Lowy Institute

Earlier today at the Lowy Institute, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced an emissions reduction target of 45% by 2030 on 2005 levels (in comparison, the Coalition's target is a 26-28% reduction by 2030). 

After Shorten's address, I spoke with John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute, about the impact of that target on Australia's economy, how it ranks us internationally, and whether climate change will be a major issue at the next Australian election.


As the NLD celebrated its election victory, the US Treasury announced it had added four North Korean individuals and one company to its targeted sanctions list due to links with the Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), a sanctioned North Korean entity involved in arms trading.

NLD supports cheer as the vote-count appears on screen at Party HQ on election night. (Sebastian Strangio.)

While sanctioning such entities is nothing new, what makes this case interesting is that two of the individuals named are based in Myanmar. One was the North Korean Ambassador to Myanmar Kim Sok Chol, who is accused of working with KOMID to facilitate arms trades. The other is allegedly an employee of KOMID's Myanmar office.

These aren't the first US actions targeting Myanmar entities with links to North Korea. In 2013, three Myanmar companies with alleged links to North Korean arms trading were added to the US sanctions list. In 2014, the late U Aung Thaung was also added. The reason given was that he was 'undermining' Myanmar's reforms. However, US Embassy cables had previously identified his sons as facilitators of transactions with North Korean entities, which raises the question of whether suspected continued involvement was the underlying reason for the sanctions.

Little is known about the Myanmar-North Korea relationship, who is involved and what role the military (Tatmadaw) or president's office may play. But collectively, these actions suggest this relationship may not have ended, as some have hoped or claimed. After all, why would the US keep applying sanctions if it didn't have evidence of continued engagement?

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Arguably even more concerning is the implication that outgoing Myanmar President Thein Sein was either unable to curtail the Tatmadaw's relationship with North Korea, or simply didn't care and paid lip service to international calls for it to end.

However, the NLD's recent election win and the upcoming transition of power provides an opportunity for the US to further align itself with the NLD and use what leverage it has to break these connections. The timing of the US announcement — soon after the elections, but just long enough to know the result — was likely a way to signal Washington's expectation that the incoming government will address the issue.

But will an NLD government be more successful than its predecessor? Even when the NLD takes over next year, it will not control the Tatmadaw, which, constitutionally speaking, has control over its own affairs. And if Thein Sein was unable to rein in the relationship, what chance does Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD have?

Yet failure to address the North Korea issue carries risk for the NLD.

Whether Western governments like to admit it or not, Aung San Suu Kyi has long influenced (and perhaps dictated) their policy towards Myanmar, including on sanctions. She could ask for these to be lifted and it would likely happen. In some jurisdictions, this isn't as easy as it sounds, but with her support it would most likely be a rubber-stamp decision.

Removing economic sanctions would help the NLD implement significant economic reforms. But any lingering concerns about the Myanmar-North Korea relationship, or evidence that it is continuing, could hamper the lifting of sanctions. After all, the Myanmar-North Korea relationship is one of the stated reasons for continued US sanctions.

Would the US be willing to appease Aung San Suu Kyi by lifting sanctions at the expense of trying to end the Myanmar-North Korea relationship?

The US has some options. Washington could lift economic and trade sanctions but leave arms embargoes or military restrictions in place. If Congress is happy to lift sanctions but the White House wants to continue applying pressure, the Administration could increase its targeted sanctions on senior Tatmadaw officials. But any move that leaves the Tatmadaw out of the game is high risk. Aung San Suu Kyi needs the Tatmadaw onside, as it controls the three ministries (Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence) that are key to ensuring the rule of law. If it was thought she had negotiated or supported a deal for economic reform at the expense the Tatmadaw, she would be unlikely to get the cooperation she needs.

Alternatively, lifting these sanctions and embargoes could give the Tatmadaw the international military engagement it has sought for so long. Such a move might remove its dependence on countries like North Korea and open other avenues to legitimately procure defence materiel, especially from Western countries keen to provide such goods. On the other hand, lifting these restrictions could merely make it easier for the Tatmadaw to conceal its transactions with North Korea. Moreover, for many governments, giving up the stick in favour of the carrot is politically risky.

The NLD has a lot of work to do over the next few months, and turning its manifesto into actual policy is likely to be the main priority. But considering the US Government's continued interest, the NLD will need a strategy to address the North Korean issue.


It's been disappointing, and a little depressing, to see how parochial and partisan the issue of climate change has become in recent years in Australia, to the detriment of good policy and intelligent national debate.

There is far too much name-calling by opposing advocacy groups locked into entrenched ideological positions, and too little analysis or understanding of the science. But the greatest failing has been the inability of both Labor and Coalition governments to frame the issue in a way that makes sense to Australians and provides context for the technical discussions about emission reductions, economic costs and burden sharing that are likely to dominate the Paris climate summit.

At its heart, climate change is a national security issue. Without strong action to cap and then reverse still climbing greenhouse gas emissions, a rapidly warming planet will have adverse implications for all of us (including on the stability of states) requiring judgements about strategic risk as well as economic costs.

Graeme Pearman and I spelt out these risks in a major paper for the Lowy Institute a decade ago (Heating up the planet: Climate Change and Security). The bad news is that a review of the latest science suggests that, if anything, these risks have become both more probable and consequential because the current rapid rate of warming is now 'unequivocal'. Furthermore, the cause of this warming is 'extremely likely' (at least 95% probable) to be mainly the result of human activities, not natural climate variability.

This, by the way, is not just my opinion but the considered view of all 193 members of the UN and, increasingly, their hard headed military and national security establishments.

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As examples, the US National Intelligence Committee stated in 2008 that 'global climate change will have wide ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years.' And the 2015 US National Security Strategy argues that climate change is 'an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources.'

Unfortunately, these realities have been distorted and masked in Australia by the polemical nature of the debate and by a failure of not only governments, but also scientists and policy makers, to effectively communicate the science and broaden the climate change narrative to include its all-important security dimension. The result? Public confusion about the causes and consequences of climate change, and a decline in those who believe that recent climate change is mainly caused by humans, not natural variability.

As a proven communicator and supporter of the scientific consensus, the Paris summit gives Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the opportunity to initiate a more constructive and informed public debate, and to develop a new political consensus in Australia on climate change policy.

How can he do this? By framing climate change as a risk management issue. In doing so he should draw on the national security approach to risk which typically evaluates and prioritises security challenges by weighing the likelihood of a threat against its impact. Climate change would rate highly on both measures and even higher if emissions are not brought down quickly.

The questions Turnbull should pose to contrarians and sceptics are these: are you prepared to bet against the consensus of the world's most knowledgeable climate scientists that you are right and they are wrong? And, if so, are you also prepared to bet that future climate change impacts will be benign or that the risk can be managed solely by adaptation?

If not, then the Paris summit will figure much more prominently in your thinking, because whatever we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lowers the risk of dangerous climate change outcomes. The higher the emissions, the higher the prospect of widespread species loss, water and food insecurity, energy disruptions, increased refugee flows, infrastructure failure and more conflicts.

Over to you Malcolm.

Photo courtesy of Getty/Sean Gallup.


The view from Jakarta

President Jokowi came to power last year with a promise to lead a 'mental revolution' to strengthen the intellect and civic values of Indonesians and the politicians who serve them. This week, the progress of the 'revolution' came under review as Indonesia marked National Teachers' Day, joined the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community, and saw unease spread among political elites over a high-profile scandal. 

National Teachers' Day was marked on Wednesday in Jakarta this week with a gathering of around 12,000 teachers from across the country. Jokowi seized the opportunity to promote his 'mental revolution', naming teachers as strategic allies in changing the mindset of the nation. The President also had an unexpected reunion with several of his high school teachers, who remembered him as a quiet, long-haired student who worked hard to gain entry into one of the country's best universities.

National Teachers' Day is marked annually in Indonesia to appreciate the hard work of teachers in educating the next generation. Teachers in Indonesia struggle with low wages, minimal resources and a crowded curriculum that is a constant topic of political debate. Most recently, the Defense Ministry announced a controversial plan to incorporate its civilian state defence program, Bela Negara, into the school curriculum as early as next year. The program has been criticised for its similarities to compulsory nationalist propaganda classes initiated under Suharto's New Order. 

A strong sense of nationalism alone won't be enough to prepare Indonesian students for the ASEAN Economic Community, which was officially launched at the association's summit in Malaysia this week. The regional agreement promises borderless movement of goods, services, capital and labour across Southeast Asian member states, starting this year.

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Though the economic bloc will take some time to become a reality,today's students will need to prepare for a more competitive market. The most recent test results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012 showed Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to be among the bottom third for performance worldwide, while Vietnam and Singapore were placed in the top 20. Results of this year's tests are due for release in 2016.

The impact of the 'mental revolution' has also yet to be seen among the nation's political elite. Jokowi on Monday made the fourth call this year for his ministers to show discipline and avoid making inflammatory remarks to the media regarding cabinet infighting. One day later, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli publicly remarked that a little noise among cabinet members was necessary, and was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying, 'If there are too many rats in rice fields, we should make noise so the rats run away and the harvest can be reaped as expected'.

His comments were taken as referring to an ongoing scandal implicating the speaker of the House of Representatives that has sent shock waves through all sides of national politics this week.

House speaker Setya Novanto has been accused of having tried to broker a deal with US miner Freeport for shares in the company in the names of the president and vice president, in exchange for assurance of a contract extension. An alleged recording of Setya's conversation with Freeport representatives also mentions the name of Luhut Panjaitan, chief security minister and Jokowi's former chief of staff. The President's Great Indonesia Coalition (KIH) has called for Setya's resignation, threatening a vote of no confidence.

Photo by Flickr user martl84.

Meanwhile, Prabowo's Red and White Coalition (KMP) has pledged support for Setya, calling into question the legitimacy of the voice recording. The non-aligned Democratic Party has taken the position that the case should be properly processed. But with Setya set to face the House ethics council, both coalitions have been moving swiftly to ensure their members are duly represented on the council, indicating that political allegiances will strongly influence the outcome of a council hearing.

Whatever the outcome of Setya's case, the concern shown from all sides of politics suggests that it may take more than the help of school teachers for Jokowi to succeed with his 'mental revolution'. 


Once a month The Interpreter publishes Digital Diplomacy links. As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch-up to the rest of the world, these links highlight the most creative and effective ways in which countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.

  • A brief history of online trolling between Western and Russian diplomats.
  • A blog post from the State Department on how the US is combating the online narrative of ISIS.
  • The US Government partnered with UNHCR and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter last month to assist Syrian refugees through citizen mobilisation.
  • The UK Foreign Office blogs about what it learnt from this year's distinctly digital UN General Assembly.
  • Last month Finland became the first country to launch its own emojis and India (via the government's 'Make in India' initiative) became the first non-US brand to get a Twitter emoji.
  • Did social media break the communication wall at the G20?
  • How can Canada's new government improve its digital diplomacy? Through distinguishing broadcasting from strategic engagement. And empowering and supporting the efforts of experimenters and pioneers. 
  • French Ambassador @GerardAraud knows how to throw an elbow and advocate for France online. Watch how he engages stakeholders and debates topics from European security to France's contribution to combating ISIS.
  • Coffee tips via Twitter from Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia.
  • Through working with hackers, Estonia's e-residency services and digital visa project forms part of how the country is thinking differently about its national brand. 
  • Scepticism about the value of LinkedIn as a tool of digital diplomacy.
  • The UK, Canada and the US teamed up to provide digital diplomacy training to Ukraine's Foreign Ministry. 
  • If you can get through the patchy recording, here's a great discussion from the Italian Embassy in Washington on getting beyond social media and using online mapping, data visualisations and e-learning:


On the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, we have revived a critique of an earlier CHOGM by Allan Gyngell, then founding executive director of The Lowy Institute, first published by The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2003.

The important diplomatic question of the month is not whether Zimbabwe will come back into the Commonwealth, but why on earth Australia does not get out.

Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, accompanied by a substantial entourage, has just spent nearly a week in Abuja that's Abuja, Nigeria for the biennial meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government. This meeting, known by the unattractive acronym 'CHOGM', is at the heart of what is, by any measure, the most useless international institution to which any senior Australian political leader must commit time and energy.

And what was the outcome of those long days on the road? Little more than a bitter debate which left the group deeply divided about its own membership criteria and whether Zimbabwe should be there.

You probably didn't read the communique issued at the end of the Abuja meeting. I'm not surprised. Seventy-two turgid paragraphs of motherhood statements 'Heads of government appreciated the need for constructive dialogue and co-operation to achieve sustainable development', and meaningless diplomatic compromise 'Heads of government of those member countries that have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court urged other states, which have not yet done so, to accede.'

I know it's unfair to quote Commonwealth communiques as though they were actually intended to mean something. But hours of diplomatic time were expended to produce these words, even those that were simply cut and pasted from the last effort. The heads of government also got together and produced something called the Aso Rock Declaration, which sounds much more interesting than it turns out to be. This lengthy statement on 'Development and Democracy: Partnership for Peace and Prosperity' rated not a mention I can find in any Australian newspaper. (The Aso Rock Declaration draws on the work of the 'landmark declarations in Singapore, Harare and Fancourt', if that helps you.)

The New Zealand secretary-general of this hapless organisation, Don McKinnon, made a valiant attempt to claim that the meeting would have 'a key role in the area of trade'. But not even he sounded convinced.

Asked how the outcome squared with his pre-meeting hope that the gathering would contribute to resolution of global trade problems, Howard was able to declare only that it was 'broadly consistent with the things I have been saying'.

So what was Australia doing there? Given its vigorous criticisms of most multilateral organisations, the Howard Government has been remarkably gentle with the Commonwealth, an organisation of legendary lethargy and waste. One reason, no doubt, is the historical links to Britain and its institutions. But then I noticed that one of the most vehement critics of Howard's strong line on Zimbabwe was President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique. If, like me, you can't remember the time Mozambique had any constitutional connection to Britain or its empire, your memory does not fail you. (It was admitted in 1995 because many of its neighbours were members.)

Membership of the Commonwealth, it is sometimes claimed, is a price we pay for good relations with a wide variety of different countries and regions with whom we would not naturally come into contact. It is assumed that this might come in handy when Australia is standing for appointment to important international posts. But, in fact, Commonwealth membership has led this time at any rate to little more than a deepening rift between Australia and the southern African members. Does that matter? Not much probably, but neither is it much of a return on membership dues.

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Perhaps spending a few days a year in a remote corner of the world is a small enough sacrifice for any Australian prime minister to pay for those garlands of gold, silver and bronze medals weighing down our athletes at the Commonwealth Games. But that argument is wearing thin. Even the most one-eyed Australian sporting fans recognise cheap success when they see it.

The main reason we are still a member, of course, is that the Commonwealth doesn't matter. No one cares enough. It's hard to get fussed about it. It would require more effort to walk away than to let things run on.

The Commonwealth is a fine example of one of the immutable rules of international organisations, which is that it is a good deal easier to start them up than to finish them off. They hardly ever go away. The Warsaw Pact, admittedly, has bitten the dust, but its principal adversary, NATO, has simply redefined its objectives and marched off with sprightly steps in a new direction.

In a polite and tentative sort of way, successive Australian prime ministers have gone into Commonwealth meetings urging change and reform. But the problem is not format, it is function. It is the impossibility of finding anything much, short of platitudes, on which such a diverse group can agree, or any matters of real substance on which they need to work.

There is a serious issue in all this. Australian prime ministers have limited time and energy and the country's bureaucratic resources are finite. The objectives of encouraging a broad spread of Australian diplomacy around the world and helping to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law are excellent. But they can be met in other, more effective, ways.

It is time we abandoned the profitless project of trying to reform the Commonwealth from within. Otherwise, CHOGMs in Malta and Uganda lurk in the future for Australian prime ministers. At least we know what will be in the communiques.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Commonwealth Secretariat


The downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 is awkward timing. Signs of a rapprochement in tensions between the West and Russia looked like genuine cooperation was underway in Syria. Russia had stepped up hits directed at ISIS and related infrastructure, and Russian President Vladimir Putin  had ordered the Russian navy to treat France like an 'ally' in Syria following the Paris attacks. Further conflict escalation relating to disagreements peripheral to the Syria crisis is in no one’s interests, as highlighted by NATO Secretary General’s call for 'diplomacy and de-escalation' as important to resolving the situation.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at press conference this week. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Getty Images)

The incident did show that Russia has an international competitor that is willing to act as boldly to defend its national interests as Russia has done in its own foreign policy over recent years. Turkey’s actions were not completely without warning. Turkey has previously shot down two Syrian Air Force fighter jets for violating Turkish airspace, showing how seriously the government takes such activity. In October Turkey warned it 'cannot endure' Russian violations after a Su-30 illegally entered Turkish airspace, supposedly by accident. Turkey’s reaction to Russia’s failure to heed warnings marked an unprecedented, and many would argue over-the-top, use of force by any NATO country since NATO-Russia relations plummeted against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.

This incident is unlikely to escalate into a broader NATO versus Russia conflict. Russia has of course criticised NATO heavily, particularly on its failure to offer condolences for Russia’s loss. Despite comments from Sergei Rybakov, deputy head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that Russia 'does not expect objectivity' from NATO in its probing of what happened, Russia is willing to engage on a de-conflicting agreement with NATO to avoid such incidents in future.

Russia’s reactions have already been mainly directed at Turkey bilaterally and are likely to continue in this manner. Energy relations are likely to suffer, with Russia being Turkey’s largest gas supplier. The Turkish Stream energy project, which replaced South Stream after Russia abandoned it a year ago due to tense relations with Europe, may now be under threat. A 2010 deal for  Russia's national nuclear corporation Rosatom to build the Akkuyu nuclear power plant worth over $20 billion may now be put on hold. Russia’s state tourism agency Rostourism recommended the suspension of flights to Turkey , with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying the threat of terrorism there was 'no less' than in Egypt, where a commercial Russian airline, carrying mainly Russian tourists, was shot down by a group affiliated with ISIS on 31 October.

Russia has also cancelled military cooperation with Turkey, and it is possible that Russia will increase strikes against rebel groups close to Turkey, such as the Syrian Turkmens, which was already a significant contributing factor to Turkey’s concerns around Russia’s intervention in Syria. 

NATO has endorsed support for Turkey on the basis that it has information from both Turkey and other NATO allies that indicate Russia did indeed violate Turkey’s airspace.

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At a press conference at the White House, President Obama reiterated the view that the downing of the plane was an inevitable result of the way in which Russia operates in Syria, and if Russia concentrated its airstrikes on ISIS, such mistakes would be 'less likely to occur'. This is somewhat hypocritical given Turkey’s propensity to target Kurdish fighters. Turkey has not escaped criticism, however, highlighting a view within NATO that it overreacted. NATO officials said that they believed Turkey should have shown more restraint and could have escorted Russian planes out of the airspace. There are also worrying question marks over the decision-making process by which Turkish authorities authorised the strike.

On the other hand, Russia should be able to see how its repeated refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for its actions, and its purposefully defensive contradictory response, have undermined its position in this situation: and in this case genuinely to its own detriment. Criticism for Turkey might have been vocally stronger if Russia had not reacted in a manner that has become increasingly typical in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. It would be reasonable to say that shooting down a plane of a nation that has shared counter-terrorism objectives in Syria for a 17 second airspace violation is a disproportionate response. Even if in reality the picture is far more complex given that Turkey and Russia, as with many other countries, are clearly pursuing their own national interests through the groups they are supporting and targeting in Syria.

Instead, Russia went into plausible deniability mode, at first claiming the plane was hit from the ground. This is unlikely given that the plane was flying at 6000 metres and that the Turkish government announced that two of its F-16s had targeted the Russian plane. Russia’s Ministry of Defence quickly produced counter-'evidence' to that of Turkey, trying to dispel radar image tracking that showed Russia entering Turkish airspace. Given Russia’s reaction to the downing of MH17, and the fact that it had violated Turkish airspace on previous occasions, it is hardly surprising this was met with scepticism.

Another challenge for Turkey is that if it had indeed escorted the Russian plane out of its airspace instead of shooting it down, the airspace violations would continue. By meeting Russian actions with an overly-forceful response, Turkey has potentially genuinely deterred Russia from doing something it feels violates its sovereignty. This is not a policy Western European nations should necessarily endorse, but it does reflect the use of 'strength' often called for over Russia’s behaviour. Syria is not Ukraine, and Russia needs to adapt its way of thinking given the number of complex players, and the wider variety of rules of engagement that they are playing by.

Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

6 of 6 This post is part of a debate on The future of drone warfare

Is the drone pilot a warrior? It's a crucial question surrounding the place of the drone pilot within the military ethos – and one Adam Henschke points to in a recent entry in this series of posts of the future of drones on The Interpreter.

It's a good and important question, not only for the reasons Henschke identifies. Whether or not drones are seen as cowardly and therefore offend or embolden the enemy, the lack of clarity regarding the position of the drone pilot is concerning. 

Shannon E French argues being identified as a warrior situates a person within the 'warrior ethos' – including an informal code of conduct. 'The warrior code', as French calls it, is an honour system that regulates behaviour based on an agreed-upon sense of 'what it means to be a warrior'.

But unless drone pilots are actually able to live up to the normative demands the warrior code represents, they risk being seen as dishonourable not by enemies but by fellow military personnel. Worse, some may come to see themselves as shameful.

There are good reasons for thinking drone pilots are not warriors. Drone pilots experience no real risk in carrying out their wars, and are thus distanced in several ways from the realities of combat. Some, like Mark Coeckelbergh suggest 'there seems to be something cowardly and unfair about remote killing'.

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Others, like Christian Enemark are more circumspect. Enemark argues drone pilots 'challenge traditional notions… of what it means to be a combatant or "warrior" within the military profession'. 

Enemark describes drone pilots as 'disembodied warriors'. Disembodiment means drone pilots face no fear for their personal safety. Thus, there is an inability to practise what Enemark describes as 'physical courage' (courage when one's life is at risk). Arguably, such a virtue is part of what defines someone as a warrior — and therefore as worthy of honour by their warrior peers.

Warriors make life-and-death decisions on the battlefield. Disembodied warriors usually don't. Given their targets are vetted in advance and their superior officers able to directly monitor missions, there is very little opportunity for drone pilots to exercise any autonomy at all. They are, to return to St Augustine of Hippo's fourth century notion, 'an instrument, a sword in the user's hand'. 

Although they are treated as such, drone pilots are not merely instruments in the hands of their superiors. They are people. As such, the moral gravity of killing bears on their consciences, they feel acutely the seriousness of what it is that they are doing. 

Here, however, the problem of risk-free warfare returns. Drone pilots can't justify the killing they do in the same way other warriors can.

Regardless of the justice of the mission or war, warriors who are physically on the battlefield can justify their killing through the framework of self-defence. Drone pilots are not defending themselves; there is no 'me or them' logic to fall back on.

Enemark says, 'war necessarily involves some kind of contest... opposing combatants' equal right to kill in war is founded on the assumption of mutual risk'. In this sense, drone pilots will not feel like warriors — their killing is no contest at all. 

Without a coherent moral framework for justifying their killing, drone operation is morally fraught. It is unsurprising then that, despite undertaking no risk, drone pilots report the same rates of PTSD as pilots of manned aircraft. This is even less surprising when one considers the growing literature on moral injury:  which is trauma that emerges as a product of transgressing against deeply held moral beliefs

Drone pilots not only kill their targets, but they observe them for weeks beforehand, coming to know their habits, families and communities. That is, they are able to see their targets as persons. As Coeckelbergh notes, 'pilots may recall images of the people they killed... of the person who first played with his children and was then killed'.

Based on the trauma they experience, many drone pilots appear to consider themselves in some sense morally responsible for those who they kill. Despite effectively being an instrument in the hands of superiors, it is the pilot who does the killing.

If drone-based killing is to be justified, drone pilots need to be made aware that the justifications for it are manifestly different to those available to front-line soldiers. Just because drone pilots serve the military does not make them warriors, and does not avail them to the kind of justifications for killing that soldiers possess.

A new moral framework is necessary to explain how (if at all) unmanned, risk-free killing can be justifiable, lest more drone pilots become wracked with the guilt of what the warrior code holds to be unjustified killings.

Better would be the emergence of a new honour code available to 'disembodied warriors' (like drone pilots and cyberwarriors) which emphasises moral virtues other than courage. It should also explain how their killings can be justified. If this cannot be done, perhaps the practice of armed drones should either be made fully autonomous (which is itself, as James Brown argues, likely to be unethical) or abandoned altogether.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Airman Magazine.


Earlier this week, an American rocket flew into space then returned safely to Earth. That shouldn't be a big surprise. Space shuttles did that for 30 years between 1981 and 2011. What's different is that this was a private-enterprise venture, founded by Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin is a project to develop a rocket and crew capsule which will eventually launch space tourists on sub-orbital space missions. After a conventional launch, the capsule and rocket separate. The capsule lands on solid ground with the aid of parachutes, but the rocket lands on the power of its own main rocket engine, touching down on four landing struts. 

Getting rockets to land safely back on Earth is seen as a vital step to making spaceflight more affordable. Throwing out a vehicle after just one journey would make other forms of transport prohibitively expensive. The Space Shuttle was largely re-usable, but the heavy maintenance it required meant that it was really no cheaper than conventional 'expendable' rockets.

The successful landing of the Blue Origin rocket after an actual space mission sparked an angry 'tweet war' with Elon Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur behind Tesla electric cars and SpaceX, a US company that also makes rockets and space capsules. Musk has been trying to get one of his Falcon 9 rockets home safely for years, but has never staged a safe landing. Rivalries for this first landing shadow greater contests in the cutthroat business of commercial spaceflight, which struggles to attract clients to offset its huge operational costs.

That's a commercial problem and a dilemma in international affairs and trade. Spaceflight is making a transition from government-sponsored launches to private enterprise flights. Already, commercial missions outstrip government ones. But commercial companies still depend heavily on government launch contracts (including SpaceX) and government-related launch providers have also dabbled in commercialism. Australia had its first two Aussat satellites launched by the US Space Shuttle. The price Australia paid for the launch did not reflect the true cost of flying the mission. Similarly, Japan has just launched a Canadian satellite on its government-sponsored H-2A rocket, the first commercial launch for this vehicle. China has also used its program to glean foreign currency for satellite launches at rates that some analysts feel are subsidised.

Nations accuse each other of unfair trade practices regularly. Space is no exception. As the space industry expands, and the world becomes even more interlinked through free trade treaties, the stage is set for further confrontations. Oh, national security is sometimes a good excuse to engage in protectionism!


With this year's summit season coming to an end, Turkey will officially hand over the G20 hosting baton to China on 1 December 2015. The Hangzhou Leaders' Summit has already been announced for 4 and 5 September 2016, slightly earlier than previous years to avoid clashing with the US presidential election in November.

Although we are still waiting for China to release the official priorities document that will set out its goals in detail, President Xi Jinping did take the opportunity at the Antalya Summit to sketch an outline of what China's G20 year will look like.

G20 host countries have a habit of reconfiguring the same fundamental issues to suit their narrative. As the 2015 host, Turkey focused the G20 agenda around three 'i's: inclusiveness, investment, and implementation.

China, not to be outdone, has linked its presidency with four 'i's. Xi stated in Antalya that China wants to see a global economy that is 'innovative, invigorated, inter-connected and inclusive'. The sequence is important, as innovation is a new focus for both China and the G20.

Each of these 'i's can be linked to the acronym of GOOD that has been unofficially associated with China's G20 presidency; innovative Growth, Organizational reform, Open trade and investment, and sustainable Development. Chinese officials have used the GOOD acronym in meetings and, even though it's not to be found in official communications, it remains a useful guide to the priorities framing China's thinking.

China believes there is too much emphasis on weak demand as the cause of sluggish growth. Therefore, it wants to use its G20 host year to focus on the supply side, concentratating on innovation and technology as a means of creating growth. This also fits with China's domestic strategy of moving up the value chain and improving the quality of exports.

As for organisational reform or 'invigorating' governance, this reflects the preoccupation of China and other emerging economies with their exclusion from existing governance bodies. Long-stalled IMF reform is a particular sore point.

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There is speculation the IMF is about to add the yuan to its basket of reserve currencies, but it will take more than such symbolic reform to satisfy China beyond the short term. Similarly, China remains disappointed with the World Bank shift in voting share in 2010. Despite some changes, the Bank still has a US-appointed president and emerging markets are underrepresented.

Wang Xiaolong, the newly appointed G20 special envoy from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised that we need a more 'inter-connected' regime because the 'two engines' of the global economy, trade and investment, are not working as they should. It is well-known that world trade is slowing more than global GDP.

He confirmed that G20 trade ministers would meet in China next year (as they did in Turkey and Australia). However, if China wants to progress trade, it will need to convene a leader-level discussion on fixing the World Trade Organisation.

We might also assume China's G20 agenda will continue the focus on infrastructure investment, a feature of both the Australian and Turkish presidencies.

Turkey's inclusiveness priority did emphasise development, but China seems to be taking this further with sustainable development as a fourth priority. In the Chinese narrative, development is another key engine of growth, particularly 'shared development'. However, we do not know yet what this means for the G20 Development Working Group and whether development will become part of the core agenda.

Turkey struggled with its three 'i's and was unable to focus the agenda, eventually producing a disappointing communiqué.

China, with four 'i's and a 'GOOD', will have to be clearly communicate what it wants to achieve, and be careful its messages do not get lost in translation. We will have to wait to see if the priorities document contains yet another slogan or acronym.

It is unrealistic for any host to progress every item on the G20 agenda. Given the breadth of issues Turkey is bequeathing to China, the new G20 taskforce will have to be disciplined.

The best thing for the Australian G20 legacy would be if China revives a narrative on growth and runs a tight ship. Although Australia has departed the governing G20 troika, we should not go quietly back to the sidelines. We have a responsibility to encourage China to strengthen the forum and deliver real outcomes.

Photo: ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images


On Thursday, the Institute is hosting a panel on free trade agreements with me, Jessica Irvine from Fairfax and Luke Nottage, law professor from the University of Sydney. Steve Grenville, former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia will be chairing. There’s a divergence of views on the panel, so it should be a great event.

For those that can’t make it, I can at least easily summarise my views.

I’m very sceptical of the direction of Australian trade policy. As I have said before, I do not think the upsides are worth the potential downsides.

Let’s first cover the upsides. The upsides of the preferential approach we take are small. For example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released modelling by the Centre for International Economics in June which showed that the marquee bilateral free trade agreements of the last couple of years (the agreements with Japan, Korea and China) would boost Australian GDP by 0.05% to 0.1%.

Modelling of the final text of the TPP has not been done, although modelling of what the agreement may look like was done by the Peterson Institute. Their first effort at modelling suggested an impact on Australia of 0.2% of GDP. With some changes to the model, this was later increased to 0.6% of GDP, which is chunkier, but let me go through the downsides of current policy and why there is a better path.

Let’s start with what really distresses me: intellectual property. As part of these trade agreements, we sign up to stringent intellectual property protections.

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Why is this bad? Two reasons. One, Australia is an intellectual property importer. Any extensions to intellectual property protections result in larger payments overseas to those who own the intellectual property. But the second reason is the real kicker for me. I think a fair reading of the economic literature suggests that more intellectual property protection does not increase innovation, and in fact likely reduces it, as companies divert attention away from creation toward protecting entrenched monopoly privileges. A great summary of that literature can be found in a book by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly. Although, for a shorter synopsis, you might want to consider the articles The Economist ran in August

The only reason to have intellectual property protection is to encourage innovation. If it reduces innovation, then we should run from agreements that increase our obligations. Why? Well, innovation is the most important source of sustained growth in the economy. If increased intellectual protection reduces innovation and growth, it will likely overwhelm the one-shot bumps to GDP that the aforementioned modelling suggests is the upside.

The other part of free trade agreements that makes me uncomfortable is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedures. Most of the agreements we have signed lately include provisions that allow foreign companies to take us to a tribunal if they feel aggrieved by government action. Giving rights to foreign companies that domestic ones do not have, the very opposite of levelling the playing field, gives most economists the heebie-jeebies.

However, perhaps these types of agreements can allow countries to attract more investment, and allow governments to commit to behaving themselves. My reading of the, admittedly imperfect, evidence is these provisions do not do that. Rather they can, and have, led to legitimate government decisions to be challenged, and led others to postpone reforms. Exhibit A here is cigarette packaging.

Luke Nottage, on the panel with me, is a supporter of ISDS, and has argued that reforms to the system can deal with these concerns. He is yet to convince me, but he has a terrific knowledge of the topic. The thing I just can’t shake is that these things do not seem to increase investment flows, their raison d'être. I’m sure this will be one of the things we discuss tomorrow.

But I promised a 'better path'. The better path is unilateral liberalisation. The Productivity Commission, in 2010, suggested unilateral tariff liberalisation would increase GDP by around 0.6%, around the same effect as the TPP according to the Peterson modelling. But the model used by the Productivity Commission was closer in spirit to the initial Peterson modelling, which suggested a 0.2% boost. So unilateral liberalisation seems to offer much larger benefits than the preferential approach we have taken, without the bad bits, especially the damaging intellectual property provisions.

Photo courtesy of trademinister.go.au.

  • A former AFP officer posted in PNG has made a number of allegations about the conduct of local police and the AFP presence in PNG, claiming the AFP's actions are constrained by the imperative to maintain the Manus Island Refugee Processing Centre. The AFP has responded to this report here.
  • Last week I linked to a story criticising an Australian-funded aid project in Vanuatu that has attracted a lot of attention on social media. Two senior ni-Vanuatu public servants, Mike Waiwai and Jeff Malmangrou, published a rebuttal of the arguments in that article in the Vanuatu Daily Post and expressed their support for the aid project in question.  
  • Vanuatu's President Baldwin Lonsdale has dissolved Parliament and called a snap election following the incarceration of 14 MPs on bribery charges.
  • The Pacific Regional Conference on Strengthening Women's Participation in Parliaments is wrapping up today in Port Moresby. The Pacific has the lowest rates of women's representation in parliament in the world. 
  • In this interview with Radio Australia's Pacific Beat, UNDP team leader and former Labour MP in New Zealand, Charles Chauvel, explains some of the new initiatives being explored to help increase women's political participation in the Pacific.
  • This new research from International IDEA looks at political instability in the Pacific and analyses attempts to address the issue through constitutional reform.  
  • Devpolicy's Stephen Howes and Ashlee Betteridge show the persistently high cost of remittances in the Pacific, with the Australia-PNG corridor proving to be one of the most expensive in the world.  
  • Today is White Ribbon Day and violence against women is a major problem in Australia and throughout the Pacific. This Human Rights Watch report delves into the issue of family violence in Papua New Guinea.
  • Papua New Guinean songwriter Oala Moi on the fight for copyright in his country. It has been over 12 years since PNG introduced a copyright law, but there is still no collective management system that would allow musicians to exercise those rights and receive proper payment when their work is used.
  • The Lowy Institute's 2015 GE Australia-Papua New Guinea Emerging Leaders Dialogue will be taking place in Sydney next week. Check out some of the other great work GE is doing in PNG with its portable ultrasound project:


News that a Russian strike aircraft has been shot down by Turkey has again focused attention on Russia's air campaign in Syria, which began in late September. The Russians deployed a small but decisive air and naval force to side with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to protect his regime and, specifically, the city of Damascus.

A Russian Su-24, the type shot down by Turkey.  (Wikipedia.)

While the Russian Air Force deployment to Syria has undoubtedly complicated the air operations of the US-led coalition, the coalition's significant advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and its ability to use extensive air-to-air refueling assets, mean that its air forces can easily 'deconflict' (that is, reduce the risk of the collision by co-ordinating movements) their operations from those of the Russians.

The ability of assets like the RAAF Wedgetail, the US Air Force E-3, and other ISR aircraft to identify and classify Russian aircraft activity from the time they launch from their Syrian bases means they can be identified and tracked throughout their entire mission. If crews on board an  aircraft like Wedgetail see a potential for imminent confliction, coalition aircraft can be moved out of the way until the Russians complete their operations.

However, deconfliction is far more of a concern for the Russians than the coalition. While the Russians have deployed very capable Su-30 fighters to protect and enhance the situational awareness of their strike aircraft,  the Russians do not have the ability to put together an integrated view of their operating battlespace, as the overnight downing of a Russian Su-24 strike aircraft likely demonstrates. They have little or no idea where coalition aircraft and UAVs are operating, and have little ability to put together a coherent picture of US-led air operations.

On all missions, the level of Russian situational awareness would be significantly lower than their coalition counterparts. As well as Turkish air power, the US Air Force's F-22s would be a significant concern to the Russian Air Force in any confrontation with the coalition.

Russia's air campaign has been effective and decisive

Nevertheless, Russia has waged an effective air campaign against forces opposed to the Assad regime. In fact, it could be argued that the Russians have shown a better overall strategy for the employment of air power than the US-led coalition.

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In contrast to coalition air forces, Russia has been unconstrained by the legacy of 10 years of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. The tactical micromanagement of each strike sortie, and a total lack of freedom of action given to coalition aircrew, have made it impossible for coalition air planners to put together a coherent air campaign to defeat ISIS.

The coalition's formidable capability is being significantly underused because of self-imposed constraints. Contrast this to the Russian experience; in less than seven days, the Russians were flying more than 60 sorties per day, a very high rate given the modest force Russia deployed. And in the execution of its air campaign in northern Syria against militant groups opposed to the Assad regime, the Russians have used air power decisively in a way the US-led coalition has not.

Russia's quiet military revolution

While the use of warships and, more recently, strategic bombers to launch cruise missiles to hit targets in Syria is largely symbolic, with the intention to demonstrate Russian capability to the world, the October air strikes were Russia's first operational use of precision-guided munitions, and thus underscore Russia's quiet military revolution. This  transformation has been a result of far-reaching military reforms to create more professional and combat ready armed forces that can swiftly deploy abroad.

In the past, the Russian armed forces needed months to gear up for a military confrontation. They have now shown the ability to react quickly and strike without warning.

The first serious round of Russian reform started in late 2008 after the Georgian campaign, and concentrated on increasing the overall level of professionalism in the Russian forces. There has been reform of the education and training of Russian armed forces personnel and a significant reduction in the number of conscripts.

After the education reforms were put in place, the Russians concentrated on increasing the combat readiness of the force by streamlining the command structure and increasing the number and complexity of training exercises.

The third phase of the reform was to rearm and update equipment. Many Western analysts have concentrated on this phase and have been dismissive of Russian capability because it still remains a work in progress. In doing that, we have ignored the success of the first two stages, which have already given the Russians a far more effective and combat-ready military.

So while the Russians lack modern air-to-air refueling and ISR assets, they have shown a good grasp of how to use modern air power effectively to achieve strategic results. In many respects, Western analysts have dangerously underestimated Russia's reformed military capacity.


As Paris prepares for the arrival of delegates from 196 countries who will take part in international climate negotiations next week, Lowy Institute Polling suggests the majority of adult Australians (62%) have given the Turnbull Government the green light to strengthen its commitment on emission reductions, if that's what it takes to reach a global agreement.

Only 36% of the 1002 people who took part in the latest Lowy Institute Poll were of the the view the government should 'stick to its target regardless of what other countries do'. The national telephone poll took place between 25 October and 4 November.

Lowy Institute Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove said: 'It’s very clear that Australians want our government to contribute to a global agreement on climate change in Paris, if necessary by committing to stronger emissions reduction targets'.

The poll result comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a little noticed move on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit  that appeared to open up some ground between his government's stance on climate change negotiations, and that of his predecessor.

A joint statement issued by Turnbull with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk, included a commitment to secure an agreement in Paris with a long-term goal. 

The Climate Institute's Erwin Jackson told the Fairfax Press this was the first time the Government has explicitly supported a long term carbonisation signal as a clear objective for Paris.                                           

As Jackson wrote in 'Paris Climate Talks: The World has changed since Copenhagen', the Paris negotiations seek to establish an agreement for a new common international framework that will drive domestic action.

However the Lowy Institute Poll suggested that while the majority of Australians are hoping for a decisive outcome from Paris, they are divided on the best policy solution at home.

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When asked to choose between two alternatives, the current Direct Action scheme that pays business for emissions reductions projects, and the introduction of a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme, 51%  of Australians favoured Direct Action while 43% opted for an ETS or price on carbon.

The Lowy Institute Poll also found concern about climate change continues to grow. Just over half of Australians (52%) indicated they believe global warming is a a 'serious and pressing problem' and we should take steps now, 'even if this involves a significant cost'.

The shift in opinion on climate change has been one of the most dramatic trends recorded over the course of the Lowy Institute Poll. It began asking Australians about climate change in 2006, asking survey participants to select the response which most closely mirrors their point of view: 

  • Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.
  • The problem of global warming should be addressed, but its effects will be gradual, so we can deal with the problem gradually by taking steps that are low in cost.
  • Until we are sure that global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic costs.

As demonstrated in the table below, concern about global warming was highest in 2006, a year of severe drought in Australia. Over the next few years, the sense of urgency abated but then opinion turned again. The Lowy Institute has recorded an upward trend in successive polls since 2012.


Here's our weekly selection of commentary from the fair-minded, the partisan and the light-hearted as the action progresses in one of the world's most enduring (and lengthy) democratic processes.

Last Friday Iowa experienced its first major snow storm of the season but that didn't get in the way of The Presidential Family Forum; a midwest special in which seven of those vying for the Republican nomination came to be quizzed on behalf of the Family Leader Foundation. This conservative Christian group described the event as a final exam before it decides which candidate it will endorse next month.

The seven presidential hopefuls were placed at a table designed to evoke Thanskgiving. Which it would have done, except all seated were looking out, creating a tableau with a discomforting resemblance to Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, albeit down a a few disciples. Donald Trump and Jed Bush skipped the event. Both pleaded prior engagements but as NPR's Sarah McCammon noted, 'the format for the dinner — a soul searching discussion with a heavy focus on faith — isn't Trump's strong suit'.

Verdicts on the collective performance were mixed.

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NBCNews ruled the seven 'showed unexpected warmth as they courted evangelical Christian voters with stories of their personal faith and struggles'. The network clearly keeps a tear-o-meter count, noting both Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina 'teared up' at points; this was especially noteworthy for Fiorina who, NBC reminded us, has 'been seen by some critics as too cold in past debates'.

The Gospel Herald said the candidates shared 'personal, emotionally charged stories regarding praying for God's help, asking for forgiveness for a mistake, or questioning God for the suffering they were experiencing'.

But when discussion shifted from matters of the heart and soul to national security the dinner, in the eyes of of Esquire's Charles P Pierce at least, got ugly.

...the real meat on the Thanksgiving table got served up when [host Frank] Luntz wrenched the discussion away from sacred platitudes and into the realm of national security and foreign affairs. The clouds of incense were dispersed. The preacher masks all dropped. To a person, the seven Republican candidates came right up to the edge of accusing the president of the United States of treason and of being in sympathy with the murderers in France and in Mali. Right up to the edge, they all walked. Then they winked and took baby steps back, but everybody in the hall, all of the good Christians who'd come out in the snow, got the message.

Some 1100 Iowans turned up for the event which is incredible since it must be getting difficult for those who live in the State to get through their daily business without tripping over a presidential hopeful somewhere down the line. The enormously helpful Iowa Caucus Candidate Tracker on The Des Moine Register website helps voters keep track of who will be where and when. A bit like checking the bus timetable before you head out the door. Rick Santorum has attended 180 events in the State in the last three years (yep, that's how long some of these folk have been campaigning). He showed how it was done last Wednesday when he shook hands with voters at seven different locations. All of the GOP candidates are out in force, as are the Democrats but at least there are only three of them.

The snow kept falling after Friday, so much so authorities advised residents of Iowa's capital, Des Moines, to hold off travelling. Such warnings are unlikely to slow those campaigning though; all are acutely aware there are only nine weeks to the Iowa Republican caucus.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images