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

Former Defence Secretary (and Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow) Ric Smith took a look at the defence budget on Friday, arguing that it will be exceedingly difficult for the Abbott Government to keep its commitment to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP within a decade. Ric also offered and alternative measurement to track a government's commitment to the defence budget:

As an international comparator, percentage of GDP is thus interesting and, tracked over time and between countries, a useful indicator of how governments are reading their strategic circumstances. Yet comparisons based only on GDP embody the usual shortcomings of GDP as a measure of a nation's production or income. 

Another, and in some ways more useful, indicator is available: namely, the percentage of government outlays or expenditure allocated to defence. This is a measure which is entirely in the hands of the government of the day, and has the additional advantage of enabling comparisons within government over time and between spending on particular sectors. In concentrating attention on the issue of where defence sits in the array of alternative uses of a government's limited spending capacity, it enables a sharper and more focused policy debate on the issue of a dollar spent on defence versus a dollar spent on social security (or even tax cuts).

Nick Bryant, former Australian BBC correspondent and now the Beeb's man at the UN, laid out the reasons why former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is unlikely to become UN Secretary General:

There is another reason why Rudd would struggle, if indeed he wants the job. With 'Kevin 747' airborne again, he would likely be a highly energetic and highly visible Secretary General. It is easy imagine him criss-crossing the globe trying to personally intervene in every flaring crisis. Though Ban Ki-moon racks up tens of thousands of air miles, he does so in a relatively unobtrusive way. Moreover, he's highly cautious (excessively so, some would argue) and seldom acts in a way that perturbs the P5 members of the deeply divided Security Council. Would Kevin Rudd show such restraint? Would he settle for inconspicuousness? Would he be bound by the will of the UNSC?

A weakness of his candidacy comes from the strength of his candidacy. He would attempt to do the job too well.

Such questions are, in any case, moot. A Cold War dynamic has returned to the UN Security Council since the annexation of Crimea. Rudd will be viewed by Moscow as being on the wrong side of the modern-day iron curtain.

 I recently finished reading Bob Carr's Diary of a Foreign Minister. Despite the initial media focus on perks and privilege, in my review I outlined an interesting subtext:

There are two major policy themes running through Diary of a Foreign Minister: the Israel-Palestinian dispute and the rise of China. The first gets more pages in the diary and it pre-occupied the serious media immediately after the launch. But the latter is infinitely more consequential for Australia and the world, and the closing passages of the book make it clear that Carr knows it.

Carr's struggle with how Australia should negotiate the US-China question is the golden thread running through the book. At one point in the story, he will remind himself of former ASIO head Paul O'Sullivan's view that in a clash between Chinese and American values, we will always go with the US. But a little while later he will recall words by former DFAT head Dennis Richardson, who says 'our interests are different than a great power's.' Then there's a cabinet meeting during which Smith raises those B-52 flights. Carr was concerned that any announcement of such an initiative would make Australia look like 'a continental US aircraft carrier':

"The nature of the cabinet discussion was curious.

None of my colleagues seemed to understand what a strategic decision we were being asked to make here and this surprised me. I was somewhat surprised too that the Prime Minister didn't express a view. It was as if no colleagues had been following the debate initiated by Hugh White and fuelled by three former prime minsters. I was struck by the absolute assurance and ease with which Stephen attempted to lead us into what certainly looked like a big geo-strategic step, although in practice it may have been no more than affirming or embellishing what was signalled in the communique in 2011. But as I saw it, it would really lock us in, irreversibly, as part of the American empire. But then, I may be wrong."

Again and again, Carr returns to the choice facing Australia of whether to muscle up to China by firming the US alliance or to adopt a more measured and independent position that accommodates China's rise. It is a dilemma he never fully resolves, and it is Australia's dilemma writ small. That he describes this dilemma so well makes the diaries essential reading; that he failed to impress the country and an insouciant cabinet about its gravity suggests he fell short as a minister.

On the Pacific, Sarah Kagan looked at the issue of labour migration, and how it might assist with climate change mitigation in places like Tuvalu:

While most adaptation strategies in Tuvalu continue to focus on structural adaptation by building climate-resilient infrastructure, constructing seawalls and planting mangroves, there has been little discussion of how migration can be an important adaptation strategy to the impact of climate change.

A three-year project in which I am involved, Pacific Climate Change and Mobility, funded the EU and implemented by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, seeks to broaden Pacific countries' understanding of migration as an adaptation strategy, and to strengthen governments' ability to design policies which harness the positive aspects of voluntary migration while mitigating the risks of forced migration. 

There is evidence to suggest that migration offers important opportunities for enhancing the security of Pacific island communities.

On Indonesia, Catriona Croft-Cusworth noted that, following parliamentary elections, Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's path to the presidency is no longer a walk in the park:

The PDI-P took a respectable lead in the legislative elections, even if it didn't make the cut-off for a stand-alone presidential bid. However, to meet longstanding predictions that Jokowi can make it to the presidency will require more tactical manoeuvering and a solid campaign from the PDI-P. At this stage it seems that the presidency is still well within Jokowi's reach, but he will have to stand up to take it.

Our debate on 'Snowden WikiLeaks and the future of espionage' continued this week, with Phillip Mudd outlining the difficulty of developing rules for cyber-surveillance:

Maybe we can keep whittling away to reach the point at which security agencies represent a cultural norm in cyberspace that we find, if not comforting, at least less disturbing than what we think security agencies are doing today.

There are a few characteristics of this swinging pendulum we should be conscious of along the way. First, I can tell you, as a former senior official at both the CIA and the FBI, that your security agencies won't lead the debate.

They'll take the laws passed by their legislative bodies and direction from their elected leaders, and they'll press the limits of those laws. If they don't, and if that security agency then fails to stop an attack, they will face blistering questions from elected officials: 'Yes,' those security officials say, 'we could have done more. But we chose not to use all the authority you gave us because we unilaterally decided that they don't reflect our culture and values.' That ain't gonna happen. Security agencies respond to culture; they don't create it.

Second, the pendulum will never reach a perfect place, because the debate will never stop. Here's why: when you go to the airport, you expect that the government will search you, maybe aggressively, and you accept that intrusion as the price of security. But when you go to the supermarket, you would object to a government official searching you. Still, you know the supermarket chain is watching you via security camera and collecting lots of data about your purchasing patterns. But you wouldn't want the government to have the same access as the supermarket.

Culturally, we have set boundaries around our physical space: you can intrude sometimes but not others. Those boundaries are pretty well understood, yet they're constantly shifting.

Former ABC reporter and Julian Assange biographer Andrew Fowler also contributed to the debate, arguing that it is very difficult to be a true 'whistleblowers' in Australia:

Australia has introduced new government proceduresin what looks like an attempt to prevent any home-grown leakers in the public service giving up government secrets. What the government appeared to be trying to do was encourage a culture of controlled whistleblowing within the public service to prevent the information from becoming public.

A public servant can now make a formal internal complaint about wrongdoing in a department and if not satisfied take the matter to the Public Service Commissioner. The new procedures stipulate that the public servant must not be penalised for raising the complaint.

Yet these safeguards only protect public servants who lodge complaints about their colleagues' conduct. Public servants cannot make complaints about actions taken or decisions made by politicians for fear of undermining the 'essential relationship of trust' between public servants and ministers. 

And herein lies the flaw of a procedure which threatens public servants with jail for releasing information to the media. The public service whistleblowing rules are simply designed to rigidly enforce the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. They have nothing to do with whistleblowing for the public benefit. And they reinforce the control which ministers, the executive arm of government, have on information.

Allan Behm, the highly regarded former head of the Defence Department's international policy and strategy division,speaking on a panel three weeks ago at the Lowy Institute, said leakers should be prosecuted for breaking the law. Whistleblowers, on the other hand, should simply resign on a matter of principle and say nothing publicly, creating what would presumably be a unique phenomenon, the silent whistleblower.

Two first-rate posts from Julian Snelder this week. The first looked at how we remember the Hobbesian experiment that was the Walled City in Kowloon, Hong Kong:

How do humans operate in a state of pure anarchy, where there is no higher authority to keep the peace?

Incredibly, such anarchy existed within Hong Kong well into the 1980s. A veritable failed state, a few square blocks in size, thronged in the center of Kowloon. A demarcation oversight between skirmishing British colonialists and Chinese negotiators created a pocket of indeterminate legal jurisdiction, and that meant no legal jurisdiction at all. Now, twenty years after the Walled City's final demolition, The Wall Street Journal has published a moving (if a little romanticised)documentaryabout this strange, notorious neighborhood of 33,000 people — the highest-density urban area ever known.

The answer to the lead-in question — how do otherwise-civilised people behave in a vacuum of lawful order? — is predictable. In a word: badly. Those states without effective rule that still exist worldwide (think Somalia, Baluchistan, Transnistria etc) show much the same grim outcome: gangsterism, where 'big men' preside over hierarchies of thugs. Everything and anything comes at a price; there are few public goods. For example, the entire Walled City had just one water pump.

Inside this autonomous little community, gambling parlours, brothels and opium dens flourished beyond the reach of Hong Kong's police. Addiction, dysentery, venereal disease and knife wounds assured 'poor, nasty, brutish and short' lives for most (although life was certainly not solitary, as Hobbes originally had it). Those who could, left. Those who stayed either disappeared or flourished in their own sordid ways of success.

Julian's second post asked whether China can escape the economic contradictions embedded in its 'dexterous hybrid model':

China has made progress implementing the reform agenda of last November's Third Plenum. Private and foreign investors, especially those in Hong Kong, find themselves at the crux of Beijing's plans for markets to play a 'decisive' role in its statist economy. Two recent reforms are potentially momentous. First is the 'mixed ownership' model for state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Second is the Rmb550 billion 'through-train' cross-trading facility between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges. While seemingly unrelated, these two developments are interwoven into a broader quest to make the economy more flexible, competitive and responsive to market signals.

State capitalism badly underperforms the private sector in China. The result is a misallocation of capital on a grand scale, which worsened after the legendary 'command stimulus' of 2009 — headlined at Rmb4 trillion, but in reality perhaps an order of magnitude bigger if you count local government and associated credit spending. Beijing wants to purge these excesses by introducing private sector expertise and discipline.

That's where mixed ownership and the through-train come in. By allowing SOEs to share ownership of certain assets, and by permitting greater capital account exchange with the outside world, China's SOEs can be whipped into shape by sheer force of financial discipline. Actually, there is nothing much novel here. Socialist European nations championed mixed economies decades ago. But China's reforms are significant for their sheer scale, thus the potential upside if they succeed.

Finally, here's Sarah Graham on the economic implications for Australia of the elections in India:

In the economic context, Canberra will probably welcome the BJP's strong showing in the polls.

The BJP's first stint in office saw the start of a booming trade relationship between India and Australia, with the value of two-way trade increasing from $3.3 billion in 2000 to $17.4 billion in 2012. India's high energy demands, driven by the expansion of manufacturing, meant that bilateral trade also progressed on very favorable terms of trade for Australia. While much of this Indian economic expansion came as a result of an extensive economic reform process that began in 1991 under a Congress-led government (and engineered to a large degree by the future Congress prime minister Manmohan Singh) the BJP is currently seen as the more reform-minded of the two parties. 

The need for further liberalising reforms to the Indian economy has been at the centre of international reporting on India's economy in the last two years, as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has struggled to keep India's economic rise on track.

The UPA has been criticised repeatedly during the campaign for having falles back on socialist-style measures such as subsidies and handouts to cope with rising prices. Food prices, in particular, have been a significant issue for Indian voters, and, along with slow employment growth, are responsible for much of the swing toward the BJP.

Officials in Canberra and Washington alike will be hoping that in the event of a change of government, the economic reform process will gain some much needed political momentum. 

Photo by Flickr user Chirantan Patnaik.