Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne

Australia’s foreign policy: Resurgent realism or the survival of multilateralism?

Conceptual confusion in thinking about foreign policy is evident as the post World War II era’s structured international arrangements of durable institutions and agreed norms – designed to facilitate peaceful dispute resolution and cooperation on security, economic and social matters between nations – is challenged by the United States and others.

The indeterminacy over whether a gradual transition from the rules-based order to a degree of anarchy is taking place is generating a certain dissonance in the speechmaking of leading Australian political figures.

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The Trumping of international law and democratic institutions

In the past, presidents used the potency of the American liberal democratic ideal to rally like-minded nations and to rein in and chasten the world’s miscreants. The liberty and justice rhetoric appealed to and generated hope among peoples suffering under autocracy and oppression. The ideal inspired and could be leveraged for influence. While US society was never perfect, American leaders always claimed to be progressively moving towards its ideal and that was the basis of US claims for world leadership.

But under President Trump, the important institutions of constitutional democracy and international law have recently suffered serious damage. The long-term prospects for peace and stability have been undercut as a result.

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