This cover includes a striking image of the Afghan refugees imprisoned on the Norwegian vessel MV Tampa by SAS forces in 2001.

Following is a short selection from my 2008 book, Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, first published in 2001 by Pluto Press Australia and in a new revised edition in 2008 by Cambridge University Press. Below are excerpts from the Introduction and Conclusion to the 2008 edition.

Details of the book are available from Cambridge University Press:
http://www.cambridge.org/aus/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521714273

Introduction

Fear of Security

Ever since the spectacular and terrible terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001, western societies have been understandably obsessed with security. On that day we became aware of a frightening new threat not from heavily armed states, or enormously destructive weapons, but from small groups of highly motivated and determined men using the routine apparatus of modern life against us. This was true for Australia, a close ally of the United States, which immediately committed troops to a new ‘war on terror’ beginning in Afghanistan and then lost 88 of its citizens in the double bombing of nightclubs in Bali a year later. As the US and its allies extended their war on terror from Afghanistan to Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Palestine and Lebanon, and Islamist terrorists struck trains in Madrid and London, housing complexes in Saudi Arabia, tourists at Sharm el-Sheikh and Bali, and sacred Shiite mosques in Iraq, it was clear that the new reality facing large parts of the world was permanent insecurity. Yet such raw facts are meaningless if we fail to bring a critical historical perspective to understanding and acting upon them. Such an understanding is the focus of this book, and it sets out from the premise that assuming to know what security is, and how to achieve it, can be the most dangerous thing of all.

The events of 9/11 and the western response have profoundly altered the world’s strategic and normative landscape, but they derived from, and entered into, a pre-existing world in which states have historically been anxious about security—so much so, that they have encoded it into their fundamental structure of being. The desire for security lies at the core of western political philosophy and its concepts of sovereignty, political identity and statehood. For Thomas Hobbes, the 17th Century thinker who gave us the central ideas underpinning the modern nation-state, the desire for security motivated men to establish states and laws, and submit to the dominance of the sovereign with whom they form a single body and will, the Body-Politic.[i] This tradition was influential in Australia, given that its colonisation was partly motivated by British concerns about security from crime, and which federated into a new nation in 1901 primarily because of anxieties about security from the strategic and racial threat posed by Asia. In this way security has been much more than a policy issue; it has permeated the entire society as a powerful form of politics and set of fears. It may be surprising to think that throughout Australian history security required the shipping of 180,000 convicts from England, the murder and dispossession of Aborigines, a racist immigration policy, the terrible sacrifice of the Great War, the confrontation of communism within Australia and in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia, the incarceration of asylum seekers, and an amoral embrace of Asian dictators such as Marcos and Soeharto. Security has been central to the construction of powerful images of national identity and otherness, and central to their use in bitter political conflicts which were too often resolved in violent and anti-democratic ways. In short, security has been a potent, driving imperative throughout Australian history.

Even through the 1990s, as the Cold War ended and Australians seemingly embraced their cultural diversity and the obligations owed to the indigenous traditional owners of the country—symbolised in the High Court’s Mabo decision, the Native Title Act, and an extraordinary speech by the Prime Minister acknowledging past colonial crimes—a darker tradition named by security flowed on beneath the surface. Defence co-operation with the Indonesian military regime of Soeharto was reaching unprecedented heights, and the people of East Timor struggled for independence against a brutal occupation and determined official indifference from Canberra. The conservative opposition led by John Hewson and then John Howard was strongly opposed to the High Court’s (very limited) recognition of Aboriginal land rights, and put this opposition into action when they dramatically wound back such rights in legislation once they were elected.

More dark clouds quickly appeared on the horizon. In November 1999 the federal minister for immigration, Philip Ruddock, captured news headlines by telling Australians they faced a ‘national emergency’ because as many as 10,000 illegal migrants were planning to flood into Australia from the Middle East. ‘The information that is available to us,’ he said, ‘suggests that whole villages are packing up and there is a pipeline. If it was a national emergency several weeks ago, it’s gone up something like ten points on the Richter scale since then.’ While there were grounds for concern—in the preceding two weeks more than 700 people had entered Australia and been detained—such predictions, made as the Howard Government was trying to force harsh new refugee laws through the Senate, were outrageously alarmist.[ii] The influx posed administrative challenges, but to elevate it to a national emergency made it seem far more threatening. Ruddock’s was an anxiety with profound historical echoes, almost a repetition of Alfred Deakin’s fears in 1898, as he argued for federation, that ‘from the far east and the far west alike we behold menaces and contagion’.[iii]

Rather than portraying the asylum seekers fleeing criminal and abusive regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran as an administrative or human security problem, Ruddock chose to portray them as a threat to the nation’s very integrity. The political ramifications of invoking a ‘national emergency’ were demonstrated by the new regulations he introduced soon after, and meekly accepted by the federal Labor opposition, which restricted the rights of boat people in relation to other refugees, provided for unlimited mandatory detention, and left them vulnerable to automatic deportation after thirty months—whatever the fears for their own safety.[iv] Two years later the Norwegian container vessel the MV Tampa picked up a boat load of asylum seekers and brought them into Australian waters, New York and Washington were attacked, and the Howard government had folded terrorism and illegal immigration into a single image of existential threat and was improbably returned to power in a ‘security’ election.

Menaces and Contagion

Rhetoric about the need for ‘border protection’, ‘territorial integrity’ and ‘national security’ were placed at the centre of the Liberal-National Party coalition’s 2001 campaign strategy. The Tampa refugees were shipped to Nauru, and legislation was rushed into Parliament to make it even harder for later arrivals to make asylum claims. A naval and air operation (Relex II) was begun and by the end of October had pushed two boats back into Indonesian waters. The patriotism of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was called into question, as Howard stated that the ‘duty of an opposition on an occasion like this is to steadfastly support the national interest’.[v] Less than two weeks prior to election day the Prime Minister threw a grenade into the debate by claiming that ‘if we throw up our hands and say we’re going to stop doing this we’ll be saying to the world anybody can come. I promise you that would be a recipe for the shores of this country to be…I don’t want to use the word invaded…but the shores of this nation to be thick with asylum seeker boats’.[vi] As a nation, we had moved no distance from the declaration of Prime Minister Joseph Cook in 1913, as the first Australian naval vessels arrived from Britain’s shipyards, that ‘this fleet will defend White Australia from less advanced but aggressive nations all around us with lower standards’?[vii]

In this world view, security is imagined on the basis of a bounded and vulnerable identity in perpetual opposition to an outside—an Other—whose character and claims threaten its integrity and safety. This is not a commonsense use of language, but a powerful conceptual operation which seeks to shape and control the real. Historical echoes gave these men’s statements added force: ever since Henry Parkes and Alfred Deakin began to argue for the formation of an Australian Federation in the face of the threats posed by the populous and threatening civilisations of Asia, such an image of security and identity has been a constant in Australian life. Its contours live on in significant elements of national policy and in basic modern categories such as ‘sovereignty’ and the ‘national interest’. In this sense to be secure is to be Australian. But what kind of Australian?

The problem is that the community imagined in such claims is always an exclusive one, bounded by a power which seeks to enforce sameness, repress diversity, and diminish the rights (and claims to being) of those who are thrust outside its protective embrace. This is the clear implication of the former diplomat Richard Woolcott’s argument, in 1995, that ‘sentimental notions of self-determination for East Timor or Bougainville…threaten our national security’.[viii] Likewise Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, after signing a mutual security agreement with Indonesia’s President Soeharto the same year, stated that: ‘We are not going to hock the entire relationship on Timor. A Prime Minister’s duty, his first duty, is to the security of his country.’[ix] More than 180,000 Timorese had lost their lives during Indonesia’s occupation. How many must die, we might ask, so that we should be secure?


[i] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (London: Penguin, 1985), pp. 80-230.

[ii] Janine McDonald, “Refugee crisis warning”, The Age, 18 November 1999, p 1.

[iii] Alfred Deakin, Speech to the Australian Natives Association, March 1898, reproduced in Neville Meaney ed. Australia and the World: A Documentary History from the 1870s to the 1980s (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1985), p 34.

[iv][iv] Carolyn Graydon, “The heartless country”, The Age, 23 November 1999; ABC 7.30 Report transcript, 15 November 1999, http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/

[v] John Howard and Philip Ruddock, Joint Press Conference, Sydney, 1 September 2001, http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2001/interview1206.cfm;

[vi] John Howard, Interview with Phillip Clarke, Radio 2GB, 31 October 2001. http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2001/interview1430.cfm

[vii] Jonathon King, “At the beach”, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 September 2001, p 3.

[viii] Richard Woolcott, “The Perils of Freedom”, The Weekend Australian, 22-23 April 1995, p 24.

[ix] These comments, made to journalist Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, were cited in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 December 1995.

Conclusion

A Cosmopolitan Future

It is fear’s repressive consequences, not just the personal suffering it inflicts, which make it a toxic force to be resisted….We need a moral dimension to the public realm. We need an answering vision of justice and optimism. We need to learn to manage our fears and face the realities of our complex world. The survival of our democracies depends not on the capacity to hit back at the terrorists, but on our capacity to think for ourselves.

—Carmen Lawrence, 2006.[i]

In this book I have told a grim and sometimes terrible story, but it is all true. Many may dispute my analysis or my conclusions, and they are welcome to. However as a society existing on that part of the Earth where Southeast Asia and the South Pacific meet, colonised and coveted for its strategic location and its wealth, and still in its mind an anxious and threatened outpost of Europe, we must face some uncomfortable facts. Throughout two centuries of colonial history we have all too often purchased our security with the suffering, destruction and abandonment of others, and sometimes ourselves. We have constructed our identity in racist and exclusivist terms, terms exclusive of Aboriginal people, Asians, Muslims, Communists, Asylum Seekers, people who could be named Other before they could be recognised as human. Even as we have sought to modify this historical legacy to create space for other traditions and cultures and structures of value, it has welled up again and again, an enduring possibility under the surface of our present. We have not questioned the meaning of the security we seek, or wondered at its costs, or thought how it might be made legitimate and universal and comforting for as many who can receive its gift. We have instead turned it into a dark system of politics, one used to divide and accuse, a weapon in an endless struggle over privilege and power and ideas. In doing so we have undermined our democracy, corroded the rule of law, divided our communities and cheapened the value of citizenship. Above all, we have damaged our nation. We have damaged what our nation could be.

What then is my answering vision? Once we think for ourselves, what might we think? I feel heavily the responsibility to offer a better path, but thousands of Australians—working in parliaments, churches, NGOs, community groups, political parties, the arts, media and universities—are already mapping it out with their words and actions daily. They come from every race, every faith and every region, and from across the political divide. I can only join my voice to theirs. As Matthew McDonald argues, they form an immanent possibility for change, a hope that ‘while core themes exist no single security discourse ever completely captures the way a particular political community conceives of itself and the world around it’.[ii] This conclusion maps out my thoughts about the future, but let me preface them with some comments about the challenge.

 

Challenges of the past and present

What some readers may find disconcerting about this book is its refusal to grant Australia a narrative of progress, a narrative of unblemished origins, unbroken traditions, social consensus or stable values, developing in an ‘organic way over time’.  A story that, by itself, might offer hope. I do sympathise with the desire of many for such narratives, but neither the historical record nor a credible political science supports them. The very meaning of Australianness—its inclusiveness, justice and scope—have been the subject of bitter political battles that are still underway. This need not make the idea or value of being Australian mean any less; but it suggests some important ethical and political responsibilities that come with it. It suggests that hope is something we have to make, not inherit.

We all bear the weight of our history and our political culture, which can be nurturing or lethal depending on the accidents of fate that place us here or there: safe in a suburban home, our bank accounts healthy and our children sleeping soundly; cold and fearful, as our boat takes on water racing for these shores; struggling to preserve our language and traditions against developers and governments busy legislating our rights away; walking miles barefoot to vote in a referendum that could expel our oppressors, only to have them take a terrible revenge; or shivering in muddy khaki on a far-off battlefield, desperate not to fail our mates. Such lives and experiences are vividly real, but they are hostage to complex political structures, discourses and intellectual abstractions which shape the world we live in, and the possibilities we have to exist in and change it. It is those abstractions, and the kind of lives they enable or deny, which have been the real subject of this book. My narrative and analysis is sometimes sobering, but do not mistake it for pessimism. Its aim is to establish the necessity for a work of social and political change that would be very easy were it not for some frustrating obstacles.

Three key objections have often been made against the kind of analysis I have presented here. One, directed against the (broadly Foucauldian) understanding of individual and political subjectivity, discourse and power woven throughout this book, might accuse me of presenting many Australians as excessively gullible and pliable in the face of power, as lacking in agency or, if not agency, lacking a will to challenge authority and received wisdom to think for themselves. As I will argue below, even if this is partly true the problem is that in modern societies our thoughts are not always our own, and the burden of blame lies with those most capable of shaping the public agenda: journalists, experts, public officials and politicians. A second objection, as set out by the political historian Judith Brett, an incisive analyst of the liberal party, accuses critics of Howard as wrongly arguing that ‘his election victories’ show the Australian people to be ‘racist, uncaring, reactionary and so on’.[iii] She accuses the Left of being overly ‘suspicious of nationalism’ because of ‘its power to harden boundaries between people and to make them hate and kill each other’. This blinds them to the fact that:

in a relatively new country like Australia, nationalism has been particularly important for binding people together…Nations can create experiences of community and commonality that people value greatly. Nations can also be used to exclude others. They can help people make sense of who they are and build reciprocal bonds between strangers—fellow citizens who will never know each other.[iv]

Brett shares the moral concerns of Howard’s critics, but directs a rebuke to Australian intellectuals whom she thinks ‘have been unable to develop any effective or plausible counter-strategies for talking to their fellow Australians. If you regard any talk of “us” as illegitimate, it is not clear to me who you are going to talk to.’[v]

A third objection, a more belligerent version of Brett’s, has come from the academic David Burchill, the author of a book about western Sydney. He argues that the ‘leftish intelligentsia’s’ concerns with Iraq and asylum seekers exhibit ‘an almost heroic incapacity to evince sympathy for the bleached backyards of Australia’s suburbs and provinces, and the local, humdrum concerns of those who live there’:

Ever since the nineteenth century, its been a defining trait of the higher professions  to be preoccupied by questions of political conscience and morality ahead of those of interest and personal security, by the global at the expense of the local, by the grand vision rather than the reassuring gesture.[vi]

It would perhaps be too easy to mock Burchill for ‘evincing’ a deeper affinity for the common man in language plucked from the most obscure reaches of the dictionary, but there is a serious objective to his rhetorical strategy. On one level Burchell’s argument is quite incredible. He writes as if Australia’s very existence as a settler colonial nation was not a function of international forces at all times in its history, and foreign policy is some kind of abstraction from the concerns of real life or indeed the nation. However his arguments also betray a sinister undertone: a desire to silence dissent by making it conceptually impossible. He reproduces an ideological construct of Howard’s—that of the simple suburban and rural ‘battler’—and mimics his strategy of imagining and reinforcing divisions, not only between communities but between people who think and those who allegedly don’t, between security and morality, between the local and the global, between grand visions and ordinary lives. None of these distinctions holds in reality, and to affirm a tradition that would suggest security is opposed to morality is to remain hostage to a particularly crude and myopic ideology of political realism. However both Burchill and Brett make me confront a challenge: to connect a better vision of security and nationhood to the lives and concerns of individuals within and beyond our borders. Brett puts it this way:

One does not counter [Howard] by arguing that the centre is empty, or does not exist, and that he is really only ever policing the borders. One stands in the centre with him and argues about its meanings and responsibilities, and tells different stories to one’s fellow Australians about their past and present and the bonds they share.[vii]

So, some different stories. My first point is to say the concerns of Australians for security and certainty are legitimate and important. For the majority of us with little or no knowledge of Islam and global conflict over the last few decades, the terrible images of 9/11 must have seemed both horrifying and inexplicable. Because of my training in the field of international relations and security studies I could claim some expertise, but even I struggled for understanding. To make sense of these images one marshals whatever resources one has, but most often turns to the most immediate and authoritative conduits of expertise, analysis and certainty available: the media and government, who themselves scramble to assimilate the events to pre-existing narratives of action, identity and self. We trust our leaders and security managers to provide us with the most credible and impartial analysis, to tell us honestly what the events mean for us, and if necessary, to fix on a course of action and take it. When our leaders are especially Machiavellian, impulsive and cynical, and when they are imprudent and refuse to look widely for advice, we are in trouble.

The Defence Minister and a coalition backbencher said after 9/11 that the Tampa refugees may contain terrorists among them, and the Prime Minister deliberately evoked old fears of invasion when he stated on 31 October 2001, less than two weeks prior to the federal election, that if the government ‘throws up its hands’ it will be a ‘recipe’ for ‘I don’t want to use the word invaded…[but for] the shores of this nation to be thick with asylum seeker boats, thick with asylum seeker boats.’[viii] Neither assertion had any basis in fact, but their psychological impact was profound. In such circumstances citizens look to their leaders for guidance and reassurance, and defer to their expertise and presumed authority. Such an effect is magnified when we consider that the historic political formation of the security state, the Hobbesian body politic, constructs a political community based on the alienation from and fear of outsiders and merges the identity of the citizen with that of the state. Invoking ‘sovereignty’ and ‘border protection’ as concepts entrenches such a political formation, and discredits the idea that a nation can happily contain many kinds of identities and values (indeed, many sovereignties) yet still be generally harmonious and ordered.

Against such a background, when citizens then are told their security is at risk, they will acquiesce. While the public legitimisation of racist ideas may have been a factor in the response of many Australians to the Tampa crisis, in my view it was the deliberate securitisation of the issue which was most significant. As I have shown at many times throughout this book, ‘grand visions’ and ‘personal security’ are utterly intertwined at such times, in ways which rob people of agency, choice and freedom. What is portrayed as a defence of autonomy and freedom is in fact the operation of a power that makes citizens into pliable and passive subjects. Achieving security, freedom and dignity then rests not in believing such cynical promises to make us safe—when they patently do not—but in finding ways to identify and resist such a power and linking them with more ethical and sustainable policy frameworks. This is to ask two things of citizens: that they exercise greater freedom of thought by being more sceptical of information, and to exercise greater personal responsibility by considering the ethical and political implications of their views; by considering how they will affect the lives of others.

Rethinking the idea of sovereignty is central to this effort. As a model for independent and self-governing communities (what is known in international law as ‘self-determination’) sovereignty is an important value, and needs to be preserved. Yet when turned inwards to suppress cultural and religious diversity within a society, to impose violent and coercive policies that produce deep suffering and hurt, or to deny our international responsibilities and connections, it can be a very dangerous thing.

Responsibility and Sovereignty: Our Global Connections

To be meaningful and responsible, any discussion of national and the local must acknowledge their unbreakable connection with a world beyond our borders: with a diverse international society of states, religions and cultures; with a globalised economy in which we have long been deeply integrated; and with global ecosystems—seas, forests, rivers and atmosphere—which respect no borders and are undergoing rapid human-induced change. These facts are often denied—or acknowledged selectively—by governments and commentators, but they are denied at our peril. They are facts in turn reflected in global and regional institutions that have been created for profound and honourable purposes: to help us solve problems that cannot be solved by one or two countries alone, to provide stability and order to international relations, to give hope and a voice to less powerful nations and communities, and to establish and defend universal principles that unite us in our humanity. Above all, they were established, after two terrible global wars and genocides, to stand as a bulwark against the most terrifying powers discovered and exercised by modern man.

This is why the United Nations (with the close involvement of the Australian external affairs minister H.V. Evatt) adopted its Charter of 1945 which outlawed the use of force save in self-defence and aimed to:

save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.[ix]

It is why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other rights instruments were adopted in the decades following, why the Convention on Refugees was adopted in 1951 and improved in 1967, why the Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol were adopted in 1992 and 1998, and why at the United Nations’ World Summit of 2005—the most significant UN meeting since 1945—its member states reaffirmed their ‘faith in the United Nations and [their] commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter and international law, which are indispensable foundations of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world’.[x] In a world where all our fates—humans, animals, ecosystems—are bound together, there is no going it alone.

In this way the Howard government’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and effective action on climate change, which so profoundly threatens the security of future generations, and its rejection of its responsibilities to refugees under international law and of the UN Security Council when it took the decision to join the invasion of Iraq, are so damaging.  This is not an argument that these agreements (or the UN itself) are flawless or that collective action is simple or easy; it is that the government consistently acted as if it could be limited by the most narrow self-interest and turn its back on the burden of collective responsibility, not merely for transnational problems but for the consequences of those actions it chose to take.

Like genocide, terrorism or war, human-induced climate change is an example of the enormous creative power of modern humans to live and act in ways that have destructive and unpredictable consequences. Yet I worry that as a society, and as a world, we lack the moral and political capacities that will be necessary to meet the challenges of climate change. Rising sea levels will potentially add millions of refugees and displaced people to the 21 million[xi] that currently exist, and what will become of them if the current rejectionist approach of so many states continues?[xii] Will we wall ourselves further into isolated islands of sovereignty, paying lip-service to international law, while terrible global problems are left to fester? Surely the Earth’s atmosphere, which we all breathe every few seconds, which protects us from lethal cosmic radiation, and which makes the earth habitable and is the engine of global climate, is the ultimate evidence of our common vulnerability? Action to reduce greenhouse emissions and forestall the worst impacts will need to be taken by individuals, corporations and governments, but only at an international level can a genuinely fair and effective system, based on widely accepted principles, be agreed. This was the true value of Kyoto, whatever its flaws.

In such a context, sovereignty remains important, but it must be exercised responsibly, and collectively, where governments and various non-governmental organisations meet to debate their problems in international institutions with the duty to represent the interests both of their particular communities and of human beings in general. This is a broadly ‘cosmopolitan’ argument which asserts that moral obligations flow from the common heritage and fate of humankind, in all its diversity. Nationalist politicians, and writers like Brett, promote a different line of argument towards the same goal: one that derives from national traditions and interests. For example, Gareth Evans maintained that the idealism in Australia’s foreign policy derived from its convict experiences and its record of immigration, which saw ‘a significant proportion’ of the population made up of ‘those fleeing persecution or seeking a better life’. As a result, ‘at least part of the national psyche is profoundly committed to notions of reform or improvement. And being the size and weight we are, it is in Australia’s national interest that the world should be governed by principles of justice, equality, talent and achievement, rather than status and power.’[xiii] There is much to agree with in Evans’ argument, and it is possible for these two approaches—cosmopolitanism and progressive nationalism—to reinforce each other. However Labor’s sorry record on East Timor, and its failure to develop a principled policy towards asylum seekers, point to a deeper challenge.

Sovereignty contains the promise of representation, community and order, but also the possibility of exclusion and violence. Like many indigenous peoples and national minorities, the refugee lives and suffers in the very space of this contradiction. As McKenzie Wark argued in 2001: ‘It is the rule of the border in general that the refugee challenges…It is the justice of national sovereignty itself that the body of the asylum seeker refutes’. Lacking both rights of secure citizenship at home and abroad, they are doubly dehumanised within traditional ontologies of national security and identity—‘homeless’ in a truly profound sense. Yet an ‘international society’ of sovereign states is singularly failing to provide them with hope. As Wark concluded: ‘Only when the world is its own refuge will their limitless demand be met.’[xiv] The philosopher and historian Hannah Arendt, herself a former refugee, wrote in 1950 that in the face of the terrible ‘homelessness’ and ‘rootlessness’ of her time ‘human dignity needs a new guarantee which can be found in a new political principle, in a new law on earth, whose validity this time must comprehend the whole of humanity while its power must remain strictly limited, rooted in and controlled by newly defined territorial entities.’[xv]

One could also extrapolate from another of her observations—about how totalitarianism ‘brought forth an entirely new form of government which as a potentiality and an ever-present danger is only too likely to stay with us’—to say that when any new political possibility is put into the world, be it death camps, indefinite detention, the torture of suspects or the routine suspension of the rule of law, it changes the fabric of reality and threatens to become a new normal.[xvi] From there, it is but a few fateful steps to dictatorship and terror. As a society, we are already peering down that terrible staircase. This is the danger that the war on terror and the abandonment of refugees brings us, built as it is on a tradition of security in which lives can be secured or sacrificed in the service of cruel political abstractions divorced from life as it is really lived. The asylum seekers are proof that our images of safety , community and being are built on a dangerously weak edifice. If their right to be means so little, how can ours mean any more? If their security is not protected, how, ultimately, can ours? What is to stop the violence turned on them from being turned on ourselves?

A cosmopolitan future is not merely a matter of states selectively choosing to participate in the solution of global problems, or altruistically bearing burdens that—in an ideal world—they would not have to. Our common fate and our common vulnerability are facts, as solid as the earth. We all breathe the same air, as John F. Kennedy said after an earlier period of profound collective peril in the Cuban missile crisis.[xvii] A cosmopolitan future is about domestic as much as international change: it requires that states transform themselves to embed universal principles like human rights in their political life, in their constitution, in their identity and ethos. It requires that political community no longer be based on images of claustrophobia and fear, of sameness within the borders and alienation beyond them.

In a cosmopolitan future our mode of being changes to one that Emmanuel Levinas calls a ‘responsibility for the Other’, a responsibility that overturns the selfish, insecure fictions of identity that rule us, that turns our gaze and our sympathies outward, to a world which craves our solace and our participation, a world upon which we are just as dependent for our existence. It is, says Levinas, ‘as if I were devoted to the other man before being devoted to myself…as if I had to answer to the other’s death even before being’.[xviii] In such a way of life sovereignty is not given up, or lost, it is gained, in a more just and enduring form that affirms global interdependence and community and provides the only hope of a secure life for all.


[i] Carmen Lawrence, Fear and Politics (Melbourne: Scribe, 2006), p. 127.

[ii] Matt McDonald, “Constructing Insecurity: Australian Security Discourse and Policy Post-2001”, International Relations, Vol. 19 No. 3, 2005, p. 313.

[iii] Judith Brett, “Relaxed and Comfortable: The Liberal Party’s Australia”, Quarterly Essay, Issue 19, 2005, p. 11.

[iv] Brett, “Relaxed and Comfortable”, p. 39.

[v] Brett, “Relaxed and Comfortable”, p. 40.

[vi] David Burchell, “Correspondence: Latham’s World”, in Raimond Gaita, “Breach of Trust”, Quarterly Essay, Issue 16, 2004, p. 79.

[vii] Brett, “Relaxed and Comfortable”, p. 40.

[viii] Jonathon King, “At the beach”, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 September 2001, p. 3; “Blast for Reith on terrorism”, The Age, 15 September 2001; John Howard, Interview with Phillip Clarke, Radio 2GB, 31 October 2001. http://www.pm.gov.au/media/Interview/2001/interview1430.cfm

[ix] Charter of the United Nations, Preamble.

[x] United Nations, General Assembly, “World Summit Outcome”, 15 September 2005, Doc. A/60/L.1.

[xi] The UN High Commissioner for Refugees states that the ‘population of concern’ to it was approximately 21 million by the end of 2005. Statistical Yearbook 2005: Trends In Displacement, Protection And Solutions (Geneva: UNHCR, April 2007), p. 9.

[xii] Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Working Group II Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report Summary for Policymakers, April 2007. http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM13apr07.pdf

[xiii] Gareth Evans and Bruce Grant, Australia’s Foreign Relations in the World of the 1990s (Melbourne University Press, 1995), p. 42.

[xiv] McKenzie Wark, “Preface”, to Anthony Burke, In Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety (Annandale: Pluto Press Australia, 2001), pp. xvii, xx.

[xv] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (London and New York: Harcourt, 1976), pp. vii, ix.

[xvi] Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 478.

[xvii] John F. Kennedy, Commencement Address at the American University, Washington D.C., June 10, 1963.

[xviii] Sean Hand ed. The Levinas Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), p. 83.

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