With end of cold war, Australia explores 'middle power' role as coalition builder on key issues

WHAT role do middle powers play in the New World Order? The answer in Australia's case, is that of a facilitator, a coalition builder of like-minded nations.In recent months, "kangaroo diplomacy" has had some success. For example, Australia, working with Indonesia and the five permanent members (the United States, France, China, Britain, and the Soviet Union) of the United Nations Security Council, has helped to bring together the four warring Cambodian factions. Not being a central player in the conflict, Australia was able to talk to all sides. "By sheer persistence, and the devotion of personnel and resources, Australia came up with the germ of the proposal adopted by the United Nations and translated into a settlement," says Richard Baker, an analyst with the East-West Center in Honolulu. Australia is also playing a role in the implementation of the peace accord, sending 40 men to help monitor the agreement. And Australia and France recently headed a coalition of countries signing an international treaty to ban mining in Antarctica. Other coalitions Australia belongs to include: the Cairns Group, which supports free trade in agriculture; Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a forum for Asian and Pacific rim nations; and the Australia Group, 20 industrial exporting countries which meet to try to control the proliferation of chemical weapons. To be successful, a middle power has to pick its issues carefully. "There is no prestige or likely result in enthusiastically pursuing ideas which are premature, over-ambitious, or for some other reason unlikely to generate any significant body of support," writes Sen. Gareth Evans, Australian minister for foreign affairs and trade, in a book to be published in November. Success also requires the physical capability to network with other countries through a fair number of diplomatic posts. This can pose a financial hurdle for small countries. Middle powers must also contribute to a military solution. During the Gulf war, Australia sent two frigates and a supply ship, one third of its Navy. And finally, a middle power needs to be credible and independent. As Mr. Evans points out, it can't be critical of other nations' racial problems if it has a poor record in race relations itself. In the new international setting, Evans says Australia is focusing on human rights, the environment, and economic development. Australia recently sent a delegation to the People's Republic of China to observe the country in the post-Tiananmen period. China is an important trade partner, however, and criticism of human rights abuses in China is muted. But Australia has kept up its pressure for change in South Africa by maintaining sanctions even as other nations are easing them. South Africa's Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha in Canberra criticized Australia's sanctions Oct. 8, and recommended priority be given to economic development in southern Africa. Australia has said that it will respond to development needs, but will not let up on sanctions immediately. Australia is also shifting its economic focus to the Pacific Rim. Despite criticism from its opposition party that the government is too slow in developing those ties, Australia has helped lead the APEC process. And AUSTRADE, a government agency that promotes Australian exports, is closing offices in the United States and opening up new ones in Indonesia and other Asian countries. The concept of an effective middle power is not new. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the 1970s had a similar foreign policy. But, Evans notes, with the end of the cold war, other middle powers might take notice of Australia's course.

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