The Coup in the Kremlin
How Putin and the Security Services Captured the Russian State
Not long after I returned to Sydney in 1954, I met a friend I had not seen for five years. After a meagre offering of cordialities, he said: "How long do you give us? I give us three years." When I asked him what he was talking about he said that he expected that China would conquer Southeast Asia by 1957 and that Australia would become a Chinese dependency shortly after. He speculated for a while about who the members of Australia's first Quisling government would be. . . .
The feeling that one morning we shall wake up to find that we are no longer here has been one of the strong undertones of Australian life. For most of the first 100 years of settlement there was a shiftlessness about being an Australian. The sense of impermanence in the penal colonies, the gold rushes and the land seizures was even reflected in architecture: most of settled Australia looked like a camp. The arid interior did not provide the excitements and optimism of an expanding frontier; it seemed to be associated more with an ingrained doubt that life could be expected to hold anything very much (although one might as well "give it a go"). Even now most Australians still live in the city ports, clinging to a few bits and pieces of the edges of their continent. There is a long established anxiety about its emptiness. (Perhaps Australia should be renamed a "desert island"; there are too many rhetorical implications in the idea of one nation occupying a whole "continent," even if the "continent" is only Australia.) Between the two World Wars "populate or perish" was a fearsome slogan and it seemed to make sense when the Japanese destroyed Darwin in 1942. When Australians now consider that the tropical third of their island (the part that is closest to Southeast Asia) is almost completely unpopulated, they sometimes fear that by some act of natural justice they might lose title to it. This middle-class belief that success must be earned marries oddly with the role of a closed aristocracy that Australia plays beside the poverty of Asia, but Australians now profess little aristocratic sense of moral assurance about their place in the world. They are not South Africans. They no longer know who they are. No one has convinced them about who they are supposed to be since the First World War, when the nationalism that developed in the 1890s seemed to blow up so big that it burst.
I have referred to this submerged Australian obsession with the possibility of catastrophe because in discussing Australians' attitudes to foreign affairs I did not wish to begin in the more usual way by describing their "apathy." I wanted to draw attention to something that is so obvious that most Australian intellectuals forget about it: that one of the preconceptions of ordinary Australians about foreign policy is that from time to time they must go off and fight somewhere with an ally, in propitiation of distant danger-and even (in the past) for the sheer sport of it. In one of these paradoxes that are usual in everything in life except most descriptions of it, this submerged sense of melodrama exists in a society that in its day-to-day interrelations is as stolid as the brick suburban houses in which most of its people live. (It is boring to go on repeating it, but one must note that Australia is the most urbanized nation in the world.) Institutionalized in the suburbs is the belief in the Australian as a warrior, and the belief in Australia itself as some great power's best ally, somebody's brave and resourceful younger brother.
One token of this is that Australia's right to nationhood was considered to have been established not when Queen Victoria signed the Act that allowed the six self-governing colonies to federate but in 1915 when Australian troops shared in the disasters of the Gallipoli expedition. It is Anzac Day, the commemoration of this disaster, that constitutes the only effective native-grown ceremony in Australia. In this, their only folk festival, Australians see their history as a series of expeditions by gallant military contingents sent to the Anglo-Sudan War, the Boer War, the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Malayan "Emergency," and now the Indonesian konfrontasi and the war in South Viet Nam. The idea that they are one of nature's allies-central in Australian preconceptions of foreign affairs-means that they have looked openly and without hostility to big nations (first Britain, now America) to provide the massive power that seemed to assure their existence and that they have been prepared to pay the price of alliance. Australians were the first people in the Second World War to be saved by the Americans and their sense of the fitness of alliance has allowed them to forgive the Americans for saving them.
For most of the twentieth century, Australians did not think about Asia, the place near where they live, except in their submerged catastrophic moods, when it represented the Yellow Peril, the North Wind that might blow them away. At school they were taught as much of world history as seemed relevant to the domestic histories of Australia, Great Britain and France. If one examines their rhetoric, the idea that they were members of that late Victorian and Edwardian invention, "the British race," seems to have absorbed the imaginations of most Top People. (The idea that they were Irish seemed to absorb the imaginations of a significant proportion of Bottom People.) The Australian Empire Men (the influential minority) saw most of their fellow Australians as an inferior version of this imaginary race, and developed a kind of colonialists' distrust for them. Even the moderate Australian nationalists (probably the majority) saw their Australian-ness as lying in the fact that they were really "British," unlike the English who were too English to be British. The extreme nationalists, who were also extreme isolationists, saw themselves as a new civilization, the future hope of mankind. But Australian fraternalism-the customs of "mateship"-was an exclusive brotherhood. As the nationalistic Bulletin put it during the most virulent period of the "White Australia" immigration policy: "Australia for the White Man, and China for the Chows."
These old dreams brought over from Britain and grown peculiar in a new environment were useless as a basis for action as the Long War began in Asia with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. I remember the night when, as a country boy, I came home from shooting rabbits to find that the papers had arrived from Sydney with the news that the Japanese-whom we had never thought about-had invaded a part of the world not mentioned in our geography books. In the Australian fashion, war was a big and important thing in our family. During supper my parents discussed its prospects: would there be another Great War? There was nothing of special concern to Australia about this; Manchuria seemed as far away as Gallipoli. But we would, of course, send our expedition. Ten years later, after the Japanese had destroyed European colonialism in Southeast Asia in a few weeks, do-it- yourself Australians were making their blackout screens.
In one of those bursts of self-importance that alternate with its longer periods of modesty, Australia invented foreign policy as soon as the Japanese segment of Asia's Long War had ended. With little concern for the growth of Mao's strength in China, or for questions of power of any kind apart from getting representation on U.N. Committees, a hastily expanded External Affairs Department was pushed by the late Dr. H. V. Evatt into every world problem that could be detected. This was the period when the Labor Party government saw Australia as one of the consciences of the world, the literate voice of the smaller powers and an opponent of colonialism in Southeast Asia-where Australia assisted the destruction of Dutch rule in Indonesia. Looking back on it, this outburst of self- confidence seems to have come partly from Dr. Evatt's personal sense of adventure and partly from a continuation of the wartime recognition that after the fall of Singapore Australia could never again rely on British power. (The fall of Singapore marked the beginning of Australian foreign policy.) Perhaps what was most remarkable about it was that it was the first effective expression of a yearning that still exists-to do away with the inhibitions of alliance. It was also a reminder of that give-it-a-go delight in improvised action that lies concealed in Australian taciturnity and sometimes breaks through it. When Chiang fled to Taiwan in 1949 and Sir Robert Menzies (then but a Mr.) won government from the Labor Party and began his 16-year Prime Ministership, this sense of adventure departed from Australian foreign policy.
The early Menzies period was an unusually ideological time, in which the pressures of domestic politics may have helped determine foreign policy. At first Menzies' main concern was domestic: to grant Australia that "hundred percent freedom of enterprise" that would have destroyed it. In office, this revolutionary idealism was satisfied mainly by attacking the Australian Communists. The Communists had themselves made these attacks inevitable. As their contribution to the expression of Communist adventurism in Southeast Asia, they had used their considerable strength in the trade-union movement to produce so many provocative political strikes that, before Menzies took over, the Labor Government had already broken strikes with troops, jailed the party leader and set up a security service. Menzies attempted to ban the Communist Party-until his proposals were defeated in a referendum-and then, in the case of Petrov, the defecting Soviet agent, and in other ways, he continued to talk about Communism, particularly at election times, increasingly widening his references to include foreign Communists-first Russians, then Chinese. In a sense this initial ideological interest in Communism as the supreme enemy of "free enterprise" saved him from taking a serious interest in Asia (or even in Communism). He still saw Asia as he had read about it in British textbooks.
This concern with Communism was given much more intense expression by developments within the Labor Party. These were to determine the whole subsequent tone of Australian politics and foreign policy (and keep Menzies in office). Within the trade unions, where Catholic influence was traditionally strong, a Catholic secret society ("The Movement") was formed. Its main practical concern was to organize votes for anti-Communist union candidates but, through the connection between the trade unions and the Labor Party, it later became a kind of party-within-the-Labor-Party, with a fierce interest in international (and increasingly Chinese) Communism, expressed in high ideology. In 1954, for reasons that there is not space to describe, the Labor Party began to fall to pieces from its tensions; what was left of "The Movement" broke away as the Democratic Labor Party, and in election after election this breakaway party kept the Labor Party out of office because it had now become ambiguous in its foreign policy and spoke with conflicting voices on the American alliance. In this sense, all Australian elections since 1954 have been "about" foreign policy.
I have referred to these matters of domestic politics and of ordinary Australians' preconceptions about the world because the concern of an influential minority with Communism and the traditional concept of Australia as somebody's ally have been crucial to the politics lying behind Australian foreign policy, which (apart from subplots) has been one of alliance with America and Britain (and anyone else who will come in) in "forward defense" against what is taken to be a southward drive of Communist Chinese influence. Menzies' natural bent was to be a Queen's Man and a Commonwealth Man-the idea of Britishry seemed central to his beliefs- but events pushed him in another direction. Unlike the British, his government did not give diplomatic recognition to Peking, and with one exception it has given "me too" support to American policies of containment in Asia. The exception is overseas trade. Mainly through its wheat purchases, China is now Australia's fourth biggest customer.
Here again the pressures of domestic politics were decisive. Menzies depended on the support of the minority Country Party to make up his coalition governments, and the wheat growers had become the strongest single interest within the Country Party. Otherwise, in its relation to America, Australia under Menzies continued to play its traditional role as the faithful ally of a great power, except that the name of the great power was changed. Where American and British policies coincided, as in Korea, the Malayan "Emergency" and the Indonesian confrontation, Australia still sent contingents to fight alongside the British. Where they did not coincide, as in the question of recognition of China, the signing of the ANZUS Pact and in certain periods of the Viet Nam war, Australia sided with the Americans. But while Menzies' policies consolidated the replacement of Britain by America as Australia's crucial ally, he did not derive much satisfaction out of it. It was still questions of the break-up of the old British power that most moved his imagination, if gloomily. He conducted foreign policy with his eyes averted. This may partly account for the curious lack of communication that existed between him and the Australian people; he seemed to be reluctant to dramatize for them their new place in the world. Although questions of China, of Asia generally and of the American alliance were fundamental to his long term of office, Menzies did not talk much about Australia's place in Asia, or the dependence of his policy on America, but he did once confide that in the Cabinet room he sometimes looked at Asia on the map.
However non-communicative Menzies was, there is one sense in which Australia is already becoming an "Asian" country. In sections of both the Right and the Left there is obsession with the question: Will the Chinese become the supreme power in Asia? To believe that the future of China seems of crucial importance to the future of one's own country is one of the few ways of giving meaning (apart from merely geographical meaning) to the word "Asian." The future of China is now the central question in the Long War in which Asia has been sorting itself out. Because of the submerged theme of impermanence and even catastrophe in the Australian imagination, the idea of possible Chinese dominance is "believable" to Australians; they can even imagine that they could cease to exist while the rest of European civilization continued as if nothing much had happened. Among those in the Democratic Labor Party and their secret supporters in the other parties, including the Labor Party, who can imagine this, there is revolt against the traditional small-ally policy; they speak of an Australia rearmed, perhaps even with nuclear weapons, strong enough to play a more positive part in the American alliance, and by its assistance perhaps even encouraging the Americans to stay; if America should depart, they see this armed Australia taking the initiative in manufacturing alliances with Asian powers. In parts of the Labor Party the revulsion against traditional ideas of alliance has become complete; they believe that Australia should withdraw from the American alliance and arm itself sufficiently to become a "garrison Australia."
The more usual "leftist" position is one of unarmed neutrality. In this view the word "Asia" has replaced "the workers" as a name for a regenerative proletariat that is by peculiar definition necessarily good and always better than Australians, a benign force that can liberate Australians from the problems of having too many consumer durables, or whatever it is that is assumed to be wrong with them. Ignoring Asia's massive and perhaps unique divisiveness, this view sees a simple remedy for Australia's foreign policy: Australia should not do anything that would affront "Asian opinion." For this purpose "Asia" is defined in a way that excludes Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, South Viet Nam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and, after the border disputes with China, India; and perhaps Indonesia if the generals retain power there. It really means that "Asia" consists of China and those parts of Asia that support Communist China, or do not openly oppose it. Whatever problems the Chinese provide can be overcome by the therapeutic approach to foreign policy: like problem children, the delinquent Chinese would lose their hostilities if we showed them a little more affection.
In neither of the opposing ideological concepts of Asia-that of anti- Communism and that of the benign and regenerative proletariat-is there much natural feel for the texture of affairs in Asia, yet it is in these ideological terms that most of the more spirited debate on foreign policy occurs. The anti-Communist position has an important strength: it draws attention to the importance of China, but the considerable care that one should now exercise in explaining what one means by "Communism" in particular cases is often neglected by its exponents. It has two more important weaknesses: it tends to sort the sheep from the goats too arbitrarily and too ideologically, ignoring the ability of Asian countries to switch sides for reasons that are not related to ideology; and it is useless in a situation in which the issues have nothing to do directly with Communism. One might as well try to understand Europe by reading nothing but Karl Marx as try to understand Asia by concerning oneself with nothing but Communism. Those who hold to the concept of Asia as a regenerative proletariat, on the other hand, argue Communist activities out of existence as being nothing more than a necessary social-revolutionary approach to rural change (when the only two successful rural changes so far have been carried out in Japan and Taiwan!).
Among those who are less ideological, there has been, we are all agreed, a "growing awareness of Asia" of a more detailed kind. The amount of information provided by newspapers has increased; there is more background interpretation available than there used to be; the universities have established various kinds of schools of Asian studies; there are exchanges of visits between dignitaries; more ordinary Australians visit Asia; businessmen are expanding their interests there; almost 12,000 Asian students are now in Australia; there are technical assistance and aid programs (not as many as are talked about); the opinion polls suggest that a majority of Australians now want reform of the "White Australia" immigration policy (the policy has already been marginally reformed in administration and is no longer publicly stated in offensive terms); the principal public interest of the younger generation seems to lie in Australia's relation to Asia. Yet most Australians still talk about Asia as if they were looking at it from London-peremptorily, in generalities, and with the unreality of a line of conversation one has politely adopted so that one can talk over the fence to one's new neighbors.
Even the future of Australia's two territories in East New Guinea is a subject that only occasionally interests Australians. If you ask them, most Australians would probably say that there is a danger that these territories might become yet another subject of Indonesian expansionism, yet amongst some Top People there is now something of a cut-and-run attitude. What the hell? The present evidence suggests that, if the people of New Guinea were allowed to say what they would like to happen to them, a majority would want New Guinea to become the seventh State of Australia. This prospect would horrify most Australians, but, beyond a general assurance that sooner or later the people of New Guinea will be allowed to decide their own future, the Australian Government has refused to say what kind of relations Australia would find acceptable. Meanwhile, the elected House of Assembly in New Guinea will no doubt develop a political momentum that will bring decision sooner rather than later. It is in the general area of the Pacific Islands, including the present British colonies, that Australia's blindness to its environment seems least excusable. Here, by comparison, Australia is a big power that might be expected to provide the initiative that Australia itself expects from a world power. Beyond a trade agreement that is almost meaningless, nothing has been done to initiate cöoperation even with New Zealand.
Nevertheless, developments in New Guinea began a process that may now be giving at least some Australians something more of a feel for at least one part of Asia. The acquisition of West New Guinea by the Indonesians set in train events that may provide one of those shocks of recognition that could shake Australia into a new way of looking at things. Though attempting to remain friendly with the Sukarno government, Australian diplomacy strongly supported the Dutch policy of leading its colony in West New Guinea to independence, rather than giving it to the Indonesians; there was general Australian belief that this policy would succeed. When Sukarno began his confrontation against the Dutch on the question of West New Guinea, there was some rattling of unofficial sabres in Australia, but Australia was too weak to offer the Dutch any decisive military support; it had failed in its attempt to arouse American interest and was unable to carry out the kind of propaganda onslaught that in Southeast Asia can go by the name of diplomacy. Australian policy collapsed under its own lack of substance. In its only go-it-alone episode in foreign policy, what the Menzies government had done was to encourage the Dutch to make useless sacrifices and to throw away the Indonesian friendship that had come from earlier Australian support against the Dutch, without achieving anything for the people of West New Guinea. When, after taking over West New Guinea, Sukarno passed on to his next confrontation-against the newly formed Malaysia-Australians were on more familiar ground; Britain was ready to put up an army in this pseudo-war, so Australia sent its contingent to North Borneo.
Last year, when Singapore was pushed out of Malaysia and the generals took over in Djakarta and began liquidating the Indonesian Communists, Australian diplomacy found itself in a most intricate situation in which it is now trying to maintain cordial relations with two nations (Malaysia and Singapore) that have quarrelled with each other but are nevertheless combined in a counter-confrontation of a third nation (Indonesia), with which Australia is now trying to obtain more cordial relations, although it has troops on the other side. There have been more delicate shifts and subtleties in diplomatic policy than probably even the Government has understood, but the general issues are reasonably well accepted in Australia as being those of stability-of concern with Indonesian expansionism and with the possibility that the Malays might attempt some violence on Singapore, or that the Singapore Chinese might take some desperate measure to maintain their independence from the Malays. Running through this concern with stability has been a preoccupation with China: until the coup against the generals failed, strong Peking influence made Indonesia a world problem (that the world, including America, very largely failed to recognize), and there is still the anxiety-smaller, but nevertheless real-of what the final attitude will be of the overseas Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia toward the struggle for power in Asia. Even if it is limited to a tiny proportion of Australians, there is more serious and prolonged concern about these questions in Australia than almost anywhere else. (As well there might be!) This is not to say that it is not the fighting in Viet Nam that has done more to awaken most Australians' interest in Asia than events in the Malay Archipelago. The dispatch of a contingent and the casualty lists provide a reënactment of major themes in the Australian imagination. However, most of the discussion on Viet Nam, teach-ins and all, came ready-mixed from America. Australian government spokesmen seem unable to dramatize Australian participation in this war.
Whether Australia goes on seeing itself as an ally, and whether it is a strong ally or a weak ally, and whether it is allied with Britain or America, or for that matter with Japan or India, or whether it breaks policy and sees itself as a neutral or as an "independent," either armed or unarmed, it has to know more about Asia than it now does-perhaps more than any other European nation except America-because Australia is going to be there forever. And because suburban Australia, living on the edges of its deserts, is the only European nation to which developments in Asia can be crucial, it must-even as a minor ally-learn more about policy and decision- making than perhaps any Western European nation of similar population need ever again worry about, at least within the imaginable future.
Weaknesses in the Australian élites may make this difficult. Perhaps the central weakness is in the educational system. Australia spends proportionately less on education than countries of comparable prosperity- sometimes alarmingly less. Perhaps even more important, there is a distrust of the defining of issues and of conceptualization: Australians do not like to imagine that they can see things whole or that one should think very much, with any sustained, serious interest, about anything; they prefer daily detail, individual tasks performed with no general conceptual framework. And there is a feeling of provincial unimportance: new ideas are distrusted; to Australians it seems unlikely that fellow Australians could think up new things; new things come from overseas. The horizon of the possible in Australia seems small, not far from under one's own nose. And among the élites there is an extraordinary distrust-often a hatred-of the ordinary people. The people get blamed even for the inadequacies of the élites. In foreign affairs it is the apathy of the people that is attacked, as if foreign policy were usually initiated by a series of impulses from below. Yet what is remarkable about Australia is the lack of informed and sustained public discussion on foreign affairs among the élites themselves.
Three areas of government important in foreign policy-the Departments of Defense, External Affairs and Trade-show some of the weaknesses and the potential strengths of the people who run things in Australia. Defense planning is completely devoid of general policy. There is a massive superstructure of committees, but no coherent structure of armed forces- only bits and pieces. For most of the Menzies period of government Australia spent proportionately less on defense than almost any other developed nation; expenditure has now increased, but it is still proportionately below that of most comparable nations. For the first time in its history as an ally, an Australian government has not really put up the goods. And according to the new Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Holt, it does not intend to increase defense expenditure, despite British requests that it should do so. (This may not be Mr. Holt's last word on the matter.) While the public explanation is the extraordinary one that Australia's best contribution to defense is to proceed with its own economic development, the usual private excuse is that the electorate is too crammed with the artifacts of affluence to care for defense; but this would seem unlikely in a nation that sees itself as a warrior people. What seems to have happened is that the government has lacked the intellectual capacity to conceptualize what it is supposed to do about its armed services. Individual committees have got on with individual tasks, but none of it makes much sense as a whole. While field officers and men still seem as brave and resourceful as tradition demands, the intellectual weaknesses of their planners could mean that if Australia were faced with a sudden emergency the results would be most serious.
By contrast, the External Affairs Department is thoroughly well organized and coherent in operation. What it may suffer from is a rare thing in a country where there is a cult of improvisation: it may be too "professional," too concerned to see foreign policy as a matter only of professional diplomacy (whatever that may mean) quietly carried out by experts. There is no sustained attempt to indicate how Australia sees its role in those parts of the world that are its legitimate concern. So far as the Australian people are concerned, Australia hasn't got a foreign policy. In further contrast, the Department of Trade is public in its policies; it maintains many contacts with the Australian community beyond the administrative garrison of Canberra; and it displays high spirit and belief in the conduct of its policies. Its methods are sometimes slapdash, less professional than those of the External Affairs Department, but it may well be that being slapdash is the most efficient way for Australians to run their affairs.
It can be one of the most frustrating features of a provincial-minded society that it does not know its own strengths. The Australians' very love of improvisation, their delight in "giving it a go," their delight in action for its own sake, can mean that, given new directions, they can prove to be almost alarmingly adaptable. In this respect Australians are highly "westernized."
While it is difficult to make any predictions about future Australian policy because the long reign of Sir Robert Menzies acted as a kind of prolonged twilight of old attitudes, it might be safe to predict that events may force the new Prime Minister to take advantage of Australian adaptability even sooner than he might wish. In their attempt to continue to coöperate with the Americans by keeping some forces East of Suez, the British are demanding a greater contribution by Australia. In the last 16 years Australian governments have signed a lot of chits in the way of commitments to their allies; Mr. Holt may be inheriting the settlement day.