It was a short week here at The Interpreter, but several posts on security issues around the Indian Ocean and the Pacific were popular. First a post from David Brewster which looked at India's deployment of P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft to the Andaman islands:

The operation of P-8s by India, Australia and the US could form a good basis for cooperation in shared maritime domain awareness in the region. The deployment of Indian P-8s to the Nicobar Islands and the development of associated runways and support facilities could also create new opportunities for operational cooperation.

Since the 1990s, when the US encouraged India to develop its military presence in the Andamans, US analysts have pointed to the potential value of these facilities for US forces. A Logistics Support Agreement which would facilitate the use by US and Indian forces of each other's facilities and the pre-positioning of equipment has been on the table for almost a decade. Following the visit of Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Washington in December, it looks like a deal might be finalised soon. If so, a similar agreement with Australia will also likely be on the cards. Access to facilities in the Andaman & Nicobars by US and Australian aircraft would represent a big step forward in operational cooperation.

In what I thought was a intriguing piece, Anna Powles and Jose Sousa-Santos analysed Russia's recent arms shipment to Fiji:

When sanctions were lifted, there was a clear expectation on the part of Washington DC, Canberra and Wellington that Fiji would come in from the cold and relations would go back to how they were. A series of high level visits by Western powers in December 2014 revealed how out of step the West had become with Fiji. The billboards around Suva depicting the Chinese President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Modi during their respective visits were visual reminders that, during the sanction years, Fiji had built new strategic partnerships. What this means for military to military cooperation is that there is a whole new cadre of RFMF officers who received their staff course education in Russia, China, or India, for example, and have no ties to Australia and New Zealand; a point lamented by former senior RFMF officers. These officers have built their careers on these new relationships and this has changed both the culture and the trajectory of the military. As a consequence, Australia and New Zealand’s strategic relevance to Fiji has diminished.

The results of the Litvinenko Inquiry were released in the UK late last week. Will it have any ramifications for UK-Russia relations? Matthew Sussex:

That said, it was important for the British Government to come out with some strong wording about the Inquiry's findings, even though this was more about domestic optics than foreign policy. After all, it was an act of murder on British soil that used an extravagantly poisonous material — polonium 210 is 250,000 times more toxic than cyanide — that has no real commercial use, and is mostly made in Russia. It could have been sponsored by a state, by a leading figure in one of the Kremlin's competing clans, by the Russian mafia or by a mixture of those. It is instructive that while Litvinenko was a junior FSB official, he did his most important work on organised crime. And in Russia, like other semi-authoritarian nations, it is very difficult to tell where official channels leave off and where greyer ones begin. So the perpetrators certainly wanted to send a message that any dissenting voices could be eliminated. They were also unconcerned by the prospect that they might subsequently be implicated.

Switching to economics, Stephen Grenville responded to a critical piece from economics blogger Michael Pettis, counting himself as an optimist:

On this, I count myself among the optimists. The greatest economic narrative of the past half-century has been the GDP convergence of previously poor countries (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore have completed the journey, but there are a good many others still on their way). China has already demonstrated that it is possible to scale up this model to fit the globe's most populous country. The narrative is unfinished, with many catch-up opportunities remaining and many slip-ups likely. Achieving this potential convergence requires skilled policy-making, but isn't this what China has shown for three decades?

Can China stay neutral in the Middle East? Peter Cai:

Beijing’s foray into the region seems to be based on the assumption that economic development and growth can significantly reduce tension. Zhang Min, a vice foreign minister, has said economic development was the 'ultimate way' to resolve the conflict in the region. This assumption is based on the ruling communist party’s strong belief that economic development is the key to dialing down social tension and strengthening a regime’s legitimacy. It's interesting to note the parallels between this and the perception that high rates of unemployment among young men in the Middle East have contributed to instability.

Former Institute intern Jackson Kwok wrote a wrap-up of Chinese state media coverage Xi Jinping's visit to the Middle East:

State-owned news outlets used Xi’s tour to send a strong message to domestic audiences: China’s diplomatic influence is increasing and this is welcomed by the international community. According to state media, China’s principle of mutually beneficial cooperation is transforming the international system. A commentary piece in People’s Daily argued that ‘today, China’s diplomacy has a global perspective, an enterprising consciousness, and a pioneering spirit. It has injected positive energy into the system of international relations.’

What can this year's World Economic Forum in Davos tell us about the state of the world? Daniel Woker:

If the development of Davos over the last 10 years is any indication, the political answer to this gap will have to encompass more inclusive political decision making. In the past, the elaborate security around the WEF site dictated against those who demanded change of the existing system and questioned the legitimacy of Davos man to lead. Some of them, and many of their demands, have been brought into the hallowed circle, and are at least discussed now in Davos.

Yet security this year was as strict as ever in the Swiss alpine resort, though it was directed against the terror attacks which have become a sad reality everywhere rather than the traditional anti-WEF protester. Hearing a Swiss Army colonel discuss on TV why it was impossible for a suicide bomber to breach the forum’s security perimeter was a clear indication that Davos is no longer a rarefied Alpine getaway from today's pressing problems for a tiny elite.

Following up on the commentary regarding Malcolm Turnbull's first trip to the US as prime minister, Euan Graham raised some questions about the health of the alliance:

However, in the run-up to Turnbull’s visit there was an illuminating revelation of discord in a National Interest article by Andrew Shearer and Michael Green, who have enough experience at the policy coalface to give them credibility as canaries. Four years after President Obama announced the rotation of up to 2500 US Marines through northern Australia — as the lead element of the US re-balance — Washington and Canberra remain at odds over who pays for their supporting facilities and infrastructure.

If the two allies cannot agree on something as basic as this, involving relatively modest sums of money, one has to wonder about the prospects.

An author in Tehran wrote a great piece on local reactions to the lifting of sanctions:

In addition, there is a different meaning attributed to Implementation Day than  to the signing of the nuclear deal. Singling Iran out for special treatment from the various Middle Eastern states with poor-to-terrible human rights records and sectarian instability has profoundly affected the Iranian psyche. Those who absorb BBC Persian and other Western media typically express this in self-conscious apologies. Those who consume locally produced news tend to favour bitter defiance. One PhD student I spoke to was clearly exasperated at my question. 'Why should I celebrate the lifting of sanctions that were unfair in the first place?' the student demanded.

Regular Julian Snelder on low global oil prices:

The oil price will bounce at some point. A Middle East war or a renewed OPEC agreement could temporarily interrupt the present era of abundant crude. But a structural return to $100 per barrel oil is distant if the industry remains caught between the pincers of rising supply and restrained demand. Who knows what geopolitical chaos will come if oil stays down? In the meantime, real economic effects have arrived. Projects worth $1.8 trillion potentially are in jeopardy. The weakest US shale producers are going bust. The 10 largest multinational oil companies have lost almost $800 billion in market value.

How are ASEAN countries dealing with ISIS? Apparently some are doing better than others, wrote Rob Edens:

Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have all found proactive ways of countering jihadism’s appeal, making their own efforts to win 'hearts and minds' alongside law enforcement and counterinsurgency operations. Thailand, on the other hand, has failed to incorporate a diplomatic component into its overall strategy, setting itself up to fail and risking transnational jihadist networks (especially ISIS) finding a foothold in Thailand’s southern provinces should they see fit to expand there. As a regional group, ASEAN can and should address the ISIS problem collectively, as it began to do under Malaysia’s leadership last year. ASEAN’s purview in security matters is extremely limited, however, and it will be up to individual member states to respond to the challenge of jihadism within their own borders.

And Rodger Shanahan with a detailed piece on the internal Iranian political struggle:

The parliamentary elections list has already seen the conservative forces limit the potential electoral spin-off that could accrue to Rouhani’s allies as a result of the beginning of the end of Iran’s economic isolation. More than 7,300 of the 12,000 candidates have been disqualified. These are overwhelmingly the reformist candidates; however, with a review process allowed some of them will likely be reinstated.

Perhaps the most interesting sub-drama though, has been the tussle over candidate selection for the Assembly of Experts who, among other duties, are charged with selecting the new Supreme Leader.

Photo courtesy of Defence Image Library.