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Strategies for Middle Powers

23rd June 2017

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Dr Christian Downie is a Fellow and the Higher Degree Research Convenor in the School of Regulation and Global Governance at The Australian National University.

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Familiar great and rising powers have the most influence in shaping the international order. With careful strategy and by playing to their strengths, however, middle powers such as Australia can also prompt positive outcomes at the upcoming G20 meeting.

The Group of Twenty (G20) has emerged as the most dramatic example of the changing balance of power in the international system. When it meets next month in Germany much attention will focus on the major powers, such as the US, and the rising powers, such as China, or (heaven forbid) Donald Trump’s latest antics.

However, less attention will be on the behaviour of so-called middle powers like Australia. The assumption is that these nations, such as Australia, Mexico or South Korea, have limited power to affect international outcomes. They do not have the economic heft or military strength to match it with the largest nations in the world.

Yet in the G20, where power is now diffused among multiple nations, rather than simply dominated by the US, the attributes traditionally associated with middle powers, such as agenda-setting and coalition-building, could provide the capacity to influence international outcomes across a range of policy domains, from finance and trade to energy and the environment.

In this context, it is important for Australian policymakers to identify what strategies they can use to shape G20 outcomes. Recent research on the role of Australia in the G20 identifies three strategies that are likely to be important.

You can read the full article in Australian Outlook here.

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