Bringing together the best Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew both passed away this week. James Curran reflected on Malcolm Fraser's principled foreign policy legacy:
It is too often forgotten that Fraser was one of the first on his side of politics to welcome the advent of a new, multi-racial Commonwealth in the 1950s and 60s. Not for him the morbid recital of Kiplingesque odes as the sun set on the British Empire. In 1961 he supported the expulsion of South Africa in order to make the Commonwealth a 'stronger moral force'. That put him directly at odds with Menzies' position, which was to refuse comment on the internal affairs of another Commonwealth country.
Elliot Brennan offered his take on the LKY's legacy in Singapore and the region:
Lee was a man of strong convictions. His pragmatism was arrived at through empirical study and driven by expert consultations, earning him the accolade of being a 'one-man intelligence agency'. He was of course not alone in the building of his big ideas. Sinnathamby Rajarathnam and Goh Keng Swee were just two who played a pivotal role in the creation of Singapore, as Lee would himself attest. (He was known for publicly deriding the idea of statesmanship, once saying that 'anyone who thinks they're a statesman should see a psychiatrist'.)
Dina Esfandiary responded to a recent op-ed in The Washington Post which argued that war with Iran over its nuclear program, rather than negotiations, is the better option. Dina doesn't think so:
Instead, military action will play beautifully into the hands of the Iranian Government. It will give them a legitimate excuse to forgo its non-proliferation commitments and go hell for leather on the nuclear program. It will encourage Tehran to drive the program underground and cease all transparency. Muravchick argues that if Iran currently has hidden facilities, they'll be hidden from an agreement too. Perhaps, but the aim of an agreement is to ensure that Iran submits to the most stringent inspection regime devised to date. Surely that's a step up from nothing, which is what we would be left with if force is used.
Are there contradictions in Australia's foreign fighter laws? Lauren Williams pointed some out:
But just as the US-led alliance is providing arms and training to the Iraqi armed forces, so the Iraqi Army is partnering with the Peshmerga. And in turn, the Peshmerga is teaming up with the YPG. This reporter has witnessed YPG-Peshmerga cooperation in northern Syria, and it is safe to say that arms directed to the Iraqi Army will end up in YPG hands. They may even end up in the hands of Matthew Gardiner as he battles ISIS.
Alan Dupont and Hugh White continued their debate over the future of the ADF and strategic policy. First, Alan Dupont:
Yes, I do cast my net wider than Hugh in thinking about the variables that should shape the future ADF. That's because the ADF is required by governments to do much more than defend Australian territory against a particular kind of military attack coming from a specific location or direction. Future governments will expect a richer suite of military options from the ADF than ever before, including an enhanced capacity to deploy and sustain significant forces at considerable distance from Australian shores in defence of our interests, not just our territory. So our strategic reach must be longer, and our capacity for autonomous operations – what we used to call self-reliance – correspondingly greater. All the more so in a post-American world.
And Hugh's response:
More importantly, the fact that governments use the ADF for purposes other than that for which it was designed does not mean it has been designed for the wrong purposes. It often makes sense to use something for a purpose for which one would not buy it.
There is a separate question, of course, about whether the strategic objectives that have been laid down as force structure determinants in recent white papers are the right ones for Australia over coming decades. I do not think they are, because they assume that Australia's strategic risks will remain much the same in the next few decades as they have been in the last few. What objectives we should adopt instead is a question for another time.
Former army major-general Jim Molan thought Hugh White's comments on strategic thinking in the ADF to The Saturday Paper were generalisations:
But I don't dismiss these fine people just because they have no idea about military operations and therefore stay at the vague level of clever strategic posturing. Still, if professors are permitted to be arrogant in their generalisations, then permit me to at least be blunt in my reply: no one should be permitted to give strategic advice involving the military unless they have at least a familiarity with military operations and tactics. The uniform currently or once worn is irrelevant. I know civilians who can and have done it, but not many. The greatest gift of anyone who calls themselves a strategist must be the ability to align policy, strategy and its implementation.
Again, Hugh White responded:
My primary point to Sophie was simply that serving in the ADF, perhaps at quite a junior level, does not in itself guarantee that a parliamentarian will have special expertise in the defence and strategic policy decisions discussed and made at the political level.
But the broader point remains true too: the ADF as an institution does not generally (with some notable exceptions) excel at the strategic-level tasks of advising governments about when and how they should use force to achieve policy objectives, and about what capabilities Australia needs.
Mike Callaghan on globalisation and the future of the Australian tax system:
The breakdown of the production process across many countries and the increasing importance of services and intangibles in international trade makes it easier for firms to shift profits to zero or low tax jurisdictions. Combating corporate 'base erosion and profit shifting' is a G20 and OECD priority. But the resilience of the corporate tax base is particularly important for Australia given its high reliance on corporate tax. From 1983 to 2011, the OECD average corporate tax rate as a percent of total revenue remained around 8.5%. But Australia's corporate tax revenue rose from 9% of total revenue to 20% over the same period.
The Shambaugh debate rages on. Nadege Rolland wonders if the Chinese Communist Party will be adaptable:
Is the Party able to acknowledge these problems for what they are, and not through ideological lenses? And most importantly, how will the ruling elite respond? Will they choose the path of reforms, and if so, will the regime be able to live with a growing contradiction between the need for good governance and the intrinsic limitations of a Leninist system? Will they revert to all-out repression and control? The Arab Spring showed us that growing tensions between the socio-economic situation and its political (mis-)management can produce unexpected outcomes. Despite its resilience so far, China may not be immune from such shocks.
Catriona Croft-Cusworth reported on an attempted terrorist attack in Indonesia that used chlorine gas:
A small explosion in a Jakarta shopping centre late last month has Indonesian authorities concerned that local radicals may be adopting tactics from ISIS. The explosion in ITC Depok, a tech shopping centre in the Greater Jakarta area, came from a poorly made device consisting of batteries, paint tins and wires inside a cardboard box. The homemade bomb, left unattended in a men's bathroom, appeared not to have detonated properly, and no-one was hurt. But what has alarmed police and anti-terror forces is that the device contained a substance known to be used by ISIS: chlorine gas.
What have we learned about migrant smuggling? Marie McAuliffe looks back on the publication of the book Illicit:
Firstly, there remain significant gaps in our understanding of migrant smuggling. Patchy data indicate that some smuggling routes are closely monitored while others are not; some smuggling routes have been effectively shut down while others appear to be flourishing. Improved data collection and targeted research is enhancing our understanding of smuggling but we still don't know the true scale and nature of many smuggling networks. We have a limited understanding of how inter-connected smuggling is with other forms of illicit activity; we may not yet appreciate the level of danger and insecurity experienced by those being smuggled.
Robert E Kelly reviewed the film American Sniper:
...All the unpleasant controversies are pleasantly avoided: no mention of pre-war intelligence failures; no hint of the mismanagement and incompetence of the occupation; no discussion of Abu Ghraib or America's heavy-handed search tactics, especially in the early days; no examination of Iraqi nationalism or suggestion that resistance to US occupation had any legitimacy whatsoever. It's all straight-up American hero stuff to balm neocons' frayed sense of American exceptionalism.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Choo Yut Shing.