Lowy Institute

Our Mandarin Code give-away is well underway. On Monday I asked you to nominate your favourite novels about modern China. This is for a chance to win a copy of the new political thriller The Mandarin Code, by Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, a novel set in Canberra but immersed in today's debates about the rise of China.

So, here are your responses, first via Twitter: 

In the comments, Joseph Dunn has suggested Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, a book which depicts the author's travels through China in the 1980s. The commenter SH recommended all the works of Chinese novelist Lu Xun, and said 'his tone is sharp, sarcastic, yet full of humanity.' Finally, Mitch Clyne suggested Death of a Red Heroine by Qui Xiaolong: 'This 2000 crime novel pits a Shanghai cop against some shady individuals who are part of the changing Chinese political system of the early 1990s'. 

Via email, Markus writes: 'My favourite novel about modern China is not about modern China at all but about China at the end of the 'feudal' era. (In fact, I must confess I've only ever read two other novels about China, one set in the endless pre-modern dreamtime and the other in the Warlord Era.) It is my sincere belief, however misguided that might be, that this novel is an important key to understanding China today and for all time. It is The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.'

The Interpreter has four copies of The Mandarin Code to give away. For your chance to win, tell us your favourite novels about modern China using the comments section, Twitter, Facebook or blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org. We will post responses on The Interpreter and get in touch with you if you're in our top four.

Comments

On Monday the Lowy Institute,  in cooperation with the Indonesia Project at the Australian National University, hosted its regular Indonesia Mini Update, a half-day event bringing together experts to discuss Indonesia's politics, economy, security and foreign policy. 

One of the guests was Sidney Jones from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a respected analyst and commentator on terrorism and violent extremism in Indonesia.

Below you can hear her interview with the Lowy Institute's Anthony Bubalo on the ISIS phenomenon and its implications for Indonesia. It was particularly interesting to hear her talk about the oath of allegiance ceremonies being arranged by local groups allied to ISIS. The 2000-odd people who have taken the oath are pledging their primary loyalty to ISIS rather than to Indonesia, which is making Jakarta nervous.

Comments

For the staffers, journalists and policy wonks who populate Canberra, the time has come to ask yourselves a big question: are you and your sleepy town in danger of becoming cool?

Australian TV viewers are used to seeing their political class satirised (from the Gillies Report to Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell, and lots in between), but it doesn't often get dramatised. Last night, however, the ABC aired the first part of a Canberra-based political thriller called The Code, set in Canberra and shot partly inside Parliament House. The Canberra Times, which ordinarily is reluctant to gush about the capital (ahem), said the series depicts Canberra 'as a coldly imposing city hiding dark secrets.'

And although we will have to wait at least a year to see it, another Canberra-centred mini-series based on two novels by journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann is in production. The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code tell the story of a federal government barely held together with minority party support, riven with leadership tension and dogged by a relentlessly negative opposition leader (all resemblances to recent reality are strictly intentional).

But the two books, and a third yet to come, also deal with Australia's relationships with the US and China, and in the interview below, which I recorded with Steve and Chris last Friday, you can hear Chris talk (5:27) about how our leaders feel privately about China's rise. It's quite different to how politicians from both sides discuss China publicly.

If you're interested in the mini-series, you'll hear details from Chis and Steve at 3:53, and at 9:00, listen for Steve Lewis' take on the relationship between politicians and intelligence agencies, another theme of the books.

The Interpreter has four copies of The Mandarin Code to give away. For your chance to win, tell us your favourite novels about modern China using the comments section, Twitter, Facebook or blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org. We will post responses on The Interpreter and get in touch with you if you're in our top four.

Comments

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

With Prime Minister Abbott committing to the still-developing international coalition that will work toward containing and combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, several Interpreter contributors discussed what it meant for Australia. Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Rodger Shanahan

More importantly, the Australian public needs to understand that this mission is simply about targeting IS; it's not about making a better Iraqi nation. I would argue that the multiple identities (to coin a Bernard Lewis term) of Iraqis make it virtually impossible to do this in the short- to medium term, if ever. That doesn't mean we shouldn't contribute to defeating IS, but it does mean we should be mature enough to understand that this is not a binary battlefield — in other words, it's not the Iraqi government vs Islamic State.

Anthony Bubalo outlined three core reasons why he thought Australia was making the right decision:

Iraq does threaten core Australian interests. The existence of ISIS-stan increases the terrorist threat faced by Australians both in Australia and in our region (not to mention places Australians like to travel, such as Europe). This is because, as has been mentioned many times now, Iraq and Syria are providing military skills to extremists from Australia, but also neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines, and around the world. 

A number of commentators have argued that an air campaign on its own won't defeat ISIS. This is true, but I don't think this is what the US intends. I think the US and its allies will pursue the same strategy they used successfully in Afghanistan in 2001-2 and in Libya in 2011. That is, they will provide air support to allied local ground forces teamed with Western special forces. 

The more interesting question is what to do with the guys that do come back. At the moment, the focus in Australia and some European countries seems to be on a law-enforcement response. Clearly, however, there needs to be a case-by-case treatment. As noted, you probably won't have hardcore fighters returning home. And what you don't want to do is to push returnees onto a violent course they never intended to take because they feel persecuted.

And Michael Green on the possible effects on Australia’s regional engagement:

Read More

The deployment of 400 RAAF and 200 SAS personnel and associated equipment to Dubai is not going to undercut Australia's strategic engagement with Indonesia, India and the rest of South and Southeast Asia. Australia is hardly a one-dimensional player in Asia, and has more than enough capacity to shape regional developments through navy-led exercises, diplomacy in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum, and in trade negotiations such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. 

Stephen Grenville took a look at the idea of economic convergence:

But in any case, the convergence story was never about aggregates, combining the diverse experience of all emerging economies taken together. The convergence story is the counter to the view that poor countries are inexorably stuck in poverty because of geography, lack of savings, or unreformable institutions. This pessimistic generalisation is refuted by the cases of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Then, rebutting the argument that these were special cases, less dynamic economies like Thailand and Indonesia showed that the income gap could be narrowed, even in the face of inefficient and corrupt institutions. The point of the convergence story is that, with competent policies, poor countries can grow quickly by adopting proven technology and techniques.

Elliot Brennan undertakes a study of religion in Southeast Asia: 

As the region undergoes rapid development, the role of religion is shifting. This will ultimately affect perceptions of identity, a change that will create anxiety in many young men and women and may see them gravitate toward extremism or other positions of intolerance. Coupled with labour migration, shifting gender roles and  changes to traditional social structures, this creates a crucible for potential conflict. Addressing these insecurities of identity in a changing society (where identity is less likely to be prescribed by religion) will be key to tackling the spread of communal violence and extremism.

Julie Bishop's first year as Foreign Minister has been busy, and one success is the MIKTA grouping, says Alex Oliver:

It's early days, but each of the MIKTA foreign ministers appears enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new grouping. None of the five are part of a natural regional or security bloc, so their thinking is presumably that the grouping can achieve more together than each can achieve alone – the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. And while the parts are significant, the whole is potentially formidable. 

In a fine analysis, Shashank Joshi on the Indian-Chinese relationship ahead of Xi Jinping's visit to New Delhi:

India is therefore fostering a web of commercial and military ties across the region, the sort of 'middle power coalitions' that Rory Medcalf and Raja Mohan have described in their recent paper, while prioritising economic interaction, avoiding the language of containment or even balancing, and resisting 'a bloc-based Asian order with alliances and counter-alliances'. These relationships don't just strengthen India's regional influence; they also force China to court India more intensively, as it did in the decade after the US-India rapprochement.

Julian Snelder argued that China will not follow its realist foreign policy forever:

The bigger question is what happens when China's power outgrows its calculative strategy. At some point, clever and pragmatic might start to look cynical and amoral. It is often said that China didn't create the current global order and therefore is not beholden to it. That raises the obvious question of what system Beijing would prefer instead.

As Jokowi begins to select a new cabinet for Indonesia, the present foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has undergone a public flaying, says Greta Nabbs-Keller:

Among the most damaging of Susilo's criticisms was that Natalegawa had overseen the death of innovation and reform in the Foreign Ministry instituted by his predecessor, Hassan Wirajuda. Appointed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri in the early stages of Indonesia's democratic transition, Wirajuda initiated a substantial legislative, organisational and ideational reform. He transformed a foreign policy-making culture constrained by the military's political influence and concentration of authority in autocratic President Suharto into one which better reflected the values of Indonesia's 'reformasi' experience. 

And following the Fijian elections this week, Lowy Institute Melanesia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones said there are a few reasons to be worried:

The Fiji Government had said the military would not be involved in pre-election and election-day proceedings, but on the eve of the election, Tikoitoga announced the military was on standby. The military also conducted a highly visible training exercise in a public area on election eve, creating a storm on social media, and marched in the streets of Suva. These actions have unnecessarily and unhelpfully raised the profile of the military at the very time when it should have taken a low profile.  

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Natasia Causse.

Hide
Comments

Synopsis:

Red Army is about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team. Filmmaker Gabe Polsky tells an extraordinary human story from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the friendships, the betrayals, and the personal dramas, which led to his transformation from national hero to political enemy. The film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union. 

(H/t Slashfilm.)

Comments

This morning on ABC radio Attorney General George Brandis said something quite mundane yet absolutely critical in regard to the apparent ISIS-related terrorist plot disrupted by police in Sydney yesterday:

I want to emphasise the point, and it can't be stressed enough: yesterday's police operation was about crime. It was about disrupting a criminal network that meant to do Australians harm.

Along with NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione's calls for calm yesterday ('We don't need to whip this up'), this is precisely the right tone. This is a criminal matter and we need not elevate it beyond that. Our leaders need to strike a tone of resilience, stoicism and quiet resolve rather than anger and outrage. As Waleed Aly says this morning:

Long-term, it's about us. It's about how resilient we are as a society, and how focused we are in our response. There is one very clear way in which this alleged plot can succeed, even if it is never carried out: that we become so emotionally manipulated, so provoked, that we end up helplessly polarised.

Unfortunately, we have done ourselves no favours in this regard by so eagerly embracing America's military operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a strategy which significantly inflates the actual threat posed by the group. And Brandis' language has not always been so measured. Last week he said ISIS 'represents or seeks to be an existential threat to us.' It's a vast exaggeration to say that ISIS could threaten Australia's existence as a political and cultural entity, and the fact that Brandis felt it necessary to throw in 'or seeks to be' just exposes the vast gap between ISIS's capabilities and its intentions.

The Australian Government could take some guidance from President Obama here. For although he has embarked on what I would consider an unnecessary and possibly counter-productive escalation of military operations against ISIS, his language in doing so has been quite measured.

Read More

Throughout his term of office, Obama has been ruthless in using military force to kill terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. Yet he seldom hypes the threat. Even in his speech announcing expanded military operations against ISIS, he painted the threat in realistic terms: 'We can't erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.' He also said there was no hint that IS had targeted the US. It was an admirably honest assessment, which just made the military escalation he announced immediately after sound all the more precipitate.

Obama's language is notably more moderate than that of the Bush Administration, when al Qaeda was routinely described as an existential threat. Back in 2004, then Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry was attacked by President Bush's campaign for saying that America's aim ought to be to once again 'make terrorism a nuisance'. This wasn't anywhere good enough for the GOP, which even amid the unfolding disaster of Iraq, maintained the absurd fantasy that terrorism could be permanently eliminated.

But Kerry and Obama are both right. Terrorism cannot be eliminated, but it is containable, and we only make the problem worse by hyping the threat.

Hide
Comments

Two anecdotes I have stumbled on recently from reviews of Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge, a new book about the US conservative movement.

First, did you know Richard Nixon invented the term 'Missing in Action'?:

The ’70s also marked the high tide of the American Right. Much of the country was discomfited by protests, drugs, and crime...In The Invisible Bridge, (Perlstein) describes how Nixon invented the category of soldiers “Missing in Action” (who, in previous wars, would have been called “Killed in Action / Body Unrecovered”) to rile up the home front against peaceniks, making it seem as though they were determined to abandon soldiers on the field of combat.

And here's a great anecdote about Reagan and the 1973 Arab-Israeli war:

Kissinger...solicited him for advice on the extraordinarily delicate matter of how to frame an Israeli resupply operation that, if handled incorrectly, could lead to a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Reagan suggested: "Why don't you say you will replace all the aircraft the Arabs claim they have shot down?"

This was brilliant. Since the Arabs were wildly exaggerating their success, presenting them with a Hobson's choice—saying nothing or facing international humiliation—was perfect. Reagan's interpersonal intelligence was something to behold.

Comments

This passage comes from Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman's2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow:

An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by ‘availability entrepreneurs,’ individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile; anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a ‘heinous cover-up.’ The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.

Did the brutal beheading of two (now three) Westerners by IS touch off an 'availability cascade'? Discuss.

(H/t Dart-Throwing Chimp, @Robert_E_Kelly.)

Comments

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

The Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones released a Policy Brief this week on the significance of Fiji’s elections, set for 17 September. Her accompanying Interpreter post argues that Australia should be doing more to assist Fiji in its transition back to democracy: 

Australia, which has already begun to re-engage with Fiji and has provided significant assistance for the elections, must continue to support Fiji's transition to democracy. Persuading an elected Prime Minister Bainimarama (if indeed he is victorious) of the value of Australian support for democratic institutions will be challenging given his suspicions of Canberra. It will require skilled Australian diplomacy and patience but also real leverage, something Australia has in the attractiveness to Fiji of a reconstituted bilateral defence relationship. 

Australia should consider offering further elements of the assistance package Julie Bishop announced in February. These should include 'no strings attached' new partnerships with the Fijian parliament, support for civil society, media and the rule of law, and an enhanced military relationship. If Australia does not take the lead in assisting democratic institutions and the building blocks of democracy in Fiji, who will?

Alex Stewart, also writing on Fiji, pointed out that successful elections involve much more than just ensuring that widespread cheating does not occur:

However, a truly free and fair election requires more than the absence of extra ballots stuffed into the box. Yes, voters need to be free to make their choice on the day, but the process by which they reach their decision also needs to be fair. In a free and fair election, political parties compete on as level a playing field as the system can enforce. This is where the election process in Fiji stands on shakier ground...

...There have been a variety of issues, from candidates being reportedly barred for traffic offences to the lateintroduction of a residency requirement that has disqualified several respected Fijians, including people seconded to RAMSI. What I would focus on is not the changes themselves but the lateness with which they were made. Both measure came into force in August, mere weeks before the election. Campaigning had been going on for months by this point. For an election to be fair, political parties and voters need to have clarity as to who is running for election. Having candidates knocked out at the eleventh hour should be an exceptional matter for a functioning democracy, not one of deliberate state policy. 

Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Tess Newton Cain summarised the economic policies of the political parties running in Fiji’s election: 

FijiFirst's manifesto, unsurprisingly, rests its economic policy on the interim government's track record. It highlights four consecutive years of GDP growth and a private sector investment rate of 15% in the current year. The manifesto stresses that job creation, particularly for young people, is a priority and sees maintaining the momentum of the Bainimarama Government as the means of achieving this. While there is reference to a 'comprehensive program' to be implemented after the election to complement existing policies (eg. tax-free zones, free education), there is no detail on what the 'key initiatives' are.

The Fiji Labour Party grounds its economic policy in the belief that 'given a stable  democratic environment and honest and competent leadership with policies that ensure good governance and inspires investor confidence in Fiji's future, the economy will automatically pick up'. In terms of how the party proposes to grow the economy, the manifesto refers to reviving the agriculture sector and sustainable development of forestry and fisheries. It also identifies a number of ways in which the FLP intends to create a favourable industrial and business environment, including by bringing down the cost of doing business, setting up a 'Special Fund' to encourage self-employment, especially among professional graduates, and pursuing investment to boost employment opportunities and enhance incomes.

President Obama gave a prime-time address this week that outlined his strategy for dealing with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Rodger Shanahan's first impressions

Read More

Shi'a militias are part of the Iraqi landscape and in some instances they have been resurrected for the fight against IS. The Sunni National Guard units that will now be stood up sound awfully like a Sunni militia, no matter how much they may be dressed up as being part of the Iraqi military...

...Although Obama said the US was ramping up its military assistance to the Syrian opposition, it wasn't spelt out exactly which opposition he was talking about, how they would be deployed or sustained, or who they would fight (just IS, Jabhat al-Nusra also, the Assad forces, or the Islamic front?). Syria is not a binary issue.

In James Bowen’s analysis of the speech, he argues that we have not seen a President Obama like the one we saw on Thursday in some time: 

Given the relative lack of surprises, the most notable feature of the performance was the level of conviction with which the President articulated these points, recalling for a brief time the vim and vigour on which he established his political reputation only a few years ago. Gone was the painfully slow pace of delivery and the not-so-pregnant pauses that characterised many of his recent announcements, particularly in this troubled foreign policy sphere.

Speaking after the Public Broadcasting Service telecast of the speech, New York Times columnist and frequent Obama critic David Brooks went as far as to praise the President for so clearly articulating his desired pathway, despite the fact that most of us realise he is a reluctant strongman when it comes to such matters.

In a popular and reflective post, Lowy Institute East Asia Program Director Merriden Varrall argues that a tendency to assume Western norms may impede our understanding of China: 

We tend to presume that underneath the surface-level differences, Chinese people are more or less the same as us. The reading of surface-level signs according to our own norms, like the apparently Western toilets at Beijing airport in 1999, also occurs when we try and explain and interpret Chinese politics and behaviour. One example is the way political structures and activities are described. Xi Jinping is described as 'the President', so we ascribe to him the same roles and responsibilities as Barack Obama. Li Keqiang is the 'Prime Minister', the State Council is China's cabinet, and so on. This translation and simplification, a bid to understand how China works, ultimately impairs our ability to see it for how it is, rather than just another version of how we are.

Manjeet Pardesi and Robert Ayson from Victoria University of Wellington said that the results of the Modi-Abe summit last week showed the ‘support for their (India and Japan) respective strategic roles’: 

As China converts its material power into greater regional influence, the common interests between Japan and India in preventing Beijing from holding sway over the region are becoming more pronounced. Both have long-standing rivalries with China: in the case of Japan over history and disputed islands in the East China Sea, and in the case of India over the world's longest unmarked land border and the Tibet issue. Beijing will no doubt also have noticed the commitment of Abe and Modi to 'maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight…and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.'

My assessment of the Abbott Government's foreign policy during its first year in office: 

...the Abbott Government has also rapidly advanced its free-trade talks with Beijing, and so seems wedded to the Howard Government formula that Australia does not have to choose between its main strategic partner and its biggest economic partner. This arrangement also seems amenable to Beijing, for now. But as China grows and Beijing demands a regional security order that matches its status as an economic equal to the US, it becomes less and less clear that this posture is sustainable.

When the Abbott Government is eventually unseated, and peripheral foreign policy interests such as Ukraine and Iraq have long been forgotten, this will be the ground on which we ultimately judge its foreign policy performance.

Also, Abbott’s foreign policy has been lacking in the Pacific, said Nic Maclellan: 

Abbott couldn't even spare a day to attend this year's Pacific Islands Forum (Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss spent just 36 hours in Koror, though you wouldn't know about it  since not one press gallery journalist or TV news crew accompanied him to Palau). Abbott's decision to focus on the MH17 crisis overshadowed a crucial meeting, which included the selection of a new Forum Secretary General, preparations for Fiji's first post-coup elections and the development of regional interventions for a series of global summits on small island states, climate and development.

Natasha Stott Despoja wrote of Australia's role in putting gender on the agenda of the Indian Ocean Rim Association: 

The IORA conference I hosted on behalf of Minister Bishop in Kuala Lumpur was the flagship event to further Australia's aspiration on the economic empowerment of women. The event had a focus on textiles and tourism, two areas in which women are active in every member country. Textiles involve women as artisans, workers, designers, entrepreneurs and traders. Tourism is anticipated to account for one in every ten jobs on the planet by 2022.

Finally, CNAS's Ely Ratner suggested that Abbott may be stretching Australia’s resources with his globalist agenda: 

While Australia's leading strategists don't all agree with each other on priorities and alternatives, many said quietly (and some not so quietly) that Abbott may dilute Australia's power and influence if globalist ambitions prevent Australia from devoting sufficient resources to issues where it can make more unique and significant contributions. In the case of Australia's global activism, less may ultimately be more. 

 Photo courtesy of Flickr user Let Ideas Compete.

Hide
Comments

A couple of pieces I have stumbled on in the last 24 hours which rearranged my mental furniture a little. First, on China's 'smart' censorship:

...you can say pretty much anything you like on Chinese media, providing that it does not lead to any kind of action. “Chinese people can write the most vitriolic blogposts about even the top Chinese leaders without fear of censorship, but if they write in support of, or [even] in opposition to an ongoing protest – or even about a rally in favour of a popular policy or leader – they will be censored.”

Even more subtly, the volume of protests is used to gauge whether any given leader is sufficiently unpopular that his removal will make things go more smoothly. In this way the information signalling part of a market economy is co-opted to the service of an authoritarian state. It turns out that you can say what you like – and this includes all the kinds of hashtag activism. All you may not do is influence events away from the keyboard, or even refer to them. If there is a news story that suggests there might be a role for protest in the physical world, all comments referring to it are removed, whichever side they take.

 And here's philosopher John Gray tearing strips off Francis Fukuyama's new book about how political development happens. The review never refers to China, but it bears directly on the durability of the authoritarian state China's leaders are trying to build:

...Fukuyama takes for granted that the end point of political development is the system of government he prefers. As he puts it here and in the previous volume, the problem that most of the world faces is 'getting to Denmark' - where 'Denmark' means not the actual country but 'an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption'. He sees many of the humanitarian and military interventions of Western governments as bungling attempts to promote this imaginary society: 'The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealized places like "Denmark," but it doesn't have the slightest idea of how to bring this about.'...

...But political legitimacy is a slippery business; people want many things apart from prosperity, accountability and low levels of corruption. They also demand expression of their national myths, identities and enmities - and quite often attach more importance to this aspect of government than they do to democracy. Somewhere above the fog that surrounds Francis Fukuyama's convoluted treatise hangs a clear and simple question: what if large sections of humanity don't much care about getting to Denmark?

Comments

 President Obama's speech to the US National Defense University, May 2013:

We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

Amen, Barack, Amen.

Comments

Given how little The Interpreter has had to say on the topic of Scottish independence, it seems somewhat frivolous to post this, but it's irresistible:

(H/t Dish.)

Comments

ASIO* Director-General David Irvine last night told the ABC's 7:30 program that he is considering raising the terrorist threat level in Australia from Medium to High:

I would say that, at the moment, it is at a very elevated level of medium and I'm certainly contemplating very seriously the notion of lifting it higher, because of the numbers of people that we are now having to be concerned about in Australia, because of the influence of Syria and Iraq on young Australians, both in terms of going to those places to fight but also in terms of what they are doing here in Australia with a potential intent to attack.

Back in March, the Lowy Institute's Anthony Bubalo tackled the subject of foreign fighters in the Middle East, and the threat they pose on return to Australia. He argued that 'In coming years Australia will face a more complex and serious terrorist threat than it did after 9/11', but that it would be wrong to focus solely on fighters returning to Australia:

...the breakdown of state control in a number of Middle East countries is opening new spaces in which jihadists can train and operate. In fact the situation today is considerably worse than it was before 9/11. In the 1990s jihadists found sanctuary in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Today all of those are still on the list of jihadists’ safe (or semi-safe) havens, which now also includes Sinai in Egypt, Libya, parts of Iraq and Lebanon, and of course Syria.

For Australia the concern is not just about Australian returnees, however. Indonesians have also travelled to Syria. At least one has been killed there. Given the success that the Indonesian authorities have had in tackling the terrorist threat over many years, it is critical that the conflict in Syria does not allow jihadist groups in Indonesia to redevelop their lethal capabilities and linkages once again. This is a situation that will require close attention and cooperation with the Indonesian government, perhaps as much as any focus on Australians returning home.

* A corporate member of the Lowy Institute.

Comments

I don't understand why they gave away the ending in this trailer (presumably just of the first episode), but still, this shows some promise:

The series will air in the US beginning 21 September.

Comments

So, the first-year assessments are in, and it seems the Abbott Government has done well on foreign policy.

Mark Kenny says Abbott has established 'a solid profile as a man of purpose' on the world stage. Michelle Grattan says Abbott 'has shown an unexpected sureness on the international stage'. Barrie Cassidy says 'Whether it be repairing a damaged relationship with Indonesia, responding to the Malaysian air crashes, standing up to Russia, or confronting the brutality of the Islamic State, Abbott has been exemplary.'

All of these judgments lean heavily on the Abbott Government's response to the MH17 shootdown, and to that extent, they surely overstate the Government's foreign policy effectiveness.

Abbott is getting points for his blunt criticisms of Russia and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is being praised for hammering out a UN Security Council Resolution which got Russian support for an international investigation into the shootdown. But as last night's Four Corners program illustrated pretty clearly, the practical effects of all this have been negligible. President Putin, you will be shocked to hear, paid little heed to Abbott's criticisms, and the Ukrainian army roundly ignored the UN Resolution, advancing into the crash site in order to press its military advantage against the rebels.

Of course, we shouldn't be narrowly utilitarian in our judgments of foreign policy leadership; it's not solely about enacting effective policy. It also carries a symbolic and ceremonial role, particularly in the event of tragedies like MH17. But that's not to say, as Mark Kenny does, that the Prime Minister's role in such circumstances is to 'lead the outrage'. High emotion is never a good guide to statecraft, and as Raoul Heinrichs has argued, Abbott's rhetorical offensive may have been counter-productive.

The instinct to react emotionally has also marked the Abbott Government's response to the rise of Islamic State. Last week Abbott said the beheading of Steven Sotloff alone 'abundantly justifies' Australia's military involvement in Iraq. That is an extraordinary statement, when you stop to think about it: a single murder is apparently enough for Australia to send a squadron of fighters half way around the world to bomb IS for an undefined period.

Read More

The brutal execution of two Western journalists (along with the attempt to wipe out the Yazidi people) seems to have been decisive in turning elite opinion in the US and Australia on the threat of IS, and prompted what now looks to be almost certain Australian involvement in forthcoming expanded air combat operations against the group. But as Andrew Sullivan says of the effect the beheading footage has had in Washington:

Like the horrifying images of 9/11, these images scramble our minds. And they are designed to. They are designed to awake the primordial instincts and the existential fear that Salafist fundamentalists thrive on....by reacting so comprehensively to it – the president has unwittingly given these poseurs a much bigger platform.

By contrast, Abbott has been more cold and calculating on Indonesia, both on the 'stop the boats' policy and on the spying issue. In both cases, Abbott has stuck steadfastly to a position and methodically achieved his goal. As Annabel Crabb says in regard to the boats policy, 'You may not agree with the method, but he's pulled it off.' As for the Snowden revelations that Australia was spying on senior Indonesian leaders and the president's wife, Abbott seems to have determined early on that his primary concern was the US alliance, and the intelligence-sharing arrangement that is at its heart. His Government fixed on a policy to protect that relationship, and after months of diplomatic pain with Indonesia, Foreign Minister Bishop last week signed a Code of Conduct with Jakarta that largely maintains the status quo on Australian spying.

Here we see the golden thread running through the first year of Abbott's foreign policy: the constant reaffirmation and reinforcement of Australia's alliance with the US, and with Washington's regional partners.

The Government agreed to join a US-led military mission against IS even before it was explicitly asked. The 2014 AUSMIN communique talks about a US Air Force and Navy presence in Australia, on top of the newly established US Marine base in Darwin. The Government has signed free trade deals with Seoul and Tokyo, with Abbott calling Japan Australia's 'closest friend in Asia'.  It has prioritised the Five-Eyes intelligence pact over the relationship with Jakarta. And we are now apparently set to sign a historic arms deal with Tokyo.

Which brings us finally to China. It is impossible to see this pattern of ever deeper ties with Washington and its allies as not being a reaction to Beijing's recent behaviour in the region. Beijing has become more deliberately confrontational over the first year of the Abbott Government, a twelve months marked by China's unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea and the moving of a CNOOC oil platform into waters off the coast of Vietnam that are claimed by China. Beijing, it seems, is is no longer just reacting to 'provocations' but is deliberately and pre-emptively asserting itself, and Canberra is noticing.

Yet the Abbott Government has also rapidly advanced its free-trade talks with Beijing, and so seems wedded to the Howard Government formula that Australia does not have to choose between its main strategic partner and its biggest economic partner. This arrangement also seems amenable to Beijing, for now. But as China grows and Beijing demands a regional security order that matches its status as an economic equal to the US, it becomes less and less clear that this posture is sustainable.

When the Abbott Government is eventually unseated, and peripheral foreign policy interests such as Ukraine and Iraq have long been forgotten, this will be the ground on which we ultimately judge its foreign policy performance.

Photo by Flickr user Tony Abbott.

Hide
Comments
Loading...