Well, today's been a shocker. In what will be my last Weekend Catch-up for The Interpreter, the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU has been demoralising. I can't help but think that a liberal project, perhaps the most significant since the UN was established after World War Two, has been torn apart. Already calls from other nationalist forces across Europe have been strengthened. Maybe the financial shocks that are sure to resonate this weekend will dampen any further enthusiasm for further isolationism in other parts of Europe. Maybe they will have the opposite effect. Nobody really knows. This piece in the Financial Times by Philip Stevens captures much of my mood, particularly this passage:
Across advanced democracies politics has been soured by resentment against wealthy elites. Look across Europe, or across the Atlantic to Donald Trump’s Republican presidential campaign, and you see the same seething discontent about globalisation, migration and cuts in welfare. The postwar political order, dominated as it has been by parties of the centre-right and centre-left, is under unprecedented strain. Rising populism of the extreme left and right has begun to sound echoes of the 1930s.
The Interpreter has covered the lead-up to the Brexit referendum extensively this past week. I'll lead off with Shashank Joshi on the strategic consquences:
If Britain votes to leave the EU on 23 June, it may well represent the greatest strategic shock to the continent since the breakup of the Soviet Union and consequent reunification of Germany a quarter century ago. The balance of power and influence between Britain, France and Germany – a crucial variable in European geopolitics for hundreds of years – would shift, while the European project as a whole could be gravely weakened just as its eastern and southern flanks come under unprecedented strain. Britain itself, having found the role that Dean Acheson famously proclaimed lost, would be in danger of losing it once more, eroding its value as a transatlantic bridge, and grasping for chimerical substitutes in the Middle East and Asia.
Matthew Dal Santo also wrote an excellent and perceptive piece in relation to the vote:
The intellectual case for Brexit is essentially a 'no' in answer to those questions, making the case for Brexit not only historically, but also philosophically coherent in a British setting: the supremacy of parliament in all areas of public policy is the sine qua non of the nation's civic and political continuity. In Benn's words, not only has parliamentary democracy 'defended our basic liberties' and 'offered us the prospect of peaceful change', it has 'bound us together by creating a national framework of consent for all the laws under which we were governed.'
Christine Gallagher outlined a 'word on the street' take that seems quite on the money now:
These figures may explain why migration and labour issues are resonating in Brexit debates. A lady I met at Manchester train station said her son is long-term unemployed despite his job hunting efforts. He's had factory work in the past and labouring jobs but he's been unemployed for 18 months and she blames EU migration. A tradie in a pub in Peckham in south London told me that most of the workers on his construction site are from eastern Europe. His view is that people coming from poorer countries get jobs because they are more motivated to change their circumstances and are willing to wake early and work hard. This is anecdotal, keep in mind, and not empirical evidence, and yet it is a reflection of local perspectives about how migration is impacting labour.
Brett Hogan and John Roskam put forth the idea that Brexit would be good for the UK and good for Europe:
Democracy is, at its heart, the process by which personal freedom of expression finds its voice. A nation's executive and legislative system, its courts, its police and armed services, and the laws they pass, interpret and enforce, form a framework that governs how its citizens live and interact with each other. A properly functioning nation-state and democracy must have the ability to perform these functions. Unfortunately it is clear that the citizens of the UK no longer enjoy these privileges.
In a similar vein, Richard Johnson said Remain's arguments were unconvincing and did not tackle the issue of globalisation properly:
The Remain side seems incapable of distinguishing between internationalism and globalisation. Yet we can surely be internationalist while not succumbing to unfettered globalisation. We can support national reciprocity and co-operation without ceding democratic institutions. We can support immigration without giving up our ability to regulate it.
Moving on to the Australian election, Andrew Carr noted that Australian politicians are more willing to talk about defence and foreign policy issues:
On a range of fronts, the last few years have suggested Australia's politicians are increasingly willing to highlight their disagreements on foreign and defence policy. This was clearer under the combative Tony Abbott, but even Turnbull's more refined style can't hide growing differences in how the major parties talk about and think about issues such as terrorism, China, defence spending, climate change (as a security concern), foreign aid, and until Abbott succumbed to the political pressure, submarines.
In a very important piece, Jenny Hayward-Jones tackled the overlooked issue of Manus in the election:
The major parties in Australia should also be canvassing other options. If the Manus 'deterrent' can no longer be a key plank of Australia's immigration policy, how much symbolic value is there in 'never' permitting refugees currently detained in Manus access to Australia or to New Zealand, while we continue to risk our bilateral relationship with Papua New Guinea? Australian voters have accepted policy backflips before and no doubt will again. Our politicians might even persuade us to do so this time if they do us the courtesy of involving us in an informed debate.
The Lowy Institute launched its annual poll this week. Alex Oliver with an overview of the most important results:
While we are divided between China and the US and many of us are anxious about China's intentions, we also appear to be quite concerned about what's going on in US politics at the moment. Nearly half (45%) of us say Australia should distance itself from the US if Donald Trump becomes president. Around half (51%) say we should remain close regardless of who is elected president; not a decisive vote of confidence and a result which suggests that the Trump factor may be having an impact on Australian support for the alliance.
North Korea launched yet another IRBM earlier this week. Morris Jones:
Ironically, this impatience has probably contributed to the failure of these test launches, much like the fairy tale of the goose that laid golden eggs. Exactly what happens next is unclear, but certain political intermediaries who have oversight of the program could face a bleak future. North Korea would presumably judge that executing or imprisoning key technical personnel would derail their missile development. Then again, politics has already grossly interfered with engineering. Nobody knows what else is happening beyond our view.
With a difficult and messy ASEAN summit that failed to reach a consensus on the South China Sea, Nick Bisley wrote on how it reflects the contest for primacy between the US and China:
The meeting also reminds us that the South China Sea dispute is testing the efficacy of the old ways of managing Asia's international order. Indeed, in many respects it shows that the old order, centred around US primacy and consensus among Asia's states about the basic rules and purpose of that order, is dying — if it is not already dead. Asia has returned to a period of contestation, not only about who owns which features in the South China Sea, but about the underlying structure and purpose of region's international order.
Rodger Shanahan with a take on a recent dissent memo within the US Department of State over the Obama Administration's Syria policy:
As an aside, I must admit that I never knew about 2 FAM 70, the US document that outlines the way US State Department or USAID personnel can express alternate views to US government policy. It beggars belief that an Australian government of either hue would ever allow such freedom of expression within a key government agency.
Jiyoung Song continues her series on the migration-security nexus in Asia:
Human trafficking in the fishing and seafood industry in Southeast Asia is another example of modern-day slavery. Fishermen are especially vulnerable to exploitation as their movements are restricted in boats at sea. Physical abuse, inadequate working and living conditions, unpaid salaries, and the lack of any avenue for complaint are widespread. Australia is connected to a degree to these exploitative practices in seafood industries as it is the fourth largest consumer of seafood from Thailand where forced labour by trafficked persons takes place.
And Marie McAuliffe wrote on migration and the regulation-expectation paradox:
The more states regulate aspects of social and economic life, the more they strengthen the perception that things can be regulated and controlled, even phenomena occurring transnationally and far beyond the direct control of national or regional regulators, like irregular migration. The pressure can then translate into more ‘innovative’ and extreme attempts at exerting greater control, such as the EU-Turkey deal, which can come at a very high price, financially, bilaterally and in humanitarian terms.
Finally, Shyam Saran wrote on India's economic reform agenda and he departure of India's central bank governor, Raghuram Rajan:
In any event, Rajan's departure is not good news at a time when the global economy seems destined to be buffeted by another bout of volatility thanks to uncertainties related to Brexit, China's economic slow-down and continuing economic stagnation in the US and Europe. In dealing with such volatility and unexpected macro-economic instability, Rajan's continuing and tested stewardship would have inspired confidence and projected an air of predictability. As we have seen, perceptions count.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Theophilos Papadopoulos.