Biden embraces science and facts, but falls short on climate action

President Biden’s recognition of climate change, and determination to shift science to the centre of climate policy is important, and welcome. But a program that “achieves a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and puts the US on an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050” will not be enough. Adaptation to a 3.0°C temperature rise this century must now be a focus for governments.

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Taiwan: a ‘wicked’ strategic problem for Australia

For Australia, the question of Taiwan remains a ‘wicked’ strategic problem. The Taiwanese have over time established strong claims for their autonomy. The US has a huge investment in Taiwan’s security, while not denying it is part of China. And defence of Taiwan could see the island devastated, the ANZUS alliance become irrelevant, and Australia’s security lost. Why would Australia go to war over Taiwan?

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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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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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Strategic capitalism, strategic autonomy and Australia

The Biden administration will be unable to avoid continuing America’s fierce competition with China. It also will find that, like-minded and democratic or not, most states will have distinct national interests and will seek to act autonomously, dancing between the feet of the battling giants, trying to extract or leverage the best price for their allegiance and alignment in the Chinese-US competition. With a deep past investment in the US hegemony, Australia is awkwardly placed as this new age of strategic capitalism unfolds.

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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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Afghanistan and beyond: 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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