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Australian realism and the Anglosphere

The keyboards got a solid workover this weekend as News Corporation journalists and columnists found themselves receiving a concerted scolding from online commentators across the country. Yes, yes, these bloggers are people generally poorly disposed to News Corporation at the best of times, blah, blah, blah, bias, blah.

The point is, they’re giving the Australian in particular a serve because that newspaper has clearly upped the ante on the election campaign that starts today. Well, I can’t be the only one that thinks that’s the latest date on which we could say it’s starting. Possibly it started with the hospitals and health stuff.

A couple of writers who go by the names of Ad Astra and Bushfire Bill, who I find altogether enjoyable to read, have very good lines going in critical analysis of the editorial slant of the Australian pertaining to the domestic political scene. Often I don’t much feel like writing about current Australian political issues simply because there’s such a lot of commentary about that I think’s pretty good. Check out these guys in particular on The Political Sword.

But a couple of articles in the last Weekend Australian caught my eye, and they’re vaguely related to domestic politics and this analysis of the Australian, so I thought today I might bring the issue involved to your attention.

If you’ve been studying international relations at all (as a discipline, that is) you’ll be familiar with the notion of realism in the analysis of such relations. Henry Kissinger was quite a famous realist, although his realism would probably go so far as to say ‘Don’t bother me with your theoretical framework for my approach, I’m far too busy fixing the world.’

I reckon Greg Sheridan would probably consider himself a bit of a realist. Maybe he’ll correct me. I reckon if pushed, Tony Abbott would like to describe himself as a realist, with respect to international relations at least. And the recent Four Corners program about Tony Abbott described Greg Sheridan as a long term friend or something similar.

Last weekend, Greg Sheridan wrote a column about a speech delivered by Tony Abbott on foreign affairs. He was pretty glowing it has to be said, which probably surprises precisely no one. But there was one point that Sheridan picked Abbott up on.

Abbott had referred to the ‘Anglosphere’ of which, he says, possibly accurately, Australia is a part.

Sheridan’s criticism wasn’t that either this construction or reference to it is anachronistic. He just said that, accurate a portrayal as it might be, we really shouldn’t use that term because it might offend the Indians, the Chinese (or, conceivably, any countries outside the Anglosphere. Like France, I guess).

That’s Australian Realism for you. Act on the basis that we’re part of an English speaking coalition against, or at least vis-à-vis, the rest of the world, but don’t fess up that that’s what’s going on for fear of losing customers and influence. And this isn’t for one second an IR alliance restricted to the relationships between states, it’s an alliance of corporations as well. Like News Corporation.

The thing about realism is that its adherents like to pretend that they’re simply acknowledging objective truths about relationships without becoming advocates for any particular courses of action, other than the most realistic in any given set of circumstances of course. That’s why it’s possible that these two might say they’re not realists at all, but openly confess to being neoconservative on international relations. That is, they may actually have an ideological framework for their belief in and support for the Anglosphere as a discrete – and I mean that in every sense – unit of international governance.

The thing is, the best way to keep secrets like this, if they must be kept, isn’t by broadcasting your disagreement about publicizing its existence through the pages of the national broadsheet. If Sheridan and Abbott are really long-term friends, and if they really cared about the potential impact of this attitude on our international relations, surely the former would have simply had a quiet word in the latter’s shell-like? Or should that be sow’s?

Note to Greg Sheridan: Have a word with your colleagues, will you? An article in the very same edition of the Weekend Australian on escalating rates of violence in Australia made a variety of points by reference to trends in the Anglosphere. Probably advisable to get your own house in order before dishing out gratuitous advice to others.

Conventional arms trade treaty – towards less limited limitation?

By Rewi Lyall

To date, treaties regulating the conventional arms industry have been largely limited to banning specific types of weapon, be that exploding bullets, chemical weapons and most recently landmines. Controlling the trade in more run-of-the-mill things like guns and bullets has only really been considered worth attempting in the past couple of years.

The good news of the past week, highlighted for me by UN Dispatch, is that the United States will join talks towards some form of conventional weapons treaty. A draft resolution calling for the commencement of talks on such a treaty has been co-drafted by Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan and Kenya. Previously the US had been inimicable to such a treaty, and there can be little doubt that the previous Australian government would not have sought to co-sponsor a resolution that may have put it at odds with the Bush presidency. How pleasing it is that current political circumstances in both countries now provide an opportunity for progress on this issue.

In its position paper on the proposed Arms Trade Treaty, the International Committee of the Red Cross says:

“Weapons are, by definition, probably the only legal product explicitly designed to cause harm to humans. The lack of regulation in the arms trade should be considered an unfortunate anomaly in the international legal system. A key objective then must be to protect human health and dignity by ensuring that the product we are speaking of is only available to those who use it in accordance with existing law, including international humanitarian law.”

Peter Yeo, Executive Director of the Better World Campaign, guest posting for UN Dispatch says:

“Stopping the flow of conventional weapons to conflict zones, terrorists, and insurgent groups requires robust international cooperation. Secretary Clinton’s announcement affirms that after years of sitting on the sidelines the United States will join international efforts to stem the flow of irresponsible or illegal arms transfers to groups that have brought misery and destruction to millions of people around the world.”

As usual, when Americans talk about weapons their Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms) becomes a sticking point. For this reason, negotiations will proceed on the basis that laws regulating internal controls on the ownership and use of firearms will remain the purview of national governments.

cleveland.com quotes Scott Stedjan, a senior policy advisor at Oxfam America as saying:

“No government is discussing a treaty that would ever impact the right to bear of arms, nor require regulation of domestic sales of arms… This is totally about international transfer of arms so that they don’t go to human rights abusers.”

There has been some criticism, as you’ll see in the cleveland.com link, of the US’ position that such a treaty must be agreed by consensus. These critics suggest that consensus is merely another form of veto, to which might be added that it is a recipe for minimalism. Yet, given the profligacy with which both States and non-state actors expend limited resources on arms and conflict, any participation and agreement by the US – responsible for 70% of the global arms trade last year – has got to be preferable to none.

Voluntary human shields

Last year a paper of mine was published in the Melbourne Journal of International Law. The paper was originally written for the ‘International Criminal Law’ unit I was studying for a Masters degree specializing in International Law at the Australian National University.

The title of the article is ‘Voluntary Human Shields, Direct Participation in Hostilities and the International Law Obligations of States’.

I’ve put up a link to the Austlii reproduction of the article, and reproduced the abstract below.

Voluntary human shields challenge accepted norms that have treated the civilian as a passive subject of, rather than an actor in, armed conflict. Later this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross will deliver a final report on the deliberations of a series of meetings held to discuss the definition of ‘direct participation in hostilities’ pursuant to Geneva Conventions III and IV and their Additional Protocols I and II. The Summary Reports of the ICRC deliberations of the meeting participants reveal that some experts consider it appropriate to class acting as a voluntary human shield as direct participation in hostilities. Some consider this classification to have altered the status of voluntary human shields  in international humanitarian law. Arguably, however, classifying voluntary human  shielding as direct participation in hostilities runs counter to international humanitarian legal principles