Wednesday 20 Oct 2021 | 04:25 | SYDNEY
People | experts Rory Medcalf
Nonresident Fellow
Lowy Institute
Areas of ExpertiseAsia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific strategic order; India and the Indian Ocean; maritime security; nuclear arms control

DPRK softening? Hold your applause

What to make of North Korea’s conciliatory gestures in recent weeks? Releasing American journalists and a South Korean worker; talks between Kim Jong-Il and the head of Hyundai; talks between the North’s delegation to Kim Dae-Jung’s funeral and ROK President Lee; the possible revival of

WMD proliferation: A tighter net

Today is Hiroshima Day, and a strengthened regime to stop nuclear proliferation-related shipments is an essential part of wider efforts to ensure nuclear weapons are never used again. A policy brief published today by the Lowy Institute calls on Australia and other countries to redouble their

Asia-Pacific Community: Policy as poetry

Many wise heads agree on the need to streamline the diplomatic architecture of the Asia-Pacific, which already has too many institutions doing too little. For its part, The Interpreter has already aired some solutions, including the truly minimalist. This week’s events in Phuket, with Secretary

Indian students: Media mistweetment

Here’s a new standard in quick, transparent and truly telegraphic diplomatic reporting, thanks to India’s inveterately twittering Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor. No sooner has he met with Australia’s visiting Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, on the vexed student

US-Japan: Demystifying nukes

Sensible stuff: the US and Japan have agreed to in-depth discussions about the US commitment to extended nuclear deterrence in the defence of Japan.  Why is this such a good idea? How is it consistent with President Obama’s push for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament? As I argued last

Exclusive photos: Somali piracy

Australia’s declared contributions to the international anti-piracy effort off the Horn of Africa – the ANZAC-class frigate HMAS Toowoomba and an AP-C3 Orion patrol aircraft – are now in the region, although it is not clear how much of their time will be devoted to piracy patrols as opposed

Calling Australia strategic minds

The Lowy Institute needs you. Applications are now open for the 2009 Michael and Deborah Thawley scholarship. This is a fantastic opportunity for a postgraduate student or recent graduate from an Australian tertiary institution to undertake funded research internships both at the Lowy Institute The littlest Australian

If the latest editorial from online publication Crikey was meant to provoke, then it has. Here’s a taste: Australia's interests -- indeed, its dignity -- are being affronted throughout the region. Stern Hu remains in Chinese detention…An Australian tragically has been shot dead in West Papua

Wednesday Lunch at Lowy: Wicked weapons - Rory Medcalf presentation

At the Wednesday Lunch at Lowy on 24 June, Rory Medcalf, Program Director International Security, drew upon recent consultations in the region to warn that efforts to reduce global nuclear dangers will founder if they do not account for the rising strategic concerns of North Asian powers, especially

USS McCain: Great White Fleet of one

The US 7th Fleet has 60 to 70 ships operating in East Asia, yet just one of them seems to be making the news of late. The USS John S McCain was involved in a collision with a Chinese submarine in waters off the Philippines earlier this month, the latest in a disturbing series of encounters

Jakarta U-turn on U-boats?

Here’s a new twist to the tale of naval modernisation in Australia’s region: a news report that South Korea’s Daewoo plans to bid to build two submarines for Indonesia. The last time there were headlines about Indonesia improving its woeful submarine force was in 2007, when the impression 

India media should look abroad

The controversy over the safety of Indian students in Australia continues, despite the serious efforts of both governments to bring some sensible perspective to the situation. The good news is that some in the Indian media are beginning to get the hint – delivered this week by Prime Minister

Troubled waters in need of oil

In an article in leading Indian current affairs magazine Tehelka, Rory Medcalf, coordinator of the Australia-India Roundtable, proposes some ways to deal with the crisis over the safety of Indian students in Australia. The Australian Federal and State governments have responsibilities, as do

Tiananmen and democracy

'On the night of June 3rd, while sitting in my courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all.' So wrote former Chinese Premier and Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. Zhao had tried to prevent the

FMCT: Now the hard work begins

Finally, after more than a decade’s deadlock, the Conference on Disarmament has agreed to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty or FMCT. Get used to that acronym. Central to this step forward has been the

Indian students' safety: Let cool it

It is hard to know how to contribute constructively to the debate about the safety of Indian students in Australia. As someone long committed to the Australia-India relationship, I am dismayed about what has happened. Like the overwhelming majority of Australians, I deeply sympathise with those

Final thoughts from Shangri-La

To wrap-up my reporting from the Shangri-La Dialogue, a few highlights of day two. First, a pleasant surprise: Pakistan's Secretary of Defence, Syed Athar Ali, was asked whether there was any chance of Pakistan and India cooperating in Afghanistan given their common interest in its stability. In

Shangri-La observations

The Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, has great value as a public forum for key figures in Asian security. Much of what they say is predictable, but question-and-answer sessions create scope for new insights, surprises and of course

Rudd at the Shangri-La Dialogue

Prime Minister Rudd’s speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last night marks a welcome evolution of his thinking on Asia-Pacific security and regional diplomatic arrangements. It was a clever speech – his best-crafted statement on foreign and security policy so far – which managed

Piracy: Australia contribution

It's happening: Australia will send a frigate and, apparently, an Orion maritime patrol aircraft to join the international effort against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, an idea that some of us at Lowy have been advocating since January. It is a commendable move not only because it shows Australia

North Korea: Bad news from Beijing

North Korean security scholars were invited to join a meeting of experts in Beijing a few days ago to help an international commission understand North Asian thinking on nuclear arms control. Now perhaps we know why they didn’t show up. How to solve a problem like North Korea was one of the

India miracle of democracy (part 2)

The re-election of a greatly strengthened Manmohan Singh Government in India means New Delhi can afford to become more active in world affairs. On balance, it is likely to be consistent, constructive and bold in its foreign policy. For a decade now, we have heard the promise of the India boosters

Piracy: Doing our bit by accident, not design

It's good to see Australian warships playing their part to protect international shipping from piracy in the Gulf of Aden. But this, one assumes, was a combination of being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time and a commendable sense of duty on the part of the commanding

India miracle of democracy (part 1)

The Indian election results announced at the weekend amount to an unexpected and dramatic win for global stability. Hundreds of millions of Indian voters defied predictions that they would support sectarian, regional and caste-based parties and thus entrench new depths of deadlock in the world&#

Reader riposte: We cannot eat weapons

Greg replies to my post on what I liked about the Defence White Paper (my comment follows): On what basis can an expansion of offensive capacity can be defended by a truly objective analysis? We are facing an ecological catastrophe — the scientific evidence is unequivocal. We cannot pretend

What to like about the Defence White Paper

Thus far many commentators, including yours truly, have been represented as accentuating the negative about the Australian Defence White Paper. I guess that is the nature of media reporting. But a package this big contains something for everybody. Here are some of many bits to like, even if they

Defence White Paper goes too far, too fast

It seems that everything has to be black and white in columnist Gerard Henderson’s view of the current debate about Australia’s Defence White Paper and China. He did not so much distort the argument in my recent opinion piece as miss the point entirely. My point was not, as Henderson

White Paper: Japan and ROK like what they see

Good news for the Australian Government: indications are that at least two of North Asia’s powers will like what they see in the Defence White Paper, due to be published on Saturday. My conversations this week with strategic analysts and former officials in Japan and South Korea suggest

Our China question: friend or foe?

In this opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf considers how Australia's imminent Defence White Paper might be received in Beijing. He notes that Australia is broadly right to strengthen its defences for an uncertain future, but suggests some

Gaps in China cyber shield

An intriguing diversion while visiting China is to test which websites one can and can’t access from within the land of the Great Firewall and the Golden Shield. Much of the time it is surprising to discover that seemingly provocative journalism from outside, about matters like Taiwan, Tibet and

Defence debate: Australia won't be alone

This is the second contribution to our debate on Australia's defence policy which started here.   Hugh White’s ‘A Focused Force’ is already focusing the minds of Australia’s security community on the eve of the launch of Australia’s (real) Defence White Paper. As with so

Debate: Hugh White and Australian defence policy

Today the Lowy Institute launched a paper by Visiting Fellow Hugh White, intended as a major contribution to the Australian security debate on the eve of the Defence White Paper.  Some of Hugh’s strategic assessments and force-structure recommendations will be controversial, even more so in light

Obama and nuclear abolition (part 2)

Obama’s Prague speech was about much more than North Korea (see part 1). It was essentially two years in the drafting. In January 2007, a quartet of US elder statesmen became an unlikely Four Horsemen against the Apocalypse. George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn issued a

Gates budget will worry Asian allies

Sam’s right: the US Defense Secretary’s planned changes to the way Washington allocates its military budget have large implications for Australia. In particular, Gates’ logic seems starkly at odds with that of Kevin Rudd, who has flagged that his foremost strategic worries are about the

Obama and nuclear abolition (part 1)

It is strange that so much commentary in recent days has focused on the latest less-than-successful North Korean missile test instead of a potentially far more momentous event. The most powerful country in the world has signalled the beginning of a radical change in its attitude to nuclear

G20: Arms control progress on the sidelines

The G20 meeting is already delivering gains for global security, if only because key world leaders are finding it the perfect venue for talking to each other on the sidelines. The talks yesterday between Obama and Medvedev and their joint statement on reducing nuclear arsenals are an especially

Government leak exposes holes in APC

For almost a year now, diplomats and analysts have been scratching their heads about what Kevin Rudd’s Asia-Pacific Community actually means. Something to do with architecture, but the details have been fuzzy. Which is why I am thrilled to announce that what I can only conclude is a leaked

Sponsored visits part of the diplomatic machinery

Some of the commentary on the ‘Fitzgibbon goes to China’ controversy would have us believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with one country’s entities – government or otherwise – funding visits by another country’s politicians. There isn’t. What’s wrong is when the

Australia strategic analysis capabilities

In this article in the journal Security Challenges, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf examines Australia's strategic analysis capabilities, both within and beyond the formal intelligence community. He presents a case for open-source strategic assessments to be presented in the

India carnival of democracy: The ride is starting

Electioneering is underway in the world’s biggest democracy, so it’s high time we trained The Interpreter’s eye on Indian domestic politics. The government, an unwieldy Congress-led alliance under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, faces challenges from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata

Economists, the CIA wants YOU!

'Because national security depends on economic intelligence', runs the full-page job advertisement inside the front cover of the latest issue of Foreign Policy. The CIA is recruiting economic analysts. Perfectly sensible in these unstable times. But read on: Think ahead for your

Thomas Barnett important idea

My colleague Michael Fullilove was a tad harsh in his recent review of Tom Barnett’s new book, Great Powers: America and the World After Bush. Yes, Barnett’s style can be irritating in places. And yes, many of the ideas in this book are familiar from the author’s earlier works. But

A bad moment for Chinese naval nationalism

The so-called EP-3 incident, the collision of a Chinese fighter jet and a US EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, severely strained US-China relations in the early months of the first George W Bush Administration. Now it looks as if some in the People’s Liberation Army-Navy are keen on a reprise, this

A 'peace constituency' against terrorism

The Taliban, it seems, is finding help in an unlikely quarter — a splinter group of the IRA. The two British soldiers killed on Saturday had been due to deploy to Afghanistan. At a time when the UK's security capabilities are under strain dealing with Afghanistan, domestic terrorism

International security in 2008: The year in review

In this lecture to the NSW Royal United Services Institute, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf identifies some major events and trends of 2008 - from the Russia-Georgia war to Somali piracy and the global financial crisis – in the light of their long-term implications for global

Pakistan: Targeting of cricket marks new low

A few analytical points about yesterday’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan merit registering. First, an assault on cricketers in a cricket-loving nation underlines just how divided a society Pakistan has become. Yes, there will be outrage, captured in Imran Khan’s comments.

Sir Michael Quinlan, 1930-2009

The world of arms control and international security is mourning the passing of one of its giants, the great British scholar and defence policy practitioner Sir Michael Quinlan. Others who knew him much better than I have written already on his legacy. He was no dreamer. He combined the

String-of-pearls diving

Mysterious news reports – and hasty Indian Navy denials – have surfaced about a possible incident between an Indian submarine and the Chinese destroyers on anti-piracy duties in the Gulf of Aden. What to make of this? It is no surprise that an Indian submarine would be spying on the