Thursday 28 Oct 2021 | 18:26 | 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

No more naval gazing as China takes to the sea

In this opinion piece in The Age, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf argues that China's anti-piracy naval deployment off Somalia opens a window of opportunity for Australia and others to test the waters of cooperation with a rising power. The Age, 5 January 2009, p. 9

Chinese anti-piracy mission

In this opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf argues that the naval deployment to combat Somali piracy is a momentous step in China's rise as a world power. He argues that the United States, India and others should seize this

Things I have changed my mind about this year

Nuclear disarmament: A year ago I was unconvinced there was much room for action in advancing the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agenda, and said so. Huge obstacles remain, including the worsening of US-Russia relations due to the Georgia conflict. But the influence of '

My books of the year

I found Bill Emmott’s Rivals and Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World  a good set of primers on the emerging world of great power competition and potential co-operation: Emmott’s book was the gloomier, more dramatic read, and Zakaria’s a tad buoyant and rosy, both in style and in its

NSS: The story the media missed

Given the exhaustive detail of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s National Security Statement a fortnight ago, it is not surprising that so little media attention was paid to one of its more substantive elements: a change to Australia’s intelligence co-ordination system. The statement announced the

Somali pirates and China shores of Tripoli

China, it appears, is about to embark on its first operational naval deployment beyond the Western Pacific since the 15th century. It was only a matter of time before Beijing started projecting force beyond its immediate region to protect its global interests. The pirates of Somalia have hastened

Why an Asian Peace Research Institute might not work

Sam Bateman’s proposal for an Asian Peace Research Institute is worth an airing, but leaves some important questions unanswered. Given the existence of SIPRI and other research bodies, not to mention the CSCAP process, is there really a space and a need for an additional and specifically

Mumbai terrorist attacks

In this opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf assesses some of the repercussions of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. He judges that military confrontation between India and Pakistan is unlikely, and that India might instead focus on its

Mumbai attacks: Who controls Lashkar-e-Toiba?

Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) began life as the supposedly deniable tool of Pakistan’s military Inter-Services Intelligence. But given the degree of terrorism within Pakistan (including assassination attempts against former presidents Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, as well as the Marriott Hotel

Mumbai: False rumours of war

The world’s media is leaping to the predictable conclusion that the sequel to the Mumbai massacre will be a military confrontation between India and Pakistan, with serious prospects of war and the chilling possibility that it will turn nuclear. Australian media organisations, including SBS (

Mumbai: Messages from the ruins

As Mumbai’s full carnage emerges, some disturbing implications are also becoming clear. Contrary to earlier impressions, there is growing evidence to suggest a critical external element to this terrorism. Perhaps some attackers were Indian nationals, as the early claim of responsibility by

Mumbai postscript

The violence in Mumbai is reportedly not over, with the death toll now passing 100 and some of the assailants holding hostages and under siege. The chief questions now are: who is responsible and what do they want? This warning of an impending assault on Mumbai, issued by the Indian

Mumbai: When the smoke clears

A new day has begun in shattered Mumbai. Despite thousands of media reports,  it remains hard to get a clear picture of the many-pronged terror attacks that have shaken the world’s maximum city and reportedly left at least 80 dead and hundreds injured. So the following thoughts on what

PM arms race theory takes another hit

The media game of sink-the-Prime-Minister’s-alleged-arms-race-theory continues. The latest salvo comes from the Financial Review, which has a report (subscribers only) citing comments last week by the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane. Decide for yourself whether the

Australia: Allied in transition

The Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research publishes Strategic Asia, an annual assessment of Asian security issues affecting the United States. The 2008-09 volume in the series, titled Challenges and Choices, is aimed at providing guidance for the next US President on key decisions

Nuclear Commission won't perform miracles, but...

Suggestions that the new Nuclear Disarmament Commission, sponsored by Australia and Japan, should come up with an instant plan to turn North Korea, Iran and others away from the nuclear-weapons path essentially miss the point. Nobody is pretending that a project like the Commission is a substitute

Financial crisis: Defence will suffer

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has been quick  to point out that the global economic crisis will make Australia’s Defence White Paper challenge ‘far greater’ – as if matching Australia’s military capability plans to an uncertain strategic environment and limited finances was ever

Sharp Finn lands Australia in diplomatic soup

A key rival to Canberra's 2013-14 UN Security Council bid is Helsinki. And Finland has just scored another feather in its cap for creative small power diplomacy, with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former president Marti Ahtisaari. His claims to fame includes helping broker peace in

Lowy Poll: Headaches for the Rudd Government

What to make of the contradictions in Australian public opinion on foreign policy, as reflected in the latest Lowy poll? Here are a few. Most Australians are worried about climate change, but many are not willing to endure even small economic costs to reduce it. Most Australians value the

Reader riposte: Russia and our uranium

Jim Green from Friends of the Earth had this to say about my post on Australian uranium sales to Russia: Medcalf says that the issue turns fundamentally on the issue of  safeguards...[yet] safeguards are all but non-existent in Russia. Evidence from a number of sources (and presented to

Time to reckon with nuclear region

In this opinion piece in The Australian Financial Review, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf summarises key messages from his recent policy brief about a nuclear disarmament agenda for Australia. He notes that support for the US-India nuclear deal obliges Canberra to step up its

Bridging the nuclear divide

In this opinion piece in the Indian Express, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf argues that India should appreciate that Australia has come a long way in changing its nuclear policy by supporting the US-India deal in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The next step should be for India

Nuclear dangers in Asia: What Australia can do

Australia needs to go beyond setting up a new disarmament commission if it wants to reduce nuclear dangers in the Asian century, I argue in two new Lowy Institute publications – a policy brief and a more detailed analysis. These draw upon ideas presented on The Interpreter earlier this year

How bad was last week, really?

The Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to allow civilian nuclear trade with India is a chance to test some of the judgments I offered last week about rocky relations among major powers. I anticipated bad times ahead for US-India and China-India relations. On the first count, things turned out

A momentous day for India

The decision by the international Nuclear Suppliers Group on Saturday to end its 34-year-old nuclear trade embargo is momentous in several ways. It is a turning point in the recognition of India’s emergence as a major strategic and economic player by the rest of the world, and especially

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue*

I suspect this is going to be a bad week for relations among the great powers, even by their usual dismal standards of cooperation, adding weight to the increasingly convincing argument that we are entering an era of unstable multipolarity – just at a time when an interdependent world’s

Let not get lost in Putin eyes

A curious flurry of political, media and diplomatic activity yesterday over Australia’s proposed uranium exports to Russia. Since the story has immediately gone global, and since any conversation in Australia that contains the word ‘nuclear’ generates more heat than light, it might be timely

Kashmir: Vale of tears

With so much attention on the Caucasus and Pakistan, we should not ignore the disturbing news from another quarter: Kashmir. It’s always easy for the media to portray the streets of Srinagar as a war-zone: fortified checkpoints, troops in the streets, stone-throwing protesters, shadowy

Australia and the Great White Fleet: Part II

In an earlier post, I argued for the continuing importance of the US alliance to Australia’s and Asia’s maritime security. Yet there are risks in preserving old security postures. Australia could help America refashion its role to fit more sustainably with a multipolar and powerful Asia

Australia and the Great White Fleet: Part I

Spare a thought for Commander John Banigan, commanding officer of the lone US destroyer paying a visit to Sydney this week, the USS John S McCain. (Incidentally, it is not for me to suggest whether the ship’s name is a political omen.) A hundred years ago, Commander Banigan’s

How to hit Russia with the diplomatic frying pan?

Enough hand-wringing. The counsels of despair dominating Western commentary over the Russian assault on Georgia have overlooked the sliver of good news from this brutal little war. It will come as no consolation to the victims, but the Georgia conflict has served as a wake-up call to those

What I saw at Kakadu IX

It’s not every day you see warships from as far away as Japan and Pakistan in Australian waters. So I was surprised that the Australian and international media did not take more notice of Kakadu IX, Australia’s largest multinational maritime exercise, which concluded in the waters off Darwin

Hedging vs containment

Hedging is really just a euphemism for containment? I don’t think so. In the debate about how to deal with a rising China, ‘containment’ has become a much misused word. Containment in its true Cold War sense was about thwarting a militarily and ideologically expansionist Soviet Union,

India-US nuclear deal: Good versus good?

It was more than just a show, although as political theatre it was cringingly compelling. The televised drama on the floor of the Indian Parliament in the past two days has profound global policy ramifications, including piquantly for Australia. Amid some of the most intense and bitter argument,

Australian defence policy

In this comment in the Kokoda Foundation journal Security Challenges, International Security Program Director Rory Medcalf puts the case against Australia’s seeking military capabilities sufficient to single-handedly deter or cripple a major power

Who will sit on Rudd new disarmament panel?

Since The Interpreter’s eyes are already on Arms Control Wonk today, it is also worth noting that Wonk correspondent James Acton, a rising star among global arms control scholars, has his gaze on the Australian Government’s new nuclear disarmament commission. James is even inviting readers to

Singh sin of omission won't lead to fission

I’ve a lot of respect for the work of the Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis, whose blog consistently provides some of the world’s best in-depth news, speculation and background on arms control issues. But I think he has it wrong in his latest post on India and nuclear testing. Jeffrey

Australia-India: The signs are good

Australia-India relations have received a needed political boost this week, with the visit to Canberra by Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, primarily for a ‘framework dialogue’ with his counterpart Stephen Smith. Foreign ministries inevitably declare such visits to be

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

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

Rudd Asian aria sounds familiar

In this opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review, international security program director Rory Medcalf suggests that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd combine his vision for Asia-Pacific diplomatic architecture with more immediate steps for practical co-operation with Japan, Indonesia,

Rudd arms control initiative

It's welcome news that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has at last put nuclear security prominently on his government's agenda, with his visit to Hiroshima and his announcement of a new expert commission, co-chaired with Japan, on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. He came to

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

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

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

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


I used to love the Eurovision song contest: the mix of Eurotrash kitsch and international electoral politics was addictive stuff. Glad I missed it this year, though. It seems Russia’s win takes the blatant bloc politics of the contest’s voting system (not to mention the taste and musical