Oakeshott on Nation Building Abroad

Much of which is difficult to argue with

It is a lie for government to try and guarantee safety through invading one nation. This is a global challenge of trying to capture the heart and mind of that one person with evil intent. It involves all people in all countries. I am optimistic that we are doing good work on this in many locations which deserves recognition within this debate.

I mention as an example my brother John, who works for the little known Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. He lives in Davao City on Mindanao, a southern island of the Philippines, home to some of the world’s most violent and extreme religious and antigovernment fundamentalists. John works on building economy for local farmers to try to build a long-term sustainable option other than the money to the locals that is on offer for terrorist actions. John does not carry a gun in one of the most dangerous places in the world. John is not alone and has many other Australian aid and development workers in the field in the areas of agriculture, education and health working alongside him.

It is the John Oakeshotts and the many Australians like him who are the nation-builders and who are the answer for the long-term to global terrorism. Australia’s name is strong in the southern Philippines because of this, just as it is in Cambodia, where many in the legal profession have just completed the Duch trials following the atrocities in this poorest of poor nations and the most corrupt of corrupt nations. Civil engagement, without a military engagement, can be achieved. This is how we build safe havens for the long term.

This is not to deny the military role. They have done an excellent job, and I particularly mention the faceless men of the SAS, who have been on the front line in the most difficult of conflicts. To the best of my knowledge, Australian troops and all coalition troops have won all battles. To that I say, ‘Job well done.’

But the challenge is to move beyond the ‘clear and hold’ to the build. And the build, through the peace and reconstruction trust, will be and should be through all Australian departments and all of Australian civil society—just like in the southern Philippines and just like in Cambodia. I would therefore ask the Prime Minister to reconsider her 10-year military commitment and bring that forward to at least 2014. I would ask for her to consider the civil society building that is being done in other hot spots in the world and focus on them as a model for Afghanistan. And I would ask for her to admit we are talking to the Taliban now and we are working for a peaceful settlement now. We will be a stronger democracy if she does.


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