Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:22 | SYDNEY

Australia in the World

Rudd on right track, but with wrong vehicle

Geoff Barker claims (subscribers only) in today’s Australian Financial Review that criticisms of Prime Minister Rudd’s recent initiatives on Asia-Pacific regionalism and nuclear disarmament are all of a kind. He writes: …it is also important to note that Rudd’s critics are

The regional architecture debate continues

The debate that Hugh White, myself and others have conducted on the merits of Prime Minister Rudd's Asia Pacific Community proposal has migrated to the Australian National University-based East Asia Forum blog. Peter Drysdale argues there that we should not wait to build a new regional order

Geography isn't economic destiny

Sam noted in a recent post that the physical distance of countries like Australia and New Zealand from world economic activity can have economic costs, and that one current trend – rising energy prices – looks set to increase the importance of distance in an adverse way by boosting

Oil prices revive the tyranny of distance

The Economist's Free Exchange blog has had a couple of posts in recent days on New Zealand's apparent slide into recession. Their conclusion is that Australia and New Zealand will have to rely on markets physically closer to us if we are to overcome the higher costs of transporting our

Institutions and power

As usual, Sam has spotted the weak point in my position. I had argued that Rudd should not waste his time and credibility by proposing half-baked new ideas for new forums like his aspirational Asia-Pacific Community. He should focus instead on trying to mobilise changes to the fundamentals of

Getting the regional structure right does matter

Hugh White has two lines of attack against the PM's Asia Pacific Community proposal. Let me address them both. First, I take Hugh at his word that the Rudd Government did not do the intellectual and diplomatic spadework necessary before the PM announced his Asia-Pacific Community idea

Rudd Asia plan lacks conviction

Sam is right to say that Rudd’s vision of an Asia-Pacific Community would – if it got anywhere — help address the concerns I raised in Friday’s op-ed about the trajectory of major-power relations in Northeast Asia. He can therefore reasonably challenge me to say why I am so

The continuing failure of US missile defence

Defense Tech reports that the system designed to protect the US homeland from intercontinental ballistic missile strikes has not been flight tested in over a year. Officials also admit there has been too little realistic testing of the system against decoys and countermeasures. As Bradley

Rudd in Japan: Credit where credit is due

I have been among the critics of the Rudd Government’s handling of Australia’s vitally important partnership with Japan, so it is only fair to acknowledge good news when it occurs. The joint declaration Mr Rudd and his Japanese counterpart, Yasuo Fukuda, released after their discussions

Rudd disarmament plan leaves many questions

The more I try to learn about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposed international panel for nuclear disarmament, the more questions I have. Very little detail has been released; it is now not even clear whether this will be a joint Australia-Japan endeavour, or an Australian endeavour that has

'Ineffective authoritarianism'

The conventional wisdom on both sides of Australian politics seems to be that it is politically unwise to oppose measures that would improve our protection against terrorism. But Australian politicians of a liberal persuasion (note the small 'l') should take heart from UK Tory leader

In Washington, open minds about Rudd Asia vision

It was very decent of Senator John McCain to say nice things about Australia today, complimenting our regional role and endorsing the ADF’s deployments in the Pacific. He even spoke highly of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. It’s not easy for an Australian PM to insert himself into that kind of a

We can't promote disarmament on the cheap

In a previous blog post I said it was time to take the work on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation from the second track diplomatic circuit directly to the world’s political leadership. The recent Rudd announcement does not quite get us there, notwithstanding Gareth Evans’ experience

Reader riposte: The Japan phone call that never came

Peter Alford, Tokyo correspondent for The Australian, argues (in response to this) that there are several reasons why Prime Minister Rudd should have been first to pick up the phone to his Japanese counterpart Yasuo Fukuda. My response follows: Japan is still Australia’s principal

Salam Cafe again

A further note on SBS's Islam-themed panel show, which I plugged a while back: last night's episode (you can watch it on the program's website) was very uneven. There was a terrific Gordon Ramsay parody, but the rest of it felt flat, and the monologue near the end about Bush's

Sheridan outrage is fun, but...

The Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, writes great columns when he's angry, and today's is a corker. He's in full outrage mode, and lands some telling punches on the Prime Minister, particularly in regard to the extreme silliness of the green car initiative, costing the

Australia doesn't sell warship designs only to China

I'm very late linking to this, but given that I reported in January on  what I consider the rather undesirable situation of an Australian firm selling catamaran designs to the Chinese Navy, I thought I should also mention some better news for an Australian company on the international defence

Reader riposte: DFAT needs reform, not expansion

Carl Ungerer writes: The real question is not ‘how can DFAT be expected to run an expansionist foreign policy agenda with a declining budget?’ but rather, ‘what reforms are necessary within DFAT to achieve the government’s objectives?’ Our diplomatists seemed shocked that one

Malcolm, would that excuse work on your mother?

My colleague Malcolm Cook writes from Japan this morning: (Japanese PM) Fukuda has been fighting for his political life since before our November elections and has had little time to focus on Australia or even pick up the phone and call Canberra. It emerged in March that Prime

Regional architecture: Squaring the hexagon

At last. After all the debate on this blog about the 2020 vision for the Asia Pacific’s regional architecture, cutting through the geo-political confusion and the jumble of acronyms comes someone who can see the big picture clearly. And it takes a former Lowy Institute intern to do it. Aaron

Japan preoccupied

Being in Japan at the same time as PM Rudd is very insightful. I have been quite critical of the new Rudd Government's approach to Japan (hopefully not obtuse though) and I stand by my remarks. However, I am now also more sympathetic to the challenges Canberra faces in engaging with Tokyo at the

Nick Warner at the Lowy Institute

A couple of weeks ago at a Wednesday Lunch at Lowy I had a dig at the Australian public service for being as 'opaque as the windscreen of a ute on a dusty road in February'. Credit where it’s due. At lunch at the Institute today, the Secretary of Defence, Nick Warner, delivered a strong

Who paying for all this activism?

Sorry to return to an old theme, but the contradictions between the Rudd Government’s increasingly elaborate ‘activist middle power’ foreign policy vision and the resources and effort needed even to make a start on delivering it just keep growing. In the last few months the government has

Reader riposte: More action, not more acronyms

Brendan Howe writes: What is needed is not another ingredient in the current alphabet soup of regional international organization, but rather improvement in the effectiveness or sustenance levels of those already constituted. The big questions are which organizations should be improved

Reader riposte: Europe and Asia compared

Hans van Leeuwen writes: On the uncertain prospects for East Asian multilateralism, Rory Medcalf writes: 'Many features of the region work against such solidarity. It has diverse cultures, political systems and levels of development. It is divided by unresolved historical grievances

Reader riposte: Union or Community?

Dominic Meagher from East Asia Forum writes: Your comment in this piece is heartening: 'The instinct to enmesh the region in structures that will help prevent conflict with China, rather than just preparing for it, is the right one.' But I want to call you on an error

One mechanism to rule them all? Not so fast

Mark has suitably sobered East Asia Summit spruikers like me with a reminder that sometimes expanding a forum is the best way to render it ineffective. And if the goal is a free trade area, then pinning your hopes on bringing together the US and China isn’t going to achieve much in a hurry (or

More reactions to Rudd big idea

Yesterday I asked why Prime Minister Rudd had not enlisted two previous Labor PMs with strong records of support for regional multilateralism to help sell Rudd's new Asia-Pacific Union initiative. Well, here's my answer: they're agin' it. Or at least, they have serious

A quick way to kill off the East Asia Summit?

Rory is right to note that a major obstacle facing efforts at regional institution-building is the vested interests that the various players have in supporting their own preferred bit of the regional architecture. Together with my colleague, Malcolm Cook, I have spent a fair part of the past six

Rudd grand design

An ‘Asian Union’ sounds grand and logical. But the early media reports about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 4 June Sydney speech on regional co-operation were overblown. While it is heartening to see the Rudd Government identifying the need for stronger diplomatic ‘architecture’ in

Kevin Rudd big idea

I joined 500 or so others at the Asia Society’s annual dinner last night to hear Kevin Rudd’s speech. The Prime Minister had two purposes.  One was to place Asia in the centre of Australian foreign policy with a Big Idea to match Bob Hawke’s APEC and Paul Keating’s Leaders Meetings. The

Rudd Asia-Pacific Union

The text of the PM's speech is not up on his website yet, so I only have the press accounts to go on, but my initial reaction to his plan for an Asia-Pacific Union by 2020 is cautiously favourable. This was a striking quote: The danger of not acting is that we run the risk of

DFAT gets a grilling

Andrew Leigh blogs about an SMH article from yesterday that I had missed, about DFAT Deputy Secretary Doug Chester's appearance before a Senate Estimates committee. Andrew addresses the DFAT cutbacks, and suggests that bringing diplomats home might just increase inflation. I'm out of my

Obama vs McCain: What at stake

Now that Senator Obama has sealed the Democratic presidential nomination, it's worth asking what we Australian should look for over the coming months of the general election. There'll be a lot of talk in our op-ed pages between now and November on where Australia's interest lies in

Reader riposte: Bureaucratic resilience

John makes a good point in response to my post that the bureaucracy might be too overstretched to respond to an emergency: Maybe the problem you raise would provide the solution, in a nice Hegelian thesis/antithesis/synthesis way. Pundit commentary suggests that part of the aggravation

Bolting from Iraq

The trouble with Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt's argument that, with our troop withdrawal, Australia is running away from victory, is that it allows too little for sunk costs. I don't mean to be dismissive of the apparent recent progress in Iraq. It is extremely welcome and long may it

Our man at the UN

I spent a couple of days last week at UN headquarters in New York, speaking to officials and UN watchers. I can report that opinion remains divided on the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Many officials are yet to be won over by their new chief; others report that after an unsteady start the

Reader riposte: Bali belly trumps terrorism

Following two recent posts on The Interpreter calling for Australia's travel advisory for Indonesia to be revised, Peter McCawley writes (my thoughts follow): The Australian Government travel advice on the DFAT web site warns Australians against visiting Indonesia. The warning is

Dealing with a 'normal' Indonesia

With Kevin Rudd visiting Indonesia next week, thoughts are turning to what 'deliverables' he might achieve. As I argue in the AFR today, the visit won’t revolutionise our relationship, but it is important to shift it a notch higher, to reflect Indonesia’s return to being a 'normal&#

Canberra surge capacity

Missing so far from the controversy about our overworked public servants is discussion of whether the bureaucracy has the capacity to rise to a new challenge. The Prime Minister's department is apparently working particularly hard to keep up with the hyperactive PM, and that's during a

Salam Cafe

On Sunday mornings our multicultural broadcaster, SBS, airs repeat screenings of its new Islam-themed panel/comedy show, Salam Cafe. I caught it for the second time this morning and was again pleasantly surprised. The hosts are smart and funny, and the program has some political bite. I guess the

My thoughts on 'The Edge'

My brief remarks to yesterday's defence combat capability edge seminar took a similar tack to Rory, but went a little further, arguing explicitly for the benefits of abandoning the edge. I don't fully subscribe to this argument yet, but I think it has enough merit that I wanted to hear

Security without 'The Edge'

Yesterday the Lowy Institute hosted a seminar in Canberra to discuss the question of the Australian Defence Force's regional combat capability edge. This has been a staple of Australian defence thinking for decades, and, with a new Defence White Paper in the works, we thought it time to

Think tanks and foreign policy

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Executive Director Allan Gyngell writes, in a paper in the Institute's Perspectives series, on the role of think tanks in shaping Australian foreign policy and in strengthening Australia's voice

Andrew Robb hits out

Shadow Foreign Minister Andrew Robb ends his critique of the Rudd Government's foreign policy record like this: To date, Rudd has offended or ignored most Asian countries and failed to present a coherent policy towards Asia, other than for China. The Howard government demonstrated

The decline of the infantry

I've heard this kind of chatter before, but never seen it in print: There are claims Australian soldiers are ashamed to wear the uniform because they're a laughing stock among allied troops. The Australian army infantry hasn't been assigned to offensive actions since the

In a Senate Inquiry, no one can hear you scream

It should be clear by now that I am no economist, but as an undergraduate I spent enough time at Centre for Independent Studies conferences to learn what rent seeking is. One sure give-away is the use of the term 'nation building': Astronaut Andy Thomas has urged Australia to

Reader riposte: Trade promises kept and broken

John responds to my post about our 'bilateral' relations with the EU. My response follows: During a pre-election debate between Simon Crean and the then incumbent (Warren Truss) at the Lowy, the challenger made the point on several occasions that he felt that one of the great

Too many toungues, too few dollars

Reading the blog discussion on improving Australia’s Asian languages curriculae, one thing struck me. David Goodman’s positive comparison about Mandarin capability in multi-lingual China is the wrong one. Rather, a better comparison would be how much money Asian societies not colonized by either