Biden’s hopes fall short in G7 communique

Despite expectations in some quarters that the Americans would stamp their world view and priorities on the G7, it is clear from how the communique deals with Russia and China that the European concern for strategic autonomy was influential in its drafting. President Biden’s hopes for a strong position against China did not materialise as Russia received greater attention.

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Once was a hegemon: Australia and the decline of the US

Australia’s Indo-Pacific obsession hides a radical global geopolitical shift, and denies the reality that US hegemony has passed a tipping point. Increasingly, the decisive great power actor(s) in any situation will be context specific, with delineation of spheres of influence and shifting balance of power arrangements requiring Australia to be nimble, smart, and independent.

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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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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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