Alphen, Netherlands. 31 July. Australia is living proof that a West still exists and that its beating heart lies not in the tangled nonsense of failing Americans and pathetic Europeans but deep Down Under.
Two old friends took me to task this week. My immediate reaction to both honoured the great Yorkshire tradition of tolerance known colloquially as “bugger off”. I come from the ‘Sir’ Geoffrey Boycott (Yorkshire God) school of international relations. Normally, my reaction to such over-pitched deliveries is either to avoid the corridor of uncertainty and take my bat away or to play the ball straight back past the bowler for four. However upon reflection, which is about as rare to those of us born to the White Rose as a sighting of the sun, I decided my friends may both have a point.
In an influential piece an old American friend Stan Sloan posed the question, “Does the ‘West’ Exist?” Stan felt I should have been addressing this issue more directly. Another good friend, Captain Simon Reay Atkinson of the Royal Australian Navy took me to task for not having given Australia its rightful due in my piece “Dignified Dutch, Revisionist Russia”.
Anyone who watched Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans brilliant verbal requiem to the MH 17 dead at the UN Security Council will have been deeply moved. Yet, few in the old, creaking, strategically pretentious West will have witnessed the equally moving testament of Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. At Eindhoven Airport last week a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster stood on the tarmac next to a Dutch Air Force Hercules to return the fallen of MH 17 to the Netherlands. In Ukraine the strong presence of Australian officials demonstrates the very real lead Prime Minister Tony Abbott has taken to return MH 17 bodies to loved one and to find the criminals who committed the crime.
Britain is a prime example of the heart disease from which the old West suffers. London is now so lost up its own rear end in a form of strategic political correctness that it is scared to say “boo to a goose”, as we say in Yorkshire. Worried that any act may offend some uppity minority, or that any decision might contravene increasingly tyrannical EU ‘law’ Little Britain now hovers been irrelevance and break-up. For a patriotic Englishman the failure of Britain’s political elite to protect British interests is deeply depressing.
Contrast that with Australia. It took the lead over the search for MH 370 just as it has taken the lead over MH 17. Far from retreating behind empty rhetoric in the wake of the failed Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns Australia instead conducted a proper strategic analysis of its strategy and defence needs. Indeed, it is perhaps the one Western country that is led by a prime minister who actually seems to understand strategy and power. As a kid Abbott was an avid follower of Jane’s Fighting Ships at a time when the Royal Navy filled more than one at best two of its pages.
Australia is investing in a future force that will reinforce the clout Australia is steadily developing in international fora. This reinforces something that Britain and the rest of Europe too often seems to have forgotten and which Stan’s great piece identifies; the defence of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not achieved with rhetoric or yet another pointless, self-paralyzing and self-defeating (literally) Brussels EU meeting. It is achieved by determination, investment, effort, cohesion and a proper sense of strategy.
Currently the Commonwealth Games are taking place in Glasgow. Fifty-seven states, nations and territories from across the world are competing in an event that on the face of it seems an anachronism of British Empire. In fact the Commonwealth is a free association of free states and peoples that grew out of the Empire but which today has nothing to do with it. Instead, the Commonwealth is the new West, part of a world-wide web of democracies which Australia is helping to lead.
Today’s Commonwealth says something else about the West. It is far more effective when it is organised in loose confederations of aligned interest than the one-size-fits-all straitjacket that is the failing EU.
Stan Sloan says in his piece that the relationship between liberal democratic values and free markets that has come to define the West is also its essential weakness because it sometimes forces states to compromise the former in favour of the latter – Russian gas. Stan, here I beg to differ. Australia demonstrates that the mix of the two is still a potent force so long as a state retains sufficient national sovereignty to feel comfortable and self-confident about the choices its makes and its ability to make informed choices. In other words the West is essentially about balance and it is that which Europeans in particular have abandoned and which has been so badly exposed by MH 17.
Why is Australia guardian of the West? Because Australia like the Commonwealth of which it is a vital part proves the West is an idea not a place and that for its values to survive it must be invested in. Given Australia’s place in Asia-Pacific it cannot afford to delude itself about security, strategy or interests.
Australia: Guardian of the West. Good on yer mate!