Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
The latest Lowy Institute Paper was launched this week, The Adolescent Country by Peter Hartcher. The Interpreter will host a debate over the next several weeks on the questions raised by the Paper and what the future of Australian foreign policy should look like. Nick Bryant made the opening contribution:
Much of this political provincialism stems from the mistaken belief that Australian voters are themselves parochial. In the same vein, politicians also exaggerate levels of xenophobia and racism of the Australian electorate. But there is an internationalist stream that prime ministers could tap. Just witness the wanderlust of young Australians, who roam the planet with their rucksacks embroidered with Australian flags, or the million-strong rolling Australian diaspora that Michael Fullilove spoke of in a previous Lowy Institute paper. Australia, with its polyglot population, is also one of the world's most successfully multicultural countries, which automatically gives it an international outlook.
Hugh White followed with his review:
In fact Peter seems to accept the widely shared assumption that these responses need not involve any very hard choices for Australia, because US leadership will continue to provide the foundation of regional order. But that is not something we can simply assume, and one might argue that the real weakness in Australian foreign policy is that so few in government, the opposition or the media and commentariat are willing seriously to debate it.
Vanessa Newby wrote a fascinatingly counter-intuitive piece on a speech by Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah, who spoke on Islamic extremism and ISIS:
He asked that all moderate Muslims and members of other religions make their voices louder than that of the extremists. He spoke in terms that appeared to support the successful Tunisian elections and came close to mocking extremist positions on the elections and other Islamic traditions these groups have labelled as apostasy. He stated that crying out Alluhu Akbar ('God is great') to justify every action does not render such actions legitimate. His concern is that committing acts such as beheadings and other forms of violence in conjunction with the phrase exerts not only a negative impression of Islam in non-Muslim countries but also has the potential to motivate Muslims to distance themselves from Islam.
New Zealand secured a seat on the UN Security Council last month. Anna Powles on what we can expect from the new council member:
New Zealand's stance throughout its campaign was that it would pursue two agendas if elected. First, New Zealand would act as an advocate for non-Security Council member states to have input into Council deliberations that affect them. Of the 193 UN member states, 102 are small states with little influence. Key called New Zealand's win 'a victory for small states' and McCully suggested that by defeating Spain and Turkey in the first round, New Zealand had 're-written the narrative' in a David versus Goliath-type scenario.
Economic stagnation in Europe could have significant effects on the geopolitics of the region, says Matthew Hill:
In turn, the Ukraine crisis threatens to further erode regional economic conditions, raising a further challenge to European political solidarity. While trade and investment between European states and Russia represents only a fraction of overall economic activity, those ties possess a salience beyond their size. Imports of Russian oil, gas and solid fuel have surged over the past decade due to their competitiveness relative to domestic energy generation. A change in energy prices due to politically-motivated disruptions could have deep ramifications across Europe's already fragile economy: a one-third reduction in Russian oil exports could reduce European GDP growth by 1 to 1.5%. After years of unfulfilled promises of economic revitalisation, such an outcome would be a further body blow to political confidence in Brussels and Frankfurt.
Gordon Peake wrote on Timor-Leste and the suspension of the employment of foreign legal advisers, who were later expelled:
In Dili, some speculate that the parliament's resolution relates to the ongoing court case involving Conoco Phillips and allegations of unpaid royalties and taxes; the judges, allegedly, might be a bit too independent and judicial for the Government's liking. With the country's Anti-Corruption Commission also getting its advisers targeted, others suspect the move is really about neutering ongoing investigations against members of the political elite.
For a world-weary observer it's further evidence that Xanana Gusmao, the country's Prime Minister, might not be the saintly figure some Australians think him to be.
Religious tolerance is under strain in Indonesia, explains Catriona Croft-Cusworth:
However, conservative forces are increasingly having an impact on Indonesian politics and society. Ironically, Wahid says that democracy is often blamed both by conservatives for being too liberal, and by liberals for allowing more conservative voices to make themselves heard in Indonesia . Under Suharto's New Order, political Islam was seen as a threat and subsequently repressed with tactics such as forcing all organisations in Indonesia to adopt the Pancasila as their sole basis. It has been argued that this was the reason why NU and Muhammadiyah professed such support for the state ideology, and shifted their focus to social and cultural matters in order to continue their activities.
Julian Snelder on bullet trains in China, and the link to the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank:
The recent deal signed with Russia is an eye-popper. A future Beijing-Moscow line, 7000km in length, might eventually cost a cool quarter-trillion dollars, mainly Chinese funded. Analysts foresee 700 trains (1000 passengers each) running simultaneously. There are currently only 26 direct flights each way weekly, suggesting a dramatic tightening in the linkages between these superpowers. The 45 hour traveling time is daunting; a flight takes eight. Over such distances, the physics of lightweight aluminium tubes traveling at altitude easily trump the steel-on-concrete juggernauts on land. Hence the Moscow express, like the dubious Nicaragua canal, seems more like a political statement directed at the West.
Increased integration and cooperation in the Pacific Islands is what's needed, says Parliamentary Secretary Senator Brett Mason
By and large, the island states, particularly Pacific micro-states, are simply too small and too remote to succeed on their own. With some economic estimates indicating that by 2015 the Pacific will constitute the slowest-growing region of the world, there is a clear and urgent need for a new approach. The new PIF Secretary-General, PNG's Dame Meg Taylor, will have her hands full. But, as Pacific leaders themselves acknowledge, in our increasingly integrated and interconnected world, the status quo is no longer an option.
Hugh Jorgensen got his Piketty on, writing about inequality and the G20:
Even Thomas Piketty, author of the pulsating 700-page-turning Capital in the Twenty-First Century, would probably approve of any G20 leaders' commitment to promote greater tax transparency as a welcome addition to the field of inequality research. Piketty observes that the best estimate of the amount of wealth indolently sitting in financial tax havens is probably on the order of 10% of global GDP; money that could be put to much more productive use if we only knew where it was and whether that figure was even accurate. As the OECD quote above indicates, even just a G20 commitment to find out more about how inequality impacts upon fiscal stability and growth would be welcome.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pabak Sarkar.