Document Daze: Understanding Trump’s “Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework” (James Curran)

In the dying days of the most chaotically dysfunctional presidency in living memory, outgoing officials in Washington declassified the Trump administration’s Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. At issue is not only the contents of this document, but the manner and timing of its release and further, what its reception in Australia says about Australia’s relationship with the United States, and whether it shapes expectations for the new Biden presidency.

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Early declassification of Trump administration’s ‘Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific’

On 12 January 2021, the outgoing Trump administration released a declassified document titled em>United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. The document was declassified some thirty years ahead of schedule to enable its early public release. This unusual step by an outgoing US administration has seen the emergence of a range of views on the merits of the document, and the intention behind its early release.

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The curious case of the ‘United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific’

On 12 January 2021, the then US National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, released a declassified document titled the United States Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. The document was declassified for release on 5 January 2021, thirty years before this was due, in the last days of the outgoing Trump Administration. What should an Australian analyst make of this document?

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An American theocracy: the advance of Christian nationalism

Ironically, Christian nationalist opposition to religious liberty has plagued American democracy since before the Revolution, and a strong authoritarian strain still runs through American religious thinking. The Trump Administration provided disturbing evidence of how Christian nationalists have penetrated key political institutions, with eclipse of constitutional liberal democracy by a competing virtual theocracy as their aim.

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Is Trump’s 1776 Commission Report an extremist manifesto?

Trump’s 1776 Commission Report, released on 18 January 2021, puts forward ideas that are designed to give shape and logic to the notions of extremists. It is a dangerous document that provides the façade of a coherent political philosophy to hide, and to disguise, the rising illiberalism in America. The final conclusion is chilling, comparing the contemporary situation in America with previous crises that were resolved by violence and insurrection.

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What should Australia want from a Biden National Security Strategy?

If President Biden produces a National Security Strategy in 2021, Australia should hope for a major shift away from that of President Trump. But not an uncritical return to the 2015 version of President Obama. If stability and a workable international system are the outcomes the Biden Administration seeks, then three deeply interwoven issues need to be given serious attention: leadership, democracy, and sovereignty.

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A China strategy to reunite America’s allies (Chatham House)

China already has significant geopolitical and economic clout in Asia and beyond – especially through the Belt and Road Initiative, its massive investment program in global infrastructure, and commercial development. Economic decoupling is not in the offing; China is far too integrated into the global economy. So is there a “China strategy” that would reunite the US and its democratic partners?

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Preparing for a 3°C warmer future: the ideological shift and institutions Australia will need

Collective emission reduction efforts of nations will not avoid 3 degrees centigrade global warming by the end of the century. Therefore, national adaptation actions will need to prepare for the worse than expected scale and impact of climate change. Earlier ideological assumptions about governments will have to give way to policies that are interventionist and systemic.

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China-Australia decoupling? ASPI float a hydrogen balloon

It will become increasingly the case that if Australia doesn’t address the demands of the next economy, its prosperity, and therefore its security, will decline. In this context the development of an Australian clean steel industry using green hydrogen, proposed by ASPI’s Michael Shoebridge, looks enticing. But is it feasible of itself, let alone as part of decoupling from China’s economy? Or is it a distraction from the real economic and security issues facing Australia?

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The deceit of deterrence: a bankrupt strategic justification for defence expenditure

One of Australia’s three key strategic objectives is to “deter actions against our interests”, although what this means in practice is largely unexamined. Yet the concept of deterrence is frequently used to justify acquiring expensive, high-tech weapons platforms and systems. But what does the government envisage the submarines, new naval vessels, F-35s, and variety of long-range missiles will deter? In Australia’s strategic circumstances, what part can deterrence play in its strategic policy?

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The Indo-Pacific is a distraction: economics not geography is the strategic arena

Australia’s fixation on the South China Sea, and policy-makers’ indulgence of the fatuous Indo-Pacific concept, is obscuring the major developments in the strategic environment and misdirecting the public debate. While military power will continue to play a role in international relations, the fierce competition over the technologies and materials crucial to the next economy should be preoccupying strategic policy-makers.

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China-Australia relations: it’s not as simple as ABC

There are many commentators with strong and legitimate concerns about China. The relationship between Australia and China is a very important one and it warrants being debated openly and vigorously. But when those with privileged access to the public square confuse name calling and assertion with rational argument, it is important to point this out. The recent ABC article As Australia’s relationship with China deteriorates beyond repair, we need to find new trade partners is a case in point.

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US-Japan alliance: experts point to America’s strategic reliance on Japan in Asia

Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, long time pillars of the Washington national security policy elite, are the lead authors of a new report from CSIS on the US-Japan alliance, with a suggested “new agenda for the challenges and opportunities on the horizon”. It is deeply refreshing to see them acknowledge, albeit somewhat wistfully, that there is no going back to US hegemony. To exercise influence the US will have to partner with other states.

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