Lowy Institute

The delegates have arrived and the behind the scenes discussions in Paris are well underway. Negotiators are meeting to discuss strategy and informally coordinate positions. The aim is to  ensure formal negotiations proceed smoothly after the fanfare of the leaders' statements tomorrow.

Canada and Japan's multi-billion dollar commitments to support the world's poorest nations participation in climate change solutions are a welcome boost heading into the week. See below for the chronology of climate finance commitments:

From an Australian perceptive, we head into the Paris meeting with an unprecedented commitment from both major political parties that we must achieve net zero emissions. On Friday, as I was getting on the plane to Paris. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, outlined the ALP's commitment to Australia achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the Lowy Institute (more on this below). From the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta the Prime Minister stated, 'It [Paris] is a step along the way to achieving a net zero emission world'.

Long-term emission goals such as this will be on the agenda in Paris. But, more importantly, these statements offer a rare opportunity to reset some of the hyperbole in recent domestic policy discussions. How a party plans to achieve net zero emissions over coming decades is now a key test of its policy to clean up and modernise our economy.

However, the unusual convergence on what our ultimate objective is has been marred by some of the domestic debate around the ALP's emissions goals. Businesses have largely been constructive in their responses and focused on the need, regardless of the targets set, to have scalable, durable and domestic climate policy they can invest in(see, for example, media statements from the Business Council of Australia and AiGroup). However, a number of Government statements in response to the ALP's commitment require scrutiny:

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ALP target would be a massive hit on the economy

This is not supported by evidence. All independent economic modelling in Australia has shown that cleaning up our economy would see economic growth continue strongly. Putting aside the fact this modelling explicitly ignores the economic impacts of climate change itself, any cost to businesses and the economy is largely determined by the policy to achieve the target, not that target itself. For example, the modelling commissioned by the Government shows that the overall economic cost of achieving a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 through domestic and international action is the same as achieving a 26% reduction through domestic action alone.

The ALP's target is stronger than other countries

This is incorrect. The average emission reduction target of other developed countries, on 2005 levels, is around -35% by 2030. This is less than the ALP's target but more than the Government's. However, a number of countries including Germany (-45%), Norway (-44%), Switzerland (-51%) and the UK (-49%) have comparable or stronger targets than the ALP's proposal.

A straight comparison against a 2005 base year also misses a critical point.

Over the last two decades Australia has done much less than many other nations to limit emissions. As a result we still have the highest emissions per person and the most pollution intensive economy of any developed nation. By not bringing per person emissions and emissions intensity down to levels comparable to others, we are asking other nations to continue subsidising our lack of action.

  • The Commonwealth has announced its first female secretary-general, Baroness Patricia Scotland. The Baroness’ first task should be to beef up the effectiveness of their aid work as The Commonwealth has routinely ranked as one of the worst performing multilateral donors.
  • In the first of a two part series that I have co-authored over at Devpolicy we look at trends in Australian development NGO spending since 2000, and in particular how fundraising costs have changed over time (hint: they’ve gone up).
  • Terence Wood continues his analysis of new Australian polling data on foreign aid, this time looking at who specifically opposed Australia’s aid cuts. 
  • Census’ and household surveys in developing countries are rare, unreliable and notoriously expensive. New research shows how many aspects may be recreated at a fraction of the cost by using mobile phone metadata.
  • Michael Clemens debunks some of the biggest fears about refugees and their supposed links to violence, terrorism and costing the economy. 
  • There’s only two weeks left to apply for the 2016 ODI Fellowship Scheme, perhaps the best entry pathway for young economists to work in developing countries.
  • In a new podcast Adam Davidson takes a look at all things concrete, with particular reference to the industries overwhelming influence in developing countries and how shoddy concrete is to blame for many deaths when disaster strikes.

  • Finally, as we enter the festive season, Tiny Spark has launched a three part ‘guide to good [charitable] giving’ podcast series.



The Paris climate change talks will dominate the political debate over the coming week. The focus will be on whether the Australian prime minister joins over 140 other leaders to shepherd in a deal to cut greenhouse gasses and tackle climate change. There are expectations Prime Minister Turnbull may rise to the occasion, and 'stand-up for climate change', as The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

On the domestic front, tax reform continues to be the major issue, and the Turnbull government has emphasised that all options are on the table. As the government's tax reform discussion paper states, the objective is to create a tax system that will support a 'modern economy that will support our way of life'. Dealing with climate change has to be part of a modern economy.

Climate change and tax reform are inextricably linked through imposing a price on carbon; a carbon tax.

If the world is serious about doing something meaningful about reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the most efficient way possible, it will have to put a price on carbon. This was highlighted in a paper prepared by the IMF in advance of the Paris meeting.

As the IMF pointed out, carbon pricing is preferred to regulatory approaches to curbing emissions because it:

  • Promotes the full range of mitigation opportunities across all sectors;
  • Aligns the private cost of emissions with their social cost;
  • Can raise significant revenue which, if used productively, minimises overall burdens on the economy, and
  • Is simpler, administratively, than multiple regulatory programs targeting different behaviour in different sectors.

As the IMF stated:

Carbon pricing can...play a critical role in meeting in the most efficient and effective way the[ climate change] commitments that countries are now entering into; it can also raise substantial revenues that can be used to reduce other, more distorting taxes.

In short, carbon pricing can address some of the major challenges that Australia faces.

And yet, in one of the most regrettable recent developments in Australian public policy, imposing a price on carbon — through either a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme — has become a no-go area.

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Notwithstanding the overwhelming benefits of such a move, as highlighted by the IMF, both the government and the opposition continue to say they will not introduce a carbon tax. As one headline states 'Labor denies carbon tax is coming back', and another 'Australia has no plans to plans to reintroduce the carbon tax —Josh Frydenberg'.

Carbon pricing is 'on the nose' in Australia because of politics and scare mongering; not as a result of a considered assessment of the merits of pricing carbon.

If the world is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the most efficient way possible, putting a price on carbon is a must. Currently about 40 countries are implementing some form of carbon pricing at the national level and over 20 sub-national governments have carbon pricing schemes. China is introducing an emissions trading system. But not Australia, which has the unenviable distinction of being the only country to abolish a carbon tax.

If Australia is serious about reducing emissions in the most efficient way possible, it should put pricing carbon on the tax reform table for, as the Prime Minister has said, nothing is off the table when considering tax reform options. It is time for Australia to move on from the simplistic claim that a price on carbon is nothing more than a 'great big new tax'.

The case against a carbon tax is it would raise the cost of living for Australians, mainly through higher gas and electricity prices. But so would an increase in the GST. In both cases, low income households could be compensated; as indeed they were when the carbon tax was introduced in 2011.

The focus of the tax reform is to find an equitable way to raise revenue. The opposition to raising the GST is that it is a regressive tax. However, not pricing carbon also raises equity issues. Omitting the price of emissions generated in energy use holds energy prices down. As the IMF points out, this is a highly inefficient way to assist low income households, because most of the benefits go to higher income groups.

And, as the IMF also notes, the revenue stream from introducing a price on carbon could be substantial, and this would present an opportunity to reduce other, more distorting taxes. In the first two years of the Australian carbon tax, it raised $15.4 billion. This is serious money when it comes to tax reform.

If Australia wants to make a mark in Paris in demonstrating its commitment to efficiently reducing carbon emissions, it should put a carbon tax on the tax reform table.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Giorgio Raffaelli


With PM Turnbull jetting out last week to take part in yet more summiteering in Paris for the COP21 climate talks (via Malta for that most baroque of institutions, CHOGM), he and his team must feel like multilateral veterans barely months into the job. They might also be feeling a tad jaundiced about these efforts, and not only from the jetlag. Asia's summit season this year delivered a particularly anemic harvest.

Every year in November, APEC, ASEAN with its various add-ons, and the East Asia Summit are held in close proximity. This year the biannual ADMM+ was also held several weeks prior to the others. This gives regional players plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, improve communication, foster goodwill and possibly even cooperate on economic and security policy. The meetings also provide a good barometer of the region's broader international environment and of course a chance to see how well the bodies are actually functioning as compared with the platitudes spoken about them by their many supporters.

This year's summit season reminded us that Asia now has abundance of multilateral structures. It was not that long ago that the region was bereft of opportunities for states to gather on a regular basis to improve their relations and coordinate policy. Yet, beyond the annual photo-op of leaders decked out in cliché ridden national costume, broader engagement with these mechanisms is poor.

for one thing, Asian multilateralism is largely an elite affair. This is understandable to a point, but the various forums lack connections to Asia's people. More significantly, this year's meetings displayed three big problems with Asia's multilateral groupings.

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Although Asia now has plenty of multilateral bodies, they remain both individually and collectively insubstantial. At the most obvious level, the meetings showed that they lack the ability to drive meaningful policy coordination. Perhaps most famously, APEC has become known as a platform for discussion of non-APEC related trade negotiations. This time around the biggest talking point was the recently struck TPP deal and its fit with the the ASEAN-centric RCEP. But perhaps more importantly, the various bodies show little ability to shape state behaviour nor indeed have they demonstrated that they can build the trust that is so palpably in demand.

Supporters of multilateral institutions have long argued that their most basic contribution is that elites can get to know one another at a personal level, and that these links can be a platform for a more cooperative way of doing things. The EAS is ten years old this year, APEC is twenty-six while some of ASEAN's various add-ons date back nearly twenty years. Yet there was not much trust or common cause on display over the past few weeks beyond perhaps that old stalwart of 'ASEAN solidarity'. Indeed in the case of the EAS, ostensibly Australia's preferred institution, it is not at all clear just what it does that the others don't do.

One of the central problems of institutions lacking heft (existential or functional) is that they can easily be buffeted by external forces. Of course no multilateral grouping, no matter how effective or long lived, would be unaffected by the traumatic events in Paris or the turbulent forces in international affairs such as the long-running conflict in Syria or the tensions in the region itself. Yet the ability of ADMM+, EAS and indeed APEC to be not only overshadowed but blown entirely off course by such events is remarkable.

The EAS is a case in point. Held once again in Kuala Lumpur, ten years on from the first meeting, the EAS was poised to make a decisive move. The Summit was about to adopt an unambiguous purpose as the region's leading body for strategic dialogue, to establish bureaucratic support within the ASEAN secretariat and to adopt a number of clear issues as its core business. Considerable work behind the scenes had gone into this, and in the weeks leading up to the meeting, diplomats were uncharacteristically confident that the opportunity to allow the body realise its potential would be grasped. The winds of terrorism and territorial contest blew this off the agenda. Instead, EAS remains a two-hour photo op which issues motherhood statements about counter-terrorism, connectivity and blandishments about areas of cooperation.

Finally, and perhaps most depressingly, the summit season has shown that forums intended to corral the major powers are proving instead to be forums in which they compete. One of the great claims that institutional supporters make, and ASEAN boosters especially so, is that multilateral mechanisms can bind the hands of great powers and, by setting rules and norms, limit their competitive tendencies. Sadly, as China and the US squared off, primarily about the South China Sea but also about trade and economic matters, Asia's summit season reminded us that the institutions in the region have a long way to go before they can be said to hold the attention of the major powers, let alone shape their interests and constrain their behaviour.

But even though this year's meetings showed much of what is wrong with the region's mechanisms, one should not underestimate their basic importance. That they exist at all in a region beset with historical animosity, rising mistrust and a slew of territorial disputes is an achievement. These entities have real potential not only to build personal connections among elites and to manage crises, but also to establish the foundations of a more stable platform for Asia's future. The recent summit season shows us how much work we have to do before this can occur. It is a significant challenge but one from which Mr Turnbull's self-styled 'grown up government' must not shirk.

Photo: Gregorio B. Dantes Jr./Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images


The shooting down of the Russian aircraft by the Turks and the subsequent death of two Russian servicemen briefly got the tabloids talking about World War III but in reality this was never going to blow up into a direct military confrontation between Moscow and Ankara. What it did demonstrate, once again, is how focused on the short-term Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in his Syria policy.

No one will know who gave the order to shoot down the Russian aircraft, but it nearly certainly wasn't the Turkish pilot. Russia has been provocative with its airspace violations, but there is always a graduated response to these types of incidents; from verbal warnings, to visual warnings, to escorts out of the area, to shooting down. Ankara appears to have jumped from the least aggressive to the most aggressive option at lightning speed.

And now Turkey is paying for it. When taking on an adversary there are two golden rules: first, make sure you can hurt them more than they can hurt you; and second, make sure you have friends who have got your back. On the second of these points, to describe Erdogan's relationship with his NATO allies as 'good' would be overstating the case. Of course after the plane went down NATO constituted its crisis mechanisms and issued a statement publicly supportive of Turkey. But when NATO condemned airspace violations by Russia a month earlier, it noted Turkish aircraft had 'in accordance with NATO practice…closing to identify the intruder, after which the Russian planes departed Turkish airspace.' The apparent failure to follow these procedures in the latest incident is likely to be exercising the minds of some of Ankara's NATO allies.

There's not much more that NATO can do to help Turkey, or that it would really want to do. There is a widely held belief that Erdogan was complicit by commission or omission in the rise of ISIS and other violent jihadi groups by allowing the free flow of fighters and weapons across Turkey's borders in the belief that Assad could be defeated militarily and Turkey could control the rise of any Islamist groups. Turkey was also quite restrictive in how it allowed the US to use its Incirlik airbase to launch attacks against ISIS in Syria; hardly the actions of a committed NATO ally.

Russia has already demonstrated its intent to retaliate against Turkey and Turkish interests. Moscow appears to have shifted some of the weight of its air campaign to attack towns and border crossings abutting the Turkish border, as well as Turkish-backed rebel groups in Syria, a group that had already come under Russian attack prior to the shooting down. Moscow has also adopted a raft of economic sanctions against Turkey and, given Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner, there is plenty of scope for additional pain to be inflicted.

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Erdogan has tried to contact Putin personally but has been rebuffed to date, while Russia has demanded an apology from Turkey, which is unlikely to eventuate. Erdogan has gone so far as to say he was 'saddened' by the loss of the aircraft, but that is likely to be as far as he will go. The return of the deceased pilot's body could provide a circuit breaker, and there is little doubt back door discussions are underway to achieve this

Erdogan has proven himself to be an adept domestic politician, but on the international stage his Islamo-nationalist outlook and short-termism has resulted in Ankara becoming increasingly isolated from states that had been its close partners. The West believes it to be duplicitous when it comes to Syrian Islamists, the Arab regimes (with the exception of Qatar) believe it to be in bed with their natural enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has now picked a fight with its second-largest trading partner in Russia. None of this augurs well for the future.

Photo: Mehmet Ali Ozcan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Earlier this week, a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24 which Ankara said had violated its airspace near the Syrian border. A public relations and media struggle ensued, with both countries releasing their own versions of the Russian plane's flight path. Turkey released audio recordings of its warnings to the fighter to turn away, and both countries engaged in economic and military posturing

Sarah Lain wrote on Turkey's 'overreaction' to the airspace transgression, but also pointed out that this show of strength may force Russia to focus it's behaviour: 

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

Former Australian Chief of Air Force Geoff Brown reviewed Russia's air campaign in Syria overall, and compared it to the West's operations there:

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

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

Turning to the politics of terrorism in Australia, Sam Roggeveen on how Turnbull can outflank the Right on the issue:

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More to the point, though, this line of argument actually plays right into Turnbull's key message since becoming PM: one of optimism and confidence, a sense that right now is a great time to be alive and be an Australian. Where the hard-right sees only threat and fragility, Turnbull sees a strong country with a hopeful future. Turnbull can play this card against his ideological opponents. Why are they so pessimistic about Western civilisation at a historical moment when it has never been so dominant? Why, when faced only by a small army of poorly equipped extremists, do they have such little faith in a system which has seen off Nazism and communism, and which is a magnet for every persecuted minority in the world, including Muslims?

Sidney Jones, writing from Jakarta, wrote on ISIS's efforts in Indonesia:

The Paris attacks drew praise from Indonesians with ISIS in Syria, among them Bahrun Naim, an ex-prisoner and jihadi intellectual who was involved in trying to organise an attack in Central Java from Syria last August. In a blog posting entitled 'Lessons from the Paris Attacks' (Pelajaran dari Serangan Paris), he urged his Indonesian audience to study the planning, targeting, timing, coordination, security and courage of the Paris teams. His readers aren’t fellow fighters in Syria, they’re too busy. He's writing for the terrorist wannabes on Java.

One of the saving graces for Indonesia over the last five years is that local terrorists have thought small. Bahrun Naim and some of his friends think bigger.

Former intelligence specialist David Wells examined the advantages Australia has in preventing a 'Paris style' attack here:

This control means that while Australia has contributed a significant number of foreign fighters relative to population size, numbers have remained relatively stable over the past 12 months. Unfortunately, this means that the number of radicalised individuals unable to leave Australia and turning their thoughts to domestic attacks has got larger.

If we’re still uncertain how the Paris attack network slipped under the radar, the emerging picture is not a positive one for European authorities. A key issue appears to be a lack of coordination between authorities internally in France and across Europe, alongside a growing list of radicalised individuals.

Continuing our excellent debate on the future of drone warfare, ethicist Matthew Beard wrote on moral frameworks and the idea of the 'warrior':

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

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

In another installment of Emma Connors' ongoing series on US presidential election politics, this week Republican presidential hopefuls sought to imitate Da Vinci:

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

Leon Berkelmans on the downsides of free-trade agreements:

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

Euan Graham gave a rundown of the Australia-Japan 2 + 2 meeting, held last weekend and involving defence and foreign ministers:

On submarines, my takeaway from yesterday's press conference was that the post-Abbott penny has well and truly dropped in Japan; they know now they are in a commercial dogfight with the more export-savvy German and French bidders. Hence Nakatani's visit to Sydney was preceded by a trip to Adelaide (and that of a Japanese industry delegation several weeks ago). In the press conference he played the two trump cards in Japan's hand: unrivalled experience in the design and construction of long-range conventionally powered submarines and a strategic relationship that is not only bilateral, but trilateral, when the US-made combat system for the Collins' replacement is taken into account.

What should Australia's involvement be in the G20 now that it's off the troika? Hannah Wurf:

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

And Morris Jones wrote an excellent short post on the growing private sector competition in the space sector:

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

In the second part of a two-part series on the future of coal, Fergus Green and Richard Denniss write about the upsides of a potential moratorium on the commodity: 

This might, superficially, seem crazy — and, viewed collectively, it is. But at an individual level, it is entirely rational for the owners of coal to sell coal cheaply, flooding the world market, in anticipation of future carbon prices or regulations. Such behaviour is consistent with what economists call the 'green paradox'.

Luckily, an economically rational and politically expedient solution presents itself: in addition to regulating demand for fossil fuels (through carbon prices for example) we must also regulate the supply of coal.

Stephen Grenville on Chinese and other foreign investment in Australia:

This ambiguity isn’t surprising; politics represents community values, which are ambivalent, even inconsistent. Governments have to dissemble, ducking and weaving to maintain sensible balanced policies, and in this case that means considering current account funding and providing a global element to investment.

It is, however, important for Australia, as a substantial capital importer, to either articulate a clear policy on foreign investment or learn to live with a smaller external deficit. It is also possible to squeeze more benefit out of the foreign investment that is coming in.

ASS/Barcroft Media via Getty Images


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you Malcolm.

Photo courtesy of Getty/Sean Gallup.


The view from Jakarta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user martl84.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Commonwealth Secretariat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Airman Magazine.


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

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

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

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

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

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