A lot went on this week and The Interpreter did its best to keep up. Everything from President Obama's final State of the Union speech to terrorist attacks in Turkey and Indonesia. To start with, in the wake of its latest nuclear test, Bernt Berger put forth an argument that dealing with North Korea's nuclear program needs to be part of a broad effort rather than a narrow focus on just denuclearisation:
Despite international dismay about Pyongyang's latest nuclear test and the ad hoc reaction that will now follow, there are strong limits on what the international community can do. Only mid- to long-term strategies can help to resolve the situation. China must find its role as a key player in future negotiations. Overcoming its narrow focus on denuclearisation and development as well as cooperating internationally to define a sustainable process that might satisfy the needs and goals of all parties would be first step in that direction.
From Jakarta, Catriona Croft-Cusworth reported on how the area that was attacked is not frequently visited by tourists and foreigners:
Foreign tourists are also unlikely to be gathered there in large numbers. While Jakartans see the intersection as iconic, most tourists would likely pass by on their way to the National Monument without giving it a second thought. The Sarinah department store, where police searched for attackers floor by floor before declaring the area safe on Thursday, was the first modern shopping centre to open in Jakarta. It holds a special place in the hearts of Jakartans, not only for its pioneering role in the city's contemporary mall culture, but because it was opened by the first president, Sukarno, who in a humble gesture named it after his childhood nanny. The ageing store is rarely crowded these days, but still holds a sense of nostalgia for many Jakartans.
Former intelligence analyst David Wells warned that as military pressure increases on ISIS, more attacks outside Syria and Iraq are likely:
It is this publicity that ISIS is so effective at generating, and that helps spread fear on a global scale. And yet again distracts us from the fact that in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is losing men and territory. As this pressure increases, we are likely to see further attacks outside of the region, as ISIS continues to attempt to project strength and progress.
With the Jakarta attack following on from the bombing of tourists in Istanbul, an attack on an Indian airbase, and continued violence in West Africa and Afghanistan, it appears that 2016 will follow 2015 as another year of terrorism, but perhaps on a larger scale. Because unfortunately, as military pressure on ISIS grows, and counter-measures prevent prospective foreign fighters reaching 'the Caliphate', we are more likely to see attacks outside of Iraq and Syria. Things might get worse before they get better.
Arzan Tarapore looked at the intelligence lessons of the attack on the Indian air force base at Pathankot:
The explosion in Big Data has only sharpened this temptation. Some have even argued that amassing digital bits would make theory and inference redundant, because we can quantify and know everything about a given person or object, and predict its future with confidence. Focusing on intelligence gaps, which sees data as the source of definitive answers, is a symptom of this collection-centric view. Instead, knowledge gaps offer a way to more strategically organise and prioritise intelligence efforts — including collection against intelligence gaps — in a way that better serves policy. Thus knowledge gaps require reorganising and reprioritising intelligence systems, but they are also pointless in the absence of clear policy goals and requirements.
James Brown wrote an overview of Obama's last State of the Union speech this week:
But TPP was a damp squib. Barely 15 supporters on the floor leaped to their feet when it was mentioned, applause was sparse, and Speaker Ryan seemed to be darting his eyes around the room to gauge support. The Administration has invested significant resources in TPP, plans on signing it in New Zealand early next month, and looks committed to seeing it voted through Congress in May. But today's speech did little to push TPP along, and the rebalance to Asia wasn't mentioned at all.
Reasserting America's global strength, Obama said 'when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us'. But this line merely skated the surface of raging geopolitical rivalries across the globe.
Finally, President Obama's most egregious and most unforgivable oversight: for the 94th year running, the State of the Union bore no mention of Australia.
Sam Roggeveen also pointed out the lack of attention on China in the President's speech:
It's hard to dispute the claim that Russia is past it as a superpower — even Putin dismisses the label — but China cannot be dismissed so easily. So when you add this kind of rhetoric to Obama's repeated assurances of America's military lead over international rivals ('It's not even close!'), he does create the impression that he isn't taking the rise of China particularly seriously. Yet when it comes to economic power, ultimately the most important measure of national power, China is already streets ahead of the last 'looming superpower' the US faced down, the Soviet Union.
Of course, China is not the new Soviet Union. But China's relationship with the US is marked by rivalry as well as cooperation, and that is only likely to grow as China grows in stature and its interests expand. If any country is going to fundamentally challenge the international system built by the US after World War II, it will be China, not Russia.
What's in store for Taiwan after national elections this weekend? J. Michael Cole:
That kind of daring will have to be replicated if and once Ms. Tsai becomes president, beginning with the appointment of fresh faces (and hopefully more women) in key cabinet positions and in the mid-to-upper echelons of government. Ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Education, and National Defense should be prime targets for change and where institutional resistance to such change will likely be the fiercest. But it needs to be done. Unlike heads of state, government agencies are not exposed to the cycle of democratic retribution and therefore often withstand pressure for change, a reality that in Taiwan is exacerbated by the lingering effects of decades of party-state authoritarianism.
Is the Sis regime in Egypt unstable? Casper Wuite:
The Sisi regime has overseen a high turnover in key military and intelligence positions, including the commanders of the Second and Third Field Army, the Navy, the Minister of Interior, and the heads of General andMilitary Intelligence. While some of these are likely motivated by the operational and strategic demands of the military's ongoing offensive in the Sinai, they are further signs of tension in the highest ranks.
For example, the new commander of the Third Field Army, Maj Gen Mohammed Abdullah, and the head of the unified command structure that oversees all counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai, Lt Gen Osama Al Askar, are both close allies of Defence Minister Sobhy. Meanwhile, the Director of Military Intelligence, Salah Al Badry, who worked for Sisi when he was in charge of military intelligence, has been removed from this strategically important position.
Daniel Woker wrote on the growing internal border controls in Europe:
Some nations have already acted. For the first time in 50 years, those travelling between Denmark and Sweden are now required to provide identification. However a turn to border controls by each country is not a realistic alternative. First because the migrants will come anyway, as long as the drivers in their countries of origin continue. Second, Schengen is only one, albeit crucial, part of unfettered commercial and human interaction under the four European freedoms (goods, capital, services, people). The respective trans-border value chains have become part of a European reality few want to forgo.
The random identity checks at the border that have lately been instituted by Northern European countries are thus likely to be temporary, and are indeed allowed under Schengen rules. At this time they cannot be interpreted as a real threat to the European construction; that would require fundamental political change in a majority of EU-countries.
A very interesting look at the 'global rules' that have been instated since the global financial crisis from Stephen Grenville:
It would have been better to have explicitly stated that the 'global' rules should apply only to those banks that provide a threat to the global economy. Other regulators, (including most G20 countries) should have had had a much clearer brief to set their own, simpler versions, more appropriate to their circumstances. After all, competent domestic supervision will do far more to avoid crises than global rules.
So can we conclude this huge effort was a search for a solution to a problem that doesn’t need this high degree of global coordination? More importantly, are there higher-priority areas which do, in fact, require globally uniform rules?
Through the example of the upcoming APEC meeting, Jonathan Pryke raised some questions in regards to Papua New Guinea's budget:
When the PNG government made the decision to host APEC, Prime Minister O’Neill hoped it would be an opportunity to showcase the country’s burgeoning economic success and promote PNG as a confident and modern nation deserving of its seat at the APEC table. The 2018 event may still fulfill that goal, but it can no longer be at any cost. If the government is still confident in the event’s value, then it must be prepared to prove it to the people of PNG with greater transparency and comprehensive, justifiable, costings.
Leon Berkelmans looked back to his time at the US Federal Reserve at the time of the GFC and the dangers of 'groupthink':
Before the GFC, in polite company it was not acceptable to talk of big market failures in finance. And that contributed to groupthink. No doubt some who thought about speaking up thought twice about doing so. They only had to look at the treatment of Raghuram Rajan, now Reserve Bank of India Governor, in 2005. Rajan presented a paper called 'Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier?' He thought, in some respects, yes. In response, Larry Summers, one of the doyens of academia and US policymaking, apparently called him a Luddite.
The lesson? Being the contrarian in the room should be valued. I’m not talking about valuing argument for argument’s sake. But the world would have been a better place if more people had the courage of Rajan.
A great story from Julian Snelder about a missing publisher in Hong Kong:
The newspaper has also stated that Lee's publishing house, which dominates this salacious genre, seriously damages China's national interest. It is widely rumored that a forthcoming title, on the past lovelife of Xi Jinping, was particularly offensive to the leadership in Beijing. It is not hard to conjecture that Lee is now detained at a comfortable compound somewhere in Guangdong and being asked to disclose the author's sources, whereupon Lee will be free to return home. This is not a worst-case scenario, but one that alarms Hong Kongers nonetheless.
Finally, Simon Henderson wrote on the continuing clamp-down on China's human rights lawyers:
The scale of this '709 crackdown' is larger than any recent actions targeting the legal profession. It affirms the Chinese government’s ongoing willingness to silence lawyers, especially ‘weiquan’ (维权) or human rights lawyers. Earlier this week, on 12 January, Chinese authorities formally charged several of the lawyers held in secret since the crackdown. One of the charges includes 'state subversion' for Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), the founder of Fengrui law firm, which carries a maximum sentence of life in jail. Four other lawyers have been charged with 'incitement to state subversion', which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. Lawyers are being accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese State.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tommy Wahyu Utomo.