S.Cott Morrison flies to Washington next week. So does British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Under current planning, Australia’s prime minister will see Joe Biden and Johnson in the US capital on Tuesday, and not on a screen, which feels strangely bold from locked down Canberra.
Morrison wants to fly into a diplomatically eventful week. The main purpose of your trip is to participate in the first face-to-face meeting of leaders of the quad – an informal security grouping from Australia, the US, India and Japan. Biden will host this group on Friday; a quartet of leaders orbiting a cold war in the Indo-Pacific sparked by China’s growing assertiveness.
Leading the Quad isn’t the only item on Morrison’s dance card. The prime minister is expected to participate in a Biden-led summit on the pandemic and vaccines. The president is the host of this virtual event on the guidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Reports suggest that Biden will ask political and business leaders to commit to vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by next September.
The Quad, scheduled for Friday, will also develop vaccine proposals. A virtual meeting of this group in March ended with a promise to boost manufacturing to help low-income countries, and Australian officials hope leaders will emerge after discussions next Friday that promise a strong step forward in development and delivery of vaccines.
On current planning, as well as the Biden and Quad pandemic summit, Morrison will attend a reception marking the 70th anniversary of the Anzus alliance. He will have breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris and see the leaders of financial institutions, such as the World Bank, as well as meet with members of key committees of the US legislature that deal with foreign affairs, intelligence and armed services.
Morrison will also deliver a prerecorded speech to the UN because his speaking space collides with the Quad meeting. And he will catch up with Pacific leaders and the UN secretary general during a virtual connection on Thursday.
Tuesday’s meeting with Biden will be the first catch and smile on American soil. The last time Morrison passed by, Donald Trump had a dialogue with himself in the Oval Office about whether or not to launch a military attack on Iran, and Gina Rinehart floated an evening at the Rose Garden in a jeweled white evening gown.
The next visit will be important, but I suspect less surreal.
Morrison will see Johnson (whom he saw in London earlier in the year) because it turns out that Biden will be hosting the British leader next week (more on the why of that shortly). In addition to the quartet, he will also have one-on-one meetings with Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga, who is about to step down as Prime Minister of Japan.
Obviously, the next trip had a significant prelude. Biden, Johnson and Morrison unveiled a new agreement to build nuclear-powered submarines, an agreement these leaders drafted in total secrecy. Morrison told Modi and Suga about the submarine deal Wednesday night before he told his own side table.
Actually, this new arrangement is very slim. Morrison’s “forever partnership” right now is a handshake and a strange acronym. It is an agreement to resolve in 18 months whether an agreement can continue or not.
Costs? Undisclosed, but astronomical. (Morrison gleefully told us this week that defense spending was an elevator that would only go up.) Delivery? A submarine in the water by 2040, possibly assuming this new part of defense acquisitions isn’t a fudge, which would be a big assumption given the history in this country. And since our interim self-defense plan is patched up in the Collins-class ships and more frequent visits from our heavily armed friends, we can only hope that China is generous enough to hold our beer until our lethal weapons arrive.
But pointing out the paucity of hard facts while chuckling about whether Biden momentarily forgot Morrison’s name when the Aukus deal was unveiled shouldn’t obscure the significance of what just happened.
Morrison has just presided over a momentous moment in Australia’s 21st century strategic politics. Thursday’s announcement, coordinated across the Pacific and the Atlantic, came like thunder, because it is momentous.
Just before things went seriously south on Australia’s relationship with Beijing, there used to be a lot of comments about fake binaries when journalists asked if the time would come when Australia would have to choose between our most important security ally and our own. larger. economic partner.
This tut-tutting was reasonable to the extent that the question always had an obvious answer. Australia would always look to the United States if China’s grievance-laden and nationalistic belligerence forced us. Liberal democracies are like that. They travel in herds. The middle powers need the protection of the great ones.
But for a long time, Australia carefully avoided being explicit about the choice we would ultimately make. We wanted it both ways.
Well, that lengthy period of nifty nonspecificity is over. It ends with a capital “O”. Australia agrees with the military complex of the United States and Great Britain. We are a wholly owned subsidiary of the great powers in a dangerous region where increasing militarization reduces the scope for transactional pragmatism between neighbors with different values and political systems.
That is the reality of Australia.
It was our reality before this nuclear submarine pact highlighted it. The highly choreographed atmosphere of the deal nullifies any remaining gray areas.
So next week will be about security, yeah. But the other pressing issue of our time is global warming.
On that subject, Morrison’s “forever” nuclear submarine partners Biden and Johnson are on a drive ticket of crushing ambition, while Australia is still working out how miserable we can be at Cop26 in Glasgow without being interrupted outside. room. After last week’s tumult, perhaps the main interlocutor is Emmanuel Macron.
Johnson will be in Washington next week in part to coordinate efforts with Biden ahead of the Glasgow Cop. Morrison hopes to be pushed on climate policy in his bilateral deals with Biden and Johnson, and then again through the Quad group, as Japan has increased its ambition.
This didn’t get much attention, but a public statement Aired after the defense talks between the US and Australia later this week, interestingly enough, it contained stronger language on climate action than we would normally see in Australia.
That statement committed the US and Australia to “improve stocks during the 2020s with the goal of achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible.” He recognized that climate change was a “threat to global security.” He pledged the two governments to strengthen climate action ahead of the COP “through ambitious nationally determined contributions, with targets for 2030.” At net zero by 2050, the language reflected Australia’s tech mantra. “Our joint ambition is to make low-emission technologies globally scalable and commercially viable to rapidly accelerate global emission reductions, enable clean growth, and make net zero emissions possible by 2050.”
Australian officials say new climate commitments from Morrison are not expected next week, although there are some stakeholders about technology partnerships through the Quad and possible Australian assistance to developing countries to fund low-emission capacity.
In terms of what Australia will ultimately say in Glasgow, the government is working on a timetable for an announcement in the middle of next month.
Senior US officials and Johnson have been happy to express their discontent with Australia’s unscrupulous climate record of late.
It will be interesting to see if Biden chooses to apply some polite public pressure to visiting stragglers next week.
I don’t know if Biden will go there or not.
But I do know that there is an obvious contradiction that Morrison should address, and it is this.
Why is Australia willing to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the US and the UK on military matters, exchanging sovereignty, offering allies a blank check compromise on why the prime ministers don’t save the receipts when they are saving the country from an existential situation? threat?
But when it comes to another pressing existential threat, runaway global warming, a problem as visible as the militarization of the South China Sea, Australia cannot promise anything unless Barnaby Joyce gets a spreadsheet that identifies the precise costs of the transition for the average worker at Muswellbrook, and kindly grant your permission?