Lowy Institute

Today is Anzac Day in Australia. Each year the national commemoration prompts a substantial amount of public reflection both on its meaning for Australians today, its place in Australia's national identity and whether it should hold a place of such prominence. The Interpreter hosted two pieces on those topics this week, the first from historian James Curran:

The real risk for Australia's wartime commemorative culture is not the proliferation of military histories weighing down the shelves of bookshops. Rather it is the danger that the rhetoric of Anzac becomes so caricatured and hackneyed that the occasion becomes little more than a national sedative, an annual Anzac dosage which dulls the mind and skates over the challenge of understanding the history of Australia's participation in global conflicts. 

The risk is that we lose sight of the national interest that propelled Australia into the Great War. We must resist the parochialism of the present which so often says that those who joined up in 1914 were little more than duped patriots, and that Australia followed blindly its British imperial masters with no thought as to its own interests. 

Jenny Hayward-Jones, who worked as a diplomat at the Australian embassy in Turkey for several years, wrote on her memories of the Anzac Cove ceremony she attended in 2005 and other visits to the area:

The last thing Kenan showed us was a simple stone monument with no names of the dead or details of the battle inscribed. It marked a site where thousands of soldiers (mostly Turkish) were buried as they were killed (because the battle had to continue). It was mid-afternoon and we were beginning to lose the winter sun. I had spent a day walking among graves of young men and gazing at monuments to important stages in the battle. Yet although I had long been taught that this event defined my nation, I was struggling to create my own relationship with the place. It was only at this last, most unfamiliar of sites that I could hear the souls of the dead and I understood.

Robert Kelly warned the US Congress that tactics like its recent Iran letter would not work in Asia:

One of my greatest concerns for US foreign policy in the coming decades is that this neocon 'omnidirectional belligerence' will, in time, come to the Asia Pacific. Neocon belligerence and recklessness are not feasible in Asia as they are in the Middle East, in Cuba or Venezuela, or even in responding to Putin. John McCain brought this type of thinking to Europe when he famously said 'we are all Georgians now' after the 2008 Russian invasion. Russia's stagnant GDP and population made such talk more feasible.

How the EU contributed to the crisis in Ukraine, from Matthew Dal Santo:

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In other words, because Brussels was in denial about not only the geopolitical consequences of the ENP but also, even more damningly, its aims, it believed it could afford to ignore Moscow. Indeed, Menon and Rumer imply that Brussels simply found Russia – an old-fashioned power pursuing hard interests rather than values – impossible to fit within its model of the world. The gap was filled by the hope (famously 'not a policy', as the authors remind us) that Russia would see the world as Brussels saw it.

Not for the first time, this hope got the better of prudence. 

Julia Gillard's speech writer, Michael Cooney, wrote on the relationship between the former prime minister and President Barack Obama, as well as comparisons between US and Australian politics:

Australian conservatives are fond of arguing that Australia is better served by Republican presidents. Putting aside the disastrous black swan of George W Bush, there's been some logic to the argument that the free traders, internationalists, Asia hands and realists of the old Republican mainstream served Australia's interests well. But Australian public opinion appears to favour Democratic presidents, and in turn the US, and the alliance, seem to rise in popularity during Democratic presidencies. This is not a small advantage in an alliance between democracies.

Two posts this week in our Digital Disruption series. The first from Fergus Hanson on ways to combat ISIS online:

In June last year, TIME dubbed Australia 'the biggest per capita contributor of foreign jihadists to ISIS'. Given this, and the fact ISIS and its members continue to exploit the internet almost unchallenged, it makes sense for Australia to make a modest investment in an ICT offensive to complement other efforts. The Government's announcement of $18 million to do just this is right on point. It is critical that it be implemented effectively, that it draws on top tier technical and area expertise, and that it leverages existing resources, including the emerging efforts of other countries.

The second was from Danielle Cave on ways Australian diplomacy could be augmented by digital means:

Our diplomats have developed an online passivity that is disconnected from the reality of Australian diplomacy. Given that Australia is located in the most digitally dynamic region of the world (45% of the world's internet users live in Asia), and that our ability to reach and influence the populations that live in our region has diminished following the Government's divestment in international broadcasting; Australia can no longer afford to remain ineffectual in this area.

How Indonesia is positioning itself between Japan and China, by Catriona Croft-Cusworth:

This is a stance Jokowi has maintained during his first six months as president. Despite suggestions that his party's preference is for loyalty to China over Japan, Jokowi has given a studious impression of neutrality, courting both countries for investment in a trip to Tokyo and Beijing last month. While China responded more generously than Japan — with an offering of around $63 billion in investment from Chinese companies compared to $8.9 billion from Japanese companies — Jokowi has refused to pick sides.

The next Non-proliferation Treaty review conference starts latter this month. John Tilemann gave us an update on the NPT and the politics of nuclear disarmament in the lead-up to conference:

However, the real test of success is the extent to which parties remain convinced that despite its weaknesses, the NPT serves their national and global security interests. This might be hard to read amid the acrimony of unmet expectations and regional conflict. But the global condemnation of North Korea's proliferation and the serious effort invested in a deal with Iran give cause for optimism. The way countries respond to these challenges to the NPT is the litmus test of its continuing relevance.

Is economic history back in vogue? Hannah Wurf thinks so:

At their worst, economists pursue ahistorical models that are supposed to hold eternally across time and place, whereas historians tell us 'history never repeats itself' and present past events as contextually bounded and therefore without comparison. Since the 1970s the social sciences have been fragmented, with post-modernism and post-structuralism producing a shift in history towards cultural and micro-history, while economics has moved in the opposite direction towards neoliberal orthodoxy and imitating the rigour of the hard sciences. The self-imposed exile of economics from the other social sciences has led to the criticism that economists reject interdisciplinary approaches. 

Marie McAuliffe on the importance of data in stopping migrant smuggling:

Greater monitoring of smuggling can only benefit migrants. It can help inform responses designed to prevent the deaths of migrants planning perilous journeys in the upcoming European summer. But just as importantly, it can inform the development of sustainable responses aimed at sparing future generations of would-be migrants from the lure of smugglers' hollow promises.

Government-sponsored 'vigilante' groups have made a return in Burma, writes Andrew Selth:

Indeed, it was hoped that, with the advent of a new and reformist government in 2011, the use of groups like the SAS would cease. Naypyidaw emphasised the management of internal security through an expanded and modernised civil police force which publicly embraced modern doctrines such as community policing. The role of the armed forces was reduced and greater emphasis given to 'the rule of law'. 

Such hopes, however, have been dashed.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.

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Islamic extremism in Palestinian communities in the Middle East is emerging as a significant security threat. These relatively ungoverned spaces are proving vulnerable to radical takeover from without and within.

The Palestinian camp of Yarmouk in Damascus was invaded by ISIS troops in early April. Reports of the security situation are confused. Local Palestinian militia groups such as Hamas-affiliated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis were reported to have repelled ISIS but it is now thought ISIS has reclaimed around 90% of the camp; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Jahbat al-Nusra and ISIS have taken over 80% of the camp. According to the Syrian Government, the majority of civilians have now left Yarmouk and only 6000 remain; the UN is demanding access.


Gaza, 2009. (Flickr/Marius Arnesen.)

Reports from civilians in the camp only a few days ago said they are terrified to go out for fear of being killed. Their terror serves to compound the misery of constant shortages of food, water and other essential services, which has been ongoing since a siege on the camp launched by the Syrian Government in 2012 as a result of infiltration by anti-Government forces.

For years in Lebanon, Palestinian camps have been regarded by the Lebanese as a source of radical Islam. In recent years unrest has emerged from Nahr al-Bared near Tripoli and Ain al-Hilweh in Sidon. In 2007, the group Fatah al-Islam took over Nahr al-Bared, with around 170 soldiers and 64 civilians killed in the ensuing battles. For years, Ain al-Hilweh was known locally as a place that the Lebanese Armed Forces dare not enter for fear of being attacked. It is known to house some of the more extreme Palestinian factions such as Islamic Jihad, Jund al-Sham, Shabab al-Muslim, Fatah al-Islam, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. It was the site of support for the political activist turned terrorist Sheikh Ahmad Assir, who launched an attack on an army checkpoint in Sidon in 2013. While the army managed to disperse Assir's group in Sidon, Assir himself was not caught and some of his supporters are believed to be hiding in the camp.

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The tension between Sunni and Shia military groups is often exposed inside the camps and may be leading to increasing violence. Earlier this month Marwan Issa, a member of the Hezbollah-linked Resistance Brigades, was found dead in Ain al-Hilweh. The Government and the Lebanese Army have announced publicly that they are strengthening checkpoints around the camp and will work with the camp committee to develop and enforce a more comprehensive security plan to prevent the rise of Islamic extremism. A confidential source however has revealed that an attack is being planned, led by Fatah forces and supported indirectly from Ramullah and the Lebanese Internal Security Services to drive extremist Islamists from Ain al-Hilweh.

Another camp, Burj al-Barajneh, is less known for its militant activities, but this is may be changing. During the bombings in Beirut in the summer of 2013, when I lived in the adjacent Hizbullah heartland of Dahiyeh, Hizbullah surrounded the camp a number of times as it was rumoured that two bomb-laden cars lay in waiting to be driven out to suitable destinations for detonation. True or not, local suspicion surrounding the camp remains high, not least because a large number of Syrians have moved in, fueling fears that they are developing radical movements to coordinate attacks in pro-Hizbullah areas.

Lebanon's experience with Palestinian camps is the main reason the Government has thus far refused to establish formal Syrian refugee camps. The Government is understandably concerned that establishing Syrian refugee camps would create the same conditions of unrest and sanctuary for criminals and terrorists. And just like the Palestinian camps, the occupants would remain in Lebanon far into the future. As many of the original refugees who fled Syria were Sunni, there is particular concern that sympathy for ISIS would be fostered there.

The camps are not the only problem. Sympathy for ISIS among young Gazans is reported to be growing; Hamas' failure to negotiate a working alliance with Fatah and the desperate living conditions residents have experienced since the Israeli offensive last year are among the causes. Hamas is working hard to combat rising support but after years of failing to advance the Palestinian cause, it is unsurprising that a large number of youth look fondly on what they see as the success of ISIS. The bombing of the French Cultural Centre in Gaza City on 12 December last year is claimed to be the work of Islamic groups that support ISIS, and some academics and journalists have allegedly received threats. Hamas is working hard to downplay local ISIS support, as it recognises the threat the group poses to support for the Palestinian cause in the international community.

As if the peace process didn't have enough problems after Netanyahu's declaration that he does not support a two-state solution (a statement since somewhat unconvincingly retracted), the rise of support for ISIS in Gaza provides further justification for Netanyahu's argument that Israel cannot have a terrorist state formed in its heartland. Rising support for ISIS could also further damage Hamas-Egypt relations. And on a practical note it could lead to the withdrawal of humanitarian actors who fear for their safety in light of ISIS killings in Syria.

In the absence of a political solution to the Palestinian issue, there is an urgent need to combat poverty, which helps drive localised violence in Palestinian communities but also potentially something more sinister. It has never been more important to prevent these communities from becoming breeding grounds for further radicalisation.

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Digital Disruption

Australia's approach to digital diplomacy is second-rate and entirely inadequate for a nation that sees itself as 'a top 20 country'. Despite an expanded social media presence, Australia continues to lag far behind other countries – large and small – that are investing serious resources into building up their digital diplomacy capabilities.

The Australian Government is failing to leverage the internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) tools to carry out foreign policy objectives; rather, it has confined itself to using these tools to communicate the fact that diplomatic activities are occurring. This approach is limiting Australia's ability to project global influence.

Our diplomats have developed an online passivity that is disconnected from the reality of Australian diplomacy. Given that Australia is located in the most digitally dynamic region of the world (45% of the world's internet users live in Asia), and that our ability to reach and influence the populations that live in our region has diminished following the Government's divestment in international broadcasting; Australia can no longer afford to remain ineffectual in this area.

Here are six policy recommendations for how the Australian Government can build a digital diplomacy capability:

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1. Develop a strategy

A digital diplomacy strategy can guide the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) from online communications to using the internet for influence. The Department should learn from the experience of other countries, particularly those that have already fleshed out and are now implementing a strategy. A 1.5 track dialogue would be a good way to bring together experts with officials to share experiences and map out a draft approach. Crowdsourcing public opinion is an additional and inexpensive way to feed through proposals; DFAT could use its growing crop of social media networks to do this. 

2. Create a digital diplomacy unit and recruit experts

The Government should create a dedicated digital diplomacy unit and recruit experts to staff it. Bureaucracies are generally averse to hiring outside the public service but few countries have successfully developed these capabilities without external help. Other countries have tended to poach from their domestic tech industries, civil society organisations and from abroad to build such teams.

This unit should take advantage of the latest innovations in ICT to creatively contribute to solving foreign policy problems. It will need to be given the freedom and flexibility to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and respond to international developments without having to go through rigid clearance processes. This new unit should be independent of DFAT communications and public diplomacy. While it will need to work with such teams, attaching the unit onto well-developed bureaucratic functions runs the risk that the end result will evolve into nothing more than an extension of those functions.

3. Empower officials

Ambassadors and other officials using social media need to be unleashed to talk, explain and advocate for official policy positions. They need to be given the freedom to engage with the public online and respond to international developments. Diplomats are not limited to reading aloud official releases when they represent Australia at public events, so why is a re-tweeted media release as exciting as it gets when they're online? If it is talked about publicly, it should be able to be tweeted publicly. Providing officials with training and access to a dedicated digital diplomacy unit will help alleviate risk. 

4. A social media review 

DFAT has built a social media presence that mirrors its physical presence. Such a set-up means each post must take responsibility for its patch, leading to a messy and uneven presence, good in some countries but neglected in others.

In China, for example, there is an opportunity to use the country's favoured online platforms to influence the largest single purchaser of Australian products and our top holiday spenders. But DFAT is currently only present on a small number of Chinese social media channels and is not keeping pace with how China's 600 million online users are using the internet. A review of social media accounts could address this, and form part of the overarching strategy.

5. Start a blog

Blogs have long been a standard feature for foreign affairs and aid departments around the world (the UK has 85). Blogs provide governments with a forum to informally and intellectually discuss issues and ideas in a format that is accessible to the public. DFAT has no online mechanism to engage in public policy discussion and currently limits itself to 'announcing' information via media releases and a news feature. A blog that hosts individually authored posts would provide a one-stop shop for the Government to informally contextualise and discuss its position on various issues. It would also provide a space to better articulate, to the public and other stakeholders, what DFAT does and what modern Australia diplomacy looks like. Presently, the Australian media largely controls the messaging on foreign policy; a blog could help shift that.

6. Revive the online identity of Australian aid

Digital diplomacy must be used to enhance all foreign policy functions, but there is currently an imbalance: the flagship of Australian foreign policy, its aid program, is being neglected.

When AusAID's merger into DFAT kicked off in 2013, almost all of the aid program's online channels were stopped or deleted — an odd decision given AusAID and Australian aid are not the same thing. Those who want timely updates about Australian aid must now comb through the website to see if any webpages have been updated, and search through generic DFAT and embassy feeds. It's a messy process that makes it almost impossible for Australians to stay updated on developments with our own aid program. It is obvious that this diminished digital identity has hampered DFAT's ability to engage with the aid program's stakeholders, many of whom unwittingly continue to use the AusAID Twitter handle (even some other Australian Government departments do this!) despite its closure.

When Canada went through a similar integration in 2013 it retained almost all of its communication channels, simply changing the names of the accounts from CIDA to 'Canada International Development' (including on Facebook and Twitter). The Australian Government should revive and re-badge the aid program's idle online accounts. These accounts are a valuable commodity, providing Government with an opportunity to leverage off influential aid-related online networks and a further avenue to reach the Australian public via an area of foreign policy that is more relatable than is other parts of DFAT's core business.

Australia's digital diplomacy capabilities have the potential to provide government with an inexpensive and powerful mechanism to reach global audiences. It can convey vital messages, develop networks (at times more useful than physical networks), monitor and respond to breaking events, correct misinformation (vital when free press is compromised), coordinate and harness goodwill, participate in public discourse and promote Australian soft power.

But none of this will happen unless the Government commits to catching up to the rest of the world. In the meantime, we remain behind and our failure to exploit the internet is hampering Australia's ability to shape global events.

Photo courtesy of @JulieBishopMP

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David Holbrooke, son of the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, has made a documentary on his father's career. It apparently does not leave a good impression of the Obama Administration (it was well known that Richard Holbrooke has significant disagreements with the Administration).

The film is now screening at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be on HBO later this year.

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The Lowy Institute for International Policy is looking for an experienced research editor. The position will be responsible for editing all major research publications, and will assist with the management and administration of research procedures. The role will also provide some editorial assistance to The Interpreter.

The successful applicant will need to demonstrate outstanding editing skills, including at least 5 years' experience in an editorial role. They will also need to possess a very high attention to detail and outstanding proofreading skills. They should also be highly organised and have excellent time management skills. Knowledge of international affairs is highly desirable.

Applicants should submit a CV and one-page covering letter, using the 'Apply Now' button here.

Applications close Friday 22 May. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted. For more information email Dr Philippa Brant.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • New Chinese mobile app 'MyIdol' is breaking the internet. The app, which is still only available in Chinese, allows users to turn themselves (or anybody else) into an animated avatar. Try it here.
  • China has turned to social media to help enforce the country's new smoking rules (taking effect 1 June) by asking residents to report violators via uploaded images or videos.
  • South Korea has allegedly uncovered the hacking codes North Korea has used against them in cyber attacks aimed at the country's financial sector and nuclear operators.
  • Internet.org has launched in Indonesia. The Facebook initiative aims to speed up internet adoption rates in some developing countries by providing free access to select basic web applications (a weather app, Wikipedia, Facebook etc).
  • Internet.org is under fire in India (and Latin America) for giving users a limited version of the internet. Mark Zuckerberg has responded.
  • Some Chinese companies are crossing the Straits and helping to revive Taiwan's tech industry.
  • At a Social Media Summit, Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called on the government to censor some websites 'to block out all this filth that comes to us through the Internet' (but not including his own very popular blog).
  • Will robots kill the Asian Century?
  • Myanmar is planning to establish a new information and communication technology (ICT) zone that it hopes will boost the country's tech sector. (Thanks Elliott.)
  • Can the internet be saved without harming democracy?  
  • The Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT) project has launched an open-source live news dashboard. The dashboard, which maps worldwide news activity and summarises the world's top 60 trending narratives, is updated every 15minutes, and its news collections includes mass (machine) translation of 65 languages. Find out what news is trending in Asia (and elsewhere) here.
  • Congress Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, often described as one of India's most internet unsavvy politicians, is now advocating for net neutrality. What is net neutrality?

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Indonesia became a middle ground for China-Japan relations this week as the leaders of both nations attended the Asia-Africa Conference in Jakarta.

At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, Indonesia's President Jokowi was rather symbolically seated directly between China's President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to avoid giving the appearance of preference for either leader.

This is a stance Jokowi has maintained during his first six months as president. Despite suggestions that his party's preference is for loyalty to China over Japan, Jokowi has given a studious impression of neutrality, courting both countries for investment in a trip to Tokyo and Beijing last month. While China responded more generously than Japan — with an offering of around $63 billion in investment from Chinese companies compared to $8.9 billion from Japanese companies — Jokowi has refused to pick sides.

Investment from both countries will be crucial for Indonesia's development during Jokowi's five-year term, and especially for the realisation of the president's vision for Indonesia to become a global maritime axis.

China has enthusiastically backed the development of Indonesia's maritime infrastructure, pledging support during Jokowi's recent visit for private investment and sponsorship of projects through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Meanwhile, Japan has offered to form a bilateral 'maritime forum' with Indonesia to enhance cooperation on maritime security and infrastructure development.

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One point Jokowi has been clear on is the need for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity among states in the region, interpreted by some as a statement of tacit support for Japan in its conflict with China over islands in the East China Sea. However, this has clearly not become a problem for cooperation with China and its investments in Indonesia.

With most negotiations taken care of during the visits to China and Japan last month, there was little left for Jokowi to discuss with Xi and Abe at the conference in Jakarta besides the implementation of the commitments made so far. For the two foreign leaders, however, the conference posed an opportunity to meet face-to-face and continue the slow thawing of relations.

The much anticipated meeting between Xi and Abe on the sidelines of the conference continued the process of mending relations that started when the two leaders met late last year. Amid ongoing tensions regarding territorial and historical disputes, China and Japan reaffirmed a commitment to improving relations in the interests of mutual strategic benefit and regional stability. To this end, Jokowi has done well to place Indonesia as a middle ground for the rival regional powers.

Photo courtesy of AACD2015.

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Every five years, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) parties meet to review progress in limiting nuclear weapons proliferation, reducing the threat of nuclear arms and facilitating the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The current review cycle culminates in the ninth NPT Review Conference in New York starting next Monday, 27 April, to 22 May. Only five countries will not be involved: India, Israel, Pakistan, North Kore and South Sudan. The first three are 'hold-out' states which have never joined the NPT, North Korea purports to have left it and South Sudan is yet to join.

What should be an opportunity for further strengthening the Treaty is likely again to be dominated by recriminations. The Iranian nuclear deal helps, but the failure to convene the promised conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East will feed resentments. And the five NPT nuclear weapon states will face growing unhappiness over their disarmament efforts.

But recriminations should give way to renewed efforts to address mounting challenges:

  • An alarming willingness by certain governments to brandish nuclear force.
  • A continuing threat of regional proliferation spirals in the Middle East and North Asia.
  • Rapid nuclear build-up on the Indian sub-continent with no systems to manage yet alone end the race.
  • Advances in industrial and scientific expertise providing a growing number of actors with potential access to WMD technologies.
  • A decline in public interest in nuclear security issues, potentially making it easier for governments to sweep them under the carpet.

The Australian National University's Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, guided by former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, has published a report on developments since the 2010 NPT Review, 'Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015'. The report is comprehensive, authoritative and a sobering tool for all participants in the upcoming Review. Of 27 'action clusters' arising from the 2010 Review, none are judged 'implemented fully' and only two show 'significant progress'.

Australia has traditionally been a leading supporter of the NPT. Both sides of Australian politics understand that it helps underpin our national security. The commitment which Australia and key regional partners Japan, South Korea and Indonesia made to the NPT in the 1970s, and our subsequent fostering of high non-proliferation standards, have made our strategic environment immeasurably safer. And the NPT is central to Australia's stringent policies instituted in the 1970s on uranium exports.

So what will be the main issues for the Review Conference, and where will Australia stand?

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Australia will have a high profile: our Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna will be chair of the committee reviewing progress on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Two other committees will review progress on non-proliferation and on disarmament. As a founding member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, Australia will help drive the disarmament agenda. Australia is also the convener of the Vienna-based G-10 group which over successive Reviews has become the most influential contributor on non-proliferation and peaceful uses.

On the Middle East, the partial success in reining in Iran's nuclear program and the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stock only narrows the focus further on Israel's nuclear program. The Review Conference should support a successful deal on Iran's nuclear program. Following Foreign Minister Bishop's visit to Tehran, Australia would be well placed to help articulate that support. The next phase of negotiations with Iran will centre on the role of IAEA inspections in monitoring the deal. Review Conference participants should commit the strongest political, financial and technical support to the IAEA to facilitate that complex and costly mandate.

The discussion on disarmament will focus on the P-5's failure to meet many of the modest targets set in 2010. They will be pressed to commit to further reductions of weapon stockpiles, reduce the launch-alert status of deployed weapons, and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategies.

Advocates of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons will continue their campaign for a start to negotiations. Last December Austria hosted a conference on 'the humanitarian consequences' of nuclear weapons. The 180-plus participating countries included for the first time the US and UK, who concluded that it is best to have their views heard than not. China, France and Russia stayed away. Those opposed to starting negotiations argue that negotiations would be futile without the participation of states with nuclear weapons, and that such talks would distract from the potentially more profitable work on smaller tangible steps such as a ban on the production of nuclear material for weapons (the so-called 'cut-off' treaty). Australia confirmed at the Vienna Conference its view that the better way forward was to recognise the inevitability of gradualism, thus siding with the P-5 sceptics. While Australia's view is responsible, particularly as we continue to rely on the US nuclear umbrella, it will come under pressure because it can so easily be an excuse for inaction.

The US will promote work on the policy, legal and technical tools needed to verify nuclear disarmament. While this initiative will not excite those who would like to ban nuclear weapons tomorrow, it is a practical step that warrants consensus support. Australia should commit to this project, preferably in collaboration with one or more regional partners; the Asia-Pacific Safeguards Network could be the framework.

Cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy should be less contentious. Despite the Fukushima tragedy, some countries continue to expand their nuclear power capacities. Cooperation by NPT parties (including Australia) in nuclear power programs in non-NPT states, especially India, will be criticised by those who argue that NPT membership should be a condition for nuclear cooperation. For the many NPT parties with no plans for nuclear power, the IAEA continues its modest program of support for nuclear science applications in medicine, agriculture and industry.

How to measure the success or failure of the Review?

The public test of success of the Review will be whether or not there is agreement on a report on the implementation of the NPT over the last five years and setting goals for future strengthening. With membership as broad as the NPT, consensus is extraordinarily difficult, easily aggravated by the hot political issues of the day, and so not surprisingly not always attained.

However, the real test of success is the extent to which parties remain convinced that despite its weaknesses, the NPT serves their national and global security interests. This might be hard to read amid the acrimony of unmet expectations and regional conflict. But the global condemnation of North Korea's proliferation and the serious effort invested in a deal with Iran give cause for optimism. The way countries respond to these challenges to the NPT is the litmus test of its continuing relevance.

Photo by Flickr user James Brooks.

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When the economy is going well, we talk about the bright future. Why is it only when it is going bust that we look to the past?

The Economist recently published an interesting article on the resurgence of economic history after the global financial crisis. No-one who reads about the international economy would have been surprised to see the headline 'Long Live Economic History', given the success of authors the likes of Barry Eichengreen and Thomas Piketty. Eichengreen uses his extensive knowledge of the Geat Depression to shed new light on the 2008 crisis in his book Hall of Mirrors. Piketty's unique contribution to the study of inequality in Capital in the Twenty-First Century lies in the use of tax records from the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is not only the global financial crisis that has warranted historical treatment. Charles Kindleberger's 1978 book Manias, Panics, and Crashes, about speculative market bubbles, was revised and reprinted in 2000 after the end of the dot com boom. In the ABC program Making Australia Great, which aired last month, George Megalogenis used the example of the collapse of Melbourne's economic boom in the late 1800s to warn Australians not to waste the fruits of the economic growth of the last 25 years. 

What makes this trend so interesting is that the disciplines of economics and history make strange bedfellows.

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At their worst, economists pursue ahistorical models that are supposed to hold eternally across time and place, whereas historians tell us 'history never repeats itself' and present past events as contextually bounded and therefore without comparison. Since the 1970s the social sciences have been fragmented, with post-modernism and post-structuralism producing a shift in history towards cultural and micro-history, while economics has moved in the opposite direction towards neoliberal orthodoxy and imitating the rigour of the hard sciences. The self-imposed exile of economics from the other social sciences has led to the criticism that economists reject interdisciplinary approaches. 

However, the best economic history illuminates contemporary problems and offers practical solutions. Good writers of economic history demonstrate a strong grasp of technical economic concepts and a knowledge of historiography.

In the opening session of the annual conference of the New Institute for Economic Thinking held in Paris earlier this month, leading macroeconomists talked about how they found themselves re-reading Hayek, Keynes, and Friedman & Schwarz when grappling with the causes of the global financial crisis. This is not to say that there is nothing new in economic thinking, but rather that economists benefit from taking a long-term perspective.

While the effects of the global financial crisis are still being felt all over the world, a silver lining of the crisis would be a continuing interest in economic history so that we ensure we do not forget the economic mistakes of the past.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user C. Thomas Anderson.

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As the Prime Minister exhorts Australians to attend centenary Anzac Day services in order to support 'our country's values', I find myself reminiscing about my first experience at an Anzac Day service in Gallipoli a decade ago.

In 2005 I was privileged to attend the first of three Anzac Day services at Gallipoli in my role as the deputy head of mission at the Australian Embassy in Turkey. Our Embassy team, in cooperation with a small team from the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Canberra, was responsible for organising the ceremonies with our Turkish hosts and ensuring the safety of Australians attending the services. My principal job on the day was coordinating the visit of Prime Minister John Howard and his delegation.


Australian troops charge an Ottoman trench, just before the evacuation at Anzac. (Wikipedia.)

The 2005 services were controversial because of problems with the Anzac Cove road, overcrowding, a decision to play disco music to entertain the crowds sleeping at the site, inappropriate behaviour by some younger 'pilgrims', and rubbish left at the site. Vast improvements were made the following year, including upgraded and educational screen entertainment provided to the visitors in the hours before the ceremony (keep in mind that the only way to reach the Gallipoli National Park on 25 April is via coach from Istanbul, so thousands of people arrive at the site in the dark and are there for many hours before dawn in near freezing temperatures and without shelter). The improvements were necessary but created a new (and expensive) tradition of the Australian Government controlling the telling of the Anzac story through high quality modern entertainment at a place many believe to be sacred.

The commemorative services at Gallipoli run over two days. The Turkish, British and French services are all held on 24 April. 25 April is reserved for the Anzacs, with the famous dawn service followed later by an Australian service at Lone Pine and the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair.

The services on 25 April all work to a similar formula: 45 minutes of speeches from the most senior VIPs, then prayers, hymns, national anthems, catafalq parties, wreath-laying and the Last Post. I felt sorry for the speechwriters for visiting politicians and for my ambassador, who had to think of something new to say on a subject on which everything has been said while remembering to be conspicuously polite about our Turkish hosts. The overtly Christian nature of the dawn service and the other two 25 April services always seemed to me a little incongruous in a country where the practice of Christianity was heavily regulated and when Australia was apprehensive about emerging Turkish efforts to portray the Battle of Çanakkale (as the Gallipoli battle is known in Turkey) as a holy war.

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I lost count of the number of times Ataturk's famous words about Johnnies and Mehmets lying side by side in peace were uttered during each service, although I suspect our Turkish hosts kept very careful count. There is now doubt about the origin of those words but this is unlikely to have any impact on how often they are quoted in Anzac Day services at Gallipoli.

The Dawn Service at Anzac Cove is meant to be awe-inspiring but the inspiration is rarely found in the speeches or the hymns. I found the sun rising on the Dardanelles and lighting up the steep cliff-face behind us midway through the ceremony — a stark reminder of the impossible task facing our soldiers in 1915 — to be the most moving element of the service. This natural wonder alone made being at Anzac Cove more meaningful than dawn services in Australia. The catafalq party, carried out by Australian and New Zealand army officers, also had a way of making me hold my breath.

The Australian service at Lone Pine has a different flavour to the dawn service. As we arrived at Lone Pine for my first ceremony there in 2005, it was already full to overflowing with people and there were thousands more walking up the hill, expecting to find seats. Several groups of young Australians draped in the national flag were chanting 'Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi and oi', calling out to Prime Minister Howard and generally creating a carnival atmosphere — not exactly what I had expected.

As the searing sun in a cloudless sky reminded me I had not slept for 30 hours, we scrambled to find seats for all the VIPs and the growing number of Turkish military officers streaming in to the site, and somehow find places where a few thousand more people could at least hear, if not see, the service. While this first experience was somewhat fraught I remember enjoying the community feel of the services I attended at Lone Pine over the following two years, when volunteer choristers from home sang, and Australian primary school children who had won writing competitions read poetry and talked about Simpson and his donkey (sadly, like Ataturk's words, this story is more myth than history).

After three years attending Anzac services in Gallipoli, I remained somewhat baffled by the large numbers of young Australians who made a pilgrimage to an event marking a battle with which they had little if any connection. I was in awe of the success of the Government's efforts to create such passion in a younger generation when I had no such feeling, even as the granddaughter of a World War II veteran and a student of World War I.

Perhaps this was because I made my own connection with this place in a way that had nothing to do with ceremonies or ritual. I made my first trip to the Gallipoli peninsula in late December 2004. With Turkey's best guide, Kenan Celik OAM, and my English husband I visited the sites familiar to most Australians: Anzac Cove and Lone Pine, Hill 60, and then the battle sites and memorials relevant to other Allies and to Turkey. I learned more about Gallipoli from Kenan in one day than in all my years of schooling in Sydney.

The last thing Kenan showed us was a simple stone monument with no names of the dead or details of the battle inscribed. It marked a site where thousands of soldiers (mostly Turkish) were buried as they were killed (because the battle had to continue). It was mid-afternoon and we were beginning to lose the winter sun. I had spent a day walking among graves of young men and gazing at monuments to important stages in the battle. Yet although I had long been taught that this event defined my nation, I was struggling to create my own relationship with the place. It was only at this last, most unfamiliar of sites that I could hear the souls of the dead and I understood.

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The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is nothing short of a 'fate changer', said Pakistani Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the man behind the historic project. The excitement appears to be mutual, as China has shown equal enthusiasm for the project throughout a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad which culminated on Tuesday.

Over 51 agreements and MoUs were signed between the two countries worth over US$46 billion, the largest ever investment in the history of Pakistan by any country.

Pakistan's deep-sea Gwadar Port (Flickr/Ahsan).

The major component of the CPEC includes power projects worth US$35-37 billion for energy-starved Pakistan, and massive infrastructure development throughout the country through concessional loans of US$7–8 billion, with the lowest interest rates in the international market. A chunk of the investment will be used for the development of a 3000km rail, road, and oil pipeline network stretching from Kashgar in China all the way down to Gwadar port on the Arabian sea, operated by the state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company.

CPEC is part of an expanding network of corridors that will link China's eastern industrial zones with markets in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. This will allow China to rapidly develop its interior and western provinces which have 'missed' the Chinese economic miracle.

The CPEC also holds symbolic value because it sits at the crossroads of China's Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road, cutting the travel time and distance of freight, especially oil imports, by thousands of kilometers to China. Moreover, in terms of geopolitics, the CPEC fills the last slot for China to complete a web of economic networks in the region. With major investments already in place in Sri Lanka, Burma and Bangladesh, China is shredding any Indian hopes of playing hegemon.

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It's a surprise, given India's strong linguistic, historical and cultural links with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, that New Delhi missed the opportunity for economic integration with South Asia, allowing China to take the advantage. 

But China's economic inroads into Pakistan and its recent involvement in Afghanistan benefit the US, which has historically maintained a strong influence over Pakistan. With the US desperate to end its presence in Afghanistan, China is beginning to play a central role through its economic corridors in stabilising the region for a US withdrawal, a win-win for both China and the US. 

For Pakistan, a country in a perpetual state of war since the 1980s and which has suffered near economic collapse due to the War on Terror, CPEC is an opportunity to boost it's sluggish economy.

'At a time when no country was ready to invest in Pakistan due to security concerns, China has come forward to make an enormous investment that has a potential to transform Pakistan forever', said Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal. CPEC aligns with the Vision 2025 economic plan of the Pakistani Government, which has regional connectivity as one of the seven pillars of Pakistan's future economic growth. 

The symbolism of this project is that it comes as investment, not aid. The latter is generally considered wasteful by authorities in Pakistan for having no real on-the-ground impact on poverty or development. 'Most of the aid goes to the non-governmental sector, and the bulk goes back to the donor countries', stated Ahsan Iqbal in an interview with AFP.

Such an enormous project comes with severe challenges, especially in terms of how much will eventually be delivered. And given Pakistan's fragile democracy, instability, a growing insurgency in the Baluchistan region (where Gwadar port is located), and dissident voices, many will wonder if these projects will see the light of day.

For Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who recognises these challenges, the most important thing is to keep pace with China on the CPEC. According to him, 'CPEC is the shortest but not the only supply chain route available for China', and hence, if Pakistan is not able to implement and meet China's swift development, the CPEC will not go ahead as planned.

CPEC will face many hurdles, both domestically and from regional powers that may see it as a threat.  However, with a multi-billion dollar Chinese stake in the project, and Pakistan looking at it as a lifeline for survival, optimism remains high in both countries.

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With Japan now inching closer to agreement on the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, some strong stuff from Timothy Lee in Vox:

Trade deals like the TPP have grown so complex because the global trade community has figured out how to solve a problem that has bedeviled philosophers and political leaders for centuries: how to craft international agreements with teeth. The WTO's dispute-settlement process, which serves as a model for the TPP, puts pressure on countries to actually keep the promises they make in trade deals. That's why everyone with an agenda — wealthy investors, drug companies, labor unions, environmental groups, and so on — is scrambling to get on the bandwagon.

But the complex, secretive, and anti-democratic way the TPP is being crafted rubs a lot of people the wrong way. The agreement will have profound and long-lasting effects on countries that sign on, yet voters in those countries won't even be allowed to see the text until negotiations are over and it's too late to make changes.

 From the conclusion:

We expect the laws that govern our economic lives will be made in a transparent, representative, and accountable fashion. The TPP negotiation process is none of these — it's secretive, it's dominated by powerful insiders, and it provides little opportunity for public input.

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The Gallipoli Centenary may well be the biggest civic cultural event this country has seen or will see in a generation. 

The commemoration of the First World War in various forms has been undergoing something of a resurgence in Australia in recent years. In itself this is an extraordinary phenomenon, especially when there was a prediction only a few decades ago that the various forms of Great War remembrance would not last.

During the 1960s, Anzac Day was expected to simply wither on the vine as the diggers themselves passed away. For a new Australia emerging at that time, the occasion was seen to carry too much British imperial baggage. As one panelist in a debate in 1965 said, 'If Anzac Day is to be used then it is certainly going to be changed from its present state'.

And indeed it has, with Anzac Day being invested with a new rhetoric of inclusiveness and belonging. Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard have all played critical roles in this transformation. As has popular culture, especially films such as Peter Weir's Gallipoli, Bruce Beresford's Breaker Morant, and even the mid-1980s mini-series Anzacs that featured Paul Hogan among its cast.

Gradually, Anzac shed its now dubious overtones of Empire and Britishness and became a story about the forging of distinctively Australian values. The new liturgy of Anzac undoubtedly permits a wider degree of community participation than it did before.

But that also brings with it new responsibilities. With no more survivors from the Great War left, the narrative of the conflict moves even more into the public sphere. The publication of the letters and diaries of those involved in the conflict will of course continue to give us an unparalleled insight into the horrors of battle and the private motivations of those who went, but the likelihood is that it will be the politicians, writers, historians and commentators who will increasingly shape our understanding of what these conflicts were about, and what they mean for us today. 

For some, this growth of interest in the remembrance of war, and the writing of it, is something to be wary of. In Australia we have even seen the hysterical suggestion that the country's entire history is being 'militarised'. I think such concerns are far-fetched.

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The real risk for Australia's wartime commemorative culture is not the proliferation of military histories weighing down the shelves of bookshops. Rather it is the danger that the rhetoric of Anzac becomes so caricatured and hackneyed that the occasion becomes little more than a national sedative, an annual Anzac dosage which dulls the mind and skates over the challenge of understanding the history of Australia's participation in global conflicts. 

The risk is that we lose sight of the national interest that propelled Australia into the Great War. We must resist the parochialism of the present which so often says that those who joined up in 1914 were little more than duped patriots, and that Australia followed blindly its British imperial masters with no thought as to its own interests. 

And yet this has been perhaps the most striking feature of the current media frenzy during the Gallipoli centenary: the distinct lack of serious reflection on why Australia went to war in 1914. Instead, we are now awash in sentimentalism of sometimes the crudest and most superficial kind.

Precious little has been said about how Australian leaders from the outset perceived this great conflict and its inherent dangers for Australia's future, especially in the Pacific. Not much has been written about the original decision to go to war, and how both sides of Australian politics competed with each other to profess their loyalty and commitment to the Empire's cause – without losing sight of the nation's interests closer to home. How many school students would know, for example, that Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, only days after saying that Australia would assist Britain 'to our last man and our last shilling', proclaimed that his 'idea of patriotism was to first provide for our own defence and if there was anything to spare, offer it as a tribute to the Mother Country'?

As historian Neville Meaney has emphasised, Australians fought a 'hot war' in the trenches in Turkey and Europe, but Australian leaders pursued a 'cold war 'in the Pacific in an attempt to ensure that Japan, an uncertain ally in the First World War, did not gain a strategic foothold in the region. That fear of Japan, which had permeated the Australian consciousness since the late 19th century, by no means suddenly vanished as the First Australian Imperial Force set sail. Japanese manoeuvring in the North Pacific was to prove a constant source of angst for Australian leaders throughout these years and into the peace.

It can only be hoped that one by-product of the commemorations is a greater understanding of the fundamental issues – geopolitics, national security, loyalty and race – that conditioned Australia's response to the world in that era.

It is remarkable that so many more young Australians are now traveling long distances to visit the graves on the Western Front and the Gallipoli peninsula. It suggests that in the culture of immediacy in which we live, there remains a basic hunger to know about the past, and to learn from it. But the commemoration of Anzac cannot be allowed to become a cult of uncritical veneration, one which loses sense of the gravity of what occurred in those places and the history behind Australian involvement. Otherwise we risk turning Anzac Cove into a playground for package-tour patriots.

Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.

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In recent commentary on the horror and tragedy now playing out in the Mediterranean Sea involving the deaths of many hundreds of migrants, there has been a tendency to discuss the numbers of migrants involved uncritically. This is partly due to the patchiness of data on migrant smuggling but it is also due to the complexity underpinning migrant movement.

While there have rightly been numerous calls for more humanitarian action to prevent further loss of life, this has not been accompanied by discussion of the significant gaps in knowledge about migrant smuggling routes. Some have suggested that counting the number of smuggled migrants is not all that important. Both are critically important and both need to be improved drastically.

Greater monitoring of smuggling can only benefit migrants. It can help inform responses designed to prevent the deaths of migrants planning perilous journeys in the upcoming European summer. But just as importantly, it can inform the development of sustainable responses aimed at sparing future generations of would-be migrants from the lure of smugglers' hollow promises.

As UNHCR realised many years ago, quantifying the number of people suffering and in need of assistance — especially over time — has provided a vitally important bedrock of evidence. UNHCR made considerable effort to improve its global statistics, and along with many other organisations (such as EU's Frontex), it continues to invest in its statistical holdings.

This type of work may not grab the headlines in the way humanitarian assistance does, but it is vitally important.

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For example, the recent work of the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS), based in Nairobi, has shone a light on migrant flows from north-east Africa to Europe and Yemen as well as the exploitation, danger and extreme vulnerability experienced by migrants and potential migrants at the hands of smugglers. In a situation few would have foreseen, there is now a flow of migrants escaping conflict in Yemen to the Horn of Africa. RMMS is well set up to report on and analyse these flows.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) began tracking deaths of migrants in transit in early 2014 as part of its Missing Migrants Project following the tragedies in October 2013 near the Italian island of Lampedusa, when over 400 migrants died in two shipwrecks. IOM's reporting makes for grim reading and, as acknowledged by IOM and others, deaths are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the danger and vulnerability experienced by migrants in transit.

So why is collecting and analysing data on migrant smuggling important? And how can it help migrants?

First, being able to quantify smuggling over time can highlight trends and put emerging issues into context. Increases, anomalies and changes in demography allow analysts, policymakers, migrant rights' groups, and NGOs to better understand smuggling dynamics and question prevailing assumptions. To give an example, the fact that the majority of migrants interviewed for a recent research project on voluntary return used the services of smugglers is significant, in that it suggests smuggling has become the norm in many locations. 

Secondly, quantifying smuggling in different locations provides geographic and geopolitical context. The greatest attention is often afforded to the most highly visible routes, such as in the Mediterranean Sea, yet some of the largest maritime smuggling flows are thought to be in Southeast Asia.

Thirdly, enhancing data holdings on smuggling flows as well as on potential movement allows for a keen eye on the future. The case for effective responses to migrant exploitation can be strengthened by greater appreciation of the scale of the problem. With smuggling operations changing radically in tactics and scale, it is data on the potential or likely flows that can cause policymakers' eyes to widen.

Responding to immediate humanitarian crises is clearly critical, but an effective and sustainable response requires robust data and evidence.

To suggest that the cessation of Italy's maritime rescue operation Mare Nostrum has had no dampening effect at all on smuggling in the Mediterranean Sea is sadly naïve. Unfortunately, the number of people being smuggled could have been much higher had the operation continued, and suggestions otherwise fail to acknowledge the marketing efforts of smugglers, who point to the humanitarian services provided at journeys' end, including by European governments.

One of the world's leading experts on human trafficking and smuggling, Dr Anne Gallagher AO, noted recently that 'a state that is willing to do a bit better than others, for example by rescuing migrants in distress at sea, will inevitably incur a disproportionate burden.' The pivotal role of smugglers in opportunistically exploiting the good will of others for profit is at the heart of this tragic phenomenon. Some smugglers openly admit they are deliberately 'putting pressure' on Europe for monetary gain, including because they are angry about EU policy. The safety of their passengers appears to be of little or no consideration.

The horrific situation in the Mediterranean once again highlights the fact that the links between people smuggling, humanitarian responses and the international protection system are not well understood. Improving that understanding is a global priority.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

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