Lowy Institute
US presidential race 2016

So, with less than two months to go until the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are crowned at their respective party conventions, the GOP is uniting around its candidate while the bitter rivalry between the two Democratic camps has many questioning if the party will be back able to come back together.

Few could have foreseen this is where we would be at this stage of the race. 

In the beginning, there were 17 candidates vying for the Republican nomination. As the field thinned, speculation grew that a successful run by Donald Trump would rip the GOP asunder. And now? Republicans are falling into line behind Trump, memorably described by conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt as 'the unlikeliest, most unconventional nominee of a major party in modern times'.

Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Reince Priebus is doing his best to reframe the previously unthinkable as the new normal, repeatedly endorsing Trump as his party's presumptive nominee through both actions and tweets.

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Others are falling into line, albeit a tad grudgingly. On Thursday RNC member Marsha Coats called for the party to give Trump 'the opportunity to prove himself'. Coats acknowledged Trump had not figured in her 'top two' choices for president but she's moving on, saying:

I fear if we do not unite to support Donald Trump, we will again open the door for at least another four years of Washington implementing a left-wing agenda.

Earlier this month, Alex Roarty wrote on Roll Call that what was 'once a war within the Republican Party' may be all but over.  

Trump’s march to the nomination...has divided the loose coalition of Republican and conservative leaders who for months have fought his campaign. 
At the heart of their split is whether continued attacks against the New York billionaire will only weaken the party’s inevitable nominee further – or whether Trump’s polarizing candidacy necessitates that his foes continue their fight no matter the long odds. 
Increasingly, unity is winning out.

Not everyone is happy about that.

In a much discussed piece, Washington Post columnist  Robert Kagan slammed the GOP for attempting to treat Donald Trump 'as a normal political candidate'. 

Republican politicians marvel at how he has 'tapped into' a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the 'mobocracy'. Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.

But Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives are increasingly isolated. And while some still push for an alternative to Trump, not many apart from desolate Ted Cruz supporters, really expect this to happen.

There will be plenty more twists and turns before the presidential vote on November 8. But now Donald Trump has won over a large (and growing) portion of his party, only the foolhardy would say he can't make it to the White House.

Photo Scott Olson/Getty Images


The maritime relationship between India and Australia has been on an upward trajectory since the 2014 Australia-India Framework for Security Cooperation. A lack of past interaction meant there was ample room for collaboration. The pace of development in the relationship has been quick, and includes a bilateral exercise, regular meetings between defence ministers, and a new White Shipping Agreement. There has also been a first collaboration; an Indian aircraft headed to Fiji on a relief mission after Cyclone Winston stopped over at RAAF base Amberley in Queensland for maintenance purposes.

So the ground is now set and policies are in motion, but what’s next? Unfortunately, differing agendas may lead to frustration and disappointment as the relationship moves forward. 

In every conference and seminar in Australia on developments in the region and the maritime domain, India is high on the agenda. The reason is China. Just like in India, the Australian strategic community is closely monitoring changing dynamics in the maritime domain. As far as India is concerned, Australia’s interests lie in understanding what New Delhi will do as China’s maritime aggression continues. How will India balance the rise of China and when will India finally take up responsibility in the region? 

Until Canberra ceases simplistically framing India against the rise of China, the answer will be disappointing. The two countries are looking at the same problem through a different lens.

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India is of course concerned about China’s rise and presence in Indian Ocean, and wants to play a role. But India does not want to position itself against China. It does not measure every approach as a reaction to Chinese policies in the region. India’s new approach to maritime security is a reflection of the changing security environment and India’s need to step out of isolation. This approach is seen by Australia as India indicating to the region that it will take on a bigger responsibility. But the strategic outlook from each end is different. 

India is going to do what it thinks is necessary and that includes engaging and collaborating with regional navies and building a network of friends and partners. What India does not consider necessary is meeting another state’s expectations of what constitutes regional responsibility. 

New Delhi has been expanding its collaborations and presence through the region. Even if it has no interest in making a statement in the South China Sea, its strategic relationships with the countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines continue to develop. In the Indian Ocean, India naturally considers itself a prominent player and is working with a range of countries, from Australia and Indonesia in the east to Seychelles in the west. From India’s point of view, it is doing as much as required and more than it has done in the past. Yet, nations cannot hide their disappointment as far as India’s role in the region is concerned.

From New Delhi’s point of view, engaging with Australia remains a complicated affair. Every time India works with Australia, it must factor in Washington. Though India’s relationship with the US has improved markedly, New Delhi is used to working in a bilateral, unaligned manner. Australia cannot understand why India would look at the US alliance as a negative and India cannot understand why Australia would not think of the alliance as a potential impediment to other bilateral relations. 

Despite being big, democratic Indian Ocean residents with shared values, there are stark differences between the two countries. The differences in part come from perspectives, threat perception and priorities in the maritime domain. There is a need to manage expectations from both ends.

India is just beginning to engage with the region and is willing to do more. Before Australia can start questioning India about its regional responsibilities, it must do more to strengthen trust at a bilateral level. There has to be enough communication, dialogue and understanding before the two can reach a consensus on how to deal with the regional challenges.  

What India should do is communicate; convey its concerns and acknowledge the areas in which it could use some help. Australia, for its part, should be more understanding, and factor in India’s threats along its land borders, its bureaucratic complexities, and its overall foreign policy objectives.  

Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence


'The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations,' Obama said today:

Precisely no-one, including the Chinese, believes this. So what was achieved by maintaining this fiction?

This is not meant as a naive question. I recognise there are plenty of occasions in diplomacy, as in life, when it is inadvisable to tell the unvarnished truth. There are even occasions when it is mutually beneficial to maintain a patently false facade so that both sides in a diplomatic crisis can save face (see 'This is Why Governments Don't Comment on Intelligence Matters'). But how does this situation qualify?

One possible justification is that such a blunt denial shuts down any potentially awkward questions from the media. But he's the US President. He can handle it, can't he? And surely the whole point of lifting the embargo is to send a signal to China, so why would he want to avoid questions anyway?

Perhaps the clinching reason is that Obama simply didn't want to speak so openly while in Vietnam, and standing right beside his Vietnamese counterpart, who has a delicate balance to maintain in relations with Beijing. If that's the case, perhaps Obama will speak more openly after his departure.


A new NATO missile defence base in Romania recently became operational, which has revived an erroneous debate about whether the step significantly alters nuclear parity between NATO and Russia.

Discussions about NATO's current missile defence capabilities are a distraction from Moscow's actual concerns about future missile defence deployments and its argument for establishing technical 'legal guarantees' to reduce uncertainties and prevent an arms race. Risks from any escalation of tension do not derive from disagreement with Russia over the merits of its security concerns. Rather, Russia's arguments have not been addressed and discussions on the prospect of an international treaty to regulate and set an upper limit for missile defence capabilities has been absent.

The threat of missile defence gradually making first-strike dynamics favourable to a second-strike could have disastrous impact on decision-making during heightened tensions between NATO and Russia. This is not a new or controversial argument as it was the reasoning behind the US-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972. The unilateral US withdrawal from the ABM in 2001 to establish a 'limited missile defence system' did not produce a new international treaty to ensure it would remain 'limited'. As former French President Jacques Chirac warned, missile defence could 'pave the way' for unlimited and unconstrained development of an 'even more ambitious system'. Walter Slocombe, the former US Under Secretary of Defence, encouraged more recognition for 'the more understandable Russian fear that once the US commits to a partial defence, it will inevitably proceed to technologies and scales of deployment that could conceivably put Russian retaliatory capabilities at risk'. 

History demonstrates that when a new weapons technology is introduced, the technology and deployments are initially rudimentary and ineffective. Focus should therefore be devoted to their likely evolution as the first deployments often serve the function of establishing a platform for future advancements.

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President Vladimir Putin unmistakably articulated Russia's concerns in his renowned 2007 speech in Munich, positing that 'today this system is ineffective but we do not know exactly whether it will one day be effective'. A few months later the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, ridiculed Russian concerns about the existing plans to deploy 10 interceptors in Poland as being 'purely ludicrous and everybody knows it'. The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, explicitly referred to expected enhancements: 'most likely in the foreseeable future we will hear about hundreds and even thousands of missile interceptors in various parts of the world, including Europe. Poland, it is only a trial balloon'.

This prediction soon materialised as the planned interceptive missiles increased beyond 500.

The gradual expansion of missile defence capabilities is not a possible unintended development, but rather a planned approach of continuously upgrading the system as new technology and funding becomes available. The former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, explained in 2003: 'We have instead decided to develop and put in place a rudimentary system by 2004 . . . and then build on that foundation with increasingly effective capabilities as the technologies mature.' NATO's Phased Adoptive Approach perpetuates this model by gradually enhancing the capabilities of the missile defence system in various phases, while refusing to set upper limits on the potential potency of the system.

Much like the gradual expansion of NATO membership, the incremental expansion of missile defence has the effect of diminishing domestic and international opposition as the water gradually grows warmer. 

Following the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2001, there was potential for replacing it with a new international agreement to ensure the deployments would remain limited. Washington's withdrawal was vehemently detested across Europe and the fears echoed Russian sentiments. The decision to make missile defence a NATO asset diminished the prospect for developing an international treaty with Russia. NATO is adamant to remain the dominant security institution in Europe by opposing any international agreements or 'legal guarantees' that could give Russia a 'veto' on the continent. As a senior European diplomat argued: 'the Russians are right on the substance of missile defence, but . . . We cannot be seen as giving them a veto on these types of issues.'

By conflating compromise with appeasement, international treaties are perceived as diluting the authority and autonomy of NATO as the foundation for European security. As stated by the former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul: 'we are going to accept no limitations on that whatsoever . . .  we are going to build whatever missile defense system we need'. Eradicating any possible ambiguity, he continued by arguing 'we're not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defence'. The previous opposition by major European capitals to missile defence was subverted as 'alliance solidarity', limiting the scope for political pluralism.

Wikileaks cables demonstrate that this was a deliberate strategy by Washington. The former US Ambassador to Norway, Benson Whitney, reported that the US was mounting pressure on the Norwegian Government to reverse its position on missile defence 'to avoid damaging alliance solidarity'. The US Ambassador later confirmed that Norway had to 'adjust to current realities' and the country had a 'hard time defending its position if the issue shifts to one of alliance solidarity.' 

The new missile defence base in Romania signifies another step towards a precarious and unpredictable nuclear confrontation with Russia. The repudiation of the pending nuclear stand-off by referring to the current capabilities of the Romanian base alone should be interpreted as evidence that the world's largest military alliance is sleepwalking into another conflict. The obvious puzzle is that despite the possible calamitous ramifications, there is virtually no discussions about the merits of Russia's arguments concerning future capabilities, and a categorical rejection of any international treaties that could limit NATO's autonomy.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Missile Defense Agency.


Cracking down on tax avoidance by multinational companies is good politics. As Ross Gittins notes, voters think ‘those blighters should be paying more tax’. The Coalition and Labor are trying to out-do each other in demonstrating their resolve to make multinationals pay their ‘fair share’. 

But if measures to restrict multinationals shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions are effective and tax is paid where economic activity takes place, this will increase the pressure on Australia to lower its company tax rate to more competitive levels if it wants to maintain and attract foreign investment.

Labor was first off the mark in announcing an international tax avoidance package which included significantly tightening ‘thin capitalisation rules’ to limit multinationals using debt to lower Australian tax bills. The initial response by the Turnbull government was to say that the measure would make Australia less competitive and cost jobs. But the government then announced measures to limit the extent to which multinationals can claim tax deductions for debt (though the proposals were not as restrictive as the opposition’s).

The 2016-17 Budget featured a  ‘Tax Integrity Package’, which includes a new Diverted Profits Tax (DPT) — more commonly known as a Google Tax. Australia is following the UK, which is the only other country to unilaterally impose a DPT.

Australia replicated the first limb of the UK’s DPT in 2015, when it enacted the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL), aimed at combatting schemes where a foreign entity artificially avoids having a taxable presence in Australia. The second limb of the UK DPT tackled cross-border transactions by UK residents which result in a ‘tax mismatch’ and lack economic substance. The 2016 Budget measure replicates and extends the second limb of the UK tax.

Will Australia’s Google Tax be effective? Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh has called it a joke, claiming that ‘putting aside their enforcement measures, the Coalition’s multilateral tax measures are budgeted to raise just $200 million…this falls well short of Labor’s multinational tax package’.  However, as Ross Gittins points out, the aim is not to raise tax at the DPT rate of 40% but encourage multinationals to pay tax at the standard 30% rate in the first place – the DPT will only catch the ‘slow learners’.

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Has the UK approach worked?

There are mixed reports on the effectiveness of the UK DPT. Most reviews say it is too early to evaluate, although it has been claimed to have influenced Amazon restructuring its operations such that it would pay tax on profits from UK sales. However, the Amazon restructure is Europe-wide and appears to be a response to public pressure in many countries. Forbes ran an article with the headline ‘The Abject Failure of Osborne’s Google Tax on Diverted Profits’. One factor contributing to the sentiment of this piece was a tax settlement between the UK authorities and Google, which resulted in Google paying seemingly not much extra tax given the size of its UK sales (public concern subsequently led to a parliamentary inquiry). Another assessment of the UK DPT (from Clifford Chance) is that it is ‘fundamentally flawed’ and that it’s not clear if it ‘is technically capable of taxing the very arrangements it was created to contain’.

There are mixed views of the effectiveness of the first leg of Australia’s DPT (the MAAL). The MAAL has been cited as influencing Google’s announcement that it will restructure its operations and pay tax on sales in Australia. But the Australian Tax Office (ATO) has issued a tax alert saying it was aware that taxpayers were seeking to use artificial devices and contrived arrangements to avoid being caught by the MAAL.

The second leg of Australia’s DPT as announced in the 2016 Budget will significantly strengthen the ATO’s capacity to tackle multinationals. Its coverage is wider than the UK DPT, and most significantly it is not a self-assessment tax like the UK’s, but involves the ATO deciding when the DPT applies and corporates having to pay the tax before seeking a review. The Australian DPT will potentially cover any related party transaction in a jurisdiction where the tax rate is 80 % or less than Australia’s corporate tax rate. Given Australia’s relatively high company tax rate, this means the DPT will cover transactions in any country with a rate of 24%  or less. As a result, the Corporate Tax Association estimates that nearly half of all related party transactions undertaken by large Australian companies would be potentially caught by the tax. PricewaterhouseCoopers has also pointed out that the DPT goes beyond the OECD’s recommendations on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.

The Coalition may well be right in claiming it has the toughest measures of any comparable country. But if these measures are too onerous and go beyond capturing recalcitrant taxpayers, the laws could deter foreign investment in Australia. It is also not clear how the DPT will relate to Australia’s double tax agreements. The Parliamentary Budget Office warned in 2015 that a unilateral DPT could result in revenge taxes being imposed on the operation of Australian companies in other jurisdictions.

If measures such as the DPT are effective in ensuring that tax is applied where economic activity takes place, the most far-reaching outcome may be that economic activity becomes more sensitive to headline tax rates. A consequence of multinationals being able to lower their effective tax rates through profit shifting is that their investment decisions have not been responsive to headline tax rates. This is a benefit to countries with a relatively high company tax rate, such as Australia. But if the ability of multinationals to shift profits to low–tax jurisdictions is significantly reduced, the incentive will be for companies to shift their economic activity — which means investment and jobs — to low–tax jurisdictions.

The bottom line is that if Australia is effective in combating the ability of multinationals to shift profits, it will have to lower its company tax rate to more competitive levels if it wants to maintain and attract new foreign investment.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Neon Tommy

The Brexit referendum

In his address to the Lowy Institute last week, Chatham House director Dr Robin Niblett identified security as perhaps the most surprising element of the Brexit debate. In the counter-terrorism context, the debate was turbo-charged by the terrorist attacks in Brussels just over two months ago. And more specifically, by the comments of Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of MI6, who claimed that while the costs of Brexit from a national security perspective would be low, it would deliver critical security benefits.

‘Out’ campaigners have expanded on these comments, claiming that the net effect of Brexit would be to make the UK safer from the threat of terrorism. They have three main arguments:

Firstly, that the UK is primarily reliant on the Five Eyes intelligence partnership for its counter-terrorism intelligence. And as Europe’s leader on security and intelligence matters, the UK gives the EU much more than it gets back. In the event of an ‘out’ vote, the Five Eyes would endure, while the EU as a whole (and EU nations bilaterally) would be desperate to re-establish partnerships with the UK.

Secondly, they point to the security flaws that contributed to the Paris and Brussels attacks, in particular that some of the attackers were able to return from the Middle East and cross European borders without being identified and stopped. Brexit would close the ‘open door’ that allows would-be terrorists to enter the UK.

Finally, EU membership allows European courts to rule on UK security matters. This — out campaigners argue — makes it more difficult for the UK to refuse entry to EU citizens, even when authorities believe the individual is linked to terrorism. And once those individuals are resident in the UK, it is also more difficult for authorities to remove them.

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Of these three arguments, the first has most merit. The UK does have the strongest intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the EU, and is a net contributor when it comes to the fight against terrorism, thanks in no small part to the intelligence and capabilities it derives from the Five Eyes partnership.

In the event of Brexit, the rest of the EU would undoubtedly be keen for this to continue. And key EU institutions have the ability to do so. Europol, increasingly central to Europe-wide counter-terrorism efforts, has operational level agreements with non-EU nations, including the US and Australia. Considering the UK’s outsized contribution to Europol, a similar agreement would surely be implemented quickly.

However, continuing these relationships is not the same as improving them.

In an inter-connected Europe, the success of collective counter-terrorism efforts will be determined by the lowest common denominator. The more the UK can use its experience and expertise to drive reform and improve the performance of fellow EU agencies, the better. Could the UK take the driving seat in much-needed efforts to improve EU-wide counter-terrorism capability as a partner rather than member?

And counter-terrorism and intelligence are different from the UK's other relationships with the EU. Benefits cannot be evaluated by comparing the size of incomings and outgoings. Despite the UK’s impressive capabilities and partnerships, the EU framework gives the UK access to pieces of the puzzle that it would otherwise struggle to obtain. In other words, the UK’s intelligence contribution to the rest of the EU is not charitable; it helps keep the UK safer too.

Turning to the other two ‘out’ arguments, there is little to suggest that concerns about the UK’s inability to prevent the movement of EU national terrorists into the UK are grounded in reality.

Take for example the Paris and Brussels attacks, a potential template for future ISIS-directed attacks in Europe. The attack cell used fake or stolen passports to return to Europe from the Middle East. And those that had remained within the EU had, despite numerous opportunities, not been identified as potential terrorists.

While this does not paint a rosy picture of EU border security and intelligence capabilities, it is also not the scenario described by ‘out’ campaigners; known terrorists using their own EU passports to pass through border controls against the authorities’ wishes. And the reality remains that while the threat to the UK from EU nationals is real, it is insignificant in comparison to the threat to the UK from UK nationals.

Whether the UK votes in or out in one month's time, this threat will endure. But if terrorist attackers will be primarily (but not exclusively) local, their connections — like those in Paris and Brussels — are likely to be transnational.

Brexit would not deal the UK’s counter-terrorism relationships with the EU a fatal blow. But it would disrupt them at a time where Europe’s counter-terrorism agencies are under strain, and limit the UK’s ability to shape a Europe-wide counter-terrorism strategy in the years ahead. It is hard to see how Brexit would reduce the terrorist threat to the UK.

Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images


By Chloe Hickey-Jones, an intern in the Institute's Melanesia Program

  • As the World Humanitarian Summit kicks off today in Istanbul, check out ODI’s latest report on humanitarian assistance, ‘Time to Let Go: A three-point proposal to change the humanitarian system’.
  • Christina Bennett reflects on three tests that will measure the World Humanitarian Summit’s success.
  • A report to be released at the Summit will show half of schools in Syria, Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Jordan have been closed or damaged due to conflict.
  • On Devpolicy Darren Brunk, the Council for International Development's humanitarian coordinator in New Zealand, discusses why he will attend the Summit, even though Medecins Sans Frontieres will not.
  • The Centre for International Media Assistance has examined the function of media communication initiatives in humanitarian efforts.
  • Why is Kenya trying to close the world’s largest refugee camp? This Buzzfeed report sheds some light.
  • The World Bank has launched its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), the first insurance market for pandemic risk to help protect economies. Read about its aims and objectives here.
  • Discover the #AllMalePanels in Global Development  phenomenon at the goats and soda blog at NPR.
  •  Listen to this podcast about why 65 million children across the globe cannot access adequate education. 

International aid has helped some Syrian kids get back to school in Lebanon (Photo courtesy of Flickr user UKAID)


This five-part series explains the spiral processes of insecurity-migration-security in the Australia-Asia context. Part 1 argues unless the insecurity concerns are addressed, these spirals will continue with unwanted consequences for both migrants and hosting countries. A regional approach to migration is needed, as individual countries cannot solve the problems.

Vietnamese refugees arrive in Darwin, December 1977. (Photo by Phillip Green/Getty Images)

Migration is a transnational issue driven by individuals' basic security concerns. The main cause of contemporary migration is still economic, but it's becoming increasingly complex, with personal, political and environmental factors all involved. Whether they are reacting to push factors such as armed conflict, poverty or natural disasters, or pull factors such as employment, education and welfare, migrants want to move to a safer place, not just for their own security but for future generations.

Not everyone has the means to leave their homes, especially when there is no guarantee of success or even survival in a new place. The majority choose to stay. But, for many brave and adventurous people, migration has long been used as a means to survive or thrive. Since the movement of homo erectus out of Africa 1.75 million years ago, humans have been migrating to new locations due to climate change or food shortages. Migration is one of the most common evolutionary behaviours in the natural world.

Often, migrant-receiving countries view new arrivals as threats to national security or safety. These perceived threats, exaggerated by the conservative media, security experts, and right-wing politicians, have divided public opinion. According to the 2014 Lowy poll on Australia's population and immigration, 47% think the number of migrants coming to Australia is 'about right' whereas 37% through it is 'too high'. While there is disagreement over the 'right' level of migration, as a nation of migrants, Australians are generally in agreement on the economic value of newcomers to our shores. The 2015 ANU Annual Poll, for instance, suggested 80% of 1200 adults surveyed in March 2015 believe immigration is good for the economy.

At the same time, the securitisation of migration has shaped public perception to the point that migration is increasingly regarded as a security threat, one that justifies extraordinary measures.

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In the US, the idea of migrants as a threat to national identity has been framed by academics like Samuel Huntington, who named Islam as the major source of conflicts in his Clash of Civilisations thesis. In his subsequent book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, and similarly in his 2008 Foreign Policy essay, 'The Hispanic Challenges', Huntington described the country's Hispanic population as 'the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's traditional identity'. Huntingon 'securitises' the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico, and the fertility rates of these immigrants compared to black and white natives', as a threat to national identity.

Many security experts also associate migration with potential terrorism and risks to border control, focusing squarely on state-centric security perspectives. Khalid Koser has warned against the danger of securitising migration as it would allow states to use extraordinary measures. Prominent migration scholar Myron Weiner has long focused on the nexus between migration and security, noting that the security of states can be affected by population movements and vice versa: population movements can be affected by the security consideration of states.

I suggest we reverse this conceptual approach. It's clear population movements are driven by human insecurity and that the security of both migrants and hosting populations can be affected by mass movements. What has been missing in the migration-security debates is the evolving concept of security, which is shifting from an emphasis on state-centric national security to a more people-oriented view of human security. Securitisation is still seen largely from a state-centric perspective by security experts, immigration officials and politicians. By adding the human aspect, securitisation of migration can serve as a more humane policy framework.

Some 22 years ago, the UN Development Program identified the contents of human security in the 1994 Human Development Report. The report detailed seven pillars of human security: personal, community, political, economic, food, health and environmental.

For many in Asia, economic, food, energy and environmental issues are real and immediate threats to peoples' lives. Many economic and family migrants in Australia are from developing countries such as China, India, the Philippines and Pakistan. Humanitarian migrants, who make up around 7% Australia's migrant intake, are from war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq or Myanmar. Increasingly, many Asian and Pacific countries forecast environmental migrants leaving their countries of origin due to climate change, with its effects on droughts and floods, and implications for disease, malnutrition and chronic food and energy shortages. Japan, the Philippines and many Pacific islands are vulnerable to natural disasters such as typhoons. The Greater Mekong region faces man-made environmental degradation through mining and dam construction, activities that result in forced eviction to non-agrarian land.

While official channels for migration are sought after by prospective migrants, irregular routes are also offered by smugglers and traffickers who target vulnerable populations. Irregular migration includes both unauthorised and forced migration. These two  used to be considered as separate categories, but the current migration crises illustrates the two are merging, creating many grey areas  collectively known as mixed migration.

Terms like 'smuggled refugees,' 'trafficked refugees,' 'economic/environmental refugees' appear in the migration literature. Smugglers turning traffickers, refugees turning smugglers, or failed asylum seekers becoming undocumented labour migrants are all examples of mixed migration in the Asia Pacific. 

The almost exclusive focus on state security in discussions of mixed migration overlooks personal security issues that fuel much of these movements. Short-term border security approaches, including military operations and  payments to dissuade smugglers might have solved some immediate problems but they are not a permanent solution. Unless the  insecurity link in the migration spiral is broken with regional efforts, irregular migration will continue.

In this series of posts, I'll focus on the sources of human insecurity in the Asian region and examine Asian migration patterns to Australia.


Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur was confirmed killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan's Baluchistan province yesterday. Unlike his predecessor, Mullah Omar (who ruled the Taliban for at least two decades), Mullah Mansur's reign was short and controversial.

A coffin believed to contain the body of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur is inspected in Balochistan Province, Pakistan 22 May.

Though he officially only ruled for a year, Mullah Mansur likely ran the Taliban unofficially for several years prior, given that it was confirmed in 2015 that Mullah Omar had been dead for at least two years. And this suggests that perhaps his death is not the success that many proclaim. 

First, the Taliban movement (or self-proclaimed 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan') has been gaining strength since the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force handed over all security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2014, ending 13 years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan. The Taliban's most recent spring offensive — Operation Omari (named in honour of Mullah Omar) — has been a bloody and forceful one. The movement has managed to pound the ANSF, exposing its weaknesses and increasing the Taliban's territorial spread. 

Secondly, the Taliban has long been known as a network of networks: centralised, with a leader at the top, but quite able to fight as a decentralised entity with independent regional fighting forces (called mahaz or fronts), often with leaders from the area in question. This has long allowed entrepreneurs of violence to rule and move up in the Taliban's ranks or the various shuras that command each region.

The prime example is the Haqqani network, which is strongest in Afghanistan's southeast and, unlike the overarching Taliban movement, has been branded a terrorist network by the US. It has also long been seen as one of the 'henchmen' of Pakistan's intelligence service. Its leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, became deputy leader of the Taliban about a year ago and ostensibly brought some fierce and brutal military tactics, as well as sophisticated fundraising, to the larger group. Whether Haqqani can become the new Taliban leader is questionable. According to Afghan expert Thomas Ruttig, the fact that Haqqani comes from Afghanistan's southeast, not the south, which is the traditional Taliban heartland, makes this unlikely.

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Third, there are already several splinter groups in operation. Some of the moderates already split off in 2010 when Agha Jan Mutasem, leader of the Taliban's finance commission and a rival of Mansur, was ousted. The next public split came in 2015 when Mullah Rasul Akhund disagreed with the choice of Mansur as the new Taliban leader. He went on to form the alternative High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate. Then there is the group that emerged out of former allies of the Mullah Dadullah Front, Fidai Mahaz, who feel that Mullah Omar was killed by Mansur and are fiercely opposed to peace talks with the Afghan Government. Thomas Ruttig even argues that splitting the Taliban to make it more amendable to peace talks has been the express strategy of the Afghan Government.

Fourth, we should not forget that there is also the armed wing of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which has many members already in the Afghan Government, but which is also still fighting in some areas of Afghanistan (though usually not with, and at times against, the Taliban). Of all the fighting forces, they have been closest to coming to a peace agreement with the government. 

Fifth, there have been many smaller groups in operation which have fought with (or against) the Taliban at odd occasions. One of these is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which recently pledged allegiance to ISIS (or Islamic State Khorasan Provinces) in Afghanistan. Though strongest in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar, they have been sighted throughout the country. But again much of this has been fickle, with some more senior leaders shifting back to the Taliban in April of this year

Lastly, will this really be a 'major blow to the Taliban' and help along the stalled peace process in Afghanistan, as US sources would like us to believe? Not necessarily, if one considers the impact of the death of Osama bin Laden on al Qaeda and international terrorism. The Taliban movement has long managed to replenish its leaders with new blood. When the main aim is to continue the insurgency, not broker peace, good fighters and not 'wise statesmen' are wanted. And for now, the Taliban has shown it is quite resilient.

That said, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the new figurehead of the Taliban. The silence of the main Taliban spokesperson on Twitter, and the fact that the main Taliban website is currently 'offline', might be an indication that there are internal negotiations on how to handle Mansur's death and leadership succession. The Taliban propaganda machine has never been shy to publicly announce its achievements; less so its losses. 

What is more interesting perhaps is how Mullah Mansur was killed — by a US drone strike deep into Pakistani territory, considered 'off-limits for the remote-controlled aircraft'. This suggests that the US is taking the Taliban threat to Afghanistan more seriously again, especially since it withdrew most of its forces over a year ago. It also suggests that either Pakistan was consulted on this (they were notified, but it's unclear when) or the US finally decided to put some pressure on the country, long known to harbor the Afghan Taliban. 

If we have learned anything from Afghanistan's long history of war, nothing is ever so easy defeating an entire movement by killing a single leader. The battlefield has simply been too fluid for too long, and many of the groups have fought more or less independently for some time. Unless some of the underlying problems of poor governance, poverty, land ownership and poor economic prospects are addressed in Afghanistan, insurgency will continue to fester in Afghanistan.

Photo by Mazhar Chandio/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


An effective approach to countering the savvy propaganda dispatched by the Islamic State (ISIS) may be simply disseminating more truthful accounts of life and legion within the so-called caliphate.

The terrorist organisation has presented its project as the construction of a utopian society by true believers and heroic outcasts from around the world. Sadistic violence grabs headlines but what has largely drawn recruits to ISIS controlled territory is the call to protect the oppressed and the promise of collectively building a community which supposedly offers justice, adventure, belonging and a concerted identity. 

None of this is reality, of course. In the last year in particular, examples of the double standards, infighting and discontent within ISIS have emerged. These day-to-day details potentially represent more effective counter-messaging material than theological arguments, particularly when delivered by people with first-hand experiences. 

All is not well

Disillusionment is considered to be one of the primary push factors for individuals who decide to leave a terrorist organisation. An extensive empirical study on disengagement from the Basque separatist group ETA found that drop-outs typically left because of discontent over the organisation's internal functioning and a loss of faith in its leadership.

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A 2015 report on ISIS defectors revealed that a persistent criticism was internal strife with other Sunni groups in the Syrian conflict, and the leadership's 'obsession' with subversion and suspected traitors. In late February 2016, a dispute between ISIS Iraqi leaders and a cohort of Dutch muhajireen in the Syrian city of Raqqa allegedly spiralled out of control, resulting in eight of the Europeans being executed. The clashes were sparked by allegations of arrogance and discrimination from one side and insubordination and incitement to defect from the other. 

Perceived hypocrisy can be a powerful source of resentment among an organisation's lower ranks. Defectors from Syria told researchers in 2015 that ISIS personnel smoked cigarettes while continuing to punish members of the public for their nicotine habits. Another story emerged of an ISIS commander who was found to be having a homosexual relationship with a 15 year-old. The boy was allegedly thrown to his death from a building, while the senior leader merely received a flogging and a transfer. 

Double standards appear be a feature of life as an ISIS recruit. Foreign fighters apparently earn double the amount given to their Syrian comrades and residents of Raqqa complain that foreigners 'live like princes' while treating locals like second-class citizens. It also depends where international militants come from; fighters from South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are reportedly considered inferior to Arabs, earn less, and are prone to being 'tricked into suicide attacks'.

One former ISIS security officer described the arrogance among the leadership of his former organisation and the perception among local people that the caliphate amounts to colonial occupation. More recently, a leaked ISIS document revealed that foreign fighters had unjustifiably attacked residents, including healthcare professionals and public service employees.

Despite the severe moral code that ostensibly guides ISIS, psychotropic drugs are allegedly available in the caliphate. One Syrian defector who admitted to feeling scared on the battlefield said he was given a pill which made him feel 'indestructible and unbeatable', but then couldn't sleep for the following four days. 'Many of the ISIS members use this drug', he said. A Lebanese manufacturer of Captagon (an illegal amphetamine-based drug popular in the Middle East) told reporters last year that 'Everything daesh does is because of this pill'.

There have also been reports of corruption. A former fighter revealed how ISIS commanders would scam the system by lodging applications for significantly more salary packages than they had soldiers to pay, and then pocketing the difference.

Finding the ideal messenger

These accounts could be dismissed as 'Western propaganda' but this would be less plausible if detailed stories come directly from those who have managed to escape the caliphate. In 2015 the Quilliam Foundation in the UK established a campaign called #openyoureyes which now features a website comprising piece-to-camera testimonies from a range of people challenging extremist narratives. 

Most of the short clips have been watched (on the official website) fewer than a thousand times, while one appeal from a 'British ex-jihadi' has over 66,000 views. Another 'secret filming from inside Mosul' featuring women describing life under ISIS occupation has almost 58,000 views.

These videos prove the pulling power of authentic experience. 

Last month the European Union's counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove stated that returning jihadis who do not have 'blood on their hands' have the potential to provide 'a strong credible voice for counter-narrative purposes'. Former MI6 global counter-terrorism director Richard Barrett argued in 2014 that repentant fighters should be encouraged to return home: 'Many of the people who have been most successful in undermining the terrorist narrative are themselves ex-terrorists', he said.

This argument was made one year ago by Tim Legrand on the ABC. Within a day or two the piece had received a deluge of heated comments from readers who largely demanded an uncompromising approach to dealing with anyone who had left Australia to fight or support jihadi groups in the Middle East. 

It is clearly a sensitive issue and emotions run high. Past attacks in Australia — both foiled and executed — have involved individuals with overseas experiences of jihad. Many of those who managed to join ISIS or al-Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq may have committed despicable acts. Others will have played supporting roles.

Crimes should not go unpunished, but if a repentant returning fighter is able to pass the Violent Extremism Risk Assessment protocol (VERA-2) or something similar, and is prepared to publicly reprimand the organisation they once supported, he or she would become a valuable asset. 

The truth about the so-called caliphate may be its most destructive weakness in terms of global recruitment and support, but only those who have been there can accurately paint the picture.


The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence recently tabled the report on its inquiry into Australia's Advocacy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. In keeping with Australia’s policies and values, the report made a number of commendable recommendations for supporting and strengthening Australia’s international commitment to abolishing the death penalty. 

This continues a long trend of Australian foreign policy and Australian NGO advocacy for death penalty abolition. However, the report takes several steps further than existing policy in relation to international policing partnerships which the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has developed throughout the world.

Some of these recommendations would serve to strengthen or formalise existing practice. For example, articulating a clear commitment to prevent the exposure of individuals to the death penalty in jurisdictions where their suspected or alleged crimes are capital offences is entirely consistent with current practice and with Australia’s values.

However, further recommendations, which would see the AFP compelled to withhold information in cases where partner countries have not formally guaranteed that the death penalty will not be sought, are problematic in two senses. Firstly, we would need to negotiate a very real boundary between advocacy and moral universalism. Secondly, we would risk creating a system of rules which make both compliance and partnership difficult for the AFP.

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Although it is important to advocate Australia’s morals and values in the international community, seeking to making partnership with other nations contingent on those nations adhering to our value systems in their legal jurisdictions is problematic. We may agree in Australia that the specific case of the death penalty warrants special treatment in this regard, but an opposite example, where a partner country refused to honour its partnership agreements with us unless we applied their values in Australian legal cases might be instructive.

One such example is Interpol’s worldwide fight against child abuse material. In many Interpol partner countries the act of abuse and the creation of abuse material is an offence, but the possession of the same material is not. As abhorrent a counter example as this is, it serves to illustrate the differences in values which we must sometimes accept in order to work with our partners. If these countries refused to work with us to shut down international child abuse rings unless we agreed to refrain from prosecuting individuals who possessed but did not create abuse materials in our jurisdiction, we would be understandably resistant to continued partnership.


This is not to equate the two issues as they are clearly very different in nature. However, it does highlight the reaction that countries may have to the strings we want to attach to our existing information sharing arrangements. Similarly, it underscores the pragmatic implications of creating broad caveats to our information sharing arrangements with partner nations.

For example, Indonesia feels strongly about its harsh penalties for drug offences and its right to apply its own values and laws within its jurisdiction. Australia’s criticism of Indonesian laws in the lead up to the execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Muyran Sukumaran temporarily soured relations between Australia and one of its most important regional partners.

In the US, Australia’s most vital alliance partner, many states retain the death penalty. The implications of creating a rule system which prevents the AFP from sharing security information with the US, based on our desire to limit the application of US law in a US jurisdiction,are concerning for two reasons: predictability and reciprocity.

The first obstacle to implementing a death penalty threshold for information sharing would be the capacity of the AFP or requesting authorities to accurately predict how information would be used in future cases. Information sharing often happens very early in the investigative process and it would be very difficult for partner countries to guarantee precisely how the information being sought would ultimately be used in a further prosecution, or even who or what such a prosecution may involve.

We would not just be requiring partner countries to abandon the death penalty in one investigation, we would be requiring them to forego their ability to prosecute other cases in the future if they relied on information shared by the AFP in some way. This could potentially open avenues for defence lawyers to challenge the admissibility of information that was shared under a formal caveat of not being used in a death penalty case. This could significantly alter the courses of action available to partners for many years of future investigations and prosecutions.

A second obstacle would be fostering partnerships where the AFP did not have reasonable discretionary powers to share information which it deemed to be in the public interest in Australia or abroad. Right now the AFP has some discretion to decide what information it wishes to disclose on a case-by-case basis. This allows the AFP to make an informed judgment, balancing Australia’s commitment to uphold its values in relation to abolition of the death penalty against the political and security impetus to share information in specific cases.

Overall, the right mix of advocacy and pragmatism almost certainly lies with enabling the AFP to leverage its knowledge and expertise to make these decisions without being tied to clear-cut restrictions on information sharing. It is also important to question the extent to which we want to risk compromising Australia’s security partnerships to avoid circumstances which, although devastating, are infrequent and subject to increasing scrutiny when they do arise.

Photo courtesy of Twitter user AFP National Media


Most people will perhaps by now have an inkling that the war against Islamic terrorism will go on much longer than the wars in Syria or Iraq. The narrative is too compelling for some to give up, governance too poor to stop people being attracted to that narrative, and identities too complex to provide a counter-narrative that addresses everyone’s perceived injustices. Understanding the deep-seated nature of the problem, Washington has had to tread a fine line. It seeks to avoid becoming decisively engaged, so as not to exacerbate the situation and become the problem rather than part of the solution, while deploying sufficient military and diplomatic support to try to contain the situation and steer it in a desired direction. None of it is, or will be, neat.

Part of the problem has been finding partners that have a strategic aim that coincides sufficiently with that of the Obama Administration, and who share enough values with the US so that it can stomach working with them. It is often easier to find the the first than the second, given interests tend to be temporary while values somewhat more permanent. The difficult balancing act that Washington finds itself in the region is reflected in its piecemeal allocation of troops, all there for valid reasons, but all with their own unique operating environments and challenges.

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In Libya, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently signalled an increase to the US military presence, over and above the two small teams already in Misrata and Benghazi who have been scoping possible ground partners since late last year.

In Yemen, the US reluctantly provided limited support to the Saudi-led air campaign from its inception, but largely as a means of inserting some form of adult supervision on an organisation that had never undertaken such a campaign before. More recently though, the US has also provided a small detachment of ground troops to assist the Saudi and Emirati forces dislodge AQAP (Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula) from the coastal city of Mukalla.

And the recent visit by the new commander of Central Command, Joseph Votel into northern Syria to visit the small US military detachment there —  working with the umbrella Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) —  highlighted its role in the most intractable of the multiple conflicts in the region. There are some indications that Votel's visit has drawn criticism from some within the opposition Free Syrian Army because of the dominance of the Kurdish YPG in the SDF, further highlighting how complex the opposition picture is in Syria. And in neighbouring Iraq, Votel visited some of the several thousand US military personnel working to support Iraqi forces against Islamic State.

The term 'boots on the ground' means many things to many people, including news media. The military (and most politicians) would consider the term to mean combat manoeuvre forces, implying one is decisively committed to the fight. The presence of advisers and enabling (or supporting) forces falls short of that measure, even though there are military personnel physically present in operational areas. The media struggle to understand the difference.

What we see in the Middle East currently is a US not becoming decisively committed to the ground fighting, but deploying small groups to assist local groups that Washington can work with to engage in the contact battles. Sounds complex ? You bet. But if it wasn't it wouldn't be the Middle East.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images


As the Australian federal election steam rolls onward, The Interpreter covered some other issues this week, including a very good and insightful breakdown by John Edwards of Saudi Arabia's plan to economically reinvent itself:  

Though he is yet to reveal the details of the plan, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has excited world attention with his Vision 2030 announcement for the oil-exporting giant. It is important for Saudi, and important for the rest of us. The oil giant is at the beginning of a vast economic change that must, if it is successful, also profoundly change Saudi society and politics. Even failure will bring changes, perhaps bigger ones. As Saudi changes over the next decade or so, it will change regional and then global political calculations.

This was apparent in the recent sweeping cabinet reorganisation in the Kingdom, explained as a necessary preliminary to executing the new plan under younger officials more closely aligned with Prince Mohammed. The cabinet changes are merely a portent of bigger changes to come.

In Part 2, John predicted that Saudi Arabia might be able to indeed pull off this incredible transformation: 

If it is united and resolved, the ruling family can mobilise the resources necessary to transform the economy. Unlike Bahrain, it can run large fiscal deficits for a very long time. There is a reasonable chance Saudi will be a very much bigger economy in a decade, with a much higher proportion of Saudis employed in reasonably good private sector jobs, with higher workforce participation by women and higher average levels of education and training. Unlike the UAE, Saudi has a substantial population of nationals.

The Interpreter also covered the Australian election however. Earlier in the week, Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale outlined his party's foreign policy platform in a speech at the Lowy Institute. Malcolm Jorgensen pointed out some of its pitfalls: 

Di Natale repeatedly appealed to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his deep scepticism of the US as a 'dangerous ally'. Fraser's position had its limitations, but was at least internally coherent in accepting that a more independent strategic posture entails significantly increased defence expenditure – in the realm of '2.5 percent or 3 percent'. Di Natale, by contrast, called for a reduction of spending below current projections of 2%, in part because the response to Sino-US tensions is not yet 'clear'. In effect, the Greens choose to 'do nothing and hope for the best', and thereby relegate Australia to a mere observer of the most consequential foreign policy challenge of a generation.

Sam Roggeveen also touched on the speech, but pointed to a previous point he has made, the idea that the US-Australia alliance has almost become an ideology unto itself: 

The US-Australia alliance has always been more than a practical arrangement for common security; it is also based on deep cultural affinities and historical ties. But as I've argued previously, in Australia in recent years it seems to have evolved (or perhaps calcified) into an ideology, a political totem before which anyone with pretensions to being politically mainstream must genuflect.

Darshana Barauh wrote on India's policy in the Pacific:

At first blush, the fast-changing maritime domain in Asia — where an increase in geo-political competition is binding the Pacific Islands and Indian Ocean into a single theatre — is the obvious trigger for India’s relatively new interest in these islands. However, there are few pressing reasons for Delhi to engage with the Pacific Islands from a defence point of view. While India carries out training with and for Fiji’s defence staff and engages occasionally in  naval exercises, there is nothing that is institutionalised or regular about this defence cooperation.

Maria O’Sullivan looked the PNG Supreme Court's decision on Manus:

Although the court decision is not technically binding on Australia (as we were not named as a party to the litigation), it could be argued that it is important as a regional leadership issue for Australia to display respect for the jurisprudence of the PNG Supreme Court. This is particularly so given that successive Australian governments have been concerned about political instability, corruption and weak governance in PNG. 

Where does trade fit into the Australian election? Stephen Grenville gave us a bit of history:

One Labor Party insider attributes his party’s free-trade conversion to the power of ideas, overriding the vested interests which had dominated the debate. The Labor Party in this reform era was dominated by big-thinking internationalist politicians who envisaged a global role for Australia and saw that this was incompatible with inward-focused industry protection. Australia’s role in forming APEC (the high point being the tariff reduction pledges at Bogor in 1994), was not compatible with protectionist policies at home. Others were influenced by the example of Sweden, a small economy whose wealth relied on trading with the world.

A great piece from Marie-Alice McLean Dreyfus which looked at Hollywood in China:

This is evident in various ways. To begin with, China is keen to promote domestic films over international films and has recently announced cash bonuses for films that do well domestically and internationally. Films that gross more than ¥20 million can apply for a bonus of up to ¥$6 million. The release date of foreign films is also tightly managedto ensure only Chinese films are shown in the most profitable cinema-going weeks in China such as Lunar New Year and the summer months.

Also well-worth reading article from Aaron Connelly on American attitudes and assumptions about Australian views and policy:

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In several corner suites, moreover, there is a concern, not that the Chinese leadership might be undermining the rules-based order, but that the US is recklessly raising tensions with China in a contest for regional primacy. This view holds that Australia's closeness to the US could pull it into a conflict that is not in Australia's interests. Such arguments overrate the risk of conflict between the US and China, and underrate the importance of the rules–based order to Australian prosperity.  Some in the Australian defence community discourage their American counterparts from taking these arguments seriously, breezily declaring their proponents to be soft on China. But the Australians making them are not uninfluential.

Is Prime Minister David Cameron building his legacy with his recent corruption summit? Daniel Woker:

With his crusade against corruption Cameron has now also hit on a more immediate and visible target. Corruption is the main impediment on the road to economic well-being, democracy and the rule of law for most emerging and developing countries. It is a truly global problem: sustained and equitable economic growth in the South would mean fewer economic migrants to the North, more democracy, fewer political refugees and more personal and economic security for locals and foreign investors alike.

Bal Kama covered the ongoing student protests in Papua New Guinea:

The students are making personal sacrifices and even risking suspension from studies. As of this week, armed riot police including the feared ‘mobile squad’ units have been sent to UPNG at the invitation of the University Council. The police are not allowed to enter UPNG unless invited. The Police Commissioner has argued that the police are there to ‘restore normalcy’ on the campus. But how can ‘normalcy’ be restored against a peaceful legitimate protest? 

Is there a growing finacial campaign against Hizbullah? Rodger Shanahan:

As well as legislative lines of operation, law enforcement have also targted Hizbullah's income streams. In February this year a multinational law enforcement operation busted a drug operation that saw Hizbullah operatives, including a senior Hizbullah money launderer, working with South American drug cartels to raise profits for repatriation back to Lebanon for Hizbullah's use.

A lengthy and in-depth piece from Merriden Varrall on the place of the Cultural Revolution in modern China and its relevance to the Chinese Communist Party:

For a second Cultural Revolution in which people were to question and challenge authority, the Party–state would somehow need to be shown to be fallible. In Mao's time, Mao declared it to be fallible to pursue his own personal power. Xi is unlikely to do the same, as his commitment to the Party–state seems to be paramount (although conceivably as a vehicle for his own power). Cracks do exist that could develop into fissures allowing people to question the inevitability of the Party-state, such as the environment and the economy. However the leadership is supremely aware of these vulnerabilities, and will be managing them closely. Success is not guaranteed.

With Rodrigo Duterte's election in the Philippines last week, Lowell Bautista wrote on his South China Sea policy:

While Duterte has indulged the public with spur of the moment histrionics, including a pledge to plant a Philippine flag via jet ski on Chinese-occupied artificial islands, his position on China otherwise appears to have been conciliatory and amicable. Election pronouncements of Duterte on China and his views on the South China Sea disputes appear to be diametrically at odds with the current design and trajectory of Philippine foreign policy on these important issues.

Hannah Wurf with a brief breakdown of the latest G20 Monitor from the Lowy Institute:

In my own article in the Monitor, I argue that the G20 should to go back to basics and focus on cooperation and communication, even if there is no headline-stealing outcome. The G20 has already set three ambitious targets: an intention to lift global GDP by 2% by 2018, a goal to reduce the gap in labour participation between men and women in G20 countries by 25% by 2025 and a commitment to reduce the share of young people most at risk of being permanently left behind in the labour market by 15% by 2025. 

It's clear that One Belt, One Road is a geopolitical project, says Julian Snelder:

Within China, one million documents have been published referencing the initiative. OBOR is going to happen and official China is mobilising for this ambitious program. Words of warning are few, and muted. But in the private sector, there is scepticism. True, Chinese firms are going to win big. But one can sense a resignation that this is going to be a costly geopolitical project rather than a commercial one.

Finally, Amy Maguire wrote on a recent government report about how Australia can improve its advocacy against the death penalty. Part of this looked at the Bali Nine case: 

The Committee's view was that such changes would likely be sufficient to ensure that the AFP does not act in ways that privilege law enforcement agendas over the protection of human rights and human life. In support of this conclusion, the AFP noted that it has not been involved in information-sharing resulting in a death sentence for an Australian national since the Bali Nine case.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Downes.

The Brexit referendum

Next month, Britain will vote on whether to leave the European Union. How are both sides' campaigns affecting British politics? How would either outcome affect Britain's relationship with the EU? And if Britain votes to stay, what are the prospects for a similar referendum in the future?

Yesterday The Interpreter's Emma Connors spoke to Dr Robin Niblett, Director of the London-based Chatham House think tank. Niblett argues that balance of risks economically outweigh the opportunities of leaving, and that in particular the real cost of leaving isn't the prospect of tariffs but losing input into rule-making processes within the EU. However, Niblett also notes that British politicians have never really made a passionate case for Europe (instead historically choosing to tap into Britain's latent anti-Europe sentiment), leaving British Prime Minister David Cameron fighting uphill.

 Also yesterday, the Director of the Lowy Institute's International Economy Program, Leon Berkelmans, had a chat with Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times. Like Niblett, Wolf is a 'remainer', arguing that Britain remaining is in the best interests of both the UK and EU. The best reason for remaining, says Wolf, is that there's no compelling reason to leave, and that most of the alternatives are clearly worse than the current situation.

Wolf also outlines some of the historical content as to how the rising threat of the UK Independence Party and the desire to placate Eurosceptics within his own Conservative Party prompted Cameron to promise the referendum during the last parliament.

Photo: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

Election Interpreter 2016

The Australian Greens have long staked their political credibility on being realists when it comes to the hard limits of the natural environment. An uncompromising defence of 'ecological sustainability' is the foundation for the party's broader agenda of establishing social and political justice.

In a major speech at the Lowy Institute earlier this week, Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale sought to demonstrate the party's maturity in extending the same realistic appraisal to foreign affairs. Yet, in analysing the Senator's words, it appears the championing of evidence-based thinking on ecology has not yet extended to the geopolitical environment.

The Greens core principles of international relations do not proceed from standard conceptions of national or security interests, but rather from moral ideals: that 'Australia must act diplomatically to promote peace, democracy, ecological sustainability, equity and justice, and human rights.' Yet sound foreign affairs requires more than a desire for perfected outcomes and the avoidance of moral contradiction. Foreign policy making is more often a process of negotiating least-worst outcomes that preserve core Australian interests while accepting sometimes far-reaching compromise on others.

Much media attention has focused on Di Natale's disparagement of the US-Australia alliance for drawing Australia into the 'horrific consequences' of US foreign policy. The Senator is surely correct that the alliance has drawn Australia into fraught foreign policy situations, not least of which was the ill-conceived and catastrophic 2003 Iraq War. Conversely, the alliance has also underwritten the better part of a century of regional stability, with benefits that are both less conspicuous but more consequential. It is in the preservation of regional stability that the limitations of a Greens foreign policy are most clearly demonstrated.

It is notable that Di Natale’s office briefed the media in advance that he would articulate a view of growing tensions in the South China Sea as a 'proxy war between two of our largest trading partners' far from Australia’s shores, but that direct reference to this pressing issue was omitted entirely from the delivery of the speech.

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A follow-up question did prompt the Senator to argue that Australian policy had 'not pursued aggressively enough the option of arbitration and a diplomatic resolution to that specific conflict', and was instead 'largely focused on the military response' in line with US strategy.

These claims were made despite Australia endorsing the Philippines' ongoing challenge to Chinese territorial claims in a high profile case before The Permanent Court of Arbitration. Of equal prominence has been China's refusal to recognise the court's jurisdiction, and systematic attempts to undermine the legitimacy of any ruling. The case is a reminder that international law is no alternative to power, but rather a process that depends on power to make the international system more stable and predictable. This dynamic is nowhere more clear than in the Asia Pacific, where the American system of military alliances has thus far ensured substantial adherence to the 'rules-based international order'. 

Greens policy seeks guidance from 'the United Nations Charter and international law', yet is devoid of any conception of how or why such a legal order is to be established and maintained. Indeed the only official reference to security in the region is an 'ongoing commitment to the demilitarisation of the Asia-Pacific region and the development of a regional non-aggression pact.' Yet it is military capability that permits peaceful legal enforcement mechanisms, such as the freedom of navigation operations undertaken by the US to uphold the universal maritime rights that Australia so depends on.

Even on the Greens own terms, Di Natale's speech fails to indicate how environmental law will be upheld, including claims in the South China Sea arbitration that Chinese fishing activities have contravened the Convention on Biological Diversity with impunity. Foreign policy requires more than strong moral convictions. The failings of the 2003 Iraq War owe much to moral certainty combined with inadequate strategic insights about realistic means and ends.

Di Natale repeatedly appealed to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and his deep scepticism of the US as a 'dangerous ally'. Fraser's position had its limitations, but was at least internally coherent in accepting that a more independent strategic posture entails significantly increased defence expenditure – in the realm of '2.5 percent or 3 percent'. Di Natale, by contrast, called for a reduction of spending below current projections of 2%, in part because the response to Sino-US tensions is not yet 'clear'. In effect, the Greens choose to 'do nothing and hope for the best', and thereby relegate Australia to a mere observer of the most consequential foreign policy challenge of a generation.

Understandably, the central theme of Di Natale's speech remained climate change as a 'threat multiplier', capable of exacerbating traditional global security concerns. This is almost certainly true, and yet by necessary implication, also an acknowledgment that longstanding challenges borne of power politics will remain at the heart of international relations. The Greens should revisit their own advice: the key to preserving Australia's environment is an evidence-based appreciation of history, and a realistic appraisal of the hard limits set by a changing regional climate.