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Are we a top 20 nation or a middle power? Views on Australia's position in the world

By Peter Jennings, Anthony Bergin and 13 authors from The ASPI Strategist

Nothing fans the flames of a debate on The Strategist quite like a post that makes assertions about Australia’s place in the world and the role it should have on the international stage. ASPI director Peter Jennings’ recent post on Australia as a ‘top 20’ defence player and deputy director Anthony Bergin’s post on the ‘middle power label’ last year both sparked debates about Australia’s power, position and influence and how it could or should be using it.

In the ‘top 20’ debate, the contributors emerged as regionalists or globalists, with different perceptions of the balance between Australia’s global and regional imperatives, its strategic interests and its international responsibilities. There was a broad acceptance that Australia has global interests, but a divergence on how much and what sort of effort it should devote to protecting them. Unsurprisingly, there was also a debate over what it meant to be a ‘top 20’ power, how readily power could be translated into positive outcomes, and where and when we could spend our power to best effect. 

In the ‘middle power’ debate, the discussion revolved around the meaning and utility of the term itself, and whether Australia should embrace or reject it as a label. Much like the ‘top 20’ debate however, the argument came down to Australia’s strategic interests, its influence, and its international role and responsibilities.

We present both debates here together in the hope that they’ll provoke further discussion in the defence, national security and foreign policy community about Australia’s place and role in the world and how that informs its strategic policy.