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Australia To Become America's Peacekeeping Deputy

Post-Timor, Australia will upgrade its defence forces and embrace a new role as the United States' peacekeeping "deputy" in Asia. John Howard reports.

Speaking with the Bulletin magazine, Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, unveiled the "Howard Doctrine", which he said would see Australia take a new place in Asia now that it has led a multinational security force into East Timor.

"We have displayed our responsibility, shouldered the burden we should have," Howard told the magazine in an interview due to be published in its September 28 edition.

Australia, he said, "has a particular responsibility to do things above and beyond in this part of the world" and was prepared to take on a role as America's "deputy" in the region.

That new role would mean increasing defence spending and make upgrading the military a priority that could stand in the way of other, less urgent needs, he said.

The Prime Minister said Australia's role in leading a multinational force into East Timor this week had set a precedent for its future role under the "Howard Doctrine".

"Despite the inevitable tensions that are involved in East Timor and some of the sensitivities, this has done a lot to cement Australia's place in the region." Howard said.

"We have been seen by countries, not only in the region but around the world, as being able to do something that probably no other country could do, because of the special characteristics we have, because we occupy a special place - we are a European Western civilisation with strong links with North America, but here we are in Asia."

But Howard said there was a caveat to Australia's future role in Asia.

Australia, he said, planned to be a "participant on our own terms" in Asia and would spend less time worrying about fitting in. "In foreign policy, we spent too much time fretting about whether we were in Asia, part of Asia, or whatever. We should be ourselves in Asia."

Australia's Labour governments of the 1980's and early 1990's, he said, had spent too long worrying about offending Indonesia and trying to make Australia "much like the countries in the region."

The Prime Minister said he expected Australia's relationship with Indonesia would be repaired in the coming years and speculated that work could begin once the current "power vacuum" in Jakarta was resolved.

Just how New Zealand and Asian nations feel about Australia's new post-timor "Howard Doctrine" and seeing itself as a regional US "deputy" is unclear. Howard's comments came from left field and will likely be seen in diplomatic circles as something of a bombshell.

Although last week, NZ Defence Minister, Max Bradford, said that he foresees greater defence spending when New Zealand takes more responsibility for its own defence following the US reluctance to become involved in the East Timor and other regional crisis.


ENDS

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