Of the two speeches Kevin Rudd presented in New York, it was the address to the Foreign Policy Association, rather than that to the United Nations, that was the more important in terms of the Rudd Government’s foreign policy.
The address to the United Nations seemed as much designed to appeal to domestic audiences as anyone else, with its references to western Sydney, Cairns and Perth. Rudd also seemed to go out of his way to emphasise the importance of non-UN institutions like the IMF, his own Nuclear Non-proliferation Commission and, of course, the G20.
Rudd’s Foreign Policy Association speech – once you get past the obsequious praise of the United States – is an almost blunt demand that the G20 become the critical instrument of world economic regulation – the “driving centre”, as Rudd puts it, of the post-financial crisis reform process and future global governance.
One critical sentence, necessarily stripped of the usual Ruddspeak, seems to sum up the Prime Minister’s international agenda:
In many respects, the global financial crisis has demonstrated one core point: that the formal institutional architecture established to deal with a potential systemic collapse failed when put to the test – and had to be rapidly superseded by the emergency actions of central banks and executive governments acting through the agency of the G20.
The G20, which Rudd effectively sees as trading off the representativeness of the vast and inefficient UN with the capacity for decisive action of smaller groups like the G8, has had about as good a global crisis as it could have been expected to, given the disparate interests and agendas of its participants. But how many other, more significant, international players regard it as anything other than a temporary instrument is a significant issue.
The Prime Minister, in his quest for Australia to undertake “creative middle-order diplomacy”, might be in danger of betting his entire stake on one card. The degeneration of APEC into a glorified fancy-dress party for regional leaders is a reminder that just because Australia regards something as important, doesn’t mean the world’s important leaders agree.
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