

I recognise that election campaigns are mostlyargued on the basis of local issues that have direct impacts on our community, such thatthe phrase 'all politics is local' is considered self-evident.

But some things are missed in our helter-skelterthree-year electoral cycle.

The biggest gap in our national conversation is the placeof Australia in the world.

Foreign policy takes a back seat during an election and,if it presents at all, it is as caricature—foreign wars, the nameless families who flee fromthem or massive defence procurements to meet undefined future threats.

The rest of theplanet is meant to form a sort of one-dimensional backdrop to our domestic drama.

Whether we like it or not, this is all goingto change.

Australia remains an island in geographical name only.

In terms of culture,economics, security and, yes, even the weather patterns that threaten our homes or ruin ourcrops, our lives are bound up now with people all over the world who are also trying tobuild safe and prosperous lives for themselves and for their families.

The Greens understand that UN Security Councilreform, or torture in West Papua or the bitter, endless siege of Gaza, are subjects unlikelyto make it onto talkback radio or into the election coverage over the next few feveredweeks.

Tragedies like the Syrian civil war may seem incomprehensible from this distance.

They probably seemed incomprehensible to people watching from Calais or Lesbos as well, untilsuddenly there were tent cities and families piled up against barbed wire fences, and childrenwashed up on beaches.

Here in Australia the razor wire contains those fleeing the disintegrationof Afghanistan or the unspeakable aftermath of the Sri Lankan civil war—but nonetheless,the stories must be the same.

How we respond to those seeking safe harbourfrom collapse will ultimately bear directly on our own survival.

As hard as it seems,we must leave behind the comfortable illusion that we are somehow separate; that we canremain insulated from the tides of nationalism and extremism rising around the world, orfrom the shock waves from wars our own government helped to start or from the collaborationsof quiet convenience with authoritarian regimes who serve some temporary commercial end dressedup as the national interest.

Right now, the world is engaged in multiplearms races; from the military build-up in the South China Sea to the modernisation ofnuclear weapons arsenals still deployed by a handful of countries in defiance of theoverwhelming majority of the world's peoples.

On a troubled, overcrowded and rapidly-overheatingplanet, these are arms races that our human family can no longer afford—money and expertisesquandered on another generation of weapons whose use cannot even be contemplated.

Thereal reason that we have to bring foreign policy into the heart of our political conversationis because the present generation of leaders are carrying us, seemingly helplessly, intoa world in which there will no longer be anywhere for refugees to run.

In 2011, researcher Christian Parenti publisheda work titled Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence in whichhe visited failed and failing post-colonial states and war zones around the world's equatorialregions from Mexico to East Africa to the Golden Crescent.

Underlying these widely dispersedconflicts and regional traumas and fragilities, he discovers the unmistakeable signature ofclimate change.

It expresses not as a primary cause but as a forcing agent—a blowtorchof drought or flood or crop failure—held to fragile regimes and bureaucracies, edgingthem towards collapse.

In a dynamic that will be familiar to anyonewho has come across The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Canadian authorNaomi Klein, he also found the militaries of the world's most powerful advanced nationsexploiting this instability for wider political and economic ends.

It is no coincidence thatthe United States—which accounts for one-third of the whole world's military spending andhas an unmatched, unparalleled overseas basing footprint—also has the most advanced andcarefully considered scenario planning for when the 'Tropic of Chaos' spills across theborder.

Parenti terms this near-future scenario 'the armed lifeboat'.

In the armed lifeboatworld, the pinch points and edge places of global inequality are places of intense miseryand perpetual conflict.

Whether in occupied Palestine, in occupied Tibet, on the Mexicanborder with the United States or in our own benighted prison islands, nobody is reallyspared in this scenario.

As the front-line diffuses and washes back into those placesof privilege from where these armed lifeboats are piloted, mass surveillance of domesticpopulations morphs into soft authoritarianism, erosion of the rule of law and the kind ofcultivated paranoia and division that accompanies the militarisation of civil society.

That is the world into which we are beingled by those same leaders who violated the founding principles of the United Nationsin their rush to unleash the invasion of Iraq, those same leaders who brought regime changeto Libya but did not stick around to prevent its collapse into a failed state, the sameleaders who assure us that all we need for our own national security is a massive investmentin new military hardware and a tightening net of driftnet surveillance to distinguishordinary Australians from enemy combatants who suddenly arise in our midst.

We cannotseriously believe that the struggling fragile states around the 'Tropic of Chaos', and elsewherein the global south, will collapse politely without consequence to the rest of us.

JaredDiamond describes it in the closing chapters of his book Collapse: How Societies Chooseto Fail or Succeed.

The way he phrases it is that 'the rich world simply buys itselfthe privilege of being the last to starve'.

We are all in this together and, in our interconnectedage, we stand or fall together as a global community.

The tropical cyclone that hammered Fiji thisFebruary was the most powerful to ever make landfall in that part of the world.

Australia,as a regional first responder, sent an Australian Medical Assistance Team, including 21 doctors,nurses and medics, who provided emergency medical care for more than 1,700 people.

HMASCanberra landed 60 tonnes of emergency relief and humanitarian supplies, helicopters andapproximately 760 personnel, including engineers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.

Theseare our neighbours and, when we were needed, we were there.

In the aftermath of the greatTohoku earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdowns, emergency services personnel from across Australiawere among the first on the ground to join their Japanese counterparts in combing thewreckage for survivors.

When we were needed, we were there.

Our overseas development aid budget, the softesttarget of all for lazy treasurers, is responsible for reducing infant mortality in our nearregion, for helping to conduct an election in Myanmar and for providing primary healthcare in Tibet.

This is what global citizenship looks like.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke's responseto the Tiananmen Square massacre enabled 42,000 Chinese students to remain in Australia advocatingstrongly against the 'systematic repression of legitimate democratic aspirations' in China.

His immediate predecessor, Malcolm Fraser, wrote the template for bipartisan consensuson raising the humanitarian intake to give safe harbour to those fleeing the war in Indochina.

These isolated examples, rare but powerful, speak to the possibility of a new kind ofinternational accord in which we agree, collectively, not to arm the lifeboats.

Close to home, weall have local examples of solidarity and heroism in the face of disaster, whether inthe midst of the Brisbane floods or the Victorian fires, when communities showed their truestrength in defence of the collective.

Anthony Banbury was a UN assistant secretarygeneral—a fierce defender of the organisation who also spares it no honest criticism.

Ina recent piece he wrote for The New York Times titled 'I love the UN but it is failing',he describes the organisation as 'a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world'.

He thenruns through a forbidding list of failures and breakdowns that hint at an institutionthat may no longer be fit for purpose.

He said: … these criticisms come from people whothink the United Nations is doomed to fail.

I come at it from a different angle: I believethat for the world’s sake we must make the United Nations succeed.

And so, in the teeth of an election campaign in which these issues are almost certain tobe subsumed beneath more immediate concerns, we will be trying to provoke a discussionabout UN Security Council reform.

It is time we loosened the 1945-era stranglehold of thenuclear armed powers, whose lock on that institution now threatens their own collective survival.

We will be making the case that human rights should stand front and centre in our foreignpolicy instead of being trampled under the imperative to remove the remaining democraticconstraints on global commerce.

We will be making the case that mass surveillance andglobal militarism are two sides of the same coin and that no-one survives if the lifeboatsare armed.

Tonight, we are mourning the death of a youngman who sought safe harbour from the tragedies that are overwhelming less fortunate partsof the world.

We met him with despair and, as a nation, we failed him.

Tonight, we arebreathing in hope for the survival of a young woman who sought safe harbour in this countryand met only despair—as a nation, we failed her.

Imagine if we recognised these youngpeople as family—not as metaphor but in truth.

They are part of the global familyin an age where there is no place anymore for foreign policy because we can no longerafford the delusion that anyone is so foreign to us that we would let them die when allthey sought was safety.

In the age of the 'Tropic of Chaos', as we decide whether ornot to step irreversibly into the armed lifeboat, we must recall that we are all in this together;and it is time that we grew up as a species and started behaving like it.

Source: Youtube