Are we living through a second Nixon era?

Kevin Rudd at the Manama Dialogue

‘Historical analogies are often perilous and they are always inexact,’ IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs Dr Dana Allin admitted, when posing a question to Australian MP and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (above) during the Fifth Plenary Session at the recent Manama Dialogue. Nevertheless, Allin continued, ‘I have long been intrigued by some parallels between the challenges facing the Obama administration and those that faced the Nixon administration 40 years ago.’ He ticked off a list: a war-weary American public; an economic crisis; a political crisis (although ‘largely selfinflicted by the Nixon administration and I do not think you can say the same thing about the Obama administration’); a major Middle East crisis; and the view that figuring out a relationship with China was vital.

How could America make a difference, he wondered. Was more energetic diplomacy going to be enough?

Rudd responded that he also saw ‘extraordinary parallels with the Nixon period’, partly because he was a keen China watcher. He said he had spoken to President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, ‘a lot’ about dealing with the major challenges that American administration faced.

‘Let me answer on Sino–US relations for one moment,’ he began. ‘The new Obama administration for four more years, and the first Xi Jinping administration for the next five years, provide a unique opportunity to develop a new China–US strategic road map which deals with how to make the global order work better …

‘I would suggest to both administrations that a way to demonstrate this to the world would be to include the Doha round on world trade, which is frankly necessary to lift the global economy, anyway. Regionally, in the Asia‑Pacific region and the Asian‑Indonesian region, through the East Asian summit, they should begin to develop the rules of the security road in East Asia. We currently have incidents arising every week in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Frankly, there are no confidence‑ and security‑building measures of a regional nature to deal with these issues as they arise. There is always a danger of conflict by miscalculation. … I believe there is core work to be done now on the front foot during this critical period of these overlapping administrations.’

Rudd also said he thought it was time for ‘one final heave’ on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The groundwork had been laid for this by the re-election of an Obama administration that had been ‘highly sceptical of the policies being adopted of the current Netanyahu government’ and an ‘increasing Israeli recognition, sometimes grudging, of the fundamental nature of the strategic shifts occurring around them’.

One small example of these strategic shifts had occurred when Australia, an historically staunch supporter of Israeli, had abstained, rather than voting ‘no’ during the UN General Assembly’s recent recognition of Palestine as a non-member state. ‘It sent some shockwaves to Tel Aviv when we abstained,’ Rudd claimed. ‘We abstained for quite deliberate reasons: because we do not support the settlement activity which has been prosecuted for such a long period of time. At this stage, we do not see any evidence that the Netanyahu government is serious about a two‑state solution. This is atypical behaviour by the government of Australia in relation to dealing with Israel for the last 50–60 years. We have done it deliberately, with the intention of sending a clear message to our friends in Tel Aviv and the Israeli body politic: even your closest friends are finding this quite difficult.’

Read more of Rudd’s thoughts, and those of fellow panellists and session participants.


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