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Gary Quinlan, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations | Image Credits Wikimedia Commons & DFAT

By Andrew Reynolds, 5 August 2014

Quiet painstaking diplomacy pays off.

If Australia’s successful UN resolution 2166 over the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 proves anything, it is the worth of having a seat at the table of international relations, in this case the UNSC.

Years of painstaking diplomacy paid off in a big way for Australia with 2166, largely thanks to the diligent work of Gary Quinlan and his team at the UN. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop may have received all the plaudits but Quinlan and his team deserve a large slice of the praise.

To outside observers, it may have appeared as if Australia pulled off this diplomatic feat overnight, but the reality is years of meticulous planning went into this effort. Quinlan and his team have amassed considerable diplomatic credit at the UN, and many of these political chips were cashed in to achieve success at the UN with this resolution.

The need to be in the game of international diplomacy has never been clearer for Australia. A recent report from the Lowy Institute claims Australia is significantly under-represented in key strategic areas, including India, China, the Middle East and Latin-America.In order to address this imbalance, the Lowy Institute’s recommendation – amongst others – is for Australia to open 20 new diplomatic missions over the next ten years.

According to the Lowy Institute, this decline in Australia’s commitment to investing in diplomatic engagement reflects a global trend. The United States is currently reviewing the asymmetric nature of its budgetary expenditure, which has seen its diplomacy underweighted and security expenditure overweighted. The situation in Australia is similar.

The lesson here – hopefully learnt by all sides of parliament – is that you need to be in it to win it. UNSC resolution 2166 would not have been possible without Australia having a seat at the table – in this case, the UNSC table. Hence, the need for Australia to expand its international diplomacy in order to expand its influence has never been clearer. Diplomacy is a long term game. The relationships, networks and contacts necessary to achieve such feats as 2166 cannot be amassed overnight. The LNP coalition should be thanking former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on this one. Without Rudd’s efforts to gain the seat at the UN, UN resolution 2166 would not have been possible.

A salutary lesson but a necessary one.

 

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