Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What Might Have Been

Extracts from the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

... I remember thinking, why do we even have these islands? What do they have to do with the real interests of our nation? Surely they are only relics from a bygone age, the legacy of an organisational chart drawn up by a committee of Foreign Office clerks in London. And I remember thinking: in these dark times, what the world needs is a bold statement of confidence in the ability of multilateral institutions to peacefully resolve international crises. And within a few days we had the proposal ready to take to the Australian people in the 2001 election - a gesture of hope for the first years of the new millennium...

...It has been a pleasure to see the unique environmental value of Christmas Island flourishing under United Nations administration, giving a model for future 'World Parks' such as Antarctica. And the gas resources in the waters off the Ashmore and Cartier Islands have liberated the United Nations at last from its position as a mendicant, forever beholden to individual nation states to fund its activities. I am sometimes asked if Australians are upset that part of our nation's gesture of peace will soon house the world's largest air and naval base. I would be wrong if I were to deny that this has caused distress among a sizeable fraction of the Australian people. However, as a realist, I am aware that compromises need to be made. The relocation of the Diego Garcia facilities to the Cocos Islands is enabling the restitution of a historic injustice, the dispossession of the Chagos Islanders, and the 99-year lease signed by the United States provides another very significant revenue stream for the United Nations. No, as well as a realist, I am a lifelong believer that the United States has acted overwhelmingly as a force for good in world affairs, and think this decision will prove to have been the right one...

Kim Beazley, 26th Prime Minister of Australia, 2001-2010.


Marco said...

Damn my brain! It took me a while to get my head around this post, but I think it is quite sound. I am still not sure whether it is all tongue in cheek, or all Clam, or neither. I was (and am) dead against what John Howard did in those days, and the first step is to open the front door to refugees. Double would be a start, but I think 10 times should be palatable and just enough to make a dent in the overall misery of people.

Dr Clam said...

I'm glad you like! It is exactly as serious as my proposal the the US follow the example of the Roman Republic and annex places like Iraq as the best way of implementing democracy there. Which may or may not answer your question. I think it is the best way of achieving a particular outcome (in this case, 'stopping the boats') and if I had thought of it 11 years ago I would definitely have mentioned it in my letter to Kim pleading with him to promise to increase our refugee intake.

Hmm, it seems that Blogger imposes a 4000-odd character limit on comments so I will split this one in two.

Dr Clam said...

In the opening lines of the extract, Kim is being folksy for rhetorical impact: I am sure he knows the history of these islands without having to resort to Wikipedia. Basically, Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands had nothing whatsoever to do with Australia until the 1950s, before which time they were administered from Singapore. I assume they were given to us for the same reason that Britain stopped administering the Chagos Archipelago through Mauritius: decolonisation was looming, nobody was certain how the new governments would pan out, and it made sense to keep these places of possible strategic importance for the Cold War in safe hands. In hindsight this continued to make sense until the suppression of the PKI; without benefit of hindsight, it probably still looked like it made sense at the time up until the US withdrawal from Vietnam. But that strategic rationale for us having those islands no longer exists. Holding on to them in hope of economic advantage or national pride is just naked Imperialism. Making them – and anyone who strays into their waters – somebody else's problem is not just convenient for us, it is the right thing to do.

We could give them back to the UK. I'm sure the UK doesn't want them. We could give them to the successor government that now rules the Straits Settlements – except there are two successor governments, Singapore and Malaysia. And probably neither Singapore nor Malaysia want them. To say nothing of the fact that if we gave it to any of these three countries, I am sure it would irritate Indonesia no end. So – why not give them to the United Nations?

The panicky months of late 2001 would have been the ideal time to make this sort of dramatic gesture of renunciation and confidence in international institutions. It would have seemed less like a chancy handball to get rid of one of our problems and more like a bold statement for the world to build up multilateral institutions and step back from the brink of an era of pre-emptive war.

And it would have been a good test for the UN. If we want to establish Antarctica as a World Park one day in the distant future, it would be good to have a UN agency that has had practice administering a much smaller World Park. I am sure a natural resource windfall revenue stream would give rise to a lot of corruption at the UN, which tactfully isn't mentioned in the speech, but people are still more careful in managing those sort of revenue streams than money that they are just given as no-strings-attached aid, and are more likely to learn useful lessons. And in this hypothetical the Cocos Islanders have been kind of shafted by the UN*, another likely outcome, but by the terms of the final status agreement I am assuming everyone living in these territories and their descendants will have been confirmed in their Australia citizenship and given the option of taking up a generous compensation package if they choose to resettle in Australian territory.

(I haven't been able to find anything on the legal status of the Ashmore and Cartier Islands prior to the Second World War: I am guessing they had an undecided status before and we unilaterally decided to move in as part of the effort to keep the Japanese at bay. So, if we unilaterally moved in, we could just as easily unilaterally renounce our claim. Unless we were greedy pigs keen on sucking as much gas revenue as we can from waters that our poorer neighbours have a better historical claim to.)

And I know the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for work carried out in the 'twelve months before the award': in this alternative universe 2012 marks the end of the transitional period between Australian and UN administration and successful implementation of the final status agreement.

* : This is because of that other Titan of the Anglosphere, Tony Blair, who will have worked out the scheme to chain a resolution of the plight of the Chagos Islanders onto this one so he can be a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize on this occasion.

Marco said...

I think it is even less out of the question to give these islands to the UN now! The impasse on other meaningful policies could even make it a policy option that crops up by default. Perhaps it is time for a letter to the politicians, or even to Getup.