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IR Working Paper 1991/8
Greg Fry, ‘Australia’s South Pacific Policy: From “Strategic Denial” to “Constructive Commitment”’, IR Working Paper 1991-8, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, October 1991.
During the 1980s there was a fundamental shift in the conceptual approach guiding Australia’s South Pacific policy. In broad terms, there was a move from a conception of Australia’s regional role as one unequivocally concerned with regional leadership and as representing Western, as well as Australian, interests to one that rejected agency for outside interests and held a tension between ideas of ‘regional management’ and ‘partnership’. There was also a move from a globalist to a regionalist orientation in policy objectives; and from a Cold War conceptualisation of ‘regional security’, concentrating on external threat, to one focused on internal stability. Finally, there was a shift from a policy framework dominated by security concerns to one in which security objectives vied with objectives based on principles of non-intervention, sovereignty, human rights, and democracy.
As well as attempting to demonstrate that the development of Australia’s South Pacific policy can be usefully conceptualised in this way, this paper addresses three questions raised by this dramatic shift in fundamental assumptions. The first concerns how we should understand that change. A second question concerns the implications that such change held for policy choices at particular times in the decade. And finally, there is the question of the impact that such a change in approach has had on Australia’s relations with the South Pacific states and with other larger states involved in the area.