This dissertation describes and explains the continuities and discontinuities in Australia's foreign policies towards sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) from December 1972 to 1996. The principal aim of the study is to re-evaluate the rationale and the motivations behind these policies. The dissertation examines the political rhetoric used by political leaders to explain and justify Australia's policies towards SSA during this period. It is argued that these policies must be seen in the wider context of political leaders' attempts to re-conceptualise and represent Australia as a 'middle power' in world affairs. In so doing, the dissertation seeks to challenge explanations of Australia's foreign policy towards SSA that rely primarily upon either changes in the global environment or the likes and dislikes of individual Prime Ministers.
The dissertation uses the concept of a middle power to appraise the coherence, authenticity and integrity
of Australia's policies towards SSA. The study pursues this objective by two means. First, the study examines themes within the middle power discourse that influenced foreign policy decision during this period. Specifically, the dissertation analyses selected major political statements that explained and justified Australia's policies towards SSA. It is argued here that political leaders justified involvement in SSA affairs within the context of Australia's role as a global middle power. Political ideology, domestic pressures and changes in the global environment were crucial in the aspects of the middle power discourse that were emphasised. Second, the dissertation reviews selected empirical indicators such as humanitarian assistance, official development assistance (ODA) and trade relations over a number of governments and periods. The study then proceeds to compare the normative political rhetoric associated with the middle power discourse with empirical realities.
This dissertation argues that, for the 1972-96 period, unlike the 1949-72 period, Australia differentiated its policies on significant SSA issues from its major allies. Australia was actively involved in and played crucial roles in finding solutions to some of SSA political and economic problems. In particular, within multilateral context such as the Commonwealth, Australia provided leadership in the fight against apartheid, the Rhodesian constitutional crisis and colonialism in Africa. Australia was also involved in mediatory and peacekeeping roles as well as the resettlement of African refugees. At the bilateral level, there was a significant shift in Australia's economic assistance to SSA. Quantitatively and qualitatively, there was an increase in Australia's economic assistance to SSA. Conscious attempts were also made to nurture and upgrade trading links with SSA. Cumulatively, the empirical evidence supports the view that political leaders defined Australia's
role in global terms during this period. There was a collective understanding that Australia, as a middle power, ought to be actively involved in SSA affairs. This interpretation helps to explain the continuity of Australia's policies towards SSA through at least two ideologically different governments during this period.
The dissertation, however, highlights inherent ambiguities within the middle power discourse that allow for inconsistencies in its practical application. While political rhetoric stressed normative values, in some cases, policies were based on more strategic, economic and political considerations. Nevertheless, Australia's policies towards SSA were generally consistent with the behaviour and role of middle powers in the global political economy. On balance, the analysis based on the middle power concept unites the external and internal factors that shaped Australian foreign policies towards SSA during this period. The approach provides a
broader conceptual context for understanding Australia's responses to significant SSA issues during this period.