The ‘Near North’: Issues of Empire, Emerging Independence and Regionalism in Australian Foreign and Defence Policy, 1921-1937
The interwar period represents an era of emerging growth and maturity in Australian foreign and defence relations, with a distinct focus shift from Imperial to regional matters. However, this expression of independent policy has been largely overlooked in the existing literature. Rather, Australian policy makers of this era have been framed as disinterested in policy making, lacking direction and preferring ‘to deal with the world one step removed through Whitehall’. Such interpretations have overlooked significant policy changes throughout this period, painting Australia as a timid and naïve nation, content to follow Britain’s every policy and demand. This article will challenge such views, drawing upon a recent growth in literature that supports the notion of growing assertiveness in Australian foreign and defence policy throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In doing so, this article will seek to redefine the interwar image of Australia. This will be achieved through an examination of Australia’s response to the increasingly doubtful diplomatic and security assurances it received from Britain throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The uncertainty that this created forced Australian policy makers to assess their previously unchallenged commitment to the British Empire and to consider the growing significance of Australia’s direct region in policy making, ultimately finding that the pursuit of a new policy direction was necessary. This article will examine this new assertiveness in policy making within the context of appeasement and rearmament, explicitly in its relation towards the potential regional aggressor Japan.