The US President’s idea of including Australia in the next G7 meetings heralds a major shift in the nation’s standing on the world stage, however, inclusion in the G7 will mean the nation has to take greater control of its economic and strategic destiny in the 21st century.
Australia as both a continent and a nation is unique in its position, enjoying relative geographic isolation from the flashpoints of global and regional conflagration of the 20th century.
Blessed with unrivalled resource wealth and industrial potential, the nation has been able to embrace vastly different approaches to the nation’s strategic role and responsibilities, oscillating between policies of forward presence, active intervention and comparative regional isolation and withdrawal post-Vietnam.
Across the Indo-Pacific, competing economic, political and strategic interests, designs and ambitions are beginning to clash, flying in contrast to the projections of many historians at the end of the Cold War – further compounding these issues is the continued instability caused by the coronavirus and concerns about ecological collapse.
Driven by an unprecedented economic transformation, propelling once developing nations onto the world stage, the region, the globe and its established powers are having to adjust to a dramatically different global power paradigm – one committed to undermining and influencing the fabric of Australian and Western democracies.
Without sounding like a broken record, in this era of increasing nation-state competition, driven largely by the great power competition between the US and China and the subsequent impact on nations, Australia is finding itself at the epicentre of the new global paradigm with unique economic, political and strategic implications for the nation’s national security.
Despite Australia's record period of economic, political and strategic stability, all good things must come to an end, as the perfect storm of both devastating bushfires locally, and now the global recession triggered by the outbreak of the coronavirus has shattered any pretense Australia had to being an 'advanced economy' and 'developed country'.
As the global balance of power, across the economic, political and strategic spectrum, continues to evolve, Australia's position in the global order is in a constant state of flux, most notably, the nation has received the tap on the shoulder, with US President Donald Trump calling for an expansion of the G7, with Australia the top of the list.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, via a spokesperson, confirmed the request from the US President, saying, "There has been contact between the US and the Prime Minister about a G7 invitation.
"The G7 has been a topic of recent high-level exchanges. Australia would welcome an official invitation. Strengthening international co-operation among like-minded countries is valued at a time of unprecedented global challenges."
Australia's inclusion in the G7 would mark a major milestone in the nation's position as a post-Second World War 'middle power' essential to the longevity and sustainability of the economic, political and strategic order that all nations, including China, are dependent upon for the current status quo.
Maintaining the status quo or shrinking in the face of Asia?
Australia as a nation has built its prosperity, security and stability on its position as a middle power in the post-Second World War international order.
Like its relationship with the British Empire, Australia's relationship with the US provides a degree a insulation for Australia's policy makers when it came to defining a role for the nation beyond continuing its role as a "loyal deputy".
However, as a nation Australia has often walked the line, balancing traditional middle power and minor power characteristics, which have served to exacerbate the partisan nature of the nation's strategic and defence policymaking.
In particular, Australia has historically been dependent upon the benevolence of the broader international community, at both an economic and strategic level – this is most evident in two specific arenas, firstly the nation's continued economic dependence on China and strategic dependence on the US.
Additionally, as a "responsible member of the international community" Australia uses its economic, relative political stability and integration within the international institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, International Criminal Court and IMF to serve both its own interests, while also providing avenues to curry the favour of its great power partners.
This balancing act combined with the competing interests of Australia's economic, political and strategic agendas directly influence both sides of Australia's domestic political discourse and policymaking, which constantly try to maintain the nation's tenuous position in an increasingly challenging part of the world.
These challenges also present significant opportunities for Australia, the public and is firmly in the hands of its policymakers.
Recognising this, both sides of Australian politics have sought to more directly embrace the 'middle power' elements of Australia's position since the mid-2000s to engage differently with Indo-Pacific Asia at an economic, diplomatic and military level, ranging from school exchange programs in the New Columbo Plan and the ‘Pacific Step-up’ program to the annual Indo-Pacific Endeavour military exercises.
However, the economic, political and increasingly the strategic rise of Indo-Pacific Asia's power players is dramatically impacting the US, itself struggling to counter the rise of both Russia and China, exposing Australia to the mercy of equally ambitious, competitive and increasingly capable peer and near-peer competitors emerging in the nation's proximity.
Australia’s position and responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific region will depend on the nation’s ability to sustain itself economically, strategically and politically.
Despite the nation’s virtually unrivalled wealth of natural resources, agricultural and industrial potential, there is a lack of a cohesive national security strategy integrating the development of individual yet complementary public policy strategies to support a more robust Australian role in the region.
Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic and military capability serves as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities in supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia.
However, as events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition?
Further complicating the nation’s calculations is the declining diversity of the national economy, the ever present challenge of climate change impacting droughts, bushfires and floods, Australia’s energy security and the infrastructure needed to ensure national resilience, prosperity and sovereignty in the 21st century.