Adam Dunning, We Hardly Knew Ye. Or Why.
December 21, 2004 5:24 PM   Subscribe

They Knew It Couldn't Last Forever Twenty one hours ago, Australian Police Officer Adam Dunning was shot twice in the back and killed, becoming the first casualty in the Solomon Islands assistance mission. With the Australian government's quasi-imperialistic intentions towards their closest neighbours and its refusal to sign a non-aggression treaty with ASEAN nations, how long can Australia ride the line between East and West? [MI]
posted by cosmonik (24 comments total)
The Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands. There have been successes. There have been failures. There has been much justification behind a mask of economic and regional stability. Australia claims its action in the Solomons - and intentions to exapand the operation to Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia - have everything to do with restoring law and order. But is it promoting regional stability, or driving a wedge between the white-dominated island nation and its closest neighbours?

Either way, I wonder what Adam Dunning died for.
posted by cosmonik at 5:25 PM on December 21, 2004

Cosmonik - Why do you believe Australia's intentions are "quasi-imperialistic"? What does quasi-imperialistic mean? If you believe that Australia's claim of wanting to promote economic and regional stability is a "mask", what is it that you believe they are masking? Are you accusing the government of willfully "driving a wedge" between them and their neighbours, or of bungling the foreign involvement they are currently justifiably involved in?

There is a lot of innuendo behind your statements, and I'm not sure why. Are you saying Australia should commit more troops and police officers to PNG, along with further involvement in their affairs, as one of the articles suggests? Or that Australia should never have gone to the Solomon Islands to prevent sex scandals? Or that it should sign a treaty that would prevent them from criticizing the despotic governments of their fellow signees?
posted by loquax at 5:44 PM on December 21, 2004

Perhaps I tried to fit too many angles into a single post. I do not endorse every view in every article linked; they served to bring attention to factors which, taken in context, will impact on the issue.

By applying the term quasi-imperialistic to Australia's regional foreign policy, I mean I firmly believe that there is much more to the stance of regional stability than merely protecting Australia from terrorists and invasion. The 'imperialism' element comes from the fact that there are proponents within the government who believe we should keep a law enforcement/military presence in the countries around us for economic gain as well as security. The 'quasi' prefix I added because I believe it's not purely a power move by Australia; there is a genuine concern when a neighbour's state is on the verge of collapse.

It's not RAMSI I am opposed to; it's what it could start, what it could lead to. Hence the 'deputy' bit.

I actually personally disagree with the signing of the non-aggression treaty, but my post is about Australia's relationship with the region, and its perception of Australia's alliegance, so it was worth mentioning.
posted by cosmonik at 6:09 PM on December 21, 2004

I honestly had no idea that this was even happening. Thanks for the info.
posted by Arch Stanton at 6:16 PM on December 21, 2004

cosmonik, I know very little about the conflict in the Solomons, and had assumed that the reason Australia had taken such a visible presence there was to prevent thousands of refugees showing up on its shores (seeing as nearly half of the Solomons' population, by some accounts, have been temporarily or permanently displaced after the 2000 coup).

What other foreign policy and/or military interventions were suggested within Australia at the time? What do you, personally, think would be a wise course?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:29 PM on December 21, 2004

A friend of a friend is part of the Canberra bomb squad and out in East Timor right now training the authorities there. From the little I've talked to him about it, it seems that the Oz government is determined to fight for stability in the region. The government believes that if these nations fall apart, which some do on occasion, they'll be flooded with refugees that they are unwilling to deal with. Imagine as an exercise if Mexico had a sudden and violent civil war, the influx across our borders would be incredible.

The one thing that concerns both the Americans, Chinese, Australians and Japanese greatly is Indonesia and it's now seemingly constant civil strife. A large percentage of the world's commercialized shipping, which includes Asian oil imports, runs through that general area and a break-up would possibly entail a massive disruption of the shipping and impact the world trade economy.
posted by Vaska at 6:45 PM on December 21, 2004

But couldn't you argue, cosmonik, that Australia might have something of a moral obligation to assist in the Solomons (and PNG), considering that a lot of the economic and governance problems there can be traced back to poor administration and lack of investment when the islands were Australian colonial territories?
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:48 PM on December 21, 2004

Sidhedevil - other interventions suggested or in progress in recent years have been Papua New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. We already had a spate with the Indonesian government over providing independence to the province of East Timor in 1999 (which I totally support).

I am hesitant to suggest any course of action (and not just to avoid micro-managing my own post) - I think it's worthy of attention, however, to ensure the overall end is not Australia adopting the strategy of intervening in the sovereignty of other nations for its own ends. It's just not good for anyone in the long term, regardless of moral/legal implications.

Vaska - you mean the Australian Bomb Data Centre? Those guys are busy nowdays. I agree about Indonesia, and I think Australia's regional efforts are best focused in those areas.

Sonny Jim - I totally agree Australia has a role, and perhaps even a responsibility, but deploying the military/police to that end on a regular basis doesn't sit right. Australia cannot be regional policemen: it's got a population of only 20 million, and not the largest proportion of GDP spent on defence.
posted by cosmonik at 7:02 PM on December 21, 2004

Wait.... Weren't the Solomons on the verge of anarchy following a long and bloody ethnic conflict?

This (possible biased?) site claims that Autralia rebuffed "a plea for assistance from the Solomon Government" in 2000, and that by 2003,
Prime Minister Kemakeza requested military aid from Australia and New Zealand... as his country threatened to dissolve into anarchy. Foreign ministers from several Pacific countries expressed their support and the Solomon government approved a peacekeeping plan the following month.
I'm not sure what the problem is here. Sounds to me that Dunning died for a better cause than most military casualties over the last couple years. How is trying to bring sustainable order to a country that is wracked in violance and asked for help quasi-imperialist?
posted by allan at 7:14 PM on December 21, 2004

It seems I used some buzzwords that people focus on to the exclusion of all else. My bad.

I never suggested RAMSI, or any single assistance mission, is of itself imperialist. As I said before, I am not opposed to intervention in the Solomons - it was falling apart, and the dominant group (i.e. Kemakeza) asked for help. Less people are dying now than before - and taken by itself, yess, Dunning died for a better reason than many others in the world.

My concern is that in the greater context of operations to promote regional stability, the threshold for these interventions will lower, and Australia will be imposing itself again and again, which will in the long term be worse for Australia and regional stability.
posted by cosmonik at 7:22 PM on December 21, 2004

Australia cannot be regional policemen: it's got a population of only 20 million, and not the largest proportion of GDP spent on defence.

Absolutely. We should leave that to the Americans and the Indonesians. Or the Chinese. Or the Japanese. Yeah.

More seriously, I cannot see how Australia (and New Zealand - we have people in the Solomons too, thank you) can be worse than the afore-mentioned powers. And you are no doubt right about the dodgy motivations of some Australian politicians. However, I don't see that having anything to do with with whether this is good for the Solomons or not. It is hugely unusual in politics for significant and ostensibly moral undertakings not to have a venal underpinning - they can still be the right thing to do even so.

*ahem* returning to frivolity, this citizen of a close neighbour can assure you that imperialist Aussies will be repelled with force, derogatory remarks about your beer, and the shame of the Chapples. We do not forget.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:27 PM on December 21, 2004

I actually have this strange notion that nobody should play regional policeman - and China, Indonesia and America have much bigger fish to fry. Taiwan, Aceh, and the Middle East, respectively. That's just to start with.

For the love of Satan, for the last time: I do not oppose RAMSI.

joe's_spleen - my condolences to your nationality :P
posted by cosmonik at 7:37 PM on December 21, 2004

In that case cosmonik, I reckon you're hand-wringing. You seemed at the start to have a real concern - "I wonder what Adam Dunning died for" - but now you think RAMSI is good. You worry about Australia imposing itself, but thus far Australia has only done what it's been asked to do. Your worry is commendably thoughtful but it doesn't amount to a concrete view of how things should be otherwise. Perhaps Australia could turn into a regional bully but on current evidence it could just as well turn into regional saviour. (With good old NZ sending a Hercules or something).

I actually have this strange notion that nobody should play regional policeman. Yeah, let the black fullas stew in their own juice.

Maybe nobody should, but strike me pink and call me a neo-colonialist, as long as there is a need for one - and evidently Solomon Islanders think so - I would rather it was us.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:59 PM on December 21, 2004

joe's_spleen...not sure where you're getting this info. I wonder what Dunning died for in the greater context of Australian intentions in the region, which are the same concerns I have for RAMSI. Not what it's doing now, but what it, plus the other interventions, could lead to.

I'm certainly not saying Australia shouldn't have deployed there, or Timor, or even PNG should the situation continue to deteriorate. What I am saying is that, over all, Australia has started forging a doctrine of "pre-emptive strike" on its neighbours (using those very words) which is not a long-term strategy for a stable region. And some of the justification for that from Foreign Affairs has been as an anti-terrorism/pro-trade point of view for Australia, to appease their base of business support and neurotic Australian voters who think terrorists arrive on banana boats instead of flying in business-class.
posted by cosmonik at 8:09 PM on December 21, 2004

I'm sorry, but I contest your framing as "regional policeman." The states talked about here are in crisis, and have asked for help, yes? How does Australia benefit by *not* getting involved. I suppose one could argue that intervention in Case X will fail, but in general what better use can a military be put to (after immediate self-defense) then stabalizing a neighboring country. I would think the fact that Australia benefits from the accompanying stability as a positive thing for Australia. Of course, I'm comparing your country's countries' efforts to my country's efforts, which could explain why I view Australia's position admirably.

FWIW, claiming that "It seems I used some buzzwords that people focus on to the exclusion of all else" seems like a pretty cheap excuse, particularly when your first comment not only implies some rather insidious agenda but used a rhetorical trick to imply that Dunning's death may not have been worthwhile.

On preview: what Joe's Spleen said.
posted by allan at 8:10 PM on December 21, 2004

OK, cosmonik - I now see that there is an ambiguity in "I wonder what Dunning died for". "I wonder what he died for" can easily be taken as a rhetorical question with the implied answer "nothing", and I am afraid that I took the other meaning to the one you intended. If you meant that question literally, then all I can say is that it remains to be seen what he died for, but I see no reason to doubt his own motives. I hope his Mum and Dad are proud.

I found no mention of the "pre-emptive" strike doctrine in any of the links you provided. In the case of the Solomons it simply isn't so, anyway. And if what we are pre-empting is a complete collapse of civil order, I find it hard to muster much anguish, frankly, as long as all other avenues are exhausted.

You noted yourself that such operations are a strain for a small country. That'll put the brakes on imperial ambition more effectively than any amount of editorialising.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:32 PM on December 21, 2004

I'm not sure how much Australian media you monitor, but 'regional policemen' is literally what we've started to do, and think tanks such as The Australian Strategic Policy Institute condone a much more permanent role for Australia in this regard. 'Regional policeman' is an accepted term.

(And just because we're not the worst-case-scenario yet, doesn't mean we have to wait to get there before we stop).

Comparatively, the threshold used for intervening in Timor, Solomons and PNG has gotten lower and lower. The justification of it through the doctrine of pre-emptive strike is a far cry from 'it's already gone to hell, let's get over there and help sort it out'. It's unilateral military action.

Excuse for what? What insidious agenda? I can't see what you're reading into the post, and there was no rhetorical trick: I am saying if Dunning died performing peacekeeping duties and Australia's involvement overseas ends there, then it's noble. If it's the start of a multi-decade unilateral occupation of foreign soil, it's unjustifiable.

For the xth time, I support our action so far; don't look for some 'stick-it-to-the-man' statement in what I write. Long-term political/military forecasting is something I've been involved with, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, and I see the start of something ugly.

On preview: joe's_spleen, absolutely no question re. Dunning's motives, and it was not meant to be a rhetorical question, but rather: Australia stands at a crossroads, it can go either way. Even my phrase 'quasi-imperialistic' was applied to Australia's intentions, not it's actions thusfar. And the pre-emptive doctrine is in regards to the view Australian holds that S.E. Asia is becoming a breeding ground for terrorism, and regional stability will solve that. Regardless of it being right or wrong, the term pre-emptive is being used frequently by both ends of the debate (FYI, I am not on either end). Good point about economies of scale hopefully putting an end to it all.
posted by cosmonik at 8:42 PM on December 21, 2004

Cosmonik : That's the organization! Thanks. I actually called my friend up to chat about him after you posted this and found he's being transferred to Bali. Apparently he has no idea when he'll touch down on Australian soil again, certainly not soon.

Frankly I have to admire Australian forces being sent into East Timor when the militias were running wild and slaughtering the populace. While the rest of the world was wringing its hands and holding meetings the Oz forces stopped the bloodshed. Whatever the reason for this, oil, control or imperialism I don't care. I'd rather have governments doing the right things for the wrong reasons then nothing at all.
posted by Vaska at 9:35 PM on December 21, 2004

cosmonik, my considered thinking is that it would be impossible to build a consensus strong enough even for a limited police action without appealing to jingoism. You will never get a purely idealistic expedition to do anything. I say we shut up for now, while we seem to be doing some good, and wait for an obvious fuck-up before voicing any concerns.

As an more-left-wing-than-not person, the value of comments like yours is that I can show them to right-wing people, who will then support RAMSI in order to annoy you.

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:03 PM on December 21, 2004

joe's_spleen, I don't get it. As I said before, I support RAMSI myself - in fact I've been involved in it. Whether it's supported by left or right wingers doesn't bother me - I am not either.

The post was more about Australia and its place between Asia and Europe, citing this as an example of tension (as well as the non-aggression pact, etc.). If China or Indonesia did a similar thing, we'd worry about it being 'imperialistic'. My concern was only voiced in response to questions from you and others (hence me writing just way too much in this discussion), and I reiterate those concerns are not about RAMSI, they're about the long - long - term positioning of Australia in the region.
posted by cosmonik at 12:23 AM on December 22, 2004

a lot of the economic and governance problems there can be traced back to poor administration and lack of investment when the islands were Australian colonial territories

Just as a side note, the Solomons were a British colony, not an Australian one. (PNG's another matter, of course.)
posted by rory at 4:56 AM on December 22, 2004

cosmonik, do you have links to (say) activist groups or elected officials who espouse an approach to intervention that you find more palatable? Is there anyone in the public arena talking about ways to keep interventions from becoming "imperialist" in ways you find compelling?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:54 AM on December 22, 2004

cosmonik, I think we are confused because you don't seem to be advocating anything in particular. You've also not provided much context for our non-Australasian readers, so the questions you posed aren't likely to draw out any sort of informed answer.

We seized on what seemed like a position in the what-did-he-die-for comment, but it seems like it was a genuine enquiry, which again doesn't admit of a ready answer.

So yeah, maybe I'm teasing you a little in the hope of generating a commitment ;-)

I would be really interested to know what other Australian Mefites think, but they seem strangely silent.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:32 PM on December 22, 2004

Sidhedevil - it's not that contentious an issue yet, but yes there are several NGOs and activist groups which espouse different approaches to the problem. I wish I had salient links to better frame the 'imperialist or not' part of the issue. Balanced representation among our elected officals is more dire than ever, since the recent election (conservatives got in with a much higher percentage than previously). The maintstream Australian media, being nicely divided between Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer, don't tend to discuss the angle that much (then again, as others have pointed out, it's not quite panic-time yet).

joe's_spleen - I purposely avoided a commitment since I didn't want to end up discussing my position. I wasn't advocating anything so much as informing and raising questions (as you say, perhaps I should've answered some as well...). Maybe I should've just posted: Australia: East or West?

Strangely, there's no specific geographical terms for Australia and New Zealand together, since of course our friends to east are in the same boat.
posted by cosmonik at 3:48 PM on December 22, 2004

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