During my first three weeks here at the United Nations I have been present at a considerable number of meetings, forums, plenary sessions and general presentations in the General Assembly, the Security Council – and one or more of the six (6) UN Committees.
Two things have become evident to me.
The first is that our world faces serious challenges, both in volume and on scale; some that have not been seen since the Second World War.
Secondly, it is evident to me that the multilateral efforts of the countries with the power to address some of these issues are failing. Some of the failures are due to a lack of will whilst others are due to a lack of capacity.
Look at the above map to get an indication of how voluminous and widespread these conflicts are, as well as the complexity of the underlying relationships.
It is well worth visiting this site as it provides the conflict and relationship details of the groups and nations affected. Here is the link http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2014/10/30/middle-east-explained_n_6056786.html?ir=Australia
In North Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East (including the Arabian Peninsula) we have outbreaks of civil war, nations run by despots and tyrants and the emergence of well-funded and well organised terrorist movements that continue to grow and proliferate at an alarming rate. For some terrorists, the basic intention now is statehood of some sort where they can launch their terror campaigns with more impunity.
Because of the nature of modern armed conflict, there is no longer a “front” or series of fronts where one can measure the progress of an armed conflict. These skirmishes are now largely being fought in residential and suburban environs and are in effect thousands of small conflicts which organically make up one larger seamless event. Some of these conflicts are the type of thing where “whilst you are no friend of mine your enemy is my enemy.”
The question that begs is what impact does all of this this have on Australia?
Firstly, impacts of our involvement in the Middle East:
The most important impact this has on our country at the moment is that we have almost 1,700 young men and women of our armed services in the theatre of conflict, most particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq and more recently Syria.
Additionally, we have many armed services, police officers and civilian experts in peacekeeping roles in other conflicts all over the world. As an important aside, all of this requires a serious financial commitment by our nation.
Secondly, we have significant trading exposures to this region. Without detailing them one by one it would be fair to say that if all trade and financial transactions with this part of the world were to ease considerably then that would have a very negative impact on our economy.
Thirdly, there is the question of a threat to world peace (that is assuming that we assume we have world peace!).
Most of the participants in these conflicts have a nuclear capacity and many of them quite literally hate each other. In some instances, participants don’t just want to resist or repel their enemy or aggressor, they was to annihilate them all together. Additionally, there are both the human and financial costs associated with military actions, humanitarian responses and peacekeeping duties.
The approved budget for UN Peacekeeping operations alone for the fiscal year 1 July 2015-30 June 2016 is about $8.27 billion. Our nation is a financial contributor to these expenses.
By way of comparison, this is less than half of one per cent of world military expenditures which were estimated at $1,747 billion in 2013 ($1.74 trillion dollars).
Imagine what we could do with that money if it were applied to humanitarian considerations to increase the general wealth and wellbeing of mankind.
Whilst I don’t intend to spend too much time on the issues of conflicts in our own region I think I am able to say that hostilities anywhere in Asia will have a clear and present impact on our country in a significant way. Not only would an event impact on trade, tourism and multi-lateral relations; it might also cause us to have to choose between “friends” in the event that military activities ensued.
In a global society there is nothing that occurs in today’s world that does not have the potential to impact (positively or negatively) on our nation.
Whilst I have not traditionally been known for quoting poetry, I think the words of the poet Scott Cairns in which he says “…I turned and beheld seven rows of plasma screens, each bearing seven vivid scenes, each flickering, each pulsing with a light revealing distant terrors, conflagrations, sufferings – and all thereby brought so close, and all thereby kept far away…” might sometimes sum up our Australian attitude to these matters. We can see it, we can hear it, we think we know what it is; but we do not feel it.
My short month working at the UN has changed my view considerably on world affairs, and more importantly their potential to affect our way of life in Australia. It will impact on decisions I make at home in Parliament.
If we could just have made Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi the Kings and Queens of the World for a Day, the world just might be a better place!
On that idealistic note I will close this contribution.