In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Pakistan, as well as in Iraq, over the last month, experts are again revisiting the question of what causes violent extremism, and in this case, Islamic extremism. This week The Interpreter published a very good piece on the topic from frequent contributor Hussain Nadim

The truth is the majority of Muslims are helpless, both at the hands of the Islamist militants and of the West. They are caught up in a strange mix that includes: the North-South divide where global superpowers continue to play imperial politics in the developing world; sickening poverty and illiteracy; and, worst of all, the destruction of several Muslim countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt in the wake of the Cold War. Reflect for a moment on the fact that many in the Muslim world saw both US love for Mujahideen during the 1980s, and the US-led war against them post 9/11. For these Muslims, the world is a complicated political space where they neither belong with the terrorists and nor are accepted by the West. 

In the wake of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last week, Bonnie S. Glaser wrote on the bilateral meeting between President's Obama and Xi:

Just as Xi has stubbornly refused to give up his proposal for a 'new model' of bilateral relations, he is unlikely to alter course on other contentious issues. US-China friction in the coming years is likely to be most serious in the South China Sea. The final nine months of Obama’s tenure will likely be rocky as China seeks to make more gains in the South China Sea and the US conducts more frequent and more complex Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs). Although Washington hopes that the pending UNCLOS Tribunal ruling in Manila’s case against China will moderate Beijing’s behavior, it may be met with Chinese defiance, especially if there is no US-led effort to compel compliance. President Obama’s successor will inherit this challenge.

Anthony Bubalo finished his seven-part epic on the Middle East with a thoughtful analysis of future Australian policy in the region:

But it is also true if we only think primarily in terms of military engagement with the Middle East then we are more likely to encounter situations where the national effort is not really justified by the national interests involved. Arguably our participation in the invasion of Iraq was one such case.

Moreover, the net imbalance between effort and interest will only increase over time. If indeed, as the 2016 White Paper argues, Australia will have strategic interests in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, we will need to find more creative and less expensive ways to pursue those interests rather than just through new ADF deployments to the region. 

The election in the Philippines is fast approaching. Sarah Frankel wrote a pretty fascinating profile of the front-runner, Grace Poe:

In her bid for the presidency, Poe is portraying herself as a public servant determined to serve the Filipino people and to rise above the corruption and cronyism that has been known to plague Philippine politics. She denies that she is seeking revenge for her father’s presidential defeat, explaining that she is honouring FPJ’s legacy of trying to help the oppressed. Poe often wears a plain white shirt and jeans for public appearances (as her father did) and is running on a similar pro-poor platform, pledging that ‘nobody will be left behind’ under her leadership. Despite her famous lineage, Poe makes an effort to appeal to a broad base, using self-deprecating humour to charm her audiences.

What is the role of the public service in government decision-making, and is it missing an historical lens? Greg Raymond:

Whether, after having received such a national or strategic assessment, the Howard Government would have changed its mind on supporting one of the worst policy decisions in living memory is not the issue here. What is of concern is that like a muscle left unused, policy and analytical capacity inevitably withers when not called upon. To what extent are Defence, DFAT and other parts of the national security apparatus today able to develop penetrating policy analyses evaluating the costs and benefits of military operations? Are they doing more than simply facilitating their implementation? The Defence White Paper’s crude and tendentious characterisation of the state of the rules-based global order does not inspire confidence.

Hugh White followed up on a post from Michael Heazle last week:

The reality is we simply do not know how Asia's strategic system will evolve, what role Japan will play, what hard choices Australia will face, and how far those choices might take us from an alignment with Japan three or four decades from now. But there are clear signs that the reassuring certainties evoked by Michael Heazle are already passing. The Japan we see today is already very different from the Japan we have known for decades past, as Malcolm Cook's recent Interpreter post so neatly shows ('Mugabe in Tokyo: The Warping of Japanese Foreign Policy'). And the America we see today is not the America we used to know either.

Is the global financial 'safety net' being neglected? Tristram Sainsbury:

The more challenging the path for Plan A, the more attention needs to be paid to the Plan B. And we should begenuinely worried that the IMF thinks that the global financial safety net is not adequate. Global financial defences haven't kept up with the growth of external debt, and a negative global shock has the potential to overwhelm the safety buffers. Current safety net arrangements are costly, not structured to provide the right incentives for countries to pursue sound macroeconomic policies on their own accord, and newer regional elements such as theBRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement, are of doubtful effectiveness. 

Collin Koh Swee Lean wrote on what 'militarisation' actually means in the South China Sea. I agree that militarisation involves spurring on arms race dynamics, which are not always apparent in the short-term:

With these systems, China enhances its ability to assert military control through denying access in and over the South China Sea. More importantly, given the threat these missiles pose to foreign aerial and naval assets, their deployment may prompt regional rivals to acquire both defensive and offensive countermeasures such as better electronic warfare systems, long-range air- and sea-launched standoff weapons, and specialist armaments for suppression of enemy air defences – thereby fuelling further militarisation of the South China Sea.

Robert E. Kelly on South Korea's domestic politics:

All 300 seats in South Korea's unicameral National Assembly are up for election on 14 April. 246 members are elected in single-member, first-past-the-post (FPP) districts, while the remaining 54 seats are elected on a separate ballot via proportional representation (PR). The vote comes amid a tense security situation on the peninsula. North Korea's many provocations this year, including a fourth nuclear test in January, have made national security much more salient than normal. Elsewhere, Korea's export-driven growth continues to stumble amid a cooling-off period in Chinese development and a weaker yen. Youth unemployment remains high.

Sem Fabrizi, Ambassador and head of the EU Delegation to Australia, wrote an op-ed for The Interpreter on the EU policy towards terrorism and migration:

The attacks in Europe are part of a global terrorist threat that knows no boundary, no religion, creed or human decency. They are also attacks on our open and democratic European society. The global migration crisis has its own causes and dynamics, and we are addressing this crisis with comprehensive policies. We must take care to avoid jumping to simplistic conclusions about how terrorists are motivated and enabled or to criminalise migrants or refugees. Our resolve is stronger than before to preserve peace, justice and security for our citizens and to stand up for our values through more, not less, Europe.

Stephenie Andal saw the Apple/FBI dispute as part of a larger trend:

I would argue the Apple/FBI conflict should not be seen in isolation but in the context of various other government efforts to shore up national security in the race for cyber security dominance. Examples include: Britain’s proposed 'snooper’s charter' that could force tech companies to overstep their own encryption measures; moves to amend French anti-terrorism laws by bolstering the ability for intelligence services to access personal data; China’s recent push for greater control over foreign technology products and services; and the public vilification of encrypted communications by European governments in the wake of recent terrorist attacks. 

Was Russia's 'successful' intervention in Syria the first sign of a new emerging multipolar world order? Matthew  Dal Santo:

From Russia's victory at Palmyra also flows a certain retrospective vindication of its belief that beating back the Western-backed 'moderate rebels' to shore up Assad's Government was in fact a crucial part of building the conditions in which ISIS could be defeated. Moreover, by saving Assad and then pressing him to negotiate, Russia has played a crucial role in brokering that patchwork of cessation of hostilities agreements that has brought a measure of hope that a negotiated conclusion to Syria's five-year old civil war might year be achieved. 

Catriona Croft-Cusworth reported on the Panama Papers and Indonesia:

Tempo, the only Indonesian publication involved in the international investigation, produced its own in-depth report. The first of the names mentioned by Tempo include corruption case fugitive Djoko Soegiarto Tjandra, 'gasoline godfather' Muhammad Reza Chalid — who last made an appearance in a corruption scandal involving Freeport Indonesia — and a prospective candidate for governor of Jakarta, Sandiaga Uno. A follow-up report by Tempo also named Lippo Group owner James Riady and Indofood Director, Franciscus Welirang, as having connections to Mossack Fonseca. 

There seems to be some progress in Libya regarding a unity government, says Casper Wuite:

Western countries will undoubtedly welcome the growing support within Libya for the unity government. However, its bet to support the GNA may not prove as successful as it may envisage. The GNA is unlikely to sanction the kind of intervention to target ISIS now being discussed in Western capitals. There is little support for such a move within Libya, and it would further jeopardise the GNA's legitimacy while it is negotiating the transfer of power with its two rival governments. A limited intervention (air strikes, commando raids, and advice by Special Forces to vetted armed groups) without GNA approval would also reflect poorly on its legitimacy.

Trump may be a Nixon/Kissinger realist, says Crispin Rovere:

To many, 'the Nixon Doctrine' meant a return to pre-World War II isolationism. And just as with Trump, this is inaccurate. In fact, the notion of a so-called 'isolationist streak' in contemporary American culture is somewhat fallacious. Rather, since the end of World War II the US has oscillated between 'interventionism' and 'realism'. At times of national greatness (such as the end of the Cold War) Americans become idealistic and are keen to export their exceptionalism to the world. When severely bitten, such as in Vietnam and Iraq, America swings towards realism, where realpolitik approaches to great-power relations prevail for a time.

A recent joint event between The Lowy Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations in Singapore analysed Southeast Asia amid growing US-China competition. Euan Graham attended and wrote on some of the outcomes:

We heard that competition isn't all bad either, especially in economics. Southeast Asians are adept at channeling great powers desire for influence to their advantage. High-level attention from China and the US creates opportunities as well as risks. However attached Southeast Asians are to 'ASEAN centrality', there is also a growing resignation that it is beyond Southeast Asia's collective capacity to 'tame the elephants'. Concern about being trampled underfoot has grown now that China's diplomacy toward the region has lost its smile. To coin a Southeast Asian metaphor, the rattan stick is now brandished alongside the durian. 

The latest entries in our embassy series featured a raft of former diplomats defending the lasting relevancy of the diplomatic outpost. First, a former UK Ambassador to North Korea, David Slinn:

I visited some of the then still well-hidden local markets. I saw that crime existed (I was also a victim: my car was broken into in front of one of the main hotels one evening). Locals told me about examples of corruption. I was told that some North Koreans listened to foreign radio broadcasts and I regularly got to talk to young North Koreans learning English at a school in Pyongyang. It was low-level, tactical engagement, but it all helped to build the socio-economic picture, a job made easier by the regular comparing of notes with the other EU embassies, which during my posting came to include Poland, Czech Republic and Romania.

Kishan Rana wrote on embassies and the digital age:

At its core diplomacy is still about trust-based communication between authorised state actors, and that trust is a product of relationships constructed and nurtured with foreign interlocutors. As Paschke observed in his 1999 report for the German government, interchanges between ministers and high home officials that meet continually at conferences produces an ‘illusion of familiarity’. The craft of relationship building rests on trust, predictability and integrity and embassies ground those relationships.

And finally, Daniel Woker on the ambassador as not only a conduit for public engagement, but also as an analyst:

It is of course true that 'His Excellency' the diplomatic envoy, moving in the rarified atmosphere of high politics, carrying top secret messages while denying doing so, insisting on never taking sides or positions, saying nothing while talking in elaborate phrases, is dead. This figure was killed by instant worldwide communication (and the leaking thereof), by the incessant spotlight of the media and citizen reporters, and by the multiplication of non-state actors in international relations: business and finance representatives, media moguls, non-government organisations and many more.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Adria vidal.