This time it’s the end of democracy: Fukuyama and big-tech

How to Save Democracy From Technology: Ending Big Tech’s Information Monopoly puts forward a confused and inadequate set of arguments concerning the “gigantic Internet platforms Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter”. Its focus on yesterday’s technological challenges while tomorrow’s threats are almost upon us is disappointing, and misses where the real threat to democracy and individual freedom is beginning to take form.

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Strategic capitalism, geoeconomics and Australia’s choices

As market-based economic globalisation gives way to a system of state relations based largely on strategic capitalism, the Australian government seems to be using an outdated operating system. The demise of the multi-lateral, rules-based and open world will pose problems that demand imagination, innovation and deft and agile policy and diplomacy. In this environment Australia has a difficult course to chart.

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The metrics of strategic competition with China don’t add up

The recent Belfer Center report by RAAF Group Captain Jason Begley, Winning Strategic Competition in the Indo-Pacific, offers important insights into the strategic thinking of the Australian military. The author’s analysis of the strategic competition with China in which the US and Australia have engaged far surpasses the level of the policy arguments offered in the Australian government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

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For moral certainty, war is the solvent

The brutal reality of war never features in political discussions of strategic and defence policy. How many non-combatants in foreign countries is it moral to kill, displace, or impoverish in order protect or preserve some objective, principle or values? In ministerial offices and cosy think tank suites, distant from the ruined cities, refugee camps, and destroyed lives, decision makers and advisers should think on these things.

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The open secret of US war plans: what does Australia know?

The influence of the US in Eurasia will continue to falter, and as its economic, diplomatic, and moral potency dwindles, America’s military will become its primary asset. In America’s strategic logic, loss of leadership demands a military response – and the nature of the military preparations for war on a recognised emerging Asia hegemon are now well known. While the trajectory to war is not irreversible, and the step to launching a war is huge, the consequences would be calamitous. Is Australia complicit in the preparations?

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ASPI’s guide to submarines leaves the biggest strategic questions unanswered

ASPI’s Special Report; submarines, your questions answered aims to “become the go-to guide for authoritative comment on all things to do with the present and future of Australian submarines”. However, rather than clarify the issues around submarine warfare and the Attack class, it raises more questions than it answers. That’s not to deny that there are important contributions in the report from Andrew Davies, Marcus Hellyer, Malcolm Davis, and others.

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Exaggerated threats and contrived military strategies shouldn’t drive Defence spending: a response to Jon Stanford

In a series of three articles, Jon Stanford has argued that Australia needs “a sound military strategy to deter an attack by a great power and careful analysis of how to design the right force structure to deliver it”. An external, more ‘neutral’ review of Australia’s military strategy is proposed. But it is not clear that Australia needs a new military strategy – let alone one that would require a 50 % increase in the Defence budget.

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No power in the Lowy Asia Power Index 2020

The Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index 2020 is a substantial undertaking that purports to map “out the existing distribution of power as it stands today, and tracks shifts in the balance of power over time” by ranking “26 countries and territories in terms of their capacity to shape their external environment”. However, a misunderstanding of the concept of power, and some underlying subjectivity and biases, undermines its usefulness.

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IMF’s WEO 2020 on climate mitigation: important, impractical, and naive

The fact that the International Monetary Fund recognises the urgency of addressing anthropogenic induced climate change and the importance of reducing carbon emissions from human activity by 2050 must be seen as a welcome step. But the report is impractical and naïve in some respects. The next step needs to go beyond the high level of abstraction that smooths over the diversity of economic, political and climate impacts in local situations.

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Multilateral climate action: assisting emerging economies and developing countries is right and smart

Without assistance, emerging economies and developing countries (EEDCs) will continue to add increasing amounts of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere for decades, preventing the curbing of global warming and adversely impacting all countries. While EEDCs were always going to require substantial assistance from the advanced economies, the need for strong multilateral action has become more urgent.

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The strategic aspect of human rights in a multipolar world: a tool of hegemony

The UDHR is being challenged by the rise of competing understandings of human rights, and very different interpretations of the relationship between the state and the governed. The US response has been an attempt to redefine ‘unalienable rights’ in a dangerous formulation that is aimed at restating the primacy of the US world view, and adding to the US’s reasons to confront, and perhaps fight, China and Russia.

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The US role in the world: a new normal

President Trump has pursued a different vision of the US’s role in the world – one which has had an undeniable impact on relations with allies and competitors alike, and has reshaped perceptions of the US as a global actor. A robust debate over its future global role has ensued. US allies like Australia should be paying close attention, because whether or not Trump wins re-election, the US will not be able to resume some quasi-mythical past role, and the world will need to adjust to a new normal.

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The bathtub is nearly full: Australia’s extraordinary energy plan

The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions can be usefully compared to filling a bathtub without a drain. Until the emissions tap is turned off completely, the bath keeps filling. And even when the tap is turned off, the bath is still filled to an undesirably high level. If the tap is never turned off, or turned off too late, in time the bath overflows disastrously. The Australian government’s extraordinary new fossil-fuel centred energy plan ensures the emissions tap will continue to flow.

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The end of hegemony confounds the realists: the US must come to terms with its loss

Elbridge Colby and Robert D. Kaplan’s recent article in Foreign Affairs is an important addition to the framing of the contest between China and the United States. They point to the very real risks of seeing the relationship as an ideological struggle. But their analysis leaves key questions unanswered, and ultimately misses the need for the United States to accommodate a China that will be its equal militarily and economically.

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1776 Commission versus 1619 Project: will Trump’s rejection of history divide America?

The ‘1776 Commission’ is the denouement of all the bizarre notions that have populated Trump’s seemingly random and disjointed dialogue throughout the four years of his presidency. His speech announcing it was a not very well-disguised panegyric for an agenda that isn’t just a denial of history, but could see America remain deeply and passionately divided well beyond Trump’s presidency.

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Scientists and capitalists agree on climate. When will governments act?

A new set of reports highlight the failure of governments to deal with the coming climate disaster. The unsurprising news is that current emissions of both CO2 and CH4 are not on track to limit global warming to the levels which were the goal of the Paris Agreement. None of this is a revelation to anyone following climate issues. However, what continues to amaze is the apparent repeated inability of this alarming information to have an impact on policy makers.

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The UN at 75: a real declaration of intent, or multilateral virtue signalling?

An atmosphere of unreality is building in advance of the virtual meeting of world leaders on 21 September 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN). Nothing demonstrates this more than the proposed draft declaration. Rather than reaffirming the UN’s centrality, the draft declaration’s faux earnestness jars amid the current international reality. Additionally, it ignores the biggest challenge to multilateralism.

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Strategic mirror: Pentagon’s China report reveals converging power and strategy

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on military and security developments in China describes an already formidable military capability, and China’s intention that its military strength will achieve parity with the US by 2049. Ironically, the report unintentionally reveals that China’s major strategic objectives mirror those of the US, past and present. Additionally, the report provides evidence that Australia’s increasing investment in Defence is no substitute for diplomacy.

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Out of shape: Australia’s lack of strategic influence

It seems clear from recent surveys that the Australian government is overestimating its influence in ‘the immediate region’ and underestimating the capacity of the ASEAN states, in particular, to recognise their own strategic interests. The strategic objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update rest on the assumptions that Australia will be able to ‘shape’ strategic perceptions in the region, and that this can best be done while acting in close association with the US. Are the foundations of Australia’s strategic logic sound?

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A bigger canvas: Russia, China and Australia’s strategic policy

The proximity and size of China, and the belligerence of the US toward China, has occluded the view of Russia among Australia strategic planners. While Russia poses no credible direct threat to Australia, it could be a key player in a conflict between the US and China. Once Russia is factored into the analysis of the situation in East Asia, the global consequences of a war are magnified and the recklessness of contemplating participating in such a conflict becomes even clearer.

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