Point of no return: the 2020 election and the crisis of American foreign policy (Thomas Wright)

A victory for the incumbent will represent crossing a “tipping point”, beyond which “alliances may come to an end, the global economy could close, and democracy could go into rapid retreat”, Thomas Wright writes in a comprehensive analysis of the likely future foreign policy direction under either a Joe Biden or Donald Trump presidency. This is an important and informative analysis by a well-credentialled and intelligent observer of the contending camps struggling over foreign policy in the US.

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Global order in the shadow of coronavirus: China, Russia and the West (Lowy)

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on the state of global governance. Faced with the greatest emergency since the Second World War, nations have regressed into narrow self-interest. The concept of a rules-based international order has been stripped of meaning, while liberalism faces its greatest crisis in decades. In this Lowy Institute publication, the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI)’s Bobo Lo argues that it’s time to rethink global governance and its priorities.

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Southeast Asian diplomacy: consistency is not always a virtue (AIIA)

As a contiguous big country, China is always going to enjoy significant influence in Southeast Asia. But for precisely the same reasons, China is also always going to evoke anxieties. Countries on China’s periphery will therefore not allow themselves to be hemmed into an exclusive relationship no matter how dependent they are on China. Having lived in the midst of great power competition for centuries, the strategic instinct of Southeast Asia is not to align with any major power across all domains.

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Crises only sometimes lead to change. Here’s why. (Sheri Berman)

“The coronavirus pandemic won’t automatically lead to reforms. Great upheavals only bring systemic change when reformers have a plan—and the power to implement it”. In this essay, Sheri Berman analyses historical crises and suggests why they may produce or fail to produce transformational change. The essay has a US focus and deals with the potential for systemic change to follow the coronavirus pandemic crisis, but the analysis could also help in understanding why the global warming crisis is failing to produce transformative change on the scale that is needed.

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Science, solidarity and solutions needed on climate change (UN)

Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are at record levels, and emissions that saw a temporary decline due to the pandemic are heading towards pre-COVID levels, while global temperatures continue to hit new highs, according to a major new UN report. UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that there is “no time to delay” if the world is to slow the trend of the devastating impacts of climate change.

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The future of multilateralism and strategic partnerships (Elena Lazarou)

The current European Commission has set the defence and reform of multilateralism as one of its key priorities. In this ideas paper from the EU Parliament’s Research Service, Elena Lazarou tackles the question of how to achieve the EU’s objective in an environment where coronavirus has exacerbated the struggle to uphold multilateralism in a climate of growing nationalism, protectionism and rising great power competition.

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Sino-US competition: the importance of disaggregating China’s revisionism (Michael Clarke)

Revisionism as a strategy in international politics, and China’s revisionism in particular, however is not the “all-or-nothing” proposition portrayed by US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. A more accurate understanding of the factors that have driven Beijing’s transition between different types of revisionist behaviour suggests that rhetoric such as Pompeo’s will merely reinforce China’s move toward more problematic revisionist behaviours.

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An alliance of democracies: with the US or for the US? (Sven Biscop)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for an “a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies”. By bringing together its European and Asian allies under American leadership, the US hopes to bring them into line with its own China strategy. But an “alliance of democracies” would not really be an alliance with the US – it would be an alliance for the US, to further the American interest, to which the interests of its allies would inevitably end up being subordinated.

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The challenges of the post-pandemic agenda (Jean Pisani-Ferry)

There is a growing possibility that the COVID-19 crisis will mark the end of the growth model born four decades ago with the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, China’s embrace of capitalism, and the demise of the Soviet Union. The small government, free-market template suddenly looks terribly outdated. Instead of regarding growth as the ultimate solution to inequality, advanced economies will need to tackle distributional issues head on. It is to be hoped that they will be spared the convulsions that often accompany structural and policy changes of such magnitude.

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Why is the South China Sea such a hotly contested region? (Greg Austin)

Australia’s statement on the South China Sea in July 2020 was its strongest rejection yet of China’s claims to the waters. It did not represent a new position on the legal issues, but marked a fresh determination to confront China over the maritime disputes. The United States is also pressuring Australia to join its freedom of navigation exercises in the sea — a move likely to further anger China. As tensions in the South China Sea mount, it’s important to understand how this dispute began and what international law says about freedom of navigation and competing maritime claims in the waters.

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Why is ‘values’ the new buzzword in Australian foreign policy? (Benjamin Reilly)

In international affairs, words are bullets, according to an old diplomatic saying. If so, Australia in recent years has begun firing new ammunition. ‘Values’, a word seldom used in the past, has now assumed a central place in our foreign policy rhetoric. Speeches, press conferences and policy statements vibrate with the V-word. If values are now the coin of our foreign policy realm, we will have to start walking the talk.

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China’s newfound intimacy with Russia is a strategic blind spot for Australia (Alexey D Muraviev)

We have become very China-centric in our strategic thinking in Australia — and this could be to our detriment. Beijing’s deepening defence ties with Russia remain a blind spot in our public debate. China and Russia have grown much closer in recent years, especially when it comes to security and defence. Instead of taking a serious look at the ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ between Russia and China, we largely play down what unites these two major nuclear powers and the world’s most potent militaries outside the United States.

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Defence spending and plans: will the pandemic take its toll? (IISS)

That the Covid-19 pandemic will have an impact on defence ministries is beyond doubt, but can governments and defence ministries find a way to deal with the possible effects on military spending and resource allocations? One way or another, national governments and defence ministries will have to grapple with the immediate and extended effects of the pandemic on their countries’ military spending and resource allocation.

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Demystifying Australia’s South China Sea stance (Sam Bateman)

Despite Australia and the United States having no direct interest in continental shelf claims in the South China Sea, both have recently joined the debate. Both appear to have sought maximum publicity for their submissions – which have been reported as providing the basis for confronting and false media headlines, such as ‘Australia says China’s claims to disputed islands are ‘invalid’ and are not consistent with UN convention on law of the sea’. In fact there is nothing new in the Australian or US statements despite suggestions that they reflect new aggressive stances against China, and it is not clear why Australia and the United States made statements at this particular point in time other than to add another dimension to the intensifying rivalry with China.

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The impact of COVID-19 on critical global food supply chains and food security (SIPRI)

By the end of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic risks doubling the number of people who face acute hunger from around 135 million to around 265 million people. The pandemic may have a more severe impact on the number of hungry than the global food crisis of 2007–2008, potentially constituting a ‘hunger pandemic’.

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