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

By Mike Scrafton | 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

By Mike Scrafton | 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?

By MIke Scrafton | 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

By Mike Scrafton | 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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Regulation, tariffs and reform of supply chains: neoliberalism under pressure?

By Mike Scrafton | For the moment, reducing reliance on overseas supply chains appears to be a big lesson out of the COVID-19 pandemic. But reluctance to regulate corporate and commercial activity has been a hallmark of governments across the world. Are neoliberal governments capable of reversing the direction they have been taking for three or four decades?

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Blinded by ‘the science’: COVID-19 and the authority of science in public policy

There are important distinctions when it comes to the way governments claim to have been ‘guided by the science’ when justifying their approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministers are not saying they are following a course of action because ‘an experimentally and observationally validated law of nature has been brought to my attention’. They mean that social scientists, based on some assumptions and suppositions, have modelled a range of possible outcomes and produced a number of projections, not predictions.

It is not science but policy, that mixture of ideology, politics, and pragmatism, that the ministers are doing when the choose between the pandemic options.

Governments should not be able to avoid scrutiny and accountability for their actions by leaning on the authority of science.

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Geostrategic shifts in a time of contagion

The COVID-19 crisis will affect the global geostrategic situation in a number of ways: some obvious and some still obscure.

Post COVID-19 economic conditions within nation states and across the globalised world will have shifted; governments will be juggling with the options of austerity policies, tax increases and welfare demands. Liberal and democratic values are likely to have suffered, along with confidence in democratic political leadership. And internationally, competition between political and economic systems might just be heating up.

The future geostrategic situation could turn on whether China or the US bounces back best from the current predicament. The coronavirus could prove to be a test of the resilience and viability of the political and economic systems of the two key states, and reposition their strategic competition.

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What COVID-19 tells us about preparing for global warming

The current crisis tells us some important things. The flaws in the neo-liberal model have been exposed. Democratic politics have been stressed to breaking point. The shocks to the economic, social and fiscal systems required to avoid dangerous climate change are shown to be unfeasible.

Denial, delay, and deflection over the climate science by democratic governments immersed in neo-liberal fantasies has set the world an unachievable target if dangerous global warming is to be avoided.

The extraordinary steps imposed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are what is needed on a sustained basis if a limit of 1.5°C of global warming is to be achieved. And yet this period of lock-down, self-isolation, social-distancing, and commercial and industrial dormancy has already shown that the measures responsible are imposing on whole societies costs which cannot be borne for long.

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Liberal democracy: the prognosis post-COVID-19

Liberal democracy still has a way to go before getting out of the ICU. Diagnosed with an underlying co-morbidity prior to the pandemic, it will be fortunate to survive without an ongoing need for respiratory support.

Governments have assumed extraordinary powers without a great deal of parliamentary or public debate, or clarity about why those powers were essential, or under what circumstances they will be extinguished.

Many see in the measures the potential for civil liberties and human rights to be eroded and for illiberal and autocratic tendencies to supplant liberal democratic values. The measures’ insidious potential is magnified by the willingness of governments to use questionable behavioural science to shape public attitudes and responses.

The prognosis for liberal democracy post-COVID-19 is not auspicious.

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Herd immunity or herd culling? Shades of Bentham, Spencer and Galton stalk government COVID-19 responses

Seeping faintly through the pronouncements and policies of some government responses to the coronavirus pandemic are the vapours of older belief systems; a whiff of utilitarianism, the scent of social Darwinism, and the fetid reek of eugenics.

Closer examination of the UK government’s ‘herd immunity’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that it’s not too farfetched to connect contemporary politics with these ostensibly outdated ideas.

The capacity of governments to respond appropriately to crises has never been more important. How will they respond to greater crises? Where will they find their moral moorings?

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US Presidential Election 2020: who would Kim Jong-un vote for?

The nuclear threat to North Asia, and possibly the US homeland, will remain one of the most intractable problems for the US president.

It is highly unlikely that in a second term Trump would step back from his maximum pressure sanctions strategy, and there is little evidence that this approach is anything other than counterproductive.

There are some indications that a Democrat victory in the presidential election could lead to a change in direction for US policy, which might offer greater opportunities for a pragmatic diplomatic solution.

For North Asian security, the best hope for a partial denuclearisation and a lessening of the security threat probably lies in Trump’s defeat.

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Conservatism and liberalism: the broken trajectories of modern politics

Modern politics in most democracies is largely organised around versions of the competing world views of liberalism and conservatism. But neither of the loose ideological gangs that cluster around the flags of the conservative and liberal camps (Right and Left) seem intellectually prepared to address the major problems facing the world.

To any clear-eyed observer the current trajectory is taking us to an undesirable place, and reliance on the earlier assumptions of some sort of meaning or progress, transcendental or immanent, unfolding into the future is insupportable.

The link between past and future is broken, and meeting today’s challenges needs to beign with a reorientation of political perceptions.

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The Trumping of international law and democratic institutions

In the past, presidents used the potency of the American liberal democratic ideal to rally like-minded nations and to rein in and chasten the world’s miscreants. The liberty and justice rhetoric appealed to and generated hope among peoples suffering under autocracy and oppression. The ideal inspired and could be leveraged for influence. While US society was never perfect, American leaders always claimed to be progressively moving towards its ideal and that was the basis of US claims for world leadership.

But under President Trump, the important institutions of constitutional democracy and international law have recently suffered serious damage. The long-term prospects for peace and stability have been undercut as a result.

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Is the United States of America a normal country?

Remarks at the Munich Security Conference by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper are full of unconscious irony.

If ‘the United States’ was substituted for every reference to ‘China’ in each address not much of their coherence would be lost. Can the two premier US leaders of foreign and strategic policy genuinely be so naïve about the current impact of America’s policies on the world order, multilateralism, alliances, and international security?

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Thuringia and European democracy after Merkel

In German politics, a strong party taboo was broken when Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) joined with the centrist Free Democrat Party (FDP) leader in Thuringia, Thomas Kemmerich, to form a government with the support of the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The breaking of the taboo might reflect the passing of the generation of Angela Merkel, shaped by the complex social, political and economic legacy of the Nazi past, a divided Germany, post-Soviet national reunification and the emergence of the European Union.

In this article MIke looks at the historical context that gave rise to the “cordon sanitaire” around the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the potential signficance of its demise (and Merkel’s retirement) for the European project and geopolitics more broadly. .

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Traps, Trump and Thucydides: challenging Allison’s concept of a ‘Thucydides’ Trap’

In his book ‘Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap’? Harvard academic Graham Allison finds in Thucydides’ ‘The History of the Peloponnesian War’, some near universal law of international relations where war between established and rising great powers is close to inevitable – the ‘Thucydides’ Trap’. In this article, Mike argues that Thucydides may be read as exposing a different trap to the one that Allison finds.

The trap lies in the illusion that the contingent circumstances that enable one state to become a hegemon are a reflection of some inherent superiority of the nation and its people rather than being inadvertent and transitory. It is in the mistake of not realising that exercising power without moral underpinnings leads to disaster not victory. And crucially, the trap is in allowing emotion to override common sense because of flattering populist rhetoric and exhortations to nationalism and exceptionalism.

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US National Security and Ukraine: What’s the connection?

Witnesses appearing before the US House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings have regularly connected Russian aggression in Ukraine with US national security. But just how is Ukraine important to the national security of the United States? This article examines this question and argues that it may be prudent to have clarity around national interests and to avoid shorthand terms that tend to discourage analysis and articulation of those interests, such as ‘national security’.

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Geopolitics and the re-election of Donald Trump

The biggest question in geopolitics is: will President Trump be re-elected? More than any previous presidential election, the 2020 election could presage a very dangerous era in world politics, making the presidential election the most important geopolitical event this year. However, the American presidential election will be determined by domestic issues that swirl around a collection of policy issues as well as identity and values.

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