Book Review: No Enemies No Friends: Restoring Australia’s Global Relevance

Declan Hourd


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With the victory of the Australian Labor Party in the 2022 Australian Federal Election, No Enemies No Friends may have become one of the most useful books to get a sense for the direction of Australia’s foreign policy in the next three years. Author Allan Behm maintained a 30-year career in the APS. During that time he was the Chief of Staff for the minister for climate change in the Rudd-Gillard government and from 2017 to 2019 he was the Senior Adviser to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. The book is structured in two parts, beginning with an unflinching examination of Australia’s present foreign policy, then moving to an exploration of how future policymakers may seek to improve Canberra’s place in the future. Wong was a clear influence on the concluding chapters of No Enemies No Friends and it stands to reason that Behm will have influenced the Foreign Minister’s outlook.


Behm’s analysis is wide reaching, highlighting the peaks and valleys of Canberra’s engagement with its allies, neighbours and rivals. At its best, Australia’s foreign policy focuses on activism and engagement with the international community. At its worst, it is sluggish, disinterested, and too readily relies on the status quo.


No Enemies No Friends is a part of the growing foreign policy literature that is demanding Australia to find a more independent foreign policy to grapple with the challenges of the present. In Behm’s words “Australia is not aggressive enough to have enemies, nor attractive enough to have friends. But it does not have to be that way.” To cure an increasingly middling international presence, No Enemies No Friends calls for imaginative, well funded and multidisciplinary foreign policy to grapple with the many vicious problems that face the world today.


Herein lies what I think are the most valuable lessons of this book: how do we change our foreign policy? Behm’s solution lies in structural change starting within the domestic sphere and means understanding Australian identity, values and interests. This is an incredibly nuanced discussion that warrants reading the book. Some topics have quite clear connections with this goal like increasing foreign language education, and others are more oblique, such as reconciliation with our Indigenous communities and rearticulating Australian values.


Cleverly written, Behm weaves together current trends and ongoing challenges, and puts it within the context of our regional environment and political peculiarities. No Enemies No Friends is a thought provoking read and attacks the foreign policy status quo. It represents the influences that are acting upon our current cohort of policymakers, and broadly looks to interrogate how the character of Australian policy came to be.


 

Declan Hourd holds a Master of International Relations where he graduated with excellence from UNSW in 2020. He is keenly interested in the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. He was a correspondent for the Organisation of World Peace and contributed to its Crisis Index. As Regional Correspondent for Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific he aims to shine a light on our under discussed near and abroad.


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