Friday 26 Apr 2019 | 17:44 | SYDNEY
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The Americas

Making sense of the known unknowns in the South China Sea

I'd like to thank Hugh White for his continued thoughtfulness and collegiality in our ongoing exchange on the South China Sea. I thought it might be interesting to pivot from debating strategic dynamics in the region to a dialogue about what our divergent assessments mean for the making of US policy

America: Full employment is not enough

On the surface the US economy has had a successful recovery from the 2008 Great Recession, with eight years of unbroken growth and unemployment well below 5% for more than a year. So why is the national mood so joyless? Why do many commentators attribute the unexpected Trump victory to economic

Chinese spy ships: The devil in the detail

Recent posts in The Interpreter (by Iain Henry, Euan Graham and James Goldrick) have commented on the presence of a Chinese intelligence-gathering ship off the Queensland Coast during Exercise Talisman Sabre. All these posts are broadly correct – the incident suggested Chinese hypocrisy with its

For sale, cheap: Armed drones

Once the domain of only a handful of states, weaponised drones are now part of the military arsenal of no less than a dozen countries. That number is set to expand after China announced it would begin to sell and export its most powerful drone, the CH-5 Rainbow, that's modelled on the US MQ 9 Reaper

What NAFTA renegotiation means for Australia

It was always part of the Trump agenda to do something about the North American Free Trade Agreement (‘one of the worst deals ever’) covering the US, Canada and Mexico: the outcome is renegotiation rather than the threatened termination. The Office of the United State Trade Representative has

Empathising with China

The recent presence of a PLA-N auxiliary general intelligence vessel off Queensland has generated some interesting discussions. Euan Graham and James Goldrick are right that the incident undercuts Beijing’s own objections about US close-in surveillance of mainland China. There is no small amount

Syria: A farewell to arms

Last week’s confirmation that the CIA-run program to vet and arm Syrian rebel groups in the north of the country was coming to an end was a tacit acknowledgement of the flaws in the scheme. It should also have come as little surprise as, if there has been one thing that Trump has been consistent

Trump in Warsaw, Hamburg and Paris

Trump divides. Most people are either staunchly against or for US President Donald Trump – if not the man, then what he supposedly stands for. As most commentators find themselves in the former camp, there is no shortage of Trump critiques. Thus this piece will concentrate not so much on

Trump’s slow adjustment to global trade realities

The most striking message of the Hamburg G20 leaders meeting is not that the US did not lead the discussion but that it clearly didn’t even wish to. President Trump is most comfortable as a belligerent outsider, not only in Washington but also among his fellow global leaders. His only friend on

Learning to live with a North Korean ICBM

Last week’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea raises the time-honored question of East Asian international relations: what to do with a neo-feudal, cold war-relic wildly out of touch with the modernising ethos of the fast developers of this region? North

North Korea: Jake Sullivan on America's policy dilemma

As world leaders gather in Hamburg for the G20 Summit, North Korea will be high on the agenda following Pyongyang’s successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told a UN Security Council meeting the US was

Modi-Trump meeting: Signs of continued convergence

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural visit to the Trump White House this week was fraught with uncertainty, with recent irritations in the relationship (visas and climate change), a softening in US policy on China, and tension between Trump’s transactional instincts and the longer-term

Trump and Southeast Asia: Going through the motions

As isolationist and internationalist factions within the Trump Administration fought a battle for the soul of its foreign policy earlier this year, there were good reasons to think that, whatever the outcome of that fight, the new administration might neglect Southeast Asia. On the one hand, Trump

Georgia's voters give Republicans a shot in the arm

Voters in Georgia’s 6th congressional district have just delivered a timely reminder that Americans are a long way away from deserting Donald Trump’s Republican Party.  For all the noise about the Russia investigations, Trump’s unpopularity, and his unimpressive legislative record thus

US-China at sea incidents are likely the new normal

There has been yet another spate of US-China incidents involving US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) probes in and over China’s bordering seas. In February, there was a close encounter between a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft and a Chinese surveillance aircraft 

Back in focus: The United Nations Command in South Korea

Following his recent speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked a question about North Korea. This excerpt from his answer should be of interest to Australians, among others: We obviously work very, very closely with the United Nations Command.

Trump's domestic standing and US foreign policy

This week in Washington brought another instalment for the many hooked on the who-did-what-and-when investigations into the links between Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign and now White House. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' appearance in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee

Comey’s testimony just the beginning

Within days of marking his 100th day in office, President Donald Trump heard the word ‘impeachment’ uttered on the floor of the House of Representatives, courtesy of Rep. Al Green, a rare Texas liberal Democrat. This week the same Congressman announced he is readying the articles of impeachment

The liberal order is not America’s to break

As the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded, many attributed the change entirely to American power. The hubristic ‘unipolar moment’ claim was not only wrong as history, it proved disastrous as policy guidance, ultimately running aground in the sands of Iraq. Today, that same

Trump has compromised climate security strategies

Much has been said about the global environmental, economic and leadership consequences of US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement but there is also a national security dimension. Trump’s decision ignores an important development in global security centred

When will Australia acknowledge a changed America?

Since the election of Donald Trump, a great deal of faith  – naturally enough – has been put in the very occurrence of encounters that Australian ministers and prime ministers have had with their American counterparts. Whether it be introductory calls that both Ministers Bishop and Payne

AUSMIN: For the US, a refreshingly ‘normal’ meeting

The Australia-US Ministerial Consultation (AUSMIN) on Monday was noteworthy for how normal it was. The meeting stood in stark contrast to the recent NATO Summit, where President Trump managed to raise more questions about the American commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance than he answered. In

General Mattis: The hope of the side

It’s the topic du jour. How far will the US withdrawal go and how will it affect the US-led, rules-based, global order that has served the world so well for 70 years? US President Donald Trump campaigned on an America First platform and in the White House has matched deeds to words. First there

AUSMIN: Regional issues deserve top billing

Today’s AUSMIN could hardly be better timed, following recent terrorist attacks, North Korean nuclear provocations, and the weekend’s Shangri-La dialogue.  But, as is so often the case with AUSMIN, the danger is the urgent will crowd out the important. Both Australia and the US find it

America sidelined, the climate caravan moves on

It's been only a few days since US President Donald Trump announced the US will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. And it is already clear the greatest damage has been done not to global climate action, but to America’s influence and standing in the world - and its own economic trajectory

Putin’s Trump-supported hybrid war on the West

It needs to be understood that Russia views the EU and the West generally as an enemy. To say this is not Russophobia. It has been made clear in countless official Russian documents, to say nothing of their routine pronouncements, propaganda and actions. Nor is it something new. There were periods

Vietnam’s free trade pitch to the US

It was trade, not China's manoeuvring in the South China Sea, that was top of the agenda when Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc met US President Donald Trump on Wednesday in the first visit by an ASEAN leader to Washington under the new administration. It was a slightly surreal affair with

Nuclear ban treaty progresses, despite US-led objections

On 27 March, as more than 130 nations began work on a historic treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons, roughly a dozen diplomats protested outside the grand UN General Assembly hall, where the negotiations were taking place. Led by the Trump administration’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley, the demonstrators

Angela Merkel declares independence, sort of

German Chancellor Angela Merkel might have just told the Frankfurt beer hall crowd earlier this week that 'The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out'. But she didn't stop there, choosing instead to emphasise the just-completed NATO and G7 meetings with President

Is the US economy at full employment?

After the painfully slow recovery from the 2008 great Recession, US unemployment is now 4.4%, well below the level commonly regarded as 'full employment'. This would suggest that the economy has reached capacity, with some arguing that the current lacklustre rate of growth is in fact 

China v US: Who needs allies?

People often argue that America’s alliances in Asia are a decisive advantage in its contest with China for regional strategic primacy. China’s only ally, they say, is North Korea, while America has an entire alliance system encompassing many key regional states, as well as a wider circle of

US FONOPs: Game on again in the South China Sea

According to this Reuters report, which was soon followed by others citing a Pentagon spokesman, a US Navy warship, the destroyer USS Dewey, has recently sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-occupied Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. This was the first such challenge to Beijing by the

Why Trump’s Middle East trip matters to Australia

There are two reasons why US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East matters to Australia. First, the President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he also held a summit with Arab leaders, and Israel are a signal of where the administration’s foreign policy priority lies, and this does

For Trump, the Watergate analogies run deep

US President Donald Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has left commentators grasping for Watergate analogies. The 'Saturday Night Massacre' of October 1973 has been the most frequently cited, since this was the moment when President Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate

Trump’s Middle East tour: Status quo reset

President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East tour, his first international trip since assuming office in January, will take him to the heart of the three monotheistic faiths, beginning in Saudi Arabia, travelling to Israel and finishing at the Vatican. The symbolism of the tour is manifold.

Erdogan leaves Trump empty-handed

The language at the press conference following their meeting earlier this week may have been conciliatory, but there is no masking the tensions between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two strongmen lavished praise on each another,

Trumponomics: The art of the trade deal

President’s Trump’s trade policies are still evolving, but they are turning out to be rather different from his pre-election rhetoric. Concerns about an all-out trade war are fading away, as is the threat of bilateral 35%-45% tariffs against Mexico and China. The planned renegotiation of NAFTA

As Trump flip-flops in Asia, things slide China’s way

Somewhat obscured in last week's outpouring of penny dreadful news from Washington (such as Sean Spicer ensconcing himself in the White House shrubbery) was the announcement of a US-China 100-day economic action plan. It is a pedestrian, workmanlike document, committing to a raft of

All eyes on Congress as Watergate shadow looms

The United States is awash with headlines decrying President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. A multitude of news stories and broadcasts suggest Trump is engaged in a cover-up of his ties to Russia at the expense of the United States and the fairness of the 2016

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