Sunday 20 Sep 2020 | 15:53 | SYDNEY
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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

Aid after 2015: New donors show muscle

Philippa Brant is a Research Associate at the Lowy Institute. Danielle Romanes is a research assistant in the Lowy Institute's Myer Foundation Melanesia Program.

Since the beginning of this century the aid provided by the developing BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is estimated to have grown ten times faster than that of the G7. OECD aid budgets are being slashed. With relatively strong economic growth still forecast for the BRICS, and much less impressive projections for the developed world, we can expect this shift in market share to continue. It is likely that the norms and institutional architecture of aid will shift along with it.

The Lowy Institute co-hosted the Future of International Development in Asia-Pacific conference (#FIDAP 2013) in Melbourne on 10 May, where we pondered the uncertain future of aid after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals are due to expire. The conference brought together development experts from Asia, the Pacific, Australia, Europe, and the UK, to discuss the future of development and aid in the Asia Pacific.

The 'increasing muscularity' of emerging economy donors was a dominant theme. Despite their own domestic poverty problems these countries are providing an ever-growing share of international development assistance and financing. They are doing so largely outside the established international aid architecture, which is the cause of some consternation to traditional donors.

The established donors have previously sought to deal with the rise of new players by attempting to assimilate them into the existing architecture, with its attendant norms of transparency, good governance, untied aid and debt sustainability. Australia, for example, has called for more transparency in China's aid and has tried unsuccessfully to persuade China to sign on to the Cairns Compact for Strengthening Development Cooperation in the Pacific.

At the global level, the OECD has attempted to convince emerging donors to align their aid with Development Assistance Committee (DAC) guidelines. There was a somewhat resigned acceptance at this conference that the OECD had lost its battle and the international development landscape has now moved on.

Most of the emerging economy donors have resisted assimilation for predictable and understandable reasons. Established donors tend to work under a transparency norm, but Dr Rani Mullen from the Centre for Policy Research in Delhi noted that India is unlikely to domestically publicise the fact it feeds nearly two million Afghani children on a daily basis when 43% of its under-5 year olds are malnourished.

Similarly, the Chinese government faces awkward questions from citizens – particularly on the internet – about the scale of its international generosity given the ongoing high levels of domestic poverty, as Professor Sun Tongquan from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences explained. Domestic political pressures constitute a key impediment to greater transparency.

As for norms of good governance and debt sustainability, participants noted that to conform to OECD criteria, the BRICS would forego their key selling point, which is that their provision of funds is largely demand driven and not conditioned by policy prescriptions. Even the term aid is eschewed, as emerging economy donors claim to reject the paternalism associated with charity.

Unlike traditional DAC aid, the BRICS assistance is strongly premised on 'mutual benefit'. Hence the reluctance to commit to the untying of aid, which would mean giving up a key tool for export promotion. For the BRICS, development assistance is explicitly designed to stimulate overseas demand for national industries and facilitate market entry for national companies. The mechanisms and practices of BRICS development assistance are designed to promote economic growth and development in other countries and for themselves.

On top of these practical motivations to stay away from full DAC membership are geopolitical reasons. As Dr Rani Mullen argued in her presentation, India as an emerging power wants to be a rule maker, not a rule taker. In particular, it does not want to participate in the established order when it is excluded from key seats of power, and is thus more enthusiastic about leading parallel institutions (such as a BRICS development bank) than conforming to the existing ones (such as the OECD DAC).

Emerging economy donors are thus providing complex challenges to the international development architecture. In this 'age of choice', as this report from the Overseas Development Institute has labelled the new aid landscape, it is developing countries themselves that will increasingly hold the power to determine the usefulness and desirability of existing international aid frameworks.

A longer summary and reflection on the conference proceedings by the conference organisers can be found here.

In conversation: Fullilove on US envoys

On Monday I talked with Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove about his new book Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America Into the War and Into the World.

Every time I read a book about World War II I feel both lucky and slightly diminished. Lucky that I did not have to live through that period of vast suffering, but diminished in the sense that our times seem blander and less heroic by comparison. It's hard to imagine future historians finding personalities from our time that match leaders like Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, and military figures such as Zhukov, Montgomery, Eisenhower, Yamamoto, Patton, Rommel, and MacArthur.

And now we can add five more names to that list, five presidential envoys who helped Roosevelt carve out America's path into World War II and into global leadership.

(My thanks to Marty Harris for his excellent video editing work.)

Post-MDG development framework emerging

Garth Luke leads World Vision's analysis of government aid policies.

Last Friday the next set of global anti-poverty and sustainability goals took a big step closer to agreement.

The UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLP), chaired by the presidents of Indonesia and Liberia and the UK Prime Minister, released their recommendations for a post-2015 framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals in a report called A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty And Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development.

This HLP report is part of a process of research and consultation to develop a replacement for the MDGs. At present it is running side-by-side with another process to develop environmentally-focused Sustainable Development Goals, however it is likely that the two processes will become one after this year's UN General Assembly meeting in September-October.

The HLP report takes in consultations in over 120 countries with 5000 civil society organisations, academic experts and 250 corporate CEOs. In addition, over 600,000 people have contributed to a survey about their priorities for tomorrow's world.

The HLP proposes a set of 12 goals (up from the MDG's 8) and 54 targets under these goals (up from the current 21) with a 2030 target date. The goals are:

  1. End extreme poverty.
  2. Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality.
  3. Provide quality education and lifelong learning.
  4. Ensure healthy lives.
  5. Ensure food security and good nutrition for all.
  6. Achieve universal access to water and sanitation.
  7. Secure sustainable energy.
  8. Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growth.
  9. Manage natural resource assets sustainably.
  10. Ensure good governance and effective institutions.
  11. Ensure stable and peaceful societies.
  12. 12. Create a global enabling environment and catalyse long-term finance.

While 12 goals and 54 targets may seem a lot, the Panel has done well to keep them to this number given the wide-ranging suggestions it received and the limitless ideas that humans have to make the world a better place. Responses to the Panel's recommendations have been positive. While the recommendations and targets cover most of the key issues of concern, the proposed goals offer a continuation of the simple and understandable MDG framework which most observers see as a key strength.

The Panel has attempted to fill some of the gaps in the MDGs such as women's rights, environmental sustainability and good governance, and to improve national ownership and accountability and global cooperation around the goals.

While there will be criticism that key issues are absent or too weak (eg. income inequality, greater migration opportunities) or should not be included (one can see certain interests opposing a target for zero child marriages or for universal access to contraception), the framework of goals and targets developed by the Panel provides a strong foundation for the next steps in the process and for focusing debate.

Hopefully, we now will have a global discussion about what specific targets should be included rather than what such a framework will look like.

This HLP report and other consultations will feed into a report from the Secretary General to the UN General Assembly in September, but from there the process is a bit fuzzy. It is likely that the Sustainable Development Goals and post-MDG process will be fused at that time, and that the UN will vote on a final post-2015 framework in September 2014.

This last week also saw the release of the 2013 DATA Report which has a summary of country progress against the current MDGs. This shows fairly encouraging performance against the MDG targets, with 65% of developing countries (87 countries) at least half way towards their targets and only 15% (or 20 countries) with overall scores of less than 30%. Progress on many of the goals is widespread and not confined to those countries with high economic growth.

In our region, almost all of Australia's main aid recipients are making good progress against the MDGs. Of the ten countries receiving the most aid from Australia, eight have progress scores greater than 60%.

Photo by Flickr user DFID — UK Department for International Development.

Tuesday links: Solar, AirSea Battle, Turkey, Japan, Iran, America and more

'I guess it's more international'

Marília Garcez, a volunteer steward at the game, said she had mixed feelings. "It's more beautiful but somehow less Brazilian," she said. "I guess it's more international."

That quote from The Guardian, by a Brazilian asked for her views about the recently refurbished Maracana stadium in Rio, is a telling little lament about the indefinable costs of globalisation.

For those who are unaware, the Maracana is to Brazilian football followers what the MCG is to Australian sports fans: a sort-of secular cathedral. The refurbished Maracana was unveiled to the public yesterday for a friendly between Brazil and England and will feature prominently in the next World Cup and Olympics. I watched the match highlights unaware of the venue, and at first I thought it must have been in the UK. I've seen my share of South American football over the years, yet there was nothing about the stadium that made me think we were in Brazil. It looked generically European or, as the steward above had it, 'more international'.

I'm not an unthinking romantic about this, and I'm not arguing that Brazil and the rest of the developing world is leaving behind some sort of pre-industrial idyll by embracing globalisation and lifting its population out of poverty. Far from it. But just as we are becoming more aware of the environmental consequences of globalisation and growth, it's worth pausing occasionally to also mourn its cultural cost.

Mind you, it's not all one-way traffic: globalisation does not always equal homogenisation.

Afghanistan: More asylum seekers coming

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

There is almost universal consensus among the analysts, humanitarians, and policy-makers with whom I've spoken in recent weeks that security in Afghanistan is likely to deteriorate over the next two years, that there will be significant population displacement as a result, and that at least part of this displacement will impact Australia directly.

There are differences concerning the key variables that will influence peace and security in Afghanistan. Some people are focused on the withdrawal of ISAF troops at the end of 2014, for others the outcome of the April 2014 election will be more important, while others again express concern that the generally upward trajectory in economic development in Afghanistan will be reversed as investors lose confidence.

Clearly also the relationship between peace, security and displacement is not always linear. Women are particularly likely to be displaced if the Taliban assumes an important role in the new government in Afghanistan; ethnic and linguistic minorities may be differentially affected; there will be regional and urban/rural disparities.

Nevertheless, very few people are expecting a 'solutions' scenario comprising large-scale sustainable return to Afghanistan of the millions of refugees still outside the country. A few more, but still a minority, envisage a 'doomsday' scenario of massive refugee flows out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, Iran, and perhaps Central Asia. Most forecasts revolve around a modest displacement scenario: new displacement inside Afghanistan compounding the already growing number of internally displaced persons there; some new outflows across the Iranian and Pakistan borders; and a reduction in the already low number of returns back to Afghanistan.

What are the implications for Australia?

First, many people think that among the first to leave Afghanistan will be elite Afghans and those directly associated with ISAF and the international presence in Afghanistan. They will expect support, and are likely to try to join friends and family already living overseas in the Afghan diaspora, including in Australia. Second, the possibility to return to Afghanistan for rejected asylum seekers will be very slim for at least the next two to three years.

Third, more Afghans will try to come to Australia by boat. In most cases it is not expected that they will be fleeing Afghanistan directly. Rather, they will be moving onwards from Iran as sanctions squeeze the labour market there, and from Pakistan where there is no sign that the new Nawaz Sharif Government will dial down the growing hostility towards the refugees.

Already Afghans are reported to be leaving both countries in significant numbers rather than risk going back to Afghanistan, heading to Europe via Turkey and towards Australia via Indonesia. This is an important point: Afghans are not waiting to see what will happen next year; those with resources are moving already. The others will come later. And this outward trajectory is being promoted by migrant smugglers, who are reported to be stepping up their presence in refugee camps and cities in Iran and Pakistan.

What should be the policy responses? First, it is very important that Australia and the rest of the international community stay the course in Afghanistan by supporting the election, helping build peace, and continuing development assistance. Second, the regional approach to migration management should be strengthened, in particular to develop a capacity within Indonesia to identify, process, assist, and protect Afghans arriving there. Third, expectations need to be managed: it is inevitable that more boatloads of Afghans will arrive in Australia over the next year, whatever asylum policies are put in place.

If I were running for office in Australia this September, I certainly wouldn't be raising false hopes about stopping boats any time soon.

Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo.

The internet circa 1991

Just found this lovely piece of internet history while looking for something else. The Ludington Times, incidentally, hails from Michigan, though a Google search suggests it no longer exists. No doubt it was put out of business by 'a computer network called Internet':

Thursday links: Sexism in Japan, Syria, Indonesia, Hannah Arendt and more

Killer robots: Not Terminators, just land mines with microchips

I've just recorded an interview with a reporter from ABC Radio National's estimable PM program on the subject of 'killer robots'. The UN Human Rights Commission has released what looks to be an interesting draft paper on the subject, and its due to be debated in Geneva tonight.

The key distinction the report makes between 'drones' (which already roam the battlefield) and 'robots' (which are still in the future) is human agency. Armed drones have a human decision-maker 'in the loop', meaning the final decision to use lethal force is made not by a machine but by a person or probably several people. In the case of lethal autonomous robots, on the other hand:

...targeting decisions could be taken by the robots themselves. In addition to being physically removed from the kinetic action, humans would also become more detached from decisions to kill–and their execution.

Note 'more detached', not 'unattached'.

Here's the key point I tried to make in the interview: what's often missed in media stories about killer robots (inevitably accompanied by photos of Terminators) is that even if they do enter the battlefield, humans still ultimately make the decision to use lethal force. After all, it is people who will program these robots and deploy them.

The difference is that, whereas in the case of drones, the human operator is removed from the act of using force by distance, in the case of robots, the human is removed by distance and time. And when you think about it that way, you realise killer robots are not that different to land mines or booby traps.

The problem, as the UN report points out, is that computer programming can never match the human capacity to make quick judgments about moral principles such as proportionality (use only as much force as necessary) and discrimination (direct force only at aggressors, not bystanders). Then again, such programming can also help us to bypass our passions, which lead us to do all sorts of hideous things in war.

Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

Tuesday links: Greece, drones, China in central Asia, Paris '68 and more