Lowy Institute

As you can see above, the video of the 2014 Lowy Lecture, delivered on Monday by Angela Merkel, is now available, and I encourage you to take a look, particularly since her tough remarks on Russia are making news back in Europe.

But I want to emphasise one moment in the video to expand on a point I made in my summary of Merkel's speech on Monday afternoon — that Merkel seems to be on the cusp of a rare type of global political celebrity but is reluctant to grasp it. Of course, she is the Chancellor of Germany and she regularly appears in various power lists, so its no surprise that she is a prominent figure. But my sense (and that's all it is; no science here) is that she has developed a personal popularity which she has chosen not to encourage or exploit.

It seems to me that, were Merkel to embrace this opportunity, it could raise her country's standing in world affairs to something unprecedented in the post-war era. For instance, is it really so far-fetched to imagine Merkel taking the leading role in international climate-change negotiations? Her country has diplomatic heft and green-energy credentials. And, if I'm right, Merkel herself has the personal profile to give such an initiative real stature.

But at the very end of the video (1:04:02) there is a moment which encapsulates Merkel's reluctance to take on the global stateswoman role. Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove closes proceedings by remarking that 'Henry Kissinger once asked "If I want to call Europe, who do I call?" After today's lecture, I would say the answer is Angela Merkel'.

Now, you can't see it in the video because it goes to a wide shot at that moment, but I was sitting in the front row facing Merkel, and I thought I saw her draw back slightly when she heard that.

Just to reinforce this point, here's a Twitter exchange between Michael Fullilove and one of Europe's leading strategic thinkers, Francois Heisbourg:

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Of course there are good reasons why it is difficult for Merkel to embrace the global stateswoman role, even if she wanted to. The French, for instance, would resist it because it would, by implication, demote France's standing in world affairs. And such open German leadership would also erode the sense of collective decision-making that other European states value, and which Merkel herself promoted in her speech.

But this raises a historical irony. As we have discussed on The Interpreter recently, and as Merkel herself said in the Lowy Lecture, the post-war European integration project is predicated on the 'never again' philosophy: never again would Europe descend into great-power rivalry, militarism and German aggression. A united Europe represented a clean break from European history.

Yet if I am right about Merkel's global stature and the possibility that her leadership and activism on key global issues could elevate Germany's standing as a responsible and constructive global power, then we have to say that the weight of history is actually still holding Germany down. For it is the European project that prevents Germany from embracing that global role.


Fascinating interview with Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley identity behind PayPal. Here's a grab on competition:

...as a business, you should strive for monopoly...competition is very overrated. We live in a world where we're always told to compete intensely. It's how we're educated. It's how so much of our system is organized. I think that if you want to compete super intensely, you should open a restaurant in DC. There'll be competition — but you won't make any money or do anything. Competition makes us better at that which we're competing on, but it narrows our focus to beating the people around us. It distracts us from things that are more valuable or more important or more meaningful.

And this assessment of the US intelligence community is dead-on:

I have a slightly different cut on the Snowden revelations. I think it shows the NSA more as the Keystone Cops than as Big Brother. What is striking to me is how little James Bond-like stuff was going on and how little they did with all this information. That's why I think, in some ways, the NSA is more in this anti-technological zone where they don't know what to do with the data they find. So they just hoover up all the data, all over the world. I think it was news to Obama that he was tapping into [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel's cell phone.

One way to think about this is that if the NSA bureaucracy actually knew what they were doing, they would probably need way less information. What's shocking about Snowden is how much information they had and how little they did with it...

...It's hard to judge but my sense is they're quite good at getting data and they're quite bad at finding any meaning or knowing what to do with it. I suspect that the bureaucratic momentum has pushed towards more and more data because, perversely, if you don't know what to do with the data, the tendency is to just get more and more, even though that never actually solves the core problem.

 (H/t Aaron.)


Well, I suppose it was inevitable.

After President Obama's performance in Brisbane over the weekend, whenever a foreign leader now talks about climate change on Australian soil — as German chancellor Angela Merkel did this morning in her 2014 Lowy Lecture — it will be read in the media as an attack on Prime Minister Abbott.

All quite avoidable, of course. As Mike Callaghan explained in his G20 wrap-up yesterday, if the Government had taken a little more care in its public messaging in the lead-up to last weekend's G20 summit, the stories might not have been framed that way. But it's also a bit tiresome and reductionist, as if the issue matters primarily for how it affects the PM's fate.

What's more, climate change wasn't the only important thing Merkel talked about this morning. We will have a transcript available soon, but for now, my thoughts on the highlights of the speech:

  • Merkel of course referenced Germany's dark past in the first half of the twentieth century, and said the creation of the EU was a guarantor that this would never happen again in Europe. Whether the memory of two world wars can serve any longer as a justification for European unification is a question we addressed recently on The Interpreter.
  • She said Europe's economic crisis is 'under control', but that its effects are not behind us.
  • Merkel said that, as Asia's big powers grow economically, inevitably they will throw their strategic weight around. She added that Asia was the only region to consistently record increases in military spending since the end of the Cold War, but she offered little about how great-power competition in the region can be managed, suggesting only that for Asian states taking the rocky road to political pluralism, Europe can help.
  • If every reference to climate change is going to be read as a criticism of Abbott, one could do the same about Australia's record in the UN Security Council. In opposition, of course, Abbott criticised the campaign to win the non-permanent seat, but Merkel praised Australia's record richly, particularly on Syria. As Nick Bryant has written, Australia's role has been somewhat overlooked at home.
  • I think that what we tend to look for in political leaders is not so much intelligence but wisdom, and Merkel's was on display in the Q&A, where she cautioned patience on Europe's response to the crisis in Ukraine. As someone who saw Germans give up hope of their country ever being reunified, she said we ought not to be too pessimistic about future change in Russia's attitude. But it might take some time for Europe's most powerful tool, its economic might, to take effect. The only danger for Europe is that it becomes divided in the meantime.
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  • Another piece of folk wisdom from Merkel: we are never well advised to listen only to our worries. This was in response to a question about Germany's position on Britain's place in the EU. Recently Merkel was reported to have said that she would accept the UK's exit from the EU, but today she sent an altogether warmer signal. She said the UK gave continental Europe a broader perspective on the US and Asia, and prevented the EU from being too inward-looking. She said Germany will do all it can to persuade the UK to remain in the EU.
  • On Europe's economic crisis, Merkel warned that there must be more centralisation, because it is difficult to run a single currency with 18 central banks and 18 economic policies. The slowest member of the currency union cannot set the pace.
  • Merkel's China answer was fascinating. What sort of world order do China's leaders want? They see their country as part of a 2000-year story of Chinese world leadership, punctuated by 200 recent years of decline and now a massive resurgence. China's current leaders want to be part of that story, and will do everything they can to restore China to its leading place in world affairs.
  • Merkel's answer to the last question, about US spying on her telephone and those of other German officials, was a delight. She seemed baffled by the logic of it all: if Americans want to know what the German political class is thinking, why not just take them to lunch? Dead right, and it's an observation that could just as well be made about Australian snooping on Indonesia's leaders.
  • One personal observation: I'm not sure Merkel was fully aware of the goodwill in the room today. She strikes me as a highly popular figure in this country (witness coverage of the Brisbane selfie), and I got the sense that the audience was waiting for her to open up and let her guard down a little bit. As a female political figure with global standing, her stature is similar to that of Hillary Clinton, who since losing the 2008 presidential primary to Barack Obama and then serving as Secretary of State has developed a whole new level of global popularity. But whereas Clinton seems aware of her new-found hipness (and is ready to exploit it), Merkel shows no sign of responding. It seems like a missed opportunity.

There's a lot of talk in the media about how groundbreaking and ambitious the US-China climate deal is, but is that true? Here's how American economist Tyler Cowen (a conservative, but a mainstream figure and certainly not a 'denialist') greeted the news:

Overnight, Cowen elaborated on this statement on his blog Marginal Revolution:

...if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues. For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.) The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions? “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate. Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent. How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.)  The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/#sthash.r4F8miD2.dpuf

if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.)  The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/#sthash.r4F8miD2.dpuf

What's interesting is that the commentary I have seen in support of the deal does not really deny these arguments. Instead, it leans heavily on the symbolism of the agreement, so in a way actually reinforces Cowen's point. It's just that Cowen thinks it is merely symbolism, whereas others think the symbolism itself is the main point. Here's Paul Krugman:

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...what we’re getting here is more a statement of principle than the shape of policy to come. But the principle that has just been established is a very important one. Until now, those of us who argued that China could be induced to join an international climate agreement were speculating. Now we have the Chinese saying that they are, indeed, willing to deal — and the opponents of action have to claim that they don’t mean what they say.

Brian Merchant at Grist:

It's fraught with symbolism. The two biggest polluters, who have never agreed on much of anything about climate change at all, are issuing a deal that seriously reflects the scope and depth of the problem. The agreement will have a profound effect on the international community, and it's already sending cheers through the climate circles around the world. The two immobile pillars propping the up the bulk of the world's fossil fuel infrastructure finally feel like they've budged.

James Fallows:

As the collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks five years ago showed, the rest of the world is likely to say, "To hell with it" if the two countries at the heart of this problem can't be bothered to do anything....This new agreement does not mean that next year's global climate negotiations in Paris will succeed. But it means they are no longer guaranteed to fail.

And finally, here's the Council on Foreign Relations' Michael Levi on the symbolism for great-power relations:

China has typically gone out of its way to assert its independence in anything climate-related. That approach would usually have led it to announce major goals like these in a clearly unilateral context – even if they were developed in tandem with the United States. Rolling them out together with the United States says that China is increasingly comfortable being seen to act as part of an international effort.

Indeed that may be part of the point here. Xi appears at least somewhat sensitive to historical patterns of conflict between established and rising powers. Amidst broad tensions between the United States and China, climate change is increasingly an area of relatively constructive dialogue, which makes it worth highlighting. A joint announcement does exactly that.


Well, this seems like a big deal. In fact, the NY Times is calling it a 'landmark agreement' that 'could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate agreement by 2015.'

After nine months of secret negotiations, the US and China have agreed to significant emissions cuts, and for the first time Beijing has announced that its emissions will peak in 2030. Here's the text of the official US statement, and here's an op-ed from US Secretary of State John Kerry trumpeting the deal.

We'll have expert analysis on this agreement in coming days, but for now, just a few points of scepticism, or at least wariness. This deal is good news for all sorts of reasons, but it's worth remembering that these are just targets (the UK set targets too, and is on track to miss them) which are not really enforceable. And given the long lead times (2025 for Washington to meet its new emissions targets; 2030 for Beijing's emissions to peak), it's going to be difficult to hold both countries to their commitments.

Then there is the sheer scale of what the two countries have agreed to take on. The US will have to double the pace of its carbon pollution reduction to meet the new target. As for China, the US statement notes that, for Beijing to meet its target of having 20% of energy from zero-emissions sources, 'it will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States'. Given China's demand for coal and the fact that renewables have not risen as a percentage of global energy production in the last decade, this seems like a tall order.

One final note: President Obama has had a rough time of it lately, what with his shellacking in the mid-terms. But as I mentioned a few weeks ago, should he end his term in office with a comprehensive global emissions-reduction deal in Paris late next year, historians are going to look much more kindly on his Administration than the pundits and the public now do.

UPDATE: Vox has a breakdown of what the deal means and why it matters.

UPDATE II: Ross Garnaut says the Americans are making more sacrifices than China.

Photo by REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon.


...large multinational corporations are an important form of strategic power for the reflection of the national will. For a large country such as China, its comprehensive national power must be supported by well-diversified, large-scale, multinational corporations...Only then will we have a say in the world.

That's a quote from the Lin Zuoming, CEO of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), China's aircraft manufacturing giant.

As of 2012, AVIC had 400,000 employees and, as of 2011, US$40.8 billion in revenues. Impressive, but AVIC's ambitions in the global aviation sector are far larger, and so are China's. In fact, if there is one country and one company in the world that could threaten the Airbus-Boeing duopoly in manufacturing large airliners, it is China's AVIC. As Boeing China president Ian Thomas said recently, he expects such a challenge to emerge: 'It takes national will, political will, deep financial resources and deep reserves of talent [to build an aircraft], and China has all of those in abundance.'

All of that ambition is on display at the Zhuhai airshow, which opens officially today, though with pilots practicing their routines, and indoor displays being set up, online aviation enthusiasts have been studying photos from the airshow for several days now.

But although China has almost finished building its prototype C919 airliner, a proposed competitor to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 series but with dim commercial prospects, the big surprises from the show come from the military side.

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China has decided to use the airshow to officially unveil its J-31 stealth fighter and the Y-20 strategic airlifter (pictured). Neither program is a secret, exactly, with photos of flight testing widely distributed on the internet. But in the past China has waited until such designs are more mature before showing them off to the world. Both aircraft reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese aviation industry. To this untrained eye, both aircraft look less clumsy, more coherent and have a higher standard of finishing than anything we've seen from China before. Granted, this is not all China's own work — both programs have probably benefited from industrial espionage against the US. But if China is stealing ideas from others, it is at least doing a better job of integrating them.

Yet both designs suffer from the relative backwardness of China's jet engine technology. The J-31 and Y-20 are both (under-)powered by old Russian engines, to be replaced by Chinese designs when they have matured. As well as engines, this RAND study argues that China is behind in 'high-quality materials, like aluminum needed to manufacture airframes. The Chinese industry is also deficient in systems integration: designing and assembling a flight-worthy aircraft.'

For all the activity, RAND concludes that 'Chinese commercial aviation manufacturing industry has yet to make serious inroads into the global aviation industry'. Still, there is no doubting China's determination and its ambition. Whether China's aviation industry becomes a strict commercial success may be a secondary consideration. As the Lin Zuoming quote reveals, the true motive is likely to be technological nationalism.

We will continue to see false steps and a few boondoggles. After all, the Zhuhai airshow itself is hosted by the city's underutilised large airport, an early white-elephant industrialisation project. (None of the five major airports in the Pearl River Delta is more than 154km from another, yet the Chinese are proposing to add more runways and a sixth airport. Then there the 42km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, expected to be taking auto traffic by 2016.)

The RAND study cited above argues that China ought to rethink its state pump-priming of the aviation industry, citing various industry-policy disasters such as Concorde. But there's seems to be no shaking China's determination to be a global player in aviation, as in other realms.


Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

The latest Lowy Institute Paper was launched this week, The Adolescent Country by Peter Hartcher. The Interpreter will host a debate over the next several weeks on the questions raised by the Paper and what the future of Australian foreign policy should look like. Nick Bryant made the opening contribution:

Much of this political provincialism stems from the mistaken belief that Australian voters are themselves parochial. In the same vein, politicians also exaggerate levels of xenophobia and racism of the Australian electorate. But there is an internationalist stream that prime ministers could tap. Just witness the wanderlust of young Australians, who roam the planet with their rucksacks embroidered with Australian flags, or the million-strong rolling Australian diaspora that Michael Fullilove spoke of in a previous Lowy Institute paper. Australia, with its polyglot population, is also one of the world's most successfully multicultural countries, which automatically gives it an international outlook.

Hugh White followed with his review:

In fact Peter seems to accept the widely shared assumption that these responses need not involve any very hard choices for Australia, because US leadership will continue to provide the foundation of regional order. But that is not something we can simply assume, and one might argue that the real weakness in Australian foreign policy is that so few in government, the opposition or the media and commentariat are willing seriously to debate it.

Vanessa Newby wrote a fascinatingly counter-intuitive piece on a speech by Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah, who spoke on Islamic extremism and ISIS:

He asked that all moderate Muslims and members of other religions make their voices louder than that of the extremists. He spoke in terms that appeared to support the successful Tunisian elections and came close to mocking extremist positions on the elections and other Islamic traditions these groups have labelled as apostasy. He stated that crying out Alluhu Akbar ('God is great') to justify every action does not render such actions legitimate. His concern is that committing acts such as beheadings and other forms of violence in conjunction with the phrase exerts not only a negative impression of Islam in non-Muslim countries but also has the potential to motivate Muslims to distance themselves from Islam.

New Zealand secured a seat on the UN Security Council last month. Anna Powles on what we can expect from the new council member:

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New Zealand's stance throughout its campaign was that it would pursue two agendas if elected. First, New Zealand would act as an advocate for non-Security Council member states to have input into Council deliberations that affect them. Of the 193 UN member states, 102 are small states with little influence. Key called New Zealand's win 'a victory for small states' and McCully suggested that by defeating Spain and Turkey in the first round, New Zealand had 're-written the narrative' in a David versus Goliath-type scenario.

Economic stagnation in Europe could have significant effects on the geopolitics of the region, says Matthew Hill:

In turn, the Ukraine crisis threatens to further erode regional economic conditions, raising a further challenge to European political solidarity. While trade and investment between European states and Russia represents only a fraction of overall economic activity, those ties possess a salience beyond their size. Imports of Russian oil, gas and solid fuel have surged over the past decade due to their competitiveness relative to domestic energy generation. A change in energy prices due to politically-motivated disruptions could have deep ramifications across Europe's already fragile economy: a one-third reduction in Russian oil exports could reduce European GDP growth by 1 to 1.5%. After years of unfulfilled promises of economic revitalisation, such an outcome would be a further body blow to political confidence in Brussels and Frankfurt.

Gordon Peake wrote on Timor-Leste and the suspension of the employment of foreign legal advisers, who were later expelled

In Dili, some speculate that the parliament's resolution relates to the ongoing court case involving Conoco Phillips and allegations of unpaid royalties and taxes; the judges, allegedly, might be a bit too independent and judicial for the Government's liking. With the country's Anti-Corruption Commission also getting its advisers targeted, others suspect the move is really about neutering ongoing investigations against members of the political elite.

For a world-weary observer it's further evidence that Xanana Gusmao, the country's Prime Minister, might not be the saintly figure some Australians think him to be.

Religious tolerance is under strain in Indonesia, explains Catriona Croft-Cusworth

However, conservative forces are increasingly having an impact on Indonesian politics and society. Ironically, Wahid says that democracy is often blamed both by conservatives for being too liberal, and by liberals for allowing more conservative voices to make themselves heard in Indonesia . Under Suharto's New Order, political Islam was seen as a threat and subsequently repressed with tactics such as forcing all organisations in Indonesia to adopt the Pancasila as their sole basis. It has been argued that this was the reason why NU and Muhammadiyah professed such support for the state ideology, and shifted their focus to social and cultural matters in order to continue their activities.

Julian Snelder on bullet trains in China, and the link to the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank:

The recent deal signed with Russia is an eye-popper. A future Beijing-Moscow line, 7000km in length, might eventually cost a cool quarter-trillion dollars, mainly Chinese funded. Analysts foresee 700 trains (1000 passengers each) running simultaneously. There are currently only 26 direct flights each way weekly, suggesting a dramatic tightening in the linkages between these superpowers. The 45 hour traveling time is daunting; a flight takes eight. Over such distances, the physics of lightweight aluminium tubes traveling at altitude easily trump the steel-on-concrete juggernauts on land. Hence the Moscow express, like the dubious Nicaragua canal, seems more like a political statement directed at the West.

Increased integration and cooperation in the Pacific Islands is what's needed, says Parliamentary Secretary Senator Brett Mason

By and large, the island states, particularly Pacific micro-states, are simply too small and too remote to succeed on their own. With some economic estimates indicating that by 2015 the Pacific will constitute the slowest-growing region of the world, there is a clear and urgent need for a new approach. The new PIF Secretary-General, PNG's Dame Meg Taylor, will have her hands full. But, as Pacific leaders themselves acknowledge, in our increasingly integrated and interconnected world, the status quo is no longer an option.

Hugh Jorgensen got his Piketty on, writing about inequality and the G20:

Even Thomas Piketty, author of the pulsating 700-page-turning Capital in the Twenty-First Century, would probably approve of any G20 leaders' commitment to promote greater tax transparency as a welcome addition to the field of inequality research. Piketty observes that the best estimate of the amount of wealth indolently sitting in financial tax havens is probably on the order of 10% of global GDP; money that could be put to much more productive use if we only knew where it was and whether that figure was even accurate. As the OECD quote above indicates, even just a G20 commitment to find out more about how inequality impacts upon fiscal stability and growth would be welcome.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pabak Sarkar.



Since 1949, China’s orchestras have been controlled and funded by the government. In the 1990s, state backing was slowly withdrawn and many orchestras closed. Luo Shoucheng, Tu Weigang, Weng Zhenfa and Chen Dawei are well known in the world of Chinese traditional music. But when their orchestra disbanded three years ago, they chose to retire from the state system. By all rights, they should be fading quietly into Shanghai’s cultural backwaters. Instead, they are about to take a leap into the unknown. They are generating new material that will take Chinese music to wider audiences. And they have teamed up with their friend Liu Ying, a virtuoso woodwind performer, to prepare a major new concert outside of government control. As the event draws near, a sudden tragedy compels them to reflect on their shared past...

You can watch A Farewell Song now on Vimeo on Demand.

(H/t Sinocism.)


Russia, probably for the first time since the early 1800s, has gone through a quarter of a century without leaving any trace on the international world of arts, literature, philosophy or science.

This from a longer essay about post-communist transitions in eastern Europe. The conclusion: 'Only three or at most five or six countries could be said to be on the road to becoming a part of the rich and (relatively) stable capitalist world. Many are falling behind, and some are so far  behind that they cannot aspire to go back to the point where they were when the Wall fell for several decades.'

(H/t to The Browser for the link to the essay, and to Marginal Revolution for the 'Sentences to ponder' coinage.)


Last night President George W Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, presented the Lowy Institute with his vision of US-China relations, and just a day earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech on US-China relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). With President Obama due to visit China next week for APEC, it's worth taking a look at a few extracts, beginning with the four goals of the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific:

First, the opportunity to create sustainable economic growth, which includes finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is not only a trade agreement, but also a strategic opportunity for the United States and other Pacific nations to come together, to bind together, so that we can all prosper together. Second, powering a clean energy revolution that will help us address climate change while simultaneously jumpstarting economies around the world. Third, reducing tensions and promoting regional cooperation by strengthening the institutions and reinforcing the norms that contribute to a rules-based, stable region. And fourth, empowering people throughout the Asia Pacific to live with dignity, security, and opportunity...

...The goal of the rebalance is not a strategic initiative to affect one nation or push people in any direction. It is an inclusive invitation to join in this march towards prosperity, dignity, and stability for countries. I can reaffirm today that the Obama Administration is absolutely committed to seeing through all of these goals.

Two things to note: one is the strong re-assertion of the Administration's commitment to the rebalance. Why would that be necessary unless Kerry is getting signals that regional friends and allies are doubting America's commitment? The second point is that democracy does not appear in Kerry's list of four aims.

On the US-China relationship itself:

(Chinese) Ambassador (to the US) Cui (Tiankai) spoke at SAIS about one year ago and he described the U.S.-China relationship as, quote, “the most important as well as the most sensitive, the most comprehensive as well as the most complex, and the most promising as well as the most challenging.” All of those attributes are true, but I would respectfully add one more to that list: The U.S.-China relationship is the most consequential in the world today, period, and it will do much to determine the shape of the 21st century.

And lastly, some Kissingerian reasoning from Kerry:

Our two nations face a genuine test of leadership. We have to make the right choices in both Washington and in Beijing. In many ways, the world we’re living in today is much more like 19th-century and 18th-century global diplomacy, the balance of power and different interests, than it is the bifurcated, bipolar world we lived in in the Cold War and much of the 20th century.


Zero Motivation is an office comedy set in the Israeli Defense Force, and the trailer is a gem:

Looks like the movie itself measures up too, judging by the reviews. It started showing around Australia yesterday.


A Soviet Backfire bomber escorted by a Norwegian F-16, 1988. (Wikipedia.)

My thanks to colleague Anthony Bubalo for alerting me to this extraordinary 2013 paper published by the US Naval War College all about how the Soviet Union planned to hit America's aircraft carrier fleet in the event of war (h/t also to Information Dissemination, where Anthony found the paper).

The article is written by former Soviet naval officer Maksim Tokarev, and contains a depth of detail about Soviet military operations that I have never seen before. So there's plenty of red meat for the military wonks, including the fact that the Soviets planned to send a fleet of 100 bombers armed with anti-ship missiles against a US aircraft-carrier battle group, fully expecting to lose half of them to enemy action.

But there's also wit and drama, which you rarely find in these types of papers. Here's an account of an air-crew briefing for a mock raid by Soviet Backfire bombers (pictured) on a US carrier fleet somewhere in the Pacific:

...a young second lieutenant...fresh from the air college, asked the senior navigator of the regiment, an old major: “Sir, tell me why we have a detailed flight plan to the target over the vast ocean, but only a rough dot-and-dash line across Hokkaido Island on way back?”

“Son,” answered the major calmly, “if your crew manages to get the plane back out of the sky over the carrier by any means, on half a wing broken by a Phoenix (ed. note: the name of a missile carried by the US Navy's F-14 fighters) and a screaming prayer, no matter whether it’s somewhere over Hokkaido or directly through the moon, it’ll be the greatest possible thing in your entire life!”

Tokarev also writes that the naval air force, tasked with sending its bombers against US carrier fleets, did not trust the targeting information they got from satellites or other intelligence methods. 'The most reliable source of targeting of carriers at sea was the direct-tracking ship' or 'd-tracker', a destroyer or other ship that shadows the US fleet constantly in peacetime, sending back coordinates just in case war breaks out. And when it does?

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It was extremely clear that if a war started, these ships would be sent to the bottom immediately. Given that, the commanding officer of each had orders to behave like a rat caught in a corner: at the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier's position by radio, he would shell the carrier's flight deck with gunfire...He could even ram the carrier, and some trained their ship's companies to do so; the image of a “near miss,” of the bow of a Soviet destroyer passing just clear of their own ship's quarter, is deeply impressed in the memory of some people who served on board US aircraft carriers in those years.

One other incredible detail about the targeting of US carrier battle groups:

...if you see a carrier in plain sight, the only problem to solve is how to radio reliably the reports and targeting data against the US electronic countermeasures. Ironically, since the time lag of Soviet military communication systems compared to the NATO ones is quite clear, the old Morse wireless telegraph used by the Soviet ships was the long-established way to solve that problem...While obsolete, strictly speaking, and very limited in information flow, Morse wireless communication was long the most serviceable for the Soviet Navy, owing to its simplicity and reliability.


Diplomacy is a French-German film set in 1944 about Hitler's order that Paris be destroyed before it can be retaken by the Allies. It centres on the intense discussions between the German general who has to give the order and a Swedish diplomat trying to dissuade him.

The New Yorker's David Denby writes:

...the movie presents an argument between civilization and barbarism, between the pleasure principle and the death instinct. But the filmmakers mostly avoid high-flown rhetoric in favor of the intensely practical give-and-take of negotiation. (Director Volker) Schlöndorff, dedicating the movie to the late Richard Holbrooke, makes a case that diplomacy can solve the most intricately knotted problems. As Hemingway wrote, in a slightly different context, it would be pretty to think so.


This VICE News video of the 2014 RIMPAC exercise (the largest international maritime exercise in the world), held in June this year, is worth 14 minutes of your time.

It includes (from 8:24) a tour of the Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark, but focuses mainly on the US Marine Corps' attempt to return to amphibious warfare after more than a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this site we regularly debate the status of the pivot/rebalance. Maybe it has lost momentum at the political level, but it clearly figures prominently in US Marine Corps talking points.


As Catriona Croft-Cusworth’s commentary and photos showed, there is a celebratory mood in Jakarta this week with the inauguration of Jokowi as Indonesia’s new president. In the spirit of reconciliation, Jokowi’s defeated opponent Prabowo Subianto even showed up for the ceremony.

For this week’s Quick Comment, I spoke with the Lowy Institute’s Indonesia expert Aaron Connelly about how long this mood is likely to last in Indonesia’s halls of power. 

Not long, is the answer. As you will hear, Jokowi faces a hostile opposition (Aaron makes comparisons with American politics) that is unlikely to give an inch on Jokowi’s domestic agenda. Listen too for Aaron’s thoughts on Jokowi’s inaugural address, which, as Rory Medcalf noted yesterday, had a strikingly nautical theme.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Steven Fitzgerald Sipahutar.