Moral Triumphalism in Recent Australian Foreign Policy: Harsh Lessons from Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands
Following the 1999 intervention to quell the transitional violence in East Timor, the Australian Government began to vociferously promote itself as a defender and spreader of "freedom and democracy" in the Asia-Pacific region. This was followed, in 2003, with the surprising policy reversal that saw the insertion of the Australian-led intervention force in the Solomon Islands to stop civil violence in that country and begin building democratic institutions and a free society. Once again, the case was made that Australia was a force for good in the region and was prepared to take a prominent role in spreading Western values to those that lacked them. Much of this humanitarian rhetoric, however, has been challenged in the light of the chaotic scenes in both Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands in 2006. This paper will argue that the claims of moral triumph and superiority that have accompanied the Australian interventions have had and will continue to have negative consequences for the people of Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands – as has been the case for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan – and may even generate otherwise avoidable tensions with other regional powers. The case will be made, in this context, for a more careful and conservative approach to regional engagement in order to avoid perpetual repetition of the social breakdown in our neighbourhood and to prevent Australian policy-makers from developing a dangerously over-inflated sense of their position and power in the Asia-Pacific.