Rudd’s glass jaw (Part III)

Monday, 16 April 2007 

The final entry of a three-part post on Labor’s response to current changes in the international order.

The critical factor in this year’s Federal election, but one likely to remain in the background, is the change in international relations caused by the failure of the US’s War on Terror. The inability to draw on this has left Howard exposed with an irrelevant domestic agenda. By politicising a weakening of unions that has already happened, Howard’s IR reforms are even irritating his own business supporters.

When Rudd says that global warming is now on an equal footing with national security, that is a pretty accurate reflection on the balance in international relations between the US’s War on Terror and the climate change agenda of its rivals that is now gaining ground. It is quite clear that a reappraisal is now underway on climate change even in the US, not only indicated by the return of Al Gore to the national stage but even proposals within the current administration to use the military to police environmentalism across the globe.

The problem for the US is not just that responding to climate change means taking on the agenda of its rivals, it involves a fundamental reappraisal of how the US defines itself and its global position. The War on Terror makes a virtue of its military power, the Global Warming agenda is basically one of economic restraint. This may suit sluggish Europe but it gives the US little opportunity to assume leadership. The current administration’s attempts to marry military power with environmentalism look pretty unconvincing.

The US’s problem with the climate change agenda is brought out starkly with its relationship with China. The coincident interest of the US and China was seen in their toning down of the conclusions of Europe and Japan in the recent UN report on climate change. US resistance to the global warming agenda strengthens its ties with a power that has no need yet to make a virtue out of slower economic growth. Any adoption of the climate change agenda by the US would need a reformulation of this relationship.

Rudd is hoping to do a ‘Whitlam’ by playing an advance party role in this reformulation just as happened thirty-six years ago. His speech in the US later this week will be setting out how he intends to do this.

The problem is that what has to happen now is much more complicated than back in Whitlam’s day. Back then, the ‘problem’ of China was Communism, something that the US was formally opposed to but had to find a relationship with. This time the ‘problem’ of Communist China is unfettered capitalism, something the US is supposed to formally champion! This problem translates domestically as well, pushing economic restraint in the US is still a long way from being a vote-winner. Even in Australia, where global warming is much more accepted as a problem, Rudd is electorally prevented from detailing how he intends to reach his 60% emission cut goal. The uncertainty over how the US will shape this new world order and how it will be translated domestically hangs over Labor’s electoral chances this year. It underpins the fragility of its leading position and the touchiness of its leader.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 16 April 2007.

Filed under International relations, Key posts

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