Lowy Institute

There are several sources of instability in the Asia Pacific region today. Some are political, such as China's pursuit of territorial claims at sea and on land at the expense of its neighbours. Others are military, such as those elements of Chinese military modernisation aimed at coercing Beijing's neighbours and countering US extended deterrence guarantees and power projection capabilities. Chinese doctrine also contains features that could be highly destabilising. Finally, there is a considerable potential for misperception among actors in the region.

The deployment of nuclear-armed submarines (SSBNs) is unlikely to contribute greatly to stability, but neither is it likely to create instability where none existed or to magnify existing sources of instability.

Beijing is undertaking a large-scale modernisation of its military, including its nuclear force. According to Department of Defense and press sources, China is fielding the mobile DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile and is developing the mobile DF-41 with multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles. According to press reports, China has also conducted at least two tests of the WU-14 hypersonic boost-glide vehicle. China also fields theatre nuclear strike systems such as the DF-21. And China has invested considerable resources in developing and deploying the Jin-class SSBN and JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missile (pictured).

China's nuclear modernisation is aimed at giving the Chinese leadership a secure second-strike capability. As Tom Christensen has argued, that is in turn likely to embolden China (if it has not already done so) to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy. The deployment of SSBNs is clearly part of that but is far less consequential than other Chinese developments. These include:

  • The continuing deployment of large numbers of precision conventional ballistic missiles that threaten China's neighbours.
  • The fact that China apparently to some extent co-mingles the deployment and command and control of its nuclear and conventional forces.
  • The Chinese Second Artillery Force's doctrine, which discusses missile strikes in close proximity to hostile forces as deterrent actions.

Misperception and miscalculation are always a possibility with the deployment and operation of any new capability, and it would behove the Chinese Government to be transparent in its plans for its SSBN force. That said, the deployment of SSBNs is likely to be far less consequential than other elements of Chinese military modernisation.

Photo courtesy of Sinodefence Forum.


I loved this bit from US environmental activist Bill McKibben, who is guest blogging on Andrew Sullivan's site:

Every day there’s something more immediately important happening in the world: ISIS is seizing an airbase this morning, and California is recovering from an earthquake, and Michael Brown is being buried.

But there’s nothing more important that’s happening each and every day than the ongoing deterioration of the planet on which we depend. Though on a geological time scale it’s proceeding at a hopelessly rapid pace, in terms of the news cycle it happens just slowly enough to be mainly invisible. It’s only when a new study emerges, or a shocking new data set, that we pay momentary attention, until the Next New Thing distracts us.

Quite right. The news media focuses on events, and the deterioration of our environment is a process, not an event.

So what's the 'shocking new data set' McKibben is referring to? A new study published in Science claiming that invertebrate numbers have dropped by a staggering 45% over the last 35 years. Good grief.

Photo by Flickr user Dan Foy.


The early numbers are in on the Government's proposed toughening of Australia's anti-terror laws and they make for interesting reading. According to Newspoll, 77% of respondents were in favour of the new law that would require individuals who travel to pre-designated conflict zones to prove they had not been in contact with any terrorist groups.

This result is significant.

It is significant because, when it comes to matters of national security, public opinion really does matter. While on other issues it may be within a government's remit to move ahead of prevailing attitudes, when it comes to our collective safety there should be no such latitude.

This is because measures that are enacted with the aim of preserving the safety of citizens will inevitably impact on our liberty. And though the most basic function of any government is to protect its citizens, history is littered with examples of governments that have used this justification to concentrate their own power and quell opposition.

While a robust and mature democracy like Australia is unlikely to go down such a path, the centrality of individual rights and liberty in our system of governance demands strong public support for any measures that impinges on our freedoms.

So what should we make of the Newspoll results recently published in The Australian?

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Given that Newspoll has addressed the most controversial of the proposed enhancements to our current anti-terror laws, it is reasonable to assume that there would be the equivalent or greater support for the other measures, which in the main seek to maintain existing powers of the AFP and ASIO* beyond their current sunset clauses.

Furthermore, the decisive outcome on the specific question of reversing the onus of proof for people traveling to designated conflict zones indicates that Australians are largely comfortable with the proposed recalibration of the liberty/security scale toward ensuring our collective safety.

It should be noted that Newspoll's question does not actually mention anything about reversing the burden of proof, which is the key element of the provision in question. No doubt more cautious wording would have dampened some of the apparent enthusiasm for the proposal.

It is also important to acknowledge that public opinion must not be the sole determinant of the utility of enhanced anti-terror measures. Any broad-based consensus should be combined with targeted consultation, especially with those communities likely to be disproportionately affected by the changes.

We are seeing this process play out in the form of engagement by key actors, including Prime Minister Abbott and ASIO Director-General David Irvine, with representatives of the Islamic community. While these meetings do not appear to have resulted in the consensus that I am sure the Government would have liked, they nonetheless serve an important purpose in providing a platform for alternative views to be expressed by those who feel that they have the most to lose.

Our parliament should also heed expert opinion. This will become especially pertinent when the draft legislation is tabled later this year. Indeed, it will be crucial to determine whether the laws will actually have the desired effect of combating the threat of radicalised fighters returning to Australia to carry out terrorist attacks. This is easier said than done. The concept of reversing the burden of proof will require careful thought and deft drafting in order to achieve the desired effect while not entangling innocent travelers.

If the Government can get the drafting right, it has a sound basis to move forward with this measure along with the other proposed enhancements to Australia's counter-terrorism framework.

Photo by Flickr user Jeff Nelson.

Ed. note: ASIO is a corporate member of the Lowy Institute.


Last Friday Fijian Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama began his first visit to Australia since taking power in 2006. In response to the 2006 coup, Canberra had imposed travel bans for all members of the Fijian government. These were abandoned earlier this year by the Abbott Government.

One would expect such a visit to be about mending fences and shoring up relations. But Rear Admiral Bainimarama was not visiting Canberra to speak with the Abbott Government. His visit was to Sydney, to meet with Fijian overseas voters as part of his campaign for the Fijian elections next month. Bainimarama is more concerned with gaining support for his Fiji First party than securing the goodwill of the ostensible leader of the Pacific Islands region.

This focus on Fijian domestic affairs even when visiting Australia is symptomatic of the confidence with which the Bainimarama Government has approached regional affairs, and of the fact that it does not feel cowed by the largest power in the region.

Given the success of Fijian foreign policy since 2006, this is not surprising.

Despite the fact that Australia provides Fiji with a significant amount of aid, Fiji does not regard itself as dependent on Australia and has been quite prepared to challenge the Australia-dominated regional status quo. Since 2006 the Bainimarama Government has assertively broadened its international relationships, both within the region and further abroad. While a lot of attention has been given to Fiji's relationship with China, Suva has also strengthened relations with the rest of Melanesia and with global players such as India and Brazil. Overall, Fiji's relations with other states are at their healthiest since independence.

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The Bainimarama Government has also mounted a strong challenge to the Australian-backed Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) by launching its own rival organisation. The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) has now held two successful summits that have garnered significant international attention. While it certainly doesn't have the resources of the PIF, the PIDF looks set to stay, and significantly blunts the impact of Fiji's ongoing suspension from the PIF.

This strengthened web of bilateral and multilateral relations has given the Bainimarama Government the maneuvering room it needs to take a confident stance against its Australian critics. When Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Suva last February to start on the road towards normalising the relationship, Fijian sources confidently proclaimed that this was Australia's last chance to remain relevant.

The decision by the Abbott Government to lift sanctions in February had raised hopes that there might be a warming of relations between Fiji and Australia. Those hopes were always expressed cautiously, but six months on there has been little sign that the Bainimarama Government has been swayed by Canberra's softened stance. When the campaign trail led Rear Admiral Bainimarama to New Zealand earlier this month, he bluntly said that he doesn't consider Australia a part of the Pacific Islands region. A harsh statement, given that Australia is a founding member of the PIF.

Furthermore, the Bainimarama Government remains determined to hold elections in Fiji in the manner it sees fit, including by passing controversial electoral legislation just over a month before the poll date. Forcing a return to democracy had been a key goal of the Australian sanctions regime, but in that respect appeasement appears to have had as little effect as confrontation. The rhetoric and policies enacted by Suva have not changed since 2006, nor will they unless the Rear Admiral is handed an unlikely defeat on 17 September.

This is not to say that abandoning the sanctions regime was a bad decision. There is nothing to be gained from maintaining an ineffective regime of sanctions that gave the Bainimarama Government rhetorical ammunition in its attempts to reshape the order of the region to its liking. But it is important to point out that lifting them has not healed the rift between Canberra and Suva.

If the Abbott Government wants to reassert the full measure of Australian influence then more work is required not only in Fiji but also in the rest of the Pacific Islands. The fact that the Bainimarama Government weathered Australian sanctions without feeling the need to compromise will have implications that will be felt for some time in what John Howard described as 'our patch'.


The Interpreter hasn't had much to say about European growth for a couple of years, mainly because there hasn't been much of it. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi brought this melancholy story up to date at the central bankers' annual get-together at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last week, far from the bustle of the financial markets. The bankers have exhausted the usual topics of monetary policy at past meetings; this time their focus was on labour markets.

The graph below shows the starting point of Draghi's narrative. US unemployment rose much more sharply than Europe's in the first phase of the 2008 crisis, but US unemployment came down substantially while European jobless rates continued to rise.

Most of this difference reflects the second wave of the crisis which hit the European peripheral countries (starting with Greece) at the beginning of 2010. But the overall euro-area unemployment rate of nearly 12% is not just a reflection of 25% unemployment in Greece and Spain. With the exception of Germany, none of the core European countries has had any recovery to speak of, with employment lower and unemployment substantially higher than before the crisis. The table below (source) shows the percentage change in GDP, employment and unemployment between the pre-crisis peak and the first quarter of 2014:

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What is to be done? Draghi's answer is 'a bit of everything'. He'll keep monetary policy loose (and presumably do 'whatever it takes' if the euro comes under threat). But he is looking for help from fiscal policy and structural reform. A call for structural reform (ie. productivity improvement) is a standard element of just about any macro-economic prescription, but it carries more weight and urgency given the duration and depth of the European recession. 

Draghi quotes figures showing that European structural unemployment (the part that can't be fixed just by getting economic activity back to full capacity) as having risen from 8.8% in 2008 to 10.3% in 2013 as a result of the crisis and the lacklustre recovery. This would imply that the usual instruments of counter-cyclical macro-policy can't take the unemployment rate down very far. 

He reports that Ireland has done better than Spain in terms of wage flexibility, but Ireland's main method of getting its unemployment rate down has been emigration, not only of disenchanted Irish youth but also the migrants from other parts of Europe who had flocked to Ireland when it was the Celtic Dragon, before the crisis.

Even this dismal litany doesn't complete the list of problems facing Europe. The European banking system is undercapitalised and in no position to support a strong recovery. And the unsustainable debt burdens on the peripheral countries make it most unlikely that a recovery can occur in these countries without a substantial additional debt write-off

Draghi (and others) are giving more attention to the possibility that Europe may be facing secular stagnation of the sort demonstrated by Japan over recent decades. This is not a novel idea, but its revival is gaining wider attention, including in this comprehensive e-book from Vox-EU

Just as a postscript on the Draghi speech, his presentation contrasted to the typical central banker's view, which is interested in the labour market only in as far as it affects inflation. Draghi began his speech by sounding, well, human:

No one in society remains untouched by a situation of high unemployment. For the unemployed themselves, it is often a tragedy which has lasting effects on their lifetime income. For those in work, it raises job insecurity and undermines social cohesion. For governments, it weighs on public finances and harms election prospects. And unemployment is at the heart of the macro dynamics that shape short- and medium-term inflation, meaning it also affects central banks. Indeed, even when there are no risks to price stability, but unemployment is high and social cohesion at threat, pressure on the central bank to respond invariably increases.

  • Joshua Foust asks: why are US officials so much more concerned about the threat posed by the Islamic State when violent quasi-state actors of a similar scale are on the rise in their own backyard
  • Ely Ratner and Elizabeth Rosenburg argue that the continued escalation of sanctions against Russia will only serve to undermine the capacity of US allies — in Asia, as well as in Europe. 
  • Despite the vast resources thrown at the stealth capabilities of fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35, there are indications that they could soon be outstripped by Russian and Chinese advances in radar technology.
  • Yet, as Valerie Insinna notes, these potential vulnerabilities are unlikely to derail the unprecedented impact of the F-35 on the global defense industrial base.

After 2018, the F-35 is likely to capture over a 50 percent share of the global fighter jet market, says Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst for the Teal Group, in a February report…“There are too many models chasing too few orders,” he says. The F-35 is “looking to have a very significant international presence that will probably suck up most of the orders from U.S. allies.”


Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has some powerful insights into the economic motivation for war in his recent New York Times op-ed. He worries that some modern wars may be deliberately conceived as a distraction from bad economic conditions; he is referring to Russia, and wondering what China might do one day if its economy falters.

Krugman's angle is an economist's twist on an ancient question: why do we fight?

'Rationalist' theories of war – nations fight when benefits exceed costs – overlook the simple reality that miscalculation is inevitable in warfare. In fact, miscalculation has been said to be the very cause of war. As Krugman observes, wars frequently ruin one, both or even all sides: 'starting a war is a very bad idea. But it keeps happening anyway.'

The economic argument against war was made by the liberal Manchester School in the 1860s, then made again by Norman Angell in The Great Illusion (1909). He has, unfairly, been ridiculed for his poor prediction. Angell wasn't arguing for the impossibility of war but for the stupidity of war. World War I proved him right, not wrong.

A century on, we still ponder Angell's puzzle: surely we are trading too much to contemplate conflict? This is the recurring myth of economic interdependence as a restraint on war. It was proven wrong in 1914, when Britain and Germany were highly entwined, and again today as Vladimir Putin risks Russia's economy for his Novorossia project. Some feel reassured by the massive 'Chimerica' financial condominium binding the US and China together. A US Marine Corp general voiced this confidence at a recent seminar: a conflict in the Pacific is unlikely, because 'we owe so much money.'

But money is seldom at the root of either war or peace among nations (although as Krugman notes resource booty often drives civil conflicts). The causes of inter-state war are famously complicated. It is often joked that more ink has been spilled over war than blood. Of the thousands of books on the subject I will cite a recent one because of its clarity. In Why Nations Fight, Richard Lebow comes to a resounding conclusion about the 94 major international conflicts since 1648. Of our three major motives – appetite (wealth), spirit (honour) and fear (security) – it is the human 'spirit' which incites most wars. A whopping 58% of wars were over standing or prestige. Revenge accounted for 10%. Material aggrandizement, or what Marx called imperialism, accounted for just 7%.

That fact is worth repeating: more than half of major conflicts were over 'who's the boss.'

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Lebow's analysis is not simplistic. He doesn't mean that nations don't tussle over territory; they do. But their reason is often tied to historical sovereignty or security or influence, rather than material value. Curiously, he deliberates long over the US entry into World War II: was it caused by Japan's fear or America's revenge? Lebow's analysis challenges the widely held view that rising powers cause war. In fact it is the incumbent great powers who fight wars with the highest frequency (mostly insurgencies), and the declining great powers who act the most aggressively (often against weaker states) and irrationally (they usually lose). In other words, angry nations often miscalculate. He further shows that 'balance of power' arrangements aren't particularly good at preventing wars, tough they do work militarily (small comfort).

It can be said that a balance of power is emerging in Asia, one that partly rests on a 'financial balance of terror'. But the American general reassured by his nation's debt to China may overstate the effect of its deterrence. The trillion dollars or so Washington owes Beijing is a lot of money, but it's worth only one or two months of output of either country. There is a danger that economic interdependence actually heightens the risk of conflict by making nations over-confident in their ability to inflict financial pain.

Great powers usually only act as such 30 years or more after achieving that status. In China's case, Lebow calculates this may have happened as early as 1990. China now is a true superpower. Perhaps what America should worry about most is when 'Chimerica' is no longer so consequential to China, when Beijing becomes so mighty that it has no heed for American opinion. Then its actions may be driven purely by domestic spirits. By Krugman's bleak logic, that is when it may face economic problems at home, and distractions abroad will beckon.



We are in strange times indeed when a presumptive US Republican presidential candidate can hope to score political points by accusing his likely Democratic rival of being a war hawk, but this is apparently the world we inhabit in 2014.

The accuser in this case was Kentucky Senator and leading light of the libertarian movement, Rand Paul, who was targeting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his comments to the Meet the Press program last weekend. Paul called Clinton 'gung-ho' where foreign policy was concerned, and appeared to lay out the welcome mat for disaffected Democrats who were 'tired of war' ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Paul, it should be said, has done himself no favours in this particular policy arena of late by vacillating in response to the question of whether his support for US non-interventionism extends to cutting off aid to staunch ally Israel (the latest position appears to be a firm 'no').

Nonetheless, he has raised a question worth investigating in light of the multitude of military challenges facing the US in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the strong likelihood that Clinton will occupy the White House fairly soon: is Hillary Clinton a war hawk? And does this count in her favour?

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One factor that seems to answer the first question in the affirmative is the sizeable distance she and her camp have recently sought to put between her positions and those of President Barack Obama. In a much-publicised interview with The Atlantic, Clinton called out Obama's failure to offer support to rebels fighting Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria as being culpable in the rise of the Islamic State, an organisation most recently in the news for the horrific beheading of US journalist James Foley.

'The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,' she said, adding that great nations needed better organising principles than Obama's favoured 'don't do stupid stuff.'

So far, so hawkish.

Clinton has also departed from Obama on the question of US support for Israel in light of what many consider to be its grossly overzealous response to the threat of Hamas in Gaza. She has shown far less frustration than the President and Secretary of State John Kerry towards Israeli leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu, and proclaimed Israel's right to defend itself in recent speeches and in that same article in The Atlantic, in which she went as far as to figure that anti-Semitism had played some role in the global reaction to Israel's counter-offensive.

Back in 2008, Clinton also said that as president she would be willing to break a near 70-year run in US policy and use nuclear weapons against Iran if it were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel (at this point we should remember that an embrace of the Israeli cause and a general hawkishness have long gone hand-in-hand as far as US foreign policy are concerned).

Then there is Clinton's record of supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for which she has since offered deep regret but which remains evidence of her propensity to be swept up in the sort of militaristic fervour that could again arise should the US come under some sort of attack post-2016. It also points to Clinton's hawkish instincts being far more than a response to Obama's foreign policy, which continues to divide the US public, and more in keeping with that of Bush and her husband.

The logical conclusion is that Obama, and indeed Paul, are the anomalies here and that not being a hawk is very much the exception to the rule for US leaders.

Should Hillary have carried on as Secretary of State through the crises in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere it would have been interesting to watch how she handled the implementation of her boss's increasingly hands-off foreign policy.

The political calculus of all this is in turn quite fascinating, given that polls continue to show most in the US oppose further US interventionism. That includes a huge 70% of the public being against the type of involvement Clinton wants to see in Syria. Owing to one of those rather depressing quirks of US politics, the fact that her more muscular outlook is nevertheless considered politically shrewd can be attributed to the country's elites being decidedly more hawkish than the general public, at least according to one recent argument.

While some have claimed that Clinton's recent accuser Rand Paul will be her only viable Republican challenger, it's difficult to see him avoiding the fate his father and fellow libertarian outlier Ron Paul, who was hugely exciting to a certain segment of the Republican base but too much on the fringe to be considered a viable candidate.

Besides, a contest between a hawkish Democrat and a dove-like Republican will surely be too disorienting for anyone to consider.

Photo by Flickr user kakissel.


Ordinarily, I would welcome comments on my work by highly regarded counter-proliferation policy commentators such as Jeffrey Lewis and Catherine Dill, whose work I have read on Arms Control Wonk. Indeed, they have devoted much time to the Unity Journal allegations and I could apologise for not citing their commentaries alongside those by Andrew Selth and John Arterbury.

The authors are usually attentive to the small details, which lends a particular authority to their analyses. It is therefore unfortunate that they appear to have misread and misinterpreted the post they have spent so much effort rebutting. Sadly, this makes their rebuttal misleading and inaccurate.

My initial post focused mostly on the legality of the Unity Journal reporters' actions in the context of media freedom in Myanmar. And their guilt was not really in question: In their own article, they admitted to knowing that they were trespassing on a military site, and their editor later admitted to trespassing in an interview. But the authors are likely aware of this, as they are surely basing their analyses and comments on the original Unity article rather than subsequent second-hand reporting.

Still, I am surprised by the accusation that I supported any of the journalists doing 'hard time', that 'brutal sentences' were justified in cases of poor journalism or even for trespassing, or that 'press protections only apply to good journalism', since I never actually wrote any of this. In fact, I noted that the punishments were severe and not comparable with responses internationally. My follow-up post reiterated and added context to this point.

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A careful reading of both of my posts shows this.

As I previously stated, I accept that the claims about the site in question may be true, but maintain the Unity Journal article did nothing to prove this, even if it did draw international attention. And there is also no dispute that the harsh sentences were due to Unity Journal reporting about (and trespassing on) a defence facility, a point I initially noted and which we seem to agree on.

The Lewis-Dill rebuttal seems to give some credibility to the sources used by the Unity Journal reporters, namely the local residents who had their land confiscated. But there is no assessment of whether their bitterness at losing land (again, not in dispute) may have influenced the allegations. Moreover, I'm sure Lewis and Dill would agree that while the locals (much like satellite imagery) can confirm that a building or site exists, this is very different from having first-hand knowledge of what is actually going on inside. If anything, their rebuttal supports my original argument that critical analysis of this article is still needed.

It is disappointing that discussions of important issues relating to Myanmar, especially those involving human rights, quickly fall prey to emotion, and personal criticisms soon take the place of an objective analysis of the facts. Too often, the argument is over what was thought to have been said, rather than what was actually said.

Regrettably, the Lewis-Dill rebuttal is a case of the former, not the latter.


Recent headlines on Myanmar have centred on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's stuttering media reforms, but the much graver reality that has been largely absent from news coverage was outlined  earlier this month in a snapshot report published by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 

Almost a quarter of a million people have been internally displaced in the country's recent conflicts. Heavy fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar military) in Kachin state has displaced 99,000 people. In Rakhine state, troubled by continuing communal violence, 137,000 people have been internally displaced, half of whom don't have secure access to food. 

Medicins Sans Frontière was earlier this year banned from working in Rakhine state (it has since been allowed to return). Riots against international aid agencies earlier in the year in the troubled state have also impeded health services and food distribution before the wet season (as explained earlier on these pages). The number of health clinics in the state almost halved between February and July this year (from 1560 to 830). Flooding and heavy rain have also imperilled internally displaced people in already fraught situations. 

These reports come as the latest Global Humanitarian Overview puts 2014 as one of the worst years in living memory for humanitarian crises around the world. According to the report, some 102 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, a 20% increase since December 2013. 

Graphic courtesy of UN OCHA.


France is not doing well.

The crisis is evident from the ubiquitous beggars in the streets of Paris to its bad, and worsening, economic data. President Hollande's wishful notion of a merely temporary French lapse in the economic competition with Germany has ended; defeat has been conceded.

Northern Europe's heavy dose of austerity medicine has been rejected, and France has now joined the southern European chorus on the need for further deficit spending to revive the economy. Does that mean France — the continent's second-biggest and the world's fifth-biggest economy — is tilting towards Europe's informal 'Club Méditerranée', where life is sweet but subsidised by the more industrious north? Yes and no.

Yes, with regard to the outsize role that state intervention has in economic recovery. While it is undisputed internationally that the main fiscal parameters are the state's prerogative, the same is not true for the labour market, where France is hopelessly interventionist, thus stifling enterprise and innovation. This has proven difficult to change, as the key word in labour relations remains 'solidarité', leading to absurd situations where strikes are called not to change a particular group's grievances but rather out of solidarity with an unconnected economic segment. On the other side of the labour market, state incentives for employers are pocketed rather than reinvested to create new employment.

No, in that it does not share the quasi-feudal conditions that can still be found in much of southern Europe, where a few families and clans are spread over considerable parts of the economy of Italy, Spain and especially Greece and Portugal. The recent implosion of the latter's banking and real estate conglomerate Espirito Santo illustrates the ongoing struggle to get rid of these deeply encrusted structures.

France, of course, had its seminal break with feudalism and religion long ago. As the French school books have it, France's Age of Enlightenment, followed by the mother of all social revolutions, catapulted the country to the forefront of humanity's struggle to provide just, decent and equal living conditions for all and every 'citoyen'.

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Whatever the historical truth of this narrative, it is a fact that the French 'contrat social', especially its educational side, provides for a basically level playing field. Public schools are just that and, mostly, they are the best. Universities are state institutions too, not private for-profit enterprises. They charge nominal fees and are not burdening the average new labour market entrant with crippling student loans to be paid back before starting professional life.

Certainly these structures have aged badly and are fraying at the edges. The main problem here, as in other sectors, is an unwillingness to innovate as both the composition of society (through immigration, especially from non-European countries) and academic content (globalisation; digitalisation) change beyond recognition. Yet the system is basically sound and can be renovated, as long as the assumption prevails that education is as much a public good, gained by merit and not (daddy's) money, as it is an individual investment in one's own future.

Excellent food is still the delight of anybody living in or visiting France. Yet food (or rather its provider, agriculture) constitutes a major hurdle for economic development in France. What commodities are for Australia, agriculture is for France, yet for far too long, this economic sector has attracted a disproportionate share of capital, labour and subsidies (both nationally and through the EU's Common Agricultural Policy). Due to migration, cheaper imports and technological advances, jobs in French agriculture are today at the bottom rung of the economic scale and vanishing rapidly.

Yet labour and capital, thus freed up, has not been channeled into innovative industrial production, itself hard hit by globalisation with its export of capacities to emerging countries. Thus the schism between a relatively small elite profiting disproportionally from globalisation and the army of globalisation losers is even more pronounced in France than in other Western countries. This in turn is not exactly conducive to labour market reforms.

While the lack of economic reform remains a major drag on the country and on its role in Europe, the opposite is true with regard to two other major elements of potential progress towards the 'great European promise', as symbolised by the EU.

Firstly, Europe will have to develop the means to guarantee order in its 'near abroad' (Mediterranean, Africa) and to take a bigger part of responsibility for a functioning global order. As we all know, the US is unwilling and unable to continue to shoulder the burden on its own. It is fair and necessary that Europe should help, and here France has been a leader, especially with regard to Africa

The second area where France counts among the leading countries in Europe concerns assimilation of immigrants, especially those with non-European roots. The ugly historical chapters of racism in its colonies and of rampant antisemitism notwithstanding, 'la nation fondatrice des droits de l'homme' nevertheless has a pretty good record over the last 50 years of integrating the huge influx of immigrants from former colonies. The remaining challenge from mainly Muslim 'banlieus' (suburbs) and the present political onslaught from the xenophobic far-right have economic rather than social roots. They can be solved when the aforementioned economic reforms are tackled in earnest.

On a personal level, the French are in general quite tolerant, and this not only with regard to their womanising politicians. France's leading Sunday paper Journal de Dimanche runs a yearly contest to crown the most popular person nationwide. In this country of said politicians, charming crooners, attractive actresses and great chefs, the crown this year did not go to any of these, but rather to singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, son of a Polish Jew and a German, followed by two actors, one with African ancestry and the other with Algerian background.

Photo by Flickr user jacsonquerubin.


Jeffrey Lewis is Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and founder of ArmsControlWonk.com. Catherine Dill is a Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

We were extremely distressed by the article titled Myanmar: Media Freedom and the Unity Journal Case, written by Rhys Thompson. Worst of all, we feel forced to criticise people and an institution we like and admire. The Lowy Institute has been a wonderful addition to the policy discourse on Asia. We're not sure what happened this time.

Thompson's argument depends entirely on the awful idea that the brutal sentence (ten years of hard labour for the journalists) is justified because the reporting's sourcing is 'hazy and questionable.' A subsequent piece softens the tone, but leaves in place the argument that the Unity journalists remain partly to blame for 'poor' reporting, trespassing and other supposed infractions.

This is appalling.

The notion that press protections only apply to 'good' reporting amounts to having no press protections at all. A free press is an essential element of an open society. It cannot function when reporters must be perfect to avoid being thrown into jail for reporting on the financial dealings of those in power.

The facility near Pauk remains a mystery. Unity claimed the local villagers believed it to be a Chinese chemical weapons facility. Journalist John Arterbury has reported the suspicion of Bertil Lintner that the facility is involved in the North Korean missile trade. We would only note that the 'signatures' of the facility are similar to those at other sites where North Koreans are believed to be operating. The size and layout of the facility, to say nothing of the Government's reaction to its disclosure, should interest any reporter or anyone concerned about Myanmar's transition to an open society.

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There are almost certainly errors in the Unity story. Any early story about such a secret site will contain mistakes; that is what happens when reporters try to untangle the lies and obfuscations of governments. Even Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have noted that their initial stories about Watergate contained inaccuracies as they attempted to understand the scope of the conspiracy. One story incorrectly linked three innocent White House officials to the Nixon Administration's wiretapping conspiracy. Thompson's argument boils down to the claim that the Nixon Administration should have been able to lock up the entire the staff of the Washington Post for 'hazy' reporting, an option Nixon would certainly have enjoyed.

Moreover, Thompson's argument is fundamentally dishonest. Let's say Lintner is right: it's a North Korean missile factory in violation of UN sanctions. Does anyone believe that, had the Unity reporters correctly identified the foreign personnel as North Koreans involved in an illicit arms deal, the sentences would have been lighter? The sentences were harsh not because the story was wrong (if it was wrong) but because Myanmar's Directorate of Defence Industries (DDI) wants to shield its activities from scrutiny.

Finally, who is Rhys Thompson to tell us what the facility is or whether the reporting was good? As evidence that the quality of the reporting was poor, Thompson points the inclusion of 'supposedly irrelevant' details about the water and power supply. As nonproliferation policy experts, this statement is baffling. Details about water and power supply are essential to determining the purpose of the facility. We have been conducting, with a number of colleagues, an examination of the power supply precisely because such details help reveal the purpose of the facility. In substituting his judgment for that of a reader, Thompson illustrates the problem with authoritarianism. The authorities don't know what's best for you, despite their smug assurances.

In fact, the Unity reporters appear to have accurately reported what local villagers believed, whether the villagers were right or wrong. Many of the things the villagers told Unity are consistent with features visible in the satellite images we analysed — details such as the security perimeter, tunnels, helipads for visits by senior leadership figures and housing that looks to be for foreign workers.

Oh, and lest we forget, the villagers were right about one other minor detail as well. Their farms were taken without due process and their village was destroyed. You can see that in the satellite images, too.

That's quite a story, if you ask us. But, by all means, let's focus on any details that might be hazy and sentence five people to ten years hard labour. Let's emphasise that the journalists 'trespassed' at a site they said had no signs prohibiting entry, where no one asked them to leave, and in a manner that might result in a slap on the wrist in the US. Just as long as we don't ask any difficult questions about the process that led to the razing of a village, the construction of a suspicious defence facility with foreign workers, or DDI's continuing relationship with North Korea.


Last Friday we learned that a Chinese fighter pilot had earlier in the week engaged in some Top Gun-style antics with a US surveillance aircraft (see photo):

An armed Chinese fighter jet aggressively confronted a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft earlier this week over international waters in the South China Sea, mounting a series of “unprofessional and unsafe” maneuvers that included passing within 20 feet of the Navy aircraft’s wingtips, a Pentagon official said...

...The Navy P-8 was on a routine mission gathering intelligence in international airspace over the contested South China Sea, about 135 miles east of Hainan Island, China’s southernmost point. The incident occurred several days after Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made a historic visit to nearby Vietnam.

On three separate passes, the Chinese J-11B flew directly under and alongside the Navy aircraft, at one point bringing its wingtips within about 20 feet of the P-8’s wings before conducting a roll over the top of the U.S. aircraft. The Chinese fighter jet also passed the nose of the P-8 at a 90-degree angle, showing its belly loaded with weaponry to the U.S. Navy pilot, Kirby said.

China has been unrepentant in response to US claims of unsafe pilot conduct, and it looks like the US is trying to de-escalate the situation, with un-named US officials telling the Wall Street Journal that 'the midair encounters may be attributable to a "rogue" pilot or group of pilots in a squadron responsible for intercepts in the South China Sea. These officials also said they don't believe the aggressive flying was directly authorized by the Chinese military.'

In other words, the US is signaling that recent efforts to improve military-to-military relations aren't jeopardised by this single incident.

Clearly the US and China need to improve their mutual understanding of how these intercepts ought to be managed. When there are clear rules and procedures in place, there is less room for rogues on either side to make snap judgments that could be misinterpreted by the other. The problem will only become more acute as China develops its capabilities to fly missions close to US Pacific territories and even the continental US. Not that improving these 'rules of the road' is any guarantee of safety. The US and Soviet Union (then Russia) have decades of experience with these aerial encounters, yet in April a Russian fighter performed almost exactly the same dangerous manoeuvre with a US spy plane.

Speaking of 'rules of the road', the WSJ article points out that:

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The U.S. maintains all vessels have a right to freedom of navigation outside another country's territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles from the coast under international law. China has at times said that freedom doesn't apply to military surveillance and mapping and has bristled at the presence of U.S. military aircraft and ships coming so close to its shores.

It's true that China has made this distinction, but in June last year it also undercut its own case by admitting that it had conducted incursions into America's exclusive economic zone.

That said, the balance of maritime surveillance and espionage capability massively favours the US at present. China does not even have a long-range maritime patrol aircraft in its inventory or any bases close to US soil from which to operate them. The US, by contrast, has bases in Japan, Guam and Hawaii, and is rebuilding its fleet with the new P-8 Poseidon and the MQ-4C Triton drone. Its ally Japan also has a huge fleet of maritime surveillance aircraft.

If China does develop the capability to conduct regular surveillance missions off US Pacific territories or even the mainland, the US reaction to such flights will be a symbolic indicator of America's willingness to cede China the rights and privileges of a great power.  China's conduct in this case may well have been provocative and dangerous, but these surveillance flights do take on a different resonance when they  are happening in your own backyard.

Finally, it's worth pausing to think about how technology may change this high-stakes game: as I mentioned, the US is in the process of introducing drones to conduct some of this surveillance work. So what would last week's incident have looked like if the US aircraft had not been carrying a crew? On the one hand, with no lives in danger it would have lowered the stakes for the US. On the other, would the lack of risk to the crew also make US military commanders more willing to take risks with flights close to China's shores?