On June 6, the Russian International Affairs Council is hosting a round table focusing on security issues and economic cooperation between Russia and Australia in the Asia-Pacific Region. The head of the Australian delegation, Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University Strategic & Defence Studies Centre Paul Dibb has told TASS of his expectations ahead of the forum. Paul Dibb used to work at Australia's National Intelligence Committee, the Defence Ministry.
- What is the main goal of your visit to Moscow? Who do you plan to meet, and what topics are you hoping to discuss?
- The hosts will be the Russian International Affairs Council and its president, former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the opening day will be Monday, June 6. We have quite great part to complete that day with them. The agenda for following days is still to be settled but it looks that it will include the Foreign Ministry, the Far East Development Ministry, perhaps, the Security Council, places like Moscow University and Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO). And so on. That is to be settled.
The discussions I think will set around areas of mutual interest with regard to regional security in the Asia-Pacific region, and you have a number of experts as we will on countries as such as China and Japan and South East Asia, and we’ll talk about multilateral security, I think. We are also interested in doing some of the viewings on some other Russian perspectives on security in Europe and the Middle East. So it’s fairly far and wide range and although there are clearly differences in our relationship which we all are aware of, the sort of model is going back to the days of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, when they were initiating some bilateral talks like these with IMEMO (Institute of World Economy and International Relations) and we had annual exchanges both in the former Soviet Union and Australia and again we had frank discussions despite the differences.
- According to the Russian International Affairs Council, the main aim of the upcoming meetings is to analyze collaboration dynamics, identify joint achievements of bilateral cooperation and address the key challenges to its development, as well to bring forward proposals aimed at strengthening partnership between Russia and Australia in the Asia-Pacific region. Could you name the potential areas of bilateral cooperation?
- Well, you know that we are no officials in this delegation. I think one of the areas will be the issue of the security in Asia Pacific region, as you well know there’re tensions over territorial issues in thr South China Sea and on the Indian subcontinent. There are some ideological and religious differences but, especially, there are territorial issues and some tensions and we are all, including Russia and Australia, interested because every country in the region has strong economic growth and is building up its military capabilities. And yet unlike the period of the Cold War in the Asia Pacific region there are no arms control and disarmament agreements for strategical theater and nuclear missiles, no agreements on conventional forces as there were in Europe and very limited agreements on avoidance of naval incidents at sea, which the Soviet Union and United States had in 1972 and which is still operational, as I understand it. So I think it’s in this sort of areas where we could perhaps make some advances and you know Australia and Russia have common membership in things like the ASEAN regional forum and East Asia Summits and APEC and so on. So I think that sorts of areas are worth exploring.
Each country will have its own national priorities and national agendas as to whether they are multilateral security, the issues of economic developments and so on, economic aid and those sorts of things. So clearly Russia with its location in North East Asia and Australia with its location sort of near and between South Pacific and South East Asia will have some different priorities. I think there might well be (and we will find out that in Moscow) a common interest into whether we can find areas in multilateral security where we have some common endeavors, the issues such as military confidence building measures, preventive diplomacy, that sort of areas. I think it is sort of initially much more in the area of the multilateral confidence building such as the ASEAN regional forum and East Asian summit. Because I think that initially those are the areas where parties can find some common endeavors and put aside any disagreements or differences of priority in the bilateral area.
- Your Russian colleagues also proposed to discuss the development of Trans-Pacific Partnership. How do you evaluate TPP in the framework of stability in the Asia-Pacific region?
- I am not an economic expert these days; I used to be many, many decades ago. I think with the TPP as well as with the other one that the Chinese are developing, there is no reason why both those organizations can’t go together. And I don’t think that it is worth to look at either the TPP or the Chinese initiative with the sort of fear and suspicion that they are either American or Chinese dominated. It will have large numbers of countries and people out of multilateral organizations, like the numerous organizations in the Asia Pacific we’ve discussed, right? I mean APEC, and the ASEAN regional forum, and the East Asia summit. If we can use that as a basis, clearly you know increased trade and economic interdependence is also contributing to strategic stability.
- What will you regard as a success of your Moscow trip?
- I think we don’t have to be too ambitious. I think both parts would have to put to one side the undoubted differences and disagreements we have on certain issues which you are well aware of. But I think in measure of success we should set our aim modestly and say that it will be significant if we have this meeting in Moscow and we have discussions with the Russian International Affairs Council and also with other institutions in following three or four days. We can have an exchange of views, which is frank and we should lay our cards on the table without any confrontation. And that was my experience by the way with IMEMO and the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies in the Cold War years in Moscow and it would be important that we have similar rules of engagement as in the past - that is while the press may have come to the open session, the sessions then will be closed and we’ll be under Chatham House Rule. When the discussions are finished one can quote in the public domain, including to the media, what things we discussed and how, what the various views were, but without mentioning particular people by names. And that is in itself a confidence building measure for frankness.
- It wouldn't be your first trip to Moscow. When did you travel to Russia for the first time and how many times you've been there before?
- I am in advanced years these days. I first went as a very young man in 1968. I was writing a book on Siberia and I travelled to Akademgorodok, and Irkutsk, and Bratsk, and then as a senior intelligence officer, a declared officer, I was in Moscow in 1976, and since then I’ve been there in year 2000, and I travelled to Vladivostok in 2006. So, not a huge number of visits, but I'm looking forward to see the changes in your country.
- Recently The Australian called you "the architect of Australia's modern defense policy". The same newspaper reported that you "also lived a secret life working on behalf of ASIO between 1965 and 1984 to penetrate the Soviet embassy in Canberra". According to that article, "ASIO became suspicious and quietly investigated to ensure (you were) not a double agent and investigation found nothing, but professor Dibb remains angry ASIO betrayed its trust in him". Could you comment on that? Don't you think that nowadays it would be more productive for two countries including its intelligence agencies to forget the past and try to cooperate against common threats such as terrorism?
- Look, I am really not across things right to know counterterrorism and the war against terrorism that is much more detailed and technical area but I think the general point is that the Cold War finished 25 years ago. Naturally, there is a history in this country and yours, but it’s not something we should dwell on. The sorts of things that you are alluding to that appeared in The Australian in recent days are the issues that we have to deal with the freedom of information act in this country, and the intrusive way in which journalists (and there are some in Australia) trawl into freedom of information without any respect to individual’s privacy or into professional sensitivities. It’s just a sort of issue we have to deal with and it’s not very pleasant. But the important thing is we all aware of what happened in the Cold War, I do not accept there will be a new Cold War, there are differences, there are enormous differences to face up to. One of the things that I am attracted to is former foreign minister Ivanov has been writing recently about – there is tension between particularly the United States and NATO on one hand and Russia, and, unlike in the Cold War, we don’t have these arms control and disarmament agreements in the same way, we don’t have the same exchanges we used to have in the height of the Cold War. People like Kissinger and Arbatov and Dobrynin were always talking and there was always confidence even at the times of tension, there were discussions and there was early superpower relationship between the former Soviet Union and the United States. There were constant interchanges, constant discussions despite huge disagreements and enormous tensions over the period of Cold war, and what we call things like signaling and sending messages to each other. And Ivanov has said it’s not the case now, and I agree with him. And I think it’s dangerous, that it's not the case. And something should be done about it. We will be discussing that, I hope, in Moscow.
- So you completely dismiss speculations about the potential Cold War Two, don't you?
- The Cold War was essentially an ideological difference between communism and capitalism and your country is no longer a communist country. As a country Russia goes through enormous adjustment still from disintegration of the Soviet Union and I think most of us have no idea and can’t imagine just what a physical shock that was. But we can’t hide the fact, that once again, there are some problems, confrontations and issues of geopolitical nature and they need to be addressed, but addressed in a context that recognizes the Cold War is gone, but yes, we have some dangerous tensions that need discussion in a frank way.
Interviewed by Pavel Vanichkin