Australian Foreign Policy in Political Time: Middle Power Creativity, Misplaced Friendships, and Crises of Leadership

Australian Journal of International Affairs

Author/s (editor/s):

Wesley Widmaier

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Publication type:

Journal article

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Taylor & Francis

Wesley Widmaier, ‘Australian Foreign Policy in Political Time: Middle Power Creativity, Misplaced Friendships, and Crises of Leadership’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, online, 24 January 2019: 1-17.

Over the past century, Australian foreign policy orders have been stabilised by the construction of ideas that have reduced uncertainty regarding national interests. Yet, such ideas have often evolved in ways that have engendered misplaced certainty, renewed instability, and crisis. To explain such shifts, I highlight the role of an Australian ‘pragmatic liberal tradition’, one which has enabled alternating tendencies to principled stability or technocratic hubris. In a tripartite model, I trace stages over initial ‘middle power’ efforts to construct ideas that lead states—and particularly great powers—to identify interests in cooperation, misplaced certainty in great power ties which obscures new challenges, and the construction of crises that impede or enable change. Empirically, I apply this framework to the construction, conversion, and crises of the ongoing ‘Reform order’. These span the initial Hawke-era middle power integration of US and regional ties, Howard-era misplaced certainty in US-styled neoconservative bandwagoning and neoliberal macroeconomic accommodation, and evolving constructions of the War on Terror and Global Financial Crisis. In the conclusion, I address theoretical and policy implications, highlighting the initial challenges that crises can pose for middle power leadership, and the subsequent scope for creativity.

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