Lowy Institute

After a year of political stalemate, the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party struck a deal (after a five-hour meeting) to end their political impasse.

Shortly after the announcement yesterday, seven elected CNRP politicians and one activist who had been arrested the previous week following clashes at Freedom Park were released (they still face charges).  The move suggests that their detention may have been politically motivated.

The CNRP, led by the formerly self-exiled Sam Rainsy (pictured; click on the image to see video of his speech to supporters), will now take their 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, which they had boycotted since the July 2013 elections.

The two parties released a joint statement stating that they agreed to 'work together' in parliamentary institutions to arrive at solutions for the country 'based on democratic and rule of law principles'. The statement announced that reforms to the National Election Committee and the leadership of the Senate and the National Assembly will take place. The president of the National Assembly will be from the CPP, the first deputy from the CNRP, and the second deputy from the CPP.  

According to posts on Sam Rainsy's Facebook page, the agreement has also concluded that:

  • The CNRP will  receive the chairmanship of 5 commissions out of 10 in the National Assembly.
  • Establishment of a new constitutionally mandated election commission made up of 9 members: 4 from the CPP, 4 from the CNRP, and 1 by consensus between the two parties.
  • Election dates are yet to be determined (although other reports have indicated these will take place in February 2018).

The breaking of the deadlock should bring an end to repeated protests and violent clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces. But, as Prime Minister Hun Sen stretches into his third decade at the helm, the political tensions between the two parties will likely remain for some time yet. 

13 of 13 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?

12 of 13 This post is part of a debate on MH17

A makeshift memorial at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. (Flickr/Roman Boed.)

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. 

But how on earth is justice going to have its way in this complex situation? There are a number of hindrances.

The first  priority in this crisis is to repatriate the bodies and the belongings of the victims. While in a war the enemy may become dehumanised, we, the Dutch, are in no way part of this conflict. To us this is about people. We see images of insurgents posing for the world press with toys of children who died in the crash. That is disgusting. So people demand respect and dignity. We are humans. You cannot dehumanise us. We are not part of this conflict. 

The humanitarian focus may, at the same time, hinder the search for justice. Justice requires that a suspect is identified. It requires a thorough investigation into the events, which is not going to be easy. Only one of the parties to the conflict (the Ukrainian Government) seems to have an interest in facilitating the inquiry. That in itself is telling. The other party (the separatists) is controlling the space in which the evidence is scattered. This means that the assistance of the separatists, which is required for the humanitarian priority, is conflicting with the search for justice. In this dilemma the approach of the Dutch Government is to focus on indirect diplomacy: trying to convince Russia to push the separatists to assist the international and Dutch efforts on both the humanitarian and investigation fronts. The Dutch Prime Minister has been on the phone with President Putin a number of times and with an increasing sense of urgency in his messaging. The public demands solutions. Quick. Putin needs to be aware of this. 

This leaves us with a number of serious questions. One of them is: to what extent does Putin still have an impact on the ground? The second one is: if he does have impact on the ground, then why would he choose not to assist the international investigation?

The answers to these questions will, at least partly, depend on the pressure he will feel from the international community. Putin's influence on some of the factions within the amalgam of groups that oppose Kiev has reduced because he failed to directly and militarily intervene in the conflict. Some groups will no longer listen to the boss in Moscow. This seems the eternal fate of those who engage in proxy warfare. But even if Moscow can impact some of the groups in eastern Ukraine, political will is still required to assert pressure. Nothing seems to indicate that Putin is impressed or motivated by moral or legal considerations. Instead he calculates risks and potential gains. And that is where international political and economic pressure comes into the equation. 

Putin wants to lead Russia into a new era of relevance; to return to the international platform after a humiliating post-Cold War period in which Russia was relegated to the position of loser. Loser of the Cold War. Loser in the eyes of the West. A relic of the past.

But what Putin is doing regarding the current conflict in Ukraine in general, and the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy in particular, is the very opposite of bringing Russia back to world status. That should be the message we send, and that is what will pressure the Kremlin. It might trigger activities from Moscow to regain lost influence among the players in eastern Ukraine; it may lead to pressure on the groups to cooperate. It is the only carrot that will work. The threat of sticks may need to come simultaneously, and the sticks may need to be sharpened and must be tailor-made. They need to hurt. Sharpened sticks made of targeted sanctions. 

The sticks may hurt us as well, but things have changed. There is already much agony and pain in Dutch society following last week's events. We can take more. There are strong calls for action and justice. The Dutch are not calling for revenge, but for respect for human dignity and moral values. In my opinion, this can only be achieved if we offer the carrot and simultaneously show the sharpened stick, with only one objective: bring the actors of this crime to justice. 


When US officials talk about the US-Australia alliance, they almost always highlight, as President Obama did in his November 2011 speech in Canberra, that Australians have fought alongside Americans 'in every single major conflict of the past hundred years.' This is a fact to be celebrated, but statements on both sides of the Pacific that Australia is America’s 'deputy sheriff' in Asia, compounded by the enduring concept of US-led 'hub-and-spoke' alliances in the region, have only reinforced perceptions of Australia as a dependable junior partner.

Australia’s own actions in recent years have portrayed a country reluctant to step out on its own. Canberra has often appeared unwilling to take a leadership role in the region or on the world stage, much less help to manage the US-China security competition in Asia. When Canberra does lead, it is too often on niche issues deemed more appropriate for a 'middle power.'

Through American eyes, this appears to be driven by a combination of factors, including an overly-modest self-assessment of Australia’s power and influence, the perception that Australia’s real national security challenges do not extend far beyond its periphery, and the belief that there is little to be gained by inserting itself politically between the world’s two largest economies, both of which have an outsized effect on Australia’s economic wellbeing.

But in recent weeks, Australia has taken steps that suggest these assumptions may no longer be predominant in Canberra. Even if driven by domestic politics, Australia has played a leading role in marshaling the international community’s response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Capitalising on Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop quickly traveled to New York to introduce a binding resolution calling for a 'full, thorough and independent international investigation.' It passed unanimously. Back in Canberra, Prime Minister Abbott went so far as to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be welcome to attend November’s G20 summit in Brisbane if Russia proves complicit in the attack.

Meanwhile, only days earlier, People’s Liberation Army General Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, was in Canberra to help announce that Chinese troops would train with Australian soldiers and US Marines together for first time in October’s Exercise Kowari in northern Australia.

This activism — best understood, in my view, as Australian initiatives to support Australian interests — only builds upon recent efforts to deepen economic and security partnerships with leading regional countries, including Japan and India. No longer content to simply be a spoke in an American-led order, Australia is increasingly positioned to contribute independently or in concert with fellow Asian countries to help maintain regional peace and stability.

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Are these harbingers of a more pro-active Australian foreign policy? Only time will tell, but Washington should hope the answer is squarely in the affirmative.

It turns out that the US doesn’t need a 'deputy sheriff' in Asia or more broadly on the international stage. Instead, it needs willing and capable partners who share America’s vision for a rules-based international order. It needs countries with comparative strengths and the power to complement, supplement and sometimes replace the traditional role of the US.

Few countries, if any, fit this bill as well as Australia. Regardless of its relatively small population and military, Australia carries substantial normative authority (particularly outside Southeast Asia) as a modern, liberal country in Asia, distanced by physical geography and national security perspectives from both Europe and the US. Together, this provides significant untapped potential for Australia, even in pursuit of its own interests, to act in ways that advance US goals in the region and the world.

But this is not just about Australia’s latent influence. It’s also the case that the regional security environment in Asia increasingly demands this kind of leadership from America’s partners. It is no longer sufficient, much less wise, for Canberra to sit on the sidelines while hoping for the US and China to resolve a growing set of serious differences on their own. To the contrary, US-China cooperation is far more likely to spring from activities led by third-party countries or regional institutions, which is what makes the announcement of the October exercise in northern Australia so important. Tony Abbott was right when he told General Fan last week that the trilateral exercise would be 'good for the stability of our region.'

As to Australia’s burgeoning relationships in the region, analysis by the Center for a New American Security, my home institution, has argued that intra-Asian security networks can at times contribute more to deterrence and regional security when they are largely independent of the US rather than always being led by Washington.

Of course, decisively dropping the 'deputy sheriff' badge and moving toward a more pro-active and independent foreign policy — in which Australian actions are commensurate with its power and influence — will inevitably produce friction with the US. For example, both countries will be competing for the ears of new leaders in India and Indonesia, while disagreements are likely to emerge on climate and energy. But if done transparently and in the spirit of healthy competition, this should not be something to be feared in Washington. On balance, there is no doubt that, even if sometimes at odds with the US, greater Australian involvement in world politics — again, even in pursuit of its own aims — will ultimately advance American interests.

Australia is in a unique position to move the international community, contribute independently to peace and stability in Asia, and help to manage the competitive aspects of the US-China relationship. Here’s hoping that recent events aren’t just a fleeting burst of Australian activism.

Photo by Flickr user Tony Abbott.


  • Over 100 people have died in the past week as Typhoon Rammasun hit northern Philippines, northern Vietnam and China.
  • Typhoon Rammasun marks the beginning of typhoon season in Southeast Asia and much of the region remains ill-equipped, as this Oxfam release notes about the Philippines.  
  • China moved its oil rig out of disputed waters this week. Carl Thayer explains four possible reasons why.
  • Filipino President Bengino Aqinuo III is facing a movement for his impeachment after a Supreme Court ruled he had acted unconstitutionally in spending for an economic stimulus. 
  • On Monday, Thailand conducted a headcount of Myanmar refugees, sparking fears that a refoulement (similar to that seen with undocumented Cambodian workers) may be about to occur. Since Thailand's military government took power, warmer relations with Myanmar's military have ensued.
  • Nicholas Farrelly explains why Myanmar matters.
  • Under considerable pressure (as I examined last week), Malaysian PM Najib announced today that he has negotiated directly with Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed PM of the 'Donesk People’s Republic'.
  • Here and here are two great in-depth pieces on how the region's insatiable appetite for hydrodams continues and why they are so contentious. (Thanks Milton.)
  • Final talks’ took place today between opposition leader Sam Rainsy and the Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
  • Last week Cambodian opposition party protesters, demanding the re-opening of Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, clashed with police:

11 of 13 This post is part of a debate on MH17

Australian diplomacy at the UN has kicked up a gear over the last two weeks. On 14 July the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2165, drafted by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, setting up a new mechanism to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria. And yesterday it approved Resolution 2166, tabled by Australia, demanding a 'full, thorough and independent investigation' into the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine. This can only be a small consolation for the Australians, Dutch, Malaysian and other families who lost loved ones in the catastrophe. But both resolutions are evidence of Australia's increasingly confident diplomacy at the UN.

In a Lowy Institute Analysis published last month, I argued that the Australian team in New York had outperformed expectations in the Security Council through 2013 and the first half of 2014. Their biggest success before this month was Resolution 2139, tabled with the Luxembourgers and Jordanians in late February, which called for unfettered access for aid agencies working in Syria. The mere fact that Australia and its allies got Russia and China to sign up to this demand was a diplomatic coup.

But by last month, Resolution 2139 looked like an illusory success. Syria has consistently failed to fulfill its terms, and with Russia at odds with the West over Ukraine, any serious follow-up resolution seemed unlikely. Australian officials felt obliged to pursue the issue, but feared that they could end up 'going backwards' by sparking a fight with Moscow or settling for a pointlessly weak rebuke to Damascus.

Painstaking diplomacy delivered a pragmatic alternative. To satisfy Russia, Resolution 2165 shies away from sanctions or other penalties against Damascus for its non-compliance with the Council's earlier demands (although it hints that such measures are possible in future). But it goes beyond Resolution 2139 by authorising UN aid agencies to make humanitarian aid deliveries without the Syrian Government's prior consent while also directing monitors to check these aid consignments for hidden weapons or other illicit supplies for the rebel groups.

This is a decent compromise, showing just enough deference to Moscow's concerns while putting in place a concrete plan to ease the situation. The same could be said, in very different circumstances, about Resolution 2166 on the MH17 investigation.

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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.

Both the new aid mechanism for Syria and the MH17 investigation could backfire. If Damascus wants to discredit the humanitarian deliveries authorised by Resolution 2165, it won't find it too hard to stage the 'discovery' of a cache of weapons in an aid truck cleared by UN monitors. And the MH17 investigation could be drawn out and ultimately prove inconclusive – the US and NATO can offer the investigators signals intelligence and satellite imagery on the incident, but Moscow will say this is fixed.

All diplomatic deals are ultimately vulnerable to poor or dishonest implementation. But the last fortnight's deals over both Syria and Ukraine are clearly preferable to the alternatives: giving up on the humanitarian effort in the former case, and getting caught in an escalatory cycle of denunciations with Moscow over MH17 in the latter. UN diplomacy is the art of the possible. Australia seems to have mastered this art well.

Photo by Flickr user Scott Garner.


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.)


By Charles Hunt, Lecturer in International Security at the University of Queensland, and Mark Malan, Senior Lecturer in Peacekeeping at Massey University in New Zealand.

UNMISS peacekeepers in Juba, South Sudan. (UN Photo.)

As the last of the reinforcements arrive for the newly mandated UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), questions remain over its ability to protect civilians and put South Sudan on a road to peace and stability.

South Sudan became independent in 2011, following a referendum held under the conditions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought to an end the 22-year Sudanese civil war. The birth of the new nation was a significant achievement for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which deployed in 2005 to support the implementation of the CPA. However, UNMIS was not very effective at disarming and demobilising the myriad armed groups prior to independence, nor did it make much headway with the transformation of the post-war security sector.

Following independence, the UN's role was re-conceived as a peacebuilding endeavour, with the newly-named UNMISS mandated to build the institutional capacity needed to govern the nascent state of South Sudan. Despite early optimism, UNMISS was unable to address the maladies of a bloated security sector, and despite an explicit mandate to 'protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence', was incapable of responding to brutal attacks on civilians once political violence flared in December 2013. 

The violence, sparked by a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar, led to civil war, with widespread attacks on civilians instigated along ethnic lines. Since December, over 10,000 people have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced. Having opened their gates to fleeing civilians, UN peacekeepers now face the task of looking after over 100,000 civilians seeking refuge in impromptu protection sites inside ten UN bases across the country, a situation that Secretary-General Ban says is taking UNMISS into 'uncharted territory.' 

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In addition to the direct effects of fighting, South Sudanese are threatened by impending famine, particularly in the conflict-affected states where farmers were unable to plant seeds before the arrival of the rainy season. While the fighting has claimed many victims, these numbers may pale into insignificance against the numbers now likely to starve to death

In late June 2014, the UN Security Council passed a resolution reconfiguring and re-prioritising UNMISS. Troop strength went from 7000 to 12,500 and the UN police force was strengthened from 900 to 1323, with the addition of several helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. This fortified force is to abandon the previously mandated task of state building and embrace the new priorities of protecting civilians and securing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Yet UNMISS finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The mission is deployed in the midst of a lethal civil war. As matters now stand, there is no way the Council can extricate the mission without compromising the safety of thousands of UN personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilians. Instead of liquidating a peacebuilding mission, the Security Council has resuscitated the notion of maintaining safe havens protected by peacekeepers.

The practice of establishing UN-protected areas is not exactly uncharted territory, as suggested by Ban; it was in fact discredited in the 1990s because of the UN's failure to protect against the Srebrenica massacre of 1993 and the Rwandan genocide of 1994. However, in addition to protection against armed attack, the UN is now also accepting responsibility for protecting South Sudanese against disease and famine. For example, UNMISS has expressed concern about the situation in Bentiu, where 100-200 displaced people continue to arrive daily, many of them malnourished. The UN-protected areas are likely to be in increasing demand as feeding centres regardless of the conflict situation.

Serious questions therefore remain about the ability of UNMISS to fulfill its 'close protection' and broader protection mandate.

As Secretary-General Ban has said: 'the strengthening of UNMISS's protection capabilities will not happen overnight. Even with additional capabilities, we will not be able to protect every civilian in need in South Sudan.' In addition to risks associated with deteriorating health and sanitation, the task of protecting and feeding more than 100,000 civilians within UN bases presents serious challenges for the Formed Police Units which are for the first time being asked to protect vulnerable populations from external threats as well as hostile elements in the camps.

Given these challenges, UNMISS peacekeepers cannot be expected to hold the line indefinitely, so South Sudan's political process needs impetus. Although a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on 23 January 2014, there has been little tangible progress towards a political settlement that would contain the power struggles and usher in a transitional government.

The interests and support of regional powers need to be carefully managed during any diplomatic offensive. The conflict is already regionalised through the presence of Ugandan troops, the central mediating role of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the standing-up of an IGAD monitoring and verification mechanism. While the support of regional powers remains essential to settling the conflict, there is also potential for the interests and meddling of those same regional powers to exacerbate the conflict

The UN Security Council and some of it more powerful members, though at the moment seized with other pressing issues of global and regional security, need to bring much more pressure to bear instead of abdicating their responsibility to IGAD and the African Union in the hope that they will find 'African solutions to African problems'. If the UN is to support the transition to peace, then the Security Council, the Secretariat, and UNMISS leadership need to help shape a transitional strategy that results in a stable settlement and ends the de facto impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the worst atrocities. 

10 of 13 This post is part of a debate on MH17

It is always morbid to talk of what ground nations might gain from disasters such as the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, but international politics has never been a place for the squeamish.

For US President Barack Obama, the attack has provided him with atypical room for patience as, curmudgeons like John McCain aside, many of his typically loudest Republican detractors seem willing to let investigators in Ukraine come to some definitive conclusion on the nature and extent of Russian involvement rather than criticise his supposedly weak foreign policy.

In the longer term there is a very real possibility that the legacy of the disaster might be a Europe that is more engaged in affairs to its east, and maybe even further afield, as its leaders become aware that their own interests are increasingly at threat from a rising tide of conflict and instability.

President Obama spoke in terms similar to these in a White House briefing shortly after the MH17 attack (which claimed the lives of 193 Dutch citizens, along with Belgians, Brits and Germans), calling it a 'wake up call' for Europe and warning that violence could no longer be contained to the continent's fringes.

This comes after the US had been left frustrated by the failure of European governments to match Washington's high-level sanctions on Russia, which enjoys the insurance of considerable interdependence with European nations that might otherwise challenge it, particularly concerning the supply of energy.

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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.

Such a change in European fortunes could be considered overdue, with the continent largely a source of frustration for US foreign policy in the Obama years, despite the rapture with which Europe's leaders and citizens greeted his election after the disastrous relations of the Bush years.

Europe's continued economic calamities and political disunity have denied Obama much-needed support in tackling many of the international obligations from which he had hoped to remove the US in order to focus on the domestic sphere.

With a majority of Americans still favouring a withdrawal from foreign entanglements (according to the latest poll from Politico), stronger multilateral partnerships with Europe on security and other matters could be a shot in the arm for a somewhat floundering Administration. With Japan also coming to the party in the Asia Pacific — by moving to reinterpret its pacifist constitution and face up to the rise of China — it seems Obama might finally be getting what he wants on the international stage.

The problem now is one of time. With a little over two years left to run in his presidency, there may be far too little of it to achieve the vision.

Photo by Flickr user U.S. Ambassador Gutman.


[I]t is much easier for an expansionist power to insert an asset in disputed waters than it is for the defenders to remove it. This is the key issue here: how to remove a hostile asset without escalating the dispute using lethal force. 

9 of 13 This post is part of a debate on MH17

The UN Security Council observes a minute's silence for the MH17 victims. (UN photo.)

The clocks at the UN were approaching midnight on Sunday night when the Security Council concluded an emergency session on the Gaza conflict, and then immediately reconvened for consultations on an Australian draft resolution dealing with the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner MH17. Unscheduled late-night meetings, especially on the weekend, are uncommon at the UN. Two back-to-back meetings at such a late hour involving such major crises may well be unprecedented. But with the debris-strewn crash site becoming more contaminated with every passing hour, there was no time to lose. 

Negotiations had been conducted earlier in the day on a resolution calling for an independent international investigation and demanding that armed groups in control of the crash site immediately provide safe, secure, full and unrestricted access. But at the eleventh hour – in the most literal sense of all – the Russians threw a sickle in the works. At the midnight meeting, the Russians came with their own resolution. Vitaly Churkin, a protégé of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, said he had problems with 'ambiguities' in Australia’s draft.

British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, angry over what he saw as blatant Russian obstructionism, told reporters: 'it looks like typical Russian delaying  tactics. It's extraordinary that they've introduced some new amendments which they didn't introduce earlier in the day.' 

Just hours earlier, the language of the draft had been softened to make it more palatable to Moscow. It referred now to the 'downing' of the Boeing 777 rather than its 'shooting down'. But the Russians wanted the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency, to take the lead, rather than Ukrainian crash investigators acting with the help of the ICAO. 

After the meeting, which ended at one o'clock on Monday morning, 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.

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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.

Australia enjoys a lot of goodwill on the Security Council, not least for its efforts to secure resolutions boosting humanitarian aid to Syria. What made its achievement doubly significant was that it came precisely a week after unanimous passage of its resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and Luxembourg,  opening the way for more cross-border aid to Syria.

The presence in the chamber of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, along with her Dutch and Luxembourg counterparts, was meaningful and well-received. It provided a clear demonstration of Canberra's determination. It gave Australia's words extra emotional power. Though the nitty gritty of the negotiation was conducted by Australia's permanent representative Gary Quinlan, Julie Bishop was heavily involved behind the scenes.

Raising a hand in support of a UN resolution is a very different thing from lifting a finger where it matters, and the test of this resolution will be in its implementation. Russia claims it has already offered assistance, but America's ambassador Samantha Power said there should never have been any need for a resolution if Moscow had used its influence over the separatists to allow for unfettered access. For the Kremlin not to have condemned the “armed thugs” for tampering with evidence and blocking investigators sent a powerful message, she claimed: 'We have your backs.'

Since the shooting down of MH17 the chamber of the Security Council has felt more like a courtroom. Even after this resolution, Vladimir Putin is still very much in the dock.


A delightful profile of US Vice-President Joe Biden by the New Yorker's former China correspondent, Evan Osnos. This quote will get a lot of mileage as the MH17 story develops:

To illustrate his emphasis on personality as a factor in foreign affairs, Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: “I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ ”

“You said that?” I asked. It sounded like a movie line. 

“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said, and continued, “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ” Biden sat back, and said, “This is who this guy is!”

But as the Russia scare-mongering ramps up, this Biden judgment should also be remembered: 

Other than being crazy enough to press a button, there is nothing that Putin can do militarily to fundamentally alter American interests.” 

There's also a killer quote early on in the piece illustrating the Obama-Biden relationship:

The trials facing the President and the Vice-President, who are separated by nineteen years and a canyon in style, have brought them closer than many expected—not least of all themselves. John Marttila, one of Biden’s political advisers, told me, “Joe and Barack were having lunch, and Obama said to Biden, ‘You and I are becoming good friends! I find that very surprising.’ And Joe says...

This is a family website, so I will leave you to read the punchline here


Indonesia's General Elections Commission (KPU) is tomorrow likely to confirm a victory by Joko ('Jokowi') Widodo over presidential rival Prabowo Subianto by a margin of somewhere between 4% and 6.88%. While supporters of Indonesian democracy collectively hold their breath in anticipation of a negative response from Prabowo, it is useful to also look beyond Indonesia's domestic politics to the foreign policy and defence implications for Australia resulting from a Jokowi presidency.

Prior to the election, Jokowi and his vice presidential candidate Jusuf Kalla released a policy platform or Vision Mission (Visi Misi) statement to the KPU which included defence and foreign policy objectives. The statement was predicated strongly upon securing Indonesia's economic and security interests in the maritime domain and enhancing Indonesia's identity as an archipelagic state. 

Advised by a cohort of talented Indonesian intellectuals, the statement reflected the authors' views of the Indo-Pacific region as a single geopolitical and strategic entity. 

In a significant development for Australia, the statement committed a future Jokowi-Kalla government to an increase in defence spending from 0.8 to 1.5% of GDP and to building the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) into a regional maritime power of consequence. It further committed to enhancing regional defence diplomacy and maritime cooperation through multilateral entities such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which both India and Australia are members. 

Although the statement did not refer to any specific countries, the sub-text was clearly China. Priorities included defending Indonesia's outer islands, protecting natural resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and strengthening the regional architecture in order to 'prevent the hegemony of major powers'.

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The third presidential debate on 22 June on 'International Politics and National Resilience' revealed further insights into Jokowi's thinking on foreign policy and strategic issues.

On the Australia relationship, the candidates seem to agree there was a trust deficit between Jakarta and Canberra, but Jokowi offered more considered analysis. He indicated his willingness to work towards ameliorating this deficit through business, education and cultural diplomacy, but cautioned that a government he led would not abide perceived condescension or disrespect from its southern neighbour. 

On the South China Sea, a critical security issue for the region, Jokowi generally kept to the foreign ministry line that Indonesia was not directly involved in the dispute but would continue to work towards a diplomatic solution. His equivocation during the debate about Indonesia's ongoing commitment to mediating in the dispute can be attributed more to inexperience on foreign policy matters than an indication of any forthcoming policy shift.

If Jokowi is confirmed as Indonesia's next president on 22 July, as widely anticipated, Australia can expect a degree of policy continuity with Jakarta. At the same time, Australia could also expect a more assertive and more militarily capable Indonesia over the next five years. 

A key disjuncture from the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono period will be the weakening of high-level executive support in Jakarta to steer bilateral relations through the inevitable peaks and troughs. In short, Canberra can expect the troughs to be deeper and to last longer without the champion of bilateral relations represented by SBY. 

On the upside, powerful systemic forces are likely to enhance Australia's utility in the minds of Indonesian defence strategists, mitigating against the risk of protracted bilateral tensions. There is a higher-stakes game emerging in the Indo-Pacific, with China's increasing presence in Southeast Asian states' EEZs

The Jokowi-Kalla Visi Misi statement recognises the realities of contemporary geopolitics in its strong emphasis on Indonesia's maritime domain. Indeed, Australia, through a combination of its geographic proximity to Indonesia's maritime approaches and middle power defence capabilities, may assume an increasingly important role in the strategic policy of a future Jokowi government. 

 Photo by Flickr user Hendrik Mintarno.

8 of 13 This post is part of a debate on MH17
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  • Marc Ambinder on how Obama's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, used the KAL007 shootdown in 1983 to pressure the Soviet Union. Here's Reagan's address to the nation:

Vladimir Putin, acting out of resentment and fury toward the West and the leaders in Kiev, has fanned a kind of prolonged political frenzy, both in Russia and among his confederates in Ukraine, that serves his immediate political needs but that he can no longer easily calibrate and control. Putin’s defiant annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine inflated his popularity at home. Despite a flaccid economy, his approval rating approaches levels rarely seen beyond North Korea. But the tactically clever and deeply cynical maneuvers of propaganda and military improvisation that have taken him this far, one of his former advisers told me in Moscow earlier this month, are bound to risk unanticipated disasters. Western economic and political sanctions may be the least of it.