Sub-Imperial Power by Clinton Fernandes

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

 We like to think that the days of Empire and Imperial might are over. Much has been written about the exploitation exercised by the British Empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on countries such as India and Africa. The effects of this still live on to the present day.

After World War II, it was thought that we had seen the back of empires as countries that were colonies gained their independence and were allowed, so it was thought, to get on with their own lives in their own ways.

Clinton Fernandes urges us to think again in his small tome with the title Sub-Imperial Power Australia in the International Arena. Imperial power still exists he says. It now comes in different packaging with Australia playing an active role in its activities.

Instead of former empire builders such as the British, the Ottomans or the old Habsburg Dynasties, we now have the United States as the most powerful nation on earth, both politically and economically, pulling the strings and making other nations dance to its tunes.

Australia, says Fernandes, plays its part in this new way of imperial interplay. It has often seen as being very attached to the United States through treaties and agreements since the end of both World Wars. There are many in Australia who would like to see these close ties reduced or cut. This would allow Australia to independently make its own decisions. Others would like to strengthen existing ties and perhaps add a few more especially since China has been making imperial noises of its own throughout Southeast Asia.

Fernandes makes the point that it is not as easy for Australia to change its current direction as it sounds. It enjoys being, what he calls, a sub-imperial power that is in lock step with both the United States and the United Kingdom as they continue to implement imperial strategies through influence and occasionally covert action.

Being sub-imperial allows Australia to enjoy the protection of these greater nations while being able to exercise a sizable influence of its own especially with the Pacific nations who have traditionally looked to it for assistance both financial and practical.

Fernandes makes some very important points about the strategies that have been employed by Australia and the United States over the years to make smaller nations fall into line with the imperial wishes of both countries. While reading the book, I began to see news articles and broadcasts in a new way. The recent visit of President Biden to Kyiv in support of the Ukraine is a case in point.

If there is any negative about the book it is that Fernandes uses the term “sub-imperial” too many times. He may wish to get his point across, but he could still achieve his aim without using the tern so much. With the political world the way it is, Fernandes’ book is very timely. It allows us to stop and think more carefully while realising that imperialism still goes on albeit in a new and very different suit of clothes.

Clinton Fernandes is Professor of International and Political Studies of the University of New South Wales. He has published on the relationship between science, diplomacy and international law, intelligence operations and foreign policy, the political and regulatory implications of new technology and Australia’s external relations more generally.

Sub-Imperial Power  Australia in the International Arena

by Clinton Fernandes



ISBN 978 052287 926 1

$24.99; 166pp

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