Friday 13 Dec 2019 | 18:30 | SYDNEY
What's happening on

About the project

The Global Issues program examines themes that lie at the intersection of global political trends and Australia’s interests, specifically US foreign policy, global migration & multilateral institutions.

The program has published ground-breaking papers on diasporas, the provision of consular assistance to Australians overseas, and Australia’s asylum-seeker policy.

Latest publications

Development links: UN General Assembly

Given Wednesday's big news of the AusAID/DFAT merger, next week's Dev Links will be devoted to this subject. Please email sdunstan@lowyinstitute.org with any links to worthy analysis or commentary. In the interim, if you haven't already read Annmaree O'Keefe's analysis, here it is.

Development links: Australian aid cuts, G20, happiness economics and more

Caught between the U.S. and China

In a New York Times op-ed, Lowy institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove argues that the 2013 election campaign ignored the greater strategic and economic challenges facing Australia. 

Judicious ambition: international policy priorities for the new Australian Government

In this new Lowy Institute Analysis, a number of Lowy Institute experts outline what they believe should be some key international priorities for the new Australian Government. 

Development links: Concert advocacy, Afghanistan, Facebook and more

Reader riposte: Silicon Valley politics

Amy Denmeade responds to Sam Roggeveen's post on the politics of Silicon Valley:

If you haven't read it, George Packer's New Yorker piece from a few months ago is worth a look on the subject of Silicon Valley and politics. It generated some interesting debate.

I read Morozov's book right after finishing Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen's The New Digital Age...I'm not sure that's a combination that any of the authors would approve of.

Development links: India's women, MSF, opium brides, Iraq, Canada and more

(Got an interesting development link from your internet travels? Please share with sdunstan@lowyinstitute.org.)

Yes, there is a point to an embassy

Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Gallen.

After the recent precautionary closure of US and other Western embassies in the Middle East due to terrorist threats, Anthony Bubalo's questioning of whether too much security renders the functions of an embassy obsolete is both provocative and justified. There is no easy answer, but to permanently close embassies, especially in difficult countries, is no answer at all.

The three core tasks of diplomats are indeed rendered more difficult by security threats from non-state actors (the incidence where a functioning state encourages or obviously tolerates violence against a diplomatic outpost of another state on its territory is fortunately rare; the storming of the US Embassy in post-revolutionary Tehran is the only example that comes to mind).

These tasks can be summarised very briefly: an ambassador, backed by his/her staff, should be (1) a facilitator and networker at the nexus of the incoming (from the locals) and the outgoing (by its diplomats) functions of an embassy; (2) an on-the-spot reporter and analyst for the folks back home; and (3) a brand manager directing an intelligent display of soft power.

As Anthony points out, this means travelling in the host country and building up relationships with locals. Any envoy worth their salt will be close to the grassroots, digging well below the level of news and information on the web.

This kind of interaction can be done in a many different ways. Networking with the host government is usually done at a high (often ambassadorial) level, whereas meetings with dissidents are normally the task of junior staff. An economic or cultural event can be organised through a chamber of commerce, an embassy outpost or friendly structure anywhere in the civil society of a host country. The envoys of many countries, often linked by institutions (EU, NATO, ASEAN etc) or traditions (the Commonwealth, Francophone countries, Latin Americans etc), get together regularly to exchange information and share reporting tasks. And anybody in the profession knows that even the much derided cocktail parties can be information bonanzas.

The emergence of non-state organisations as indispensable participants on the international scene ensures that they too are frequently directly involved in the 'diplomatic circus', opening up still more sources of information and interaction than in 'classical' diplomatic times.

The potential for violence against posts and their staff is a function of the power and influence of the home country. Clearly, a US embassy or ambassador is a far higher profile target than the equivalent from a smaller and politically less important country. On the other hand, high profile embassies and envoys are routinely protected by high security, which makes softer targets viable alternatives for terrorists. Also, high profile embassies often have more staff who divide up work, making it harder to target any single person.

Things do go terribly wrong once in a while, as seen in the latest example in Benghazi. Ambassador Stevens is not the first and will not be the last US diplomatic representative who pays with his life for service to his country. From all we read about him, he would probably be the last person to advocate hunkering down permanently.

For the US and many other countries, the question is not whether to close down official outposts. The official envoy is more necessary than ever as a scout, a guide and an interpreter in the ever growing interaction of individuals, institutions and ideologies brought along by our flatter but at the same time more tribal world. The question is rather how to manage risk at diplomatic outposts through the right mix of security while at the same time diversifying sources, partners and access to stay involved in the world.

Photo by Flickr user Mieko-Y.

It might be chilly, but it's not cold (war)

Gorana Grgic is a PhD candidate at the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

For some, the announcement that US President Barack Obama decided against meeting Vladimir Putin in early September is a signal of the beginning of new Cold War. Others argue it is the ultimate evidence of failure of the Obama Administration's policy towards Russia.

It is the first time in half a century that the highest-level talks between a US president and his Russian counterpart have been cancelled. The last was when Nikita Khrushchev refused to meet President Eisenhower after the Soviets shot down a US spy plane in their airspace.

Obama's decision not to meet Putin can be best seen as just another setback in a relationship that has been far from functioning in recent times. Yet all the talk of freezing relations between Washington and Moscow seems to be misplaced.

In the past year or two, Russia has had several opportunities to stand up to the US, which undoubtedly felt good for those in Kremlin. Moscow has been persistent in its support to the Syrian regime, hostile towards American non-profit organisations operating in Russia, banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans, publicly shamed an undercover CIA operative, and now provided asylum to one of the most wanted Americans.

As many students of international relations know, diversionary foreign policy is often a good way of getting domestic support, especially if the leader is struggling with popularity at home. Ever since December 2011, Russia's ruling party and its leader have faced ongoing protests over alleged electoral fraud, corruption and human rights abuses. It is not hard to see how challenging the US becomes a handy way to deflect from problems at home.

Moreover, the NSA scandal provided Russia with the perfect chance to engage in Soviet-style 'whataboutism'. By granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the Russian leadership has secured the right to call on the US for acting hypocritically. In other words, you cannot accuse Russia of breaching human rights and privacy invasion if you have spied on both your own and foreign citizens, and if you want to arrest the man who pointed to these practices.

The second reason why 'postponement' of the meeting should be seen as chilling, rather than freezing, of US-Russia relations is that high-level negotiations will still proceed. President Obama is expected to travel to St Petersburg to attend the G20 meeting, where it is inevitable that the two leaders will meet in a broader setting. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are both hosting talks with their Russian colleagues in Washington, DC.

This comes despite the fact that some Republicans are calling on Obama to be tougher on Russia. Senator John McCain criticised the White House for acting as if Russia was a partner and not an adversary. Kori Schake, a former Bush staffer, wrote that the major flaw in Obama's Russia policy is that he 'pretends to be realist but acts like a liberal'.

Probably the most pragmatic way of looking at these recent developments is to estimate the cost of the postponement.

Currently the greatest roadblocks in US-Russian relations are missile defense, nuclear arms reduction, and the war in Syria. There were two big opportunities earlier this year to move forward on these matters. The first one was after NSA Adviser Tom Donilon hand-delivered Obama's letter to Putin in April. The second was at a meeting on the sidelines of the G8 summit in June.

Putin seemed unimpressed by Obama's proposals in the first instance, and only the political satirists (see above) and meme-creators were pleased about the tête-à-tête in Northern Ireland. So even if not for the whole Snowden affair, it is hard to imagine there would have been much progress at the summit.

PS. Whatever happens, one thing is certain, Barack and Vladimir will never have as much fun as Bill and Boris.

Development links: Aid cut, inequality, Marshall Islands, Rosling and more

  • Last week's $879 million cut to Australian foreign aid saw a quick reaction from aid groups, who were 'deeply dismayed', as well as rival political parties who were 'appalled' by the decision. Read Stephen Howes' analysis here.
  • No, war doesn't have to equal rape. Good blog post on latest research concerning sexualised violence.
  • Concerning: the UK is now the most unequal country in the West, comparable to Nigeria.
  • Personal blog post from aid worker Andrew MacLeod on why the government should continue to support the Mandala Foundation, which provides support services to returned Australian aid workers.
  • Watch the Lowy Institute's Jenny Hayward Jones' discussion with Marshall Islands Minister, Senator Tony de Brum, on the climate challenges facing his country.
  • Rethinking US foreign assistance: ideas for reforming USAID (not rocket science but interesting).
  • Another brilliant graph from Hans Rosling plotting lifespan and per capita income. Click on the 'play' button to track countries' development since 1800.
  • Jaunty little animation from UNICEF, during #breastfeedingweek, about finding ten square metres of space to support nursing mothers.

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