Lowy Institute

There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. And so it is for IT upgrades, when despite things working fine in testing, they don't work so well in practice.

On Tuesday I mentioned that Interpreter Email Digest subscribers were getting a new service with an upgraded format, but unfortunately we have had some teething problems, so subscribers are still getting the old Feedblitz service. We hope to make the switch early next week.


Some interesting quotes from a wide-ranging interview. On Asia:

Part of what Asia was able to do was not simply open up markets to the West for cheaper goods, it was also able to foster homegrown businesses in Asia with regional markets that gave an opportunity for businesses to get better, to develop better products, to in some ways avoid competition on the global scale right away. Essentially, you can operate off-Broadway before you open the show on Broadway.

Hmmm, is that an accurate portrayal of Asia's economic miracle? I'm not so sure.

On China:

One thing I will say about China, though, is you also have to be pretty firm with them, because they will push as hard as they can until they meet resistance. They’re not sentimental, and they are not interested in abstractions. And so simple appeals to international norms are insufficient. There have to be mechanisms both to be tough with them when we think that they’re breaching international norms, but also to show them the potential benefits over the long term. And what is true for China then becomes an analogy for many of the other emerging markets.

On Russia:

Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy. And as long as we do that, then I think history is on our side.

Now this one is definitely not true.


Plenty more ideas have come through since I called for your nominations yesterday.

Here's the first batch, below is part 2, with part 3 still to come. Thanks to all those who have tweeted, disqused and emailed, and keep them coming:

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Below are clips from movies suggested by you in response to my request earlier today for your favourite World War I movies. It's notable that there has not been a huge variety in your responses, and in fact famed director Peter Jackson has said 'It's interesting how few films there have been about World War I'.

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And last, here's Regeneration, from 1997. Not a clip, but the entire movie:



I guess it can't be a coincidence that this trailer is released right on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, although the release date for the film is not yet clear.

This trailer raises a broader question in my mind: what are the great films about World War I?

I was raised on epic World War II movies (off the top of my head: Patton, The Big Red One, Saving Private Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, The Thin Red Line, Bridge over the River Kwai) but the Great War? I sat through All Quiet on the Western Front when I was in high school (the 1979 version with Ernest Borgnine — weird), but I really can't think of any prominent World War I movies, let alone great ones.

Leave your nominations in the comments thread or send them to blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org.

UPDATE: See suggestions in the comments thread and on Twitter (including Lawrence of Arabia, which is pretty bleeding obvious, though I guess I was thinking of 'trench' movies).

(H/t Slashfilm.)


About 3000 Interpreter readers receive either a daily or weekly email from us with links to our latest posts. Until yesterday we used Feedblitz for this service, but from today we are doing it ourselves via the Lowy Institute's recently revamped database.

The only difference subscribers will notice is that the email will be formatted slightly differently. You will still get headlines, links and short descriptions of every post from the last 24 hours or seven days in a new, easy-to-scan format, though you will no longer see the full text of the article in the email.

Unfortunately, we're not away to the cleanest of starts. It seems the links are broken in the email sent out to subscribers this morning. A thousand apologies; we are investigating.

If you'd like to subscribe to the email digest service, look at the right-hand column of our page for the 'Keep up to date' box, enter your email address and click on either the 'Daily Digest' or 'Weekly Digest' button.


I raised this topic recently when The Economist pointed to a new Brookings study which argued that the cost of renewables had been severely underestimated. There was some pushback in the comments thread, and now I see that Green Tech Media, an American green energy industry website, has also debated the study and questioned the ethics of The Economist's reporting. Listen to the podcast debate here.

While I'm on the broad topic of climate change, its worth noting some ripples in China's treatment of this issue. China accounts for about 25% of the world's carbon emissions, so along with the US, China needs to be a leader in cutting emissions. But back in early June China signaled that it was not yet prepared to put a cap on its carbon emissions growth:

Any near-term regulation of China's greenhouse gas emissions would likely allow for future emissions growth, a senior government official said on Monday, discounting any suggestion of imminent carbon cuts by the biggest-emitting nation.

Sun Cuihua, deputy director of the climate change office at the National Development and Reform Commission, said it would be a simplification to suggest China would impose an absolute cap on greenhouse gas emissions from 2016.

No decision had yet been taken on a cap and the timing of such a measure was under discussion, she said. Several options were being considered and China would choose policies in accordance with its conditions and stage of development.

"Our understanding of the word 'cap' is different from developed countries," Sun told a conference.

But at a recent conference in Germany, China's chief climate diplomat Xie Zhenhua said:

China might announce a “peaking year” for its carbon emissions in the first half of 2015 when the country would present its contributions to address global climate change, said China’s chief climate negotiator on Monday.

Go read the NY Times' coverage for further context on that quote. That piece also offers a link to a fascinating argument by former US senators Timothy Wirth and Tom Daschle, making the case that binding global treaty on emissions is a chimera, and that the aim for the 2015 Paris conference instead ought to be to get nations to commit to binding national cuts to emissions:

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A new agreement should recognize that a simple one-formula-fits-all framework is not feasible: We don’t know how to allocate emissions among nations, the global economy makes this impossible anyway, and the early differentiation between developed and developing economies is no longer valid. Instead, a new start is needed, based in part on what has been called “pledge and review”: Nations will pledge concrete steps to reduce their carbon emissions and periodically submit their progress to the international community for review.

Rather than strive for an elusive, binding global treaty, the idea is to encourage countries to make strong national commitments in their own economic self-interest and then roll those up in the Paris agreement, which would not take the form of a treaty and thus would not need to be ratified. Countries would be motivated to take these actions in response to competition, both economic and political; international peer pressure; and the aspirations of their own people. The overarching goal is to spur national action to bend the carbon curve downward in a meaningful and measurable fashion, giving greater certainty to the private sector to innovate and invest in low-carbon technologies. This is the world’s best option for accelerating progress and averting catastrophic climate change.

Photo by Flickr user Iamoix.


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

On Monday Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove launched the revised second edition of his book of great Australian speeches. For The Interpreter, Michael gave us a two-part post listing his ten favourite speeches about Australia's place in the world. Here's Michael (in Part 1) discussing then Opposition Leader Arthur Calwell's 1965 speech in opposition to the Vietnam war:

In response to Prime Minister Menzies' 1965 announcement that Australia would send an infantry battalion to Vietnam, Opposition Leader Arthur Calwell laid out Labor's opposition to Australia's participation in the war in a finely argued parliamentary statement. The party politics of the Vietnam War were, in fact, strikingly similar to the party politics of the Iraq war nearly forty years later. In both cases a Coalition government sought to shrink the US-Australia alliance to the dimensions of a single conflict, while a Labor opposition argued that the war was inimical to the interests of both countries. Calwell's remarks laid out Labor's case in plain English, argument upon argument. They were anti-war without being anti-American, and were substantially vindicated by history.

Part 2 is here.

Yesterday we featured a Russian view of the MH17 tragedy from Igor Yurgens, Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development:

The consequences for Russia depend on the outcome of the crash investigation. Even if it confirms that Vladimir Putin learned only after the fact about the 'mistake' made by the separatists and that there was no command from Moscow to shoot down the Boeing, this will not change the essence of the situation for the Kremlin. Its only chance for redemption is if somehow the blame for the tragedy is shifted to Kiev and the world community accepts this. But this is a fleeting chance, at best.

However, much time remains before the investigation will conclude, and the dynamics of the Ukrainian crisis and relations with the West are rapidly worsening in the meantime. The EU's adoption of the third and most painful round of sanctions signals that the conflict has already gained substantial momentum.

One particularly critical aspect of this crisis for the Kremlin is the show of solidarity on both sides of the Atlantic. From the early years of Vladimir Putin's leadership, a special emphasis was placed on strategic cooperation with the European Union. Until recently, relations with leading European partners even took precedence over relations with countries of the former Soviet Union. In Moscow there was hope that Brussels would take a much more moderate approach than Washington, and that conflicts of interests between America and many European capitals would have a mitigating effect.

Following the tragedy, Moscow lost much of its room for manoeuvre between European countries and the US. Now the political position of EU leaders has more clearly separated from the interests and pressure of European business. Furthermore, the Kremlin is seeing a new and worrying trend: the attitude toward Russia in the European business community has begun to change. The tough criticism of Russia coming from the leaders of German industrial associations has been particularly painful.

We had some big news from China this week: Zhou Yongkang, a former domestic security chief, is in the words of the Chinese Government 'being investigated' on 'suspicion of grave disciplinary violations.' Vaughan Winterbottom provided the context:

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Zhou is the highest-ranking member of the Communist Party to be brought down on corruption charges since 1949.

President Xi has said from the start that no Communist Party cadre is off limits when it comes to corruption investigations. This proves it. 

But Zhou's real crimes were likely his association with Bo Xilai and carving out an oil industry and security fiefdom that rivaled the power base built by President Xi on his way up. In this sense, Zhou's downfall is more reminiscent of a Mao-era purge. Many would say it is a purge, the target of which is all and sundry associated with former President Jiang Zemin. 

We'll know soon enough. If Xi's anti-graft drive is an honest attempt by a man whoviews himself as cleanto root out the corruption that pervades the Party, we'd expect the intensity of the campaign to continue. If it wanes, then Zhou was likely the top target of a purge from the start. 

As always, Robert E Kelly provide first-rate analysis in a two part post on the supposed shift in Northeast Asia security arrangements. His first piece argued that despite what some would have you believe, South Korea is not drifting towards China. Here's an excerpt:

The claim goes that Korea is torn between the US and China. It is dependent on China economically while dependent on the US for security. The Korean Government is divided into sinophile and pro-US factions. Xi's successful recent trip illustrates the 'Sinic temptation' of Korea. Korea will in time 'finlandise' and equivocate on liberalism and market economics.

Once again, there is a grain of truth here, but a lot of exaggeration and little evidence. It is true that Korea is torn between China and the US. But many states in Asia are. The big internal foreign policy debate for all of Asia's medium powers in the coming decades is precisely the same: how to benefit economically from China's explosive growth without getting pulled into its orbit politically. Not just South Korea, but North Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia all face the same dilemma.

In his second post Robert argued that despite the 'reinterpretation' of its constitution, Japan is not really remilitarising:

Japan too of course had a reasonably effective military in the twentieth century. But World War II was seventy years ago and was followed by a decisive social break against 'bushido', militarism, and so on. Since then the Japanese military has not fought once. No one really knows how well it will fare (a point that applies to all regional militaries, actually). The conventional wisdom seems to be that Japan's navy is the most competent, followed by the air force, then the army, but these are soft qualitative judgements at best. (Here is a good outlet on this issue.)

Finally, it has been widely noted that the Japanese public is either indifferent or opposed to the 're-interpretation'. That should be comforting to those worried about militarisation. Abe may be able to squeeze more resources out of the finance ministry because his parliamentary coalition is unnaturally large due to the quirks of Japanese election law. But without public support (not just tepid uninterest, but genuine support) he will find it hard to build a force capable of much beyond homeland defence. A serious expeditionary or power projection capability — necessary to do anything serious with the Americans in the region — will require public support. At the moment at least, it is not there.

Matthew Sussex wrote on the new set of US/EU sanctions imposed on Russia over its behaviour in Ukraine:

These sanctions won't go anywhere near far enough to deter Putin. At best, they are a small PR victory. At worst, the length of time taken to negotiate them will only reinforce Putin's calculation that Europe is divided.

To begin with, these sanctions don't lock the EU into a long-term course since they are reviewed every three months. Actual energy trading will continue, and the focus on oil exploration leaves Russia's gas sector unmolested. A crucial compromise to win the backing of Paris was that the military embargo could not be retroactive. That gave the green light to a 2011 French deal to sell Russia two Mistral helicopter carriers at a price of €1.2 billion.

The aspects of this package with the most teeth are the EU's financial sanctions. Putin will find it harder to obtain credit, which will drive Moscow closer to Beijing. China is likely to charge a steep price for that credit, as it did during the global financial crisis. Even so, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's response that Russia would not bother engaging in 'hysterics' with tit-for-tit sanctions was a sure sign that Moscow is confident in Europe's fragility. Just like Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s, when the tokenistic suspension of Russia from the Council of Europe and the NATO dialogue process lasted a mere six months, Russia intends to simply wait Europe out.

 Considering the fallout from MH17 (and Syria), should security issues be on the G20 agenda? Mike Callaghan thinks so:

Is the G20 the right forum to deal with security and political matters? The UN Security Council has its role, but it also has its limitations. The strength of the G20 is that it is a leader's level meeting and it is more representative than the G7. Moreover, escalating regional tensions are directly related to the performance of the global economy. As Nobel Laureate in economics Michael Spence has noted, 'at this moment in history, the main threats to prosperity — those that urgently need world leaders' attention and effective international cooperation — are the huge uncontained negative spillover effects of regional tensions, conflict, and competing claims to spheres of influence.'

Australia should be proactive. It should signal now that geo-political tensions will be discussed at the Brisbane Summit. But expectations should be managed. There should be no suggestions in advance that major breakthroughs or landmark agreements will be reached in Brisbane. Rather, it should be presented as an opportunity for some frank exchanges between leaders on issues of global importance. Moulding the G20 summit to cover such matters could be the legacy achievement for Australia's turn as G20 president.

Stephen Grenville looked at the limits of anti-corruption campaigns in Indonesia:

The issue here is whether public servants should face criminal charges (and long jail sentences) when their policy decisions are harshly judged after the event.

One member of the Bank Indonesia board (which made the decision to rescue Bank Century) has just been given a ten-year jail sentence. While his case is complicated by other factors, the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) has indicated that it will now turn to the other members of the Bank Indonesia board, including current Vice President Boediono (who was Bank Indonesia Governor in 2008) and one of president-elect Jokowi's suggested names for finance minister

The KPK has gone so far beyond its proper role here that 35 leading citizens — lawyers, former ministers, politicians — wrote an 'amicus curiae' ('friends of the court') letter to the KPK. Respected senior legal figure Todong Mulya Lubis said that 'If public policy is criminalised, many public officials will be afraid to take decisions'.

Adding to Stephen's argument, Peter McCawley wrote that 'if officials come to live in fear of aggressive anti-corruption campaigns, the bureaucracy will choke up because everybody will avoid taking decisions':

The problem – that the Indonesian bureaucracy will choke up for fear of witch hunts – is s serious. While the aggressive role of the KPK is to be welcomed, if the result is that bureaucrats all over Indonesia run for cover then government across the nation will clog up. If an attempted prosecution of Dr Boediono were to lead to reluctance on the part of the central bank to take difficult decisions in the midst of a financial crisis, then the consequences for economic management in Indonesia would be serious indeed.

Finally, Julian Snelder on why China's Silk Road initiative matters:

China's pivot to Eurasia is smart, necessary and urgent.

The US subtly threatens China's sea routes, whereas the Eurasian 'heartland' is a landlocked space occupied by weak countries. China offers them investment, trade and security assistance, and in return gets a lock on Kazakh oil and Turkmen gas. Beijing cherishes the goal of 'breaking through' to the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and Europe, bypassing its Malacca dilemma. Washington stands by; its own 'New Silk Road' program is flailing and its main focus is to leave Afghanistan. It should welcome Beijing's initiatives. The truth is, China has far more to offer the region than distant America.

China proposes three broad systems as part of its new Silk Road: a northern railway to Europe which eventually converges on the Trans-Siberian, the pipelines to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and possibly beyond to Iran, and the southern highway corridors.

Photo by Flickr user barockschloss.


Two reader comments I'd like to flag in response to my piece highlighting new research by the Brookings Institution's Charles Frank, written up in The Economist, which suggests renewable energy is still way too expensive to take over from coal, oil and gas.

Here's OfKember:

The basic inadequacy of Frank's analysis is that it takes no account of the amount of emission reduction needed from the power sector over time. Sure, it's cheapest in the short term to switch to gas if you want to go from high- to low-carbon power production (and how is that news?), but by 2050 we need to be approaching a zero-carbon power supply (see the IEA's recent Energy Technology Perspectives report) . Either the new gas plant gets CCS (ed. note: carbon capture and storage) or it has to be replaced before the end of its operating life, either of which rather messes with his comparative costs. (Interestingly he dismisses the prospect of widespread storage by saying the technologiy isn't competitive without subsidies yet - well yes, but it seems odd to suppose it will stay that way for the next forty years.)

Chris Williams wrote:

I am surprised The Interpreter is seduced by The Economist's rubbery economics. In comparative economics of energy, TE's analysis sureptitiously excludes a range of coal power externalities that current debates have exposed as being the 'true' costs of coal power, and which ought to be allocated in any cost-benefit analysis. While economists are about it, they could also declare all the subsidies that coal mining, transportation and generation have been allocated over the years to develop the industry's critical mass. Sure, they are sunk costs now. On a level playing field, however, the renewable energies are not being permitted similar startup costs to reach critical mass, whether these be by government subsidy or by a customer levy which reduces over time.

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By mimicking a British magazine, The Interpreter does Australian industry and science a disservice. CSIRO has just developed solar technology that heats water-under-pressure, which was previously a barrier to large-scale solar power plants. China's mainstream media has picked up this breakthrough, but both Australian media and The Economist are notably silent on this significant Australian achievement. It's time for The Interpreter to give credit where it is due. Good on you, CSIRO, keep up the energy breakthroughs so that, one day, Australia may become a technology leader rather than a laggard.


Terrific segment here from British comic John Oliver's new HBO show Last Week Tonight on the terrifying but seldom discussed risk of nuclear weapons mishaps. There's some NSFW language:

At around the 13.45 mark, Oliver turns to the issue of public engagement in debates around nuclear weapons. As Oliver said, in the 1980s the issue generated enormous public concern and there was an active (and disruptive) abolition movement in various countries. Of course, the Cold War has since ended and as Oliver points out elsewhere in the segment, overall numbers of nuclear weapons in the US and Russian stockpiles have reduced substantially. So it makes some sense that the issue generates less public concern nowadays.

But it's also interesting to consider the fact that, while nuclear abolitionism was popular in the 1980s, it was not politically mainstream in countries that possessed nuclear weapons, or even among Western allies such as Australia, where both the major parties supported nuclear deterrence.

That is, until the 1986 Reykjavik Summit, during which Reagan and Gorbachev got this close to an agreement abolishing all nuclear weapons (any such deal probably would have foundered against opposition from domestic and allied consituencies anyway, but it's pretty remarkable that they even discussed it). As former US arms control supremo Ken Adelman points out in his new book about the summit, Reykjavik led to the first true Cold War arms reduction treaty and helped end the Cold War.  It also made nuclear abolitionism a mainstream position, championed in later years by  Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz, along with the rest of the 'Four Horsemen', Kissinger, Perry and Nunn. President Obama is also (rhetorically, at least) committed to abolition.

It is remarkable that the embrace of this movement by the political mainstream has coincided with its marginalisation in the public debate. Here's a Carnegie Endowment essay collection from 2009 which includes a piece by Lawrence Freedman arguing that nuclear abolition, having evolved from popular movement to policy-elite project, needs to find its popular roots again.


This piece from The Economist would have been useful context for the green-energy puff piece broadcast on the ABC's flagship current affairs show Four Corners on 7 July.

The Economist has highlighted new research from the Brookings Institution which looks at the full cost of generating various forms of electricity. The Economist's take-away:

If all the costs and benefits are totted up using Mr Frank’s calculation, solar power is by far the most expensive way of reducing carbon emissions. It costs $189,000 to replace 1MW per year of power from coal. Wind is the next most expensive. Hydropower provides a modest net benefit. But the most cost-effective zero-emission technology is nuclear power. The pattern is similar if 1MW of gas-fired capacity is displaced instead of coal. And all this assumes a carbon price of $50 a tonne. Using actual carbon prices (below $10 in Europe) makes solar and wind look even worse. The carbon price would have to rise to $185 a tonne before solar power shows a net benefit.

Photo by Flickr user Juan A.

19 of 22 This post is part of a debate on MH17

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


The senseless shooting down of flight MH17 continues to dominate the news, and both Michael Fullillove and myself have written columns on the implications for Australia. Here on The Interpreter, our contributors been commenting on developments. You can read the whole thread here, but below I've highlighted some pieces.

Peter Knoope, Director of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague, contributed an outstanding piece of controlled fury:

With 193 Dutch citizens killed in the MH17 tragedy, the Netherlands is in shock. The country is mourning. Everybody seems to know someone who is directly affected by this terrible loss. The mourning is slowly but surely transforming into outrage that will push the Dutch Government into visible response and action. 

We don't know exactly what happened. But is seems plausible that it was an 'unintended' incident in an armed conflict between separatists on the one side and  national Ukrainian forces on the other. Unintended or not, factions and individuals are still accountable for what they have done. The questions 'Who did this?' and 'Who supplied the military support, technology, know-how and weaponry to execute such an attack?' are relevant to the victims and the population at large. Justice needs to have its way. The public is expecting and demanding as much. 

The international legal ramifications of the MH17 shootdown are exceedingly complicated. Danielle Rajendram breaks it down:

number of options for legal recourse have been raised.

The first is to prosecute the perpetrators of this crime under the domestic law and courts of one of the injured parties. This was the approach taken for the Lockerbie bombing trial, in which two Libyan nationals were tried under Scottish law in the Netherlands for their involvement in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. Ukraine would certainly have jurisdiction over any crime committed in its airspace, and it is likely that injured nations such as the Netherlands, Malaysia, or even Australia may also have jurisdiction to prosecute this crime.

Another is that the perpetrators of the incident be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is charged with dealing with individuals for the offences of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. As prosecution of crimes against humanity requires acts to be committed as part of a 'widespread and systematic attack,' the most likely avenue for pursuing justice for victims of the MH17 attack in the ICC would be under the Court's jurisdiction over war crimes.

James Brown and Brendan Thomas-Noone both commented on the potential of an international security presence to protect air crash investigators at the MH17 site. James stated that a police-led approach is the right solution:

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This will take some time to achieve. Julie Bishop will be negotiating a sort of status-of-forces agreement with the Ukraine detailing what powers of arrest police officers will have, what happens to them in the event they are involved in a car crash or other legal matter, and the circumstances in which they might be authorised to use their personal weapons. The AFP will be thinking about how it might detain people trying to interfere with the crash site, which authorities those detained might be transferred to, and the logistics of maintaining 50 or so officers in a fairly remote rural area in Eastern Europe.

This will be a military-enabled mission. Military aircraft are already involved in moving bodies from Ukraine to Amsterdam and might be involved in moving the international police force and possibly aircraft parts recovered from the crash site. Military intelligence will be crucial to an ongoing security assessment of the area in which the investigation will take place, and there will need to be detailed liaison between the AFP and Defence on the local intelligence picture. Finally, the Australian Defence Force is thinking through worst case contingencies. If an AFP officer is kidnapped by a local separatist group, the recovery effort could involve the ADF's Special Operations Command. If the situation in Eastern Ukraine deteriorates and a tentative ceasefire collapses, military forces might be required to evacuate the international investigation force.

Brendan wrote on a potential peacekeeping force:

The UN Security Council mandate secured by Australia and the Netherlands earlier this week leaves open the option of using a peacekeeping force to secure the crash site and the safety of international investigators. The language used in the mandate is clear. The Security Council called for a 'full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident', demanded that the armed rebel groups in the area 'refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site' and most importantly expressed 'grave concern at reports of insufficient and limited access to the crash site.'

A UN peacekeeping operation could be built off this mandate. Such an operation would need to be authorised by the Security Council and passed by its five permanent members, including Russia. This would be difficult, but Russia passed the resolution authorising the investigation earlier this week on the condition that the resolution did not assign blame. Moscow could see this as an opportunity to show goodwill and further de-escalate the situation, particularly if the peacekeeping forces came from countries outside of NATO.

Mike Callaghan looked at the chances of Russian President Vladimir Putin attending the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November:

Australian public opinion, and that in some other countries, may remain strongly opposed to allowing Putin to attend the Brisbane Summit. It is possible that, given such controversy and the prospect of a hostile reception in Australia, Putin may choose not to come. But if Australia did not let Putin attend, other countries may oppose and conceivably bring into question their attendance. Should this eventuate, the future of the G20 could come into question, particularly if those not attending were major emerging markets. The strength and significance of the G20 is that it brings together the leading advanced economies and emerging markets. In addition, political and security issues would be brought front and centre in G20 deliberations, overshadowing the economic agenda.

The coming months could be very tricky ones for Australia, given its role as G20 chair for 2014.

A number of delegates to the AIDS 2014 conference were killed on the Malaysian Airlines flight, and Annmaree O'Keefe reported from the conference on the long shadow cast by MH17:

The mood at last night's opening was sombre and the six were well missed. But HIV has stalked many of the 12,000 people attending this week-long conference, so the threat of death has never been far from their minds. As Australia's eminent jurist Michael Kirby (pictured) said in his opening address last night, people affected by HIV/AIDS are no strangers to suffering, irrationality and hatred. They are also no strangers to death.

So the conference refuses to be bowed by an outrageous act. Instead, it is using the tragedy to spotlight an ongoing outrage: the human rights abuse, happening in many parts of the world, which curses the lives of people either infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.

It's true there has been significant success in pushing back HIV's advance over the past three decades. UNAIDS estimates that the global effort to fight HIV has averted 7 million deaths since 2002 and averted 10 million new infections. Globally, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections continues to decline. New infections among adults in developing countries in 2012 were 30% lower than in 2001

Nick Bryant posted from New York on the machinations behind the Australian-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2166:

After the meeting, which ended at one o'clock on Monday morning, (Russian UN representative Vitaly) Churkin indicated that Russia's reservations had been addressed, but still would not say for sure whether his hand would be raised in favour of the resolution. Moscow knew that a veto would be met by an international outcry, and be received, as Tony Abbott put it, 'very very badly'. So minutes before the Security Council gathered for its mid-afternoon meeting on Monday, Churkin indicated Russia's support, which meant the resolution passed unanimously.

Unquestionably, this is a significant achievement for Australian diplomacy.

Having announced on Friday that it was determined to get a resolution, it managed to secure passage in the space of 72 hours. That may seem slow for those unfamiliar with the tortured geopolitics of the Security Council, but, in UN terms, it is close to warp speed. Some of the Australian diplomats involved in the negotiations were working on an hour's sleep. This was a round-the-clock endeavour.

Still on the Security Council, here's Richard Gowan on using 'the art of the possible' to get action on Ukraine (and Syria):

To get Moscow's support for the Ukrainian resolution, Australia and its allies watered down their text. Security Council Report, a think-tank that tracks day-to-day UN negotiations in detail, summarises some of the intricate niceties involved:

"In the initial exchange over the original draft, it seems China and Russia stressed the importance of not prejudging the outcome of the investigations. The initial text of the draft resolution contained a paragraph which condemned the 'shooting down' of flight MH17. This was changed to 'the downing' of the MH17 flight. This was likely done as some members insisted that no conclusions should be made until a thorough investigation is completed, making the reference to 'shooting down' unacceptable."

But the details are still solid, including a specific demand for investigators to access the crash site and a call for whoever is responsible to be held accountable.

Australia seems to have learned the art of letting Russia save face at the Security Council while backing it into concessions on matters of substance. This is no small feat as Britain, France and the US have ended up colliding with Russia at the UN in unproductive spats over both Syria and Ukraine.

But the devil is still in the details.

Matthew Sussex wrote that Russia has fundamentally mismanaged its response to the MH17 tragedy:

From a domestic perspective, Putin's vigorous defence of Russia was understandable. He sees trial by an independent media as a Western affliction and has prevented it from gaining a foothold at home. Domestic political reasons prompted his officials to stress that there was no evidence of direct Russian involvement.  And Moscow's confused response strongly suggests the Kremlin was as surprised as anyone else by the downing of MH17. 

But in an international tragedy, winning external public relations battles is initially much more important than domestic manoeuvring. On that score, Putin's crisis management strategy has failed badly. It has failed to deflect attention away from suspected Russian involvement in the shoot-down, much less the ongoing conflict. And it has failed to mollify foreign governments demanding a secure crash site to identify and repatriate their nationals. Hence Russia has appeared obstructionist rather than proactively seeking to help.

A public relations disaster prompted by MH17 is potentially a huge blow to Russia's regional ambitions. 

Will MH17 mean stronger European sanctions on Russia over its conduct in Ukraine? Maybe, argued James Bowen:

 Just a day before the downing of the MH17, Obama reluctantly went it alone, beefing up penalties on Russia's energy and defence interests over its continued material and ideological support for the Ukrainian rebels, while Europe opted only for so-called 'Tier 2' actions that froze assets and banned travel for Vladimir Putin's closest offsiders.

Obama will have been pleased to see UK Prime Minister David Cameron's support for escalating to the tougher Tier 3 sanctions in light of the disaster, and calling for the continent to 'make our power, influence and resources count'. He will no doubt closely follow announcements out of Brussels, and indeed Berlin and Paris, to see how far that wave of indignation spreads.

Photo by Flickr user Javier Santos.


A newly released IPSOS Global Trends Survey  shows, according to a Guardian columnist, that Anglophone countries are particularly inclined towards climate denialism:

When you click on the interactive version on the IPSOS website, you see that the bottom red line (for the US) shows 32% disagreeing with the statement that climate change is human-induced, and slightly lower percentages for Britain, Australia and so on.

But let's take a glass-half-full approach. Given everything we hear about the attitude to climate change on the US right, it is somewhat surprising to see that 54% of Americans (the bottom green line) actually agree that climate change is human induced. And take a look at the results for 'We are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly'. Even in the US, 57% of those surveyed agree with that statement:

So for those who want political action on climate change, maybe public opinion is not the lever they should be pulling on. In fact, I would wager that in each of these 20 countries, major policy shifts have occurred with far lower levels of public approval. So why haven't these countries taken action on climate change already? Well, that's another discussion, but it seems it's not public opinion holding the world back.

(H/t Sullivan.)

14 of 22 This post is part of a debate on MH17

Last night I Skyped with Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows to talk about the MH17 tragedy. James is perfectly qualified, because he is firstly a pilot and aviation enthusiast (here's his NY Times op-ed on why this tragedy was not Malaysia Airlines' fault), and he is an exceptionally smart observer of American politics.

We talked mainly about how this tragedy is playing out in Washington (Are the media and Congress focused on it? [0:00]; Why is Obama getting so much leeway from Republicans? [1:15]; Is Obama leading from behind? [3:47]), but I also asked him what advice the Obama Administration might have for the Abbott Government on the tricky question of Putin's attendance at the G20 (8:09).

Lastly (11:28), I drew on Jim's aviation knowledge and his background living in and studying China (here's an earlier interview with Jim about his book China Airborne) to talk about whether this tragedy resonated for him in the Asia Pacific context. Specifically, does China's November 2013 declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone pose a threat to aviation in the East China Sea?


The Imitation Game tells the story of mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing, who is credited with helping turn the tide of World War II by breaking Germany's Enigma code.

The Imitation Game is due for release on 21 November.

(H/t Slashfilm.)