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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.

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Development links: North Korea, poverty, gender, hunger, mobile phones and more

No more warriors in Europe but plenty of populist politicians (part 1)

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

At peace for over fifty years, a historical first, Europeans have lost their traditional belligerence against each other and against the rest of the world, but now turn against those who threaten their tranquility from within. Or so goes the tale about present day Europe, where armies shrink and military budgets are cut while populist anti-foreigner parties are on the upswing. But is this really what is happening? 

There some strong indications that the answer is 'yes'. Yet it is, as I will illustrate with some examples, a case of ‘yes, but...’. 

Regarding the warrior bit, I recently had a fascinating discussion with an elderly French historian guiding still older Army officers through an exhibition on French colonialism in the sprawling military hospital turned National Military Museum adjacent to Napoleon’s tomb in the heart of Paris.

Many in the group were veterans of Dien Bien Phu, the 1954 battle which sealed the French defeat against the Vietnamese nationalist tide. They were clearly rattled by the ghosts of their own military past, all the more so as this tour came only weeks after the death, at 100 years of age, of their great nemesis at the time, General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Yet as the guide, himself scion of a French family of Polish origins with many distinguished soldiers having served ‘la grande nation’ since Napoleon’s time, pointed out to me, this is a blast from a past largely forgotten by a younger French generations which no longer turns to the armed forces for a career. One of the veterans was himself a striking example in this regard. In his generation, born in the 1920s, four out of six sons in his family became military men. A generation later, none.

If the French no longer want to lead the fight; if on the other side of the Channel a conservative prime minister fails to rally his House of Commons with a battle cry to defend cherished values in Syria; if the Germans remain traumatised by their own belligerent past; if smaller armies with proud traditions such as the Dutch stumble over easy hurdles (militarily speaking) such as defending civilians in Srebrenica; who will stand up and fight for Europe?

And to protect its peaceful paradise, is Europe now hanging ‘no admittance’ signs at its gates to the south and the east, including its own east (Roma, Transcaucasians)?

Let me first discuss the loss of the fighting genes in present and potentially future European generations. Two reasons stand out. First and foremost is the banal but historically amazing fact that with very few exceptions, Europeans have ceased to make war against each other. Rallying cries conjuring honor and fatherland and vilifying ‘arch-enemies’ find no echoes in today’s borderless Europe.

This is linked to the second reason, namely that last war (World War II) and prospect of war (the Cold War) were just too horrific. To illustrate, another telling story from my friend the historian: he occasionally brings young people from western Europe to the country of his ancestors, which probably more than any other is emblematic of the senselessness of war and the abyss to which it can lead. When he takes his disciples to Auschwitz, so he testifies, all of them, including him time and again, are moved to tears by the sheer enormity of the cruelty.

It just might be that the important educational work done (especially in Germany of course but also in many other European countries) to come to terms with the legacy of totalitarian pasts has paid its dividends so that history might not repeat itself, and the same nationalist sins are not recommitted by generations born after. (Educational work, incidentally, which is still partly waiting to be done in and by Japan with regard to its imperial past and is completely absent in China with regard to Maoist horrors. It is difficult to see how the Asia Pacific can ever have sustainable peace in the absence of a cleansing confrontation with its own ghosts.)

And yet, the time when all European swords are bent into ploughshares remains as elusive as ever. Two powerful points stand against the presumption of eternal peace in, and emanating from, Europe.

As the violent implosion of Yugoslavia after 1990 showed, brute nationalism can lead to large scale violence, where modern armies are required to intervene to prevent worse. It is to be hoped that the painful experience of a Europe too weak and too divided to come to terms with a two-bit dictator like Milosevic will have served as a useful lesson on why hard power remains an essential part of interstate relations.

Second, as the great German poet Schiller put it in one of his historical dramas: 'If it displeases his bad neighbour, not even a saint can live in peace.'

The near abroad of Europe (around the Mediterranean, deep into the Middle East and beyond the Sahel into sub-Saharan Africa) needs now and into the foreseeable future European firefighting, properly justified and internationally legitimised but nevertheless muscled and potentially overwhelming. This is more urgent as America's inevitable ‘Asia pivot’ becomes ever more tangible in our century. This firefighting is needed not only in the name of values and for the ultimate benefit of those where intervention takes place, but also to prevent worse back home such as uncontrollable streams of refugees and imported terrorism by some of Europe’s own, often naturalized, children.

In part 2 of this post, I will address the second point in my title: populism.

AusAID passes aid transparency exam, just

Philippa Brant is a Lowy Institute Research Associate.

Yesterday the transparency advocacy organisation Publish What You Fund released its 2013 Aid Transparency Index. Now in its third year, the index scores and ranks aid providers on the aid information they publish. The index and website feature lots of interactive data and analysis, allowing users to delve deeply into different categories, donors, and indices. It's worth a play around. You can also follow the Twitter conversation by using the #2013ATI hashtag.

This year donors were assessed not only on the quantity of their published data but also on the quality, including ease of use. The results are not positive. More than one-third achieved a score of less than 20% (the index uses 39 categories to arrive at this overall weighting; see the website for details on methodology).

Leading the pack are the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, the UK Government's aid agency DFID, the global health fund Gavi and the UN Development Program. Unsurprisingly, China brings up the rear.

How does Australia fare? Fair. AusAID gets an overall score of 43% and is ranked 24th out of 67, ahead of France, Japan and the IMF but behind Canada and New Zealand. While Australia was an original signatory to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), its efforts to improve the quantity and quality of its data remain mixed. The report offers three recommendations to Australia:

  • AusAID should improve its publication to IATI so it is comprehensive and uses all fields. It should update its implementation schedule by early 2014 so it is more ambitious, aiming for full implementation of the IATI standard and monthly publication by the end of 2015.
  • AusAID should work with other Australian aid-spending departments to publish to IATI and to promote access and use of Australian aid information via an open data portal.
  • Australia should produce an Open Government Partnership National Action Plan to include stretching commitments on implementing IATI. ('Stretching commitments' means going beyond baseline commitments to include transparency on other activities. For example, civil society is pressing for the Open Government Partnership to include commitments toward greater openness on issues such as lobbying, ownership of companies and trusts, disclosure on procurement contracts for aid projects etc.)

With the changes to Australia’s aid program, including the AusAID-DFAT merger, it will be worth keeping an eye on where the new government stands on transparency.

Why does aid transparency matter? Access to relevant, timely, and useable information is crucial for citizens in developing countries to hold donors and their own governments to account, as well as for citizens in donor countries to understand their country’s aid priorities and check agencies are spending aid dollars appropriately and effectively.

Photo by Flickr user UNDP in Europe and Central Asia.

Nothing to fear but fear

In this op-ed, Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, discusses America's 'war-weariness', drawing comparisons with Roosevelt's decision to support the Allies in World War II.

When exceptionalism meets insularity

The sentiment expressed in the tweet above would be laughable from any source, but from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies? Have they looked at world rankings of  social mobility lately?

As you can see from the thread, Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove jumped on the tweet, as did a few others. Back in 2007, one of Michael's predecessors, Allan Gyngell, spotted another example of this sentiment, also from an American who should have known better: novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe. Wolfe wrote in The Atlantic:

Only in America do visitors to other people’s homes routinely ask their hosts’ children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In every other country on Earth the question would seem fatuous, since it implies that the child might have a world of choices.

Development links: China's aid program, human rights, poverty, European aid and more

Development links: AusAID integration, pop music, Malala, women's rights and more

Read anything interesting this week you want to share? Email

Australia missing the lessons of Lampedusa

Dr Khalid Koser is a Lowy Institute Non-Resident Fellow and Deputy Director of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

As I write, divers are ‘unpacking a wall of bodies’ from the hull of a smuggler’s trawler that sank off Lampedusa last week, with 297 people so far confirmed dead. In response, the European Commission is calling for search and rescue patrols to intercept migrant boats to be stepped up.

I could change three words (and reduce the number) in the above paragraph and use it to start a post I will write when (not if) a boat next sinks near Christmas Island. Yet in the years I have been commenting on boat arrivals, smuggling, and asylum in Australia, I have consistently found that the argument which is least convincing to Australian audiences is that other parts of the world face similar challenges.

I’ve often asked Australians why they resist comparison (and whether this is specific to migration or applies to other policy areas too). Here are the three most common responses.

First, Australia is geographically unique. True, but how and why does this matter? Some people have spoken about a siege mentality when Australia’s relative isolation is breached. Others, by contrast, have stressed that as an advanced economy (and signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention) it is the closest magnet for half of the world’s population. My own perspective is that geography matters because until very recently it has protected Australia from significant uncontrolled migration. Australia hasn’t learned to stomach irregular migration like Europe or the US, but it will.

Second, what happens in other parts of the world has no relevance for Australia (partly because of its geographical isolation). Set aside something called globalisation, and what this perspective also underestimates is the global reach of migration and migrant smuggling. It is thought that almost all the 500 or so migrants on the Lampedusa boat were Eritrean, while a recent SBS investigation has revealed a major smuggling network between Eritrea and Indonesia with Australia as a final destination.

Third, cynics (or perhaps realists) have told me that adopting a global perspective would risk exposing just how disproportionate the response of Australian people and politicians is. Certainly, more irregular migrants (both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the national population) arrive in other industrialised countries (especially in Europe and the US) than Australia. What's more, the proportion of the world’s asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Australia is tiny compared to the global total, and more migrants die in transit elsewhere. Yet in few other countries has the issue become so obsessive.

The shame is that in my experience, this tendency has also infiltrated Australian policy. Only the enlightened few apparently understand the relevance of international comparative research for informing Australian policy. Lessons to learn from how other parts of the world respond to irregular migration (and boat arrivals) are systematically being ignored. Australia is also missing an opportunity to share some of its more innovative policies with other countries.

Macroeconomic gains from gender equity

Marty Harris is an assistant digital editor at the Lowy Institute.

Approximately 862 million women worldwide have the potential to more fully contribute to their national economies, according to a new IMF report on the macroeconomic gains stemming from gender equity in the workforce.

The report outlines a range of policy options to support higher (formal, paid) female labour force participation, with some interesting notes on India:

The female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) in India is low and concentrated in rural areas and the agricultural sector. The FLFPR in urban areas is below 25 percent, and while rural participation rates are almost twice as high as urban rates, they are still lagging significantly behind the world average. Moreover, the FLFPR has been declining over the last 20 years. Among employed women, 85 percent engage in vulnerable employment, including around two thirds who work in the agricultural sector.

The data show a different picture, however, when trends in female school attendance are accounted for. When the Indian urban FLFPR is adjusted for 15 to 59 year-old women attending school, it increases by almost 13 percentage points. Many of these women can be expected to join the labor force in the near future with significantly better employment and earning potential than their less educated peers.

With education on the rise and declining fertility rates, India can reap huge benefits in its demographic transition. With about half of its population below the age of 25 and fertility rates projected to converge to replacement levels in the medium run, India’s age structure is changing favorably, yielding possible demographic dividends of an additional 1 to 2 percentage points of annual growth. While this demographic window itself is transitory, its growth effects can be made permanent by higher investments in education, especially because returns to investments in female education are on average 1 percentage point higher than investments in male education. 

Shrinking the gender gap in education and the FLFPR has the potential to boost India’s per capita income significantly by 2030. Assuming the gender gap is halved by 2017 and cut to one-fourth of its 2008 value in 2027, Lawson (2008) estimates that India’s per capita income could be 10 to 13 percent higher than under the baseline scenario of unchanged gender inequality in 2020 and 2030, respectively.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is helping to publicise the report, arguing that:

Raising women’s labour-market participation rate boosts economic performance in a number of ways. Higher incomes for women lead to higher household spending on educating girls - a key prerequisite for faster long-term growth. Employment of women on an equal basis with men provides companies with a larger talent pool, potentially increasing creativity, innovation and productivity. And, in advanced countries, a larger female labour force can help to counteract the impact of a shrinking workforce and mitigate the costs of an ageing population.

Photo by Flickr user Flying Cloud.

As privacy falls, freedom rises

A provocative argument from Stuart Armstrong on the benefits of the surveillance state. Ubiquitous surveillance will reduce crime and reduce the need for police, improve the incentives to enter into arms control agreements (because they are more verifiable), and then there are the global health and environmental benefits:

With proper procedures and perfect surveillance, we could avoid pandemics altogether. Infections would be quickly isolated and eliminated, and eradication campaigns would be shockingly efficient. Tracking the movements and actions of those who fell ill would make it much easier to research the causes and pathology of diseases. You can imagine how many lives would have been saved had AIDS been sniffed out by epidemiologists more swiftly.

Likewise, mass surveillance could prevent the terrorist use of nukes, dirty bombs, or other futuristic weapons. Instead of blanket bans in dangerous research areas, we could allow research to proceed and use surveillance to catch bad actors and bad practices. We might even see an increase in academic freedom.

It's worthwhile checking the comments thread on this one, as there is some interesting push-back. Note that Dilbert creator Scott Adams made a related argument on his blog some months ago:

In general, whenever privacy is lost in a democracy, it creates an opportunity for freedom to increase. The mechanism looks like this:

  1. A loss of privacy reveals how many people are involved in a particular activity and gives the public a chance to get used to it. (gays, weed, porn, etc.).
  2. Law enforcement has no practical way to handle all of the "criminals" who are now exposed. And even trying would look like a bad use of resources.
  3. Laws evolve to reflect what is practical. Formerly illegal activities become legal or tolerated because there is no practical alternative.

In the long run, privacy is toast. But what you will get in return is more personal freedom and less crime. That's a trade that almost no one would voluntarily make, but I think the net will be good.

Photo by Flickr user jeff o_o.