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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Today’s risks and the history of war: recognising the unknowable

Is a great power war in prospect? The study of war provides insights into the preconditions for conflict and an awareness of the unpredictable nature of war. It shows that great power wars can be as unpredictable as they are transformational. The winners are hidden from sight at the inception, and the losers risk everything. If Australian leaders assume they could come out unscathed on the winning side of an East Asian war they are taking a huge gamble on behalf of Australian citizens.

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Cancel culture and the Harper’s Letter: a moan from the Ivory Tower or call to the liberal battlements?

The Letter on Justice and Open Debate published on 7 July 2020 and signed by 150 noted authors, academics, and public intellectuals cuts straight to a key fault line in liberalism. A collection of privileged individuals are claiming an unfettered right to say or write whatever they wish on the grounds that this right is the “lifeblood of a liberal society”. If this highly contestable claim is correct, it can then be asked if a liberal society is justifiable.

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Australian strategic policy: why we need a robust public debate

Only a select group of voices is heard most often and most loudly on the subject of Australia’s strategic policy. This creates a false sense of certainty around what is a speculative and inexact policy area. The policy choices, and the connection between strategic policy and force structure, deserve to be intensively examined and validated through public debate – not least of all because the opportunity cost of defence investment is huge.

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AUSMIN 2020: confirmation of Australia’s abandonment of strategic autonomy?

Australians should not take comfort from recent government statements around the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations – claims that Australia makes its own decisions, its own judgments, in the Australian national interest, in order to uphold Australia’s security, prosperity and values. Reassuring words are the slippery province of diplomacy. Strategic policy is founded in force structure and force posture.

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Confronting global warming and other looming crises: can democracies marshall the necessary expertise?

Confronting the dramatic trends taking place in the rates of global warming, destruction of the environment, extinction of biodiversity, and global social injustice urgently requires unprecedented societal and economic transformations. Can major democratic economies overcome the combination of disillusionment with government and distrust of experts, and position themselves to bring about the transformations these crises demand?

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The rationale for Australia’s 2020 Force Structure Plan: A 2040 war?

There is a mismatch between the urgent need to respond to the supposed recent deterioration in Australia’s strategic circumstances, and Australia’s recently-released 2020 Force Structure Plan.

It is highly improbable that many, or most, of the investments proposed in the Plan will be delivered on time and within cost. Ministers and defence planners know this. But bringing capabilities into the ADF inventory within the next 20 years doesn’t seem to be the priority for government, despite the apparent deterioration in the strategic environment.

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A replay of the 1930s: Fact or fearmongering?

Announcing the strategic shift proposed by Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update, Prime Minister Morrison compares the current strategic environment to “the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s”.

Arguing from historical analogy is a dubious business. But if the Prime Minister believes current global circumstances are comparable to those that preceded the Second World War, the response in the Strategic Update is inadequate. If he doesn’t, his references amount to fear-mongering.

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Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update: no talk of war here

There is little to quarrel with in Hugh White’s assessment of the uncertainties in East Asia. His counsel to the government on the way forward for strategic policy, on the other hand, is less satisfactory.

To embark on a major expansion of Australia’s military forces is not the way to protect Australia. On the contrary, it is hard to see where engaging in war against China can result in anything but seriously adverse outcomes for Australia.

The way forward is harder than buying rockets. Australia will need to find a way to live peacefully in the Chinese behemoth’s backyard.

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne

Australia’s foreign policy: Resurgent realism or the survival of multilateralism?

Conceptual confusion in thinking about foreign policy is evident as the post World War II era’s structured international arrangements of durable institutions and agreed norms – designed to facilitate peaceful dispute resolution and cooperation on security, economic and social matters between nations – is challenged by the United States and others.

The indeterminacy over whether a gradual transition from the rules-based order to a degree of anarchy is taking place is generating a certain dissonance in the speechmaking of leading Australian political figures.

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Race is not real: It’s time to stop acting as though it is

For something that doesn’t exist, race exerts a pernicious and persistent influence on society. Placing people into a racial category, based on observable external features, and then attributing to it holistic ‘cultures’ that determine behaviours or moral character, is not supported by evidence.

But even those who are prepared to go to the barricades to oppose racism perpetuate the notion that race is real. This makes the management of entrenched racism inordinately difficult – but belief in race can be undermined – this is what needs to happen.

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The Australia-India Strategic Partnership: ‘Shared values’ mask the real strategic purpose

The much-used phrase ‘shared values’ is regularly used as the basis for international relationships and alliances. It can be used to selectively point to values found in political, social or economic ideologies, or in religious or ethical systems – and to divert attention away from substantive issues or conjure up imaginary communities of interest. In the context of the Australia-India Strategic Partnership, does the use of the phrase mask the real strategic purpose of the agreement?

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Sovereignty and self-determination: The wider implications of Israel and the West Bank

Australia’s Prime Minister recently said that Australia always respects the sovereignty of other nations, and simply expects the same in return. But cases like Kosovo, Crimea, Jammu-Kashmir and Hong Kong illustrate the tension between sovereignty and self-determination – and the significance of precedent-setting. Recognising Israel’s sovereignty over the West Bank requires careful, nuanced consideration. What position will Australia take?

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The Deep State conspiracy theory: Is Trump laying the groundwork for The Great Presidential Robbery?

Should US presidential hopeful Joe Biden prevail in November, the grounds will have been laid for Donald Trump to cry foul – with the potential for a crisis of political legitimacy. Australian policymakers, struggling with balancing the economic relationship with China and the security relationship with the US, should be following domestic trends in America with nervous apprehension.

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Historical amnesia: Great power behaviour and criticism of China

Positioning the adversarial relationship with China as one of morally superior western democratic nations in competition with a somehow illegitimate and malevolent China is an exercise in historical amnesia. The democratic United State’s 1890 – 1920 trajectory from western hemisphere state to global power has some economic, military and foreign policy parallels with authoritarian China’s growth in the twenty-first century.

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Eyes wide open, or a blinkered view? The Australia-China relationship in the Antarctic

The recent report ‘Eyes Wide Open: Managing the Australia-China Antarctic Relationship’ contains a lot of information about China’s activities in Antarctica and usefully sets out aspects of the Chinese-Australian relationship.
But are the report’s recommendations a disproportionate reaction to a manufactured crisis regarding China’s presence and activities in Antarctica?

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