Saturday 21 Apr 2018 | 08:19 | SYDNEY
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Europe

Europe: the movers and the shakers

The way in which the European Union and its member states responded to recent strikes by the US, France, and the UK on Syrian chemical weapons targets very clearly exposes the strengths and weaknesses of European power. One or two Europeans are movers, but most are shakers. When it came down to

In Syria, Trump must collude with Russia

President Donald Trump is under enormous pressure to respond militarily to the latest provocation by the Assad regime, but he would do so against all of his instincts and earlier pronouncements to end US military involvement in the Syrian war. Just days before the chemical attacks in Douma,

Europe and its populists

The overwhelming victory of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party in Hungary’s 8 April elections is yet another sign that nationalist and populist parties are alive and kicking in Europe. Fidesz won 49% of the vote, about the same percentage as the seven largest opposition parties

Rouhani, Erdogan, and Putin’s bizarre love triangle

It appears a new regional security order is encircling Syria as the civil war grinds into its seventh year. This shift was visible last week, when the leaders of Turkey, Iran, and Russia met in Ankara to discuss solutions to the Syrian crisis. The detailed talks covered de-escalation zones

Australia vs China, Europe vs Russia

The “bitter split among Australia academics” (reported in the Financial Times) with regard to attitudes towards China, and the Skripal poisoning incident that prompted an unprecedented number of European countries to take highly symbolic measures against Russia, have a common denominator

Skripal: the weight of evidence

On Tuesday, the head of Britain’s Porton Down laboratory caused a stir when he admitted that his scientists had not identified the “precise source” of the Novichok nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and Skripal’s daughter Yulia, on 4 March. The comment

Skripal: the West escalates, but where is the proof?

Australia, the US, and several EU nations joined forces with Britain this week to expel Russian diplomats from their nations. The decision is based on the widespread view that the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin is responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England earlier

Russian pragmatism on display in South East Asia

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Myanmar recently in a clear display of Moscow’s pragmatism. Many Western observers, especially from the US, present Vladimir Putin as either a Machiavellian mixer with almost superhuman abilities – he who put Donald Trump in the White House and

Russia: the counter-intelligence state

Upon receiving confirmation that the UK had formally accused Moscow of poisoning Sergei Skripal, the former spy, as well as his daughter and 21 others, then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was almost beyond comprehension that a state would act this way. Unfortunately, this

Russian spy case: dead men walking

“Crush treason ruthlessly, crush it mercilessly.”Modest Mussorgsky, Boris Godunov (1874), Act IV, Scene 2 In theory, Russia prohibits capital punishment – even mass murderers are jailed for life. But in practice, some Russians accused of treason or seen as a threat to the state, or to its

The choice between hard or soft Brexit

It’s been almost a year since the United Kingdom formally notified the European Union of its intention to leave the EU. Since then, the UK and EU have been engaged in intense negotiations about the mechanics of Brexit, all with a view to the UK’s formal departure on 29 March 2019. In

The flawed logic of Russia’s new weapon systems

During his presidential address on 1 March, Vladimir Putin revealed additional information on six major new Russian weapons systems, some unveiled for the first time. Four of the weapons, discussed below, are principally relevant in a strategic nuclear sense; that is, they carry atomic warheads and

Germany gets a government

After five frustrating and tedious months, Germany finally has a government. On Sunday morning, representatives of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) announced that its membership had voted in favour of returning to power as the junior party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservative

To Russia: a plea of caution on Syria

The recent UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria was arguably a vital step towards the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid to 5.6 million Syrians deemed in “acute need”. Yet shortly after the resolution was unanimously adopted, the Syrian Government

France: more bucks for your bang

True to his pledge made during the French election campaign last year, President Emmanuel Macron last week put forward a proposal for a substantial and welcome increase in France’s defence budget. This move follows at least a decade of reductions in French defence spending. Macron’s election

Shot down over Syria

The downing of a Russian Su-25 aircraft this week marks the second aircraft lost to MANPADS surface-to-air missiles in six weeks. At the end of December, militants shot down a Syrian L-39 aircraft near Hama. Russia’s response has been swift and severe, conducting multiple

The comic opera of Italy’s election

The heads of the three main political groups contesting the Italian elections in March appear to have taken inspiration from opera buffa, or Italian comic opera. Should Italy turn a shade of populist or nationalist, will we see yet another crisis in Europe? Cosi fan tutti (All do it), said

Sea cables in a thawing Arctic

China has made a significant foray into the Arctic with the creation of a data “silk road”. Strongly supported by a newfound closeness with Russia, preliminary planning of a Chinese and Finnish–led trans-Arctic cable along the Arctic’s Northeast Passage in partnership with Japan and Norway

The real purpose of Russia’s presidential election

Vladimir Putin’s election to a fourth term as President of Russia on 18 March is a foregone conclusion. Nobody can remotely consider Russia’s presidential election to be democratic, whatever Putin and his defenders might say. Seeing as it is obviously a sham and a travesty, one might ask why

The unending nightmare for Germany’s Social Democrats

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) is having a political nightmare from which it is unable to awake. Wounded by the experience of four years as junior governing party to Angela Merkel’s conservative Union, in September the party limped to a meagre 20.5% of the vote: their

Britain can be a power in Asia

Recently the Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly argued that there is not much Britain can do in Asia because British power is diminishing. This is unsurprising. One of the biggest challenges in international relations is ascertaining a given state’s place in the international system.

Macron’s mission to China

During French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to China, which concluded last week, his choice to gift China's Xi Jinping with a horse was apparently prompted by Xi's words of admiration during a 2014 trip to Paris. On that visit, Xi was greeted by a guard of honour from the Garde Ré

Putin’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment

Politicians have a track record of declaring military victory before it is achieved. Think the 'Mission Accomplished' banner unfurled behind George W. Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on 1 May 2003, after which the war in Iraq continued for another eight years, claiming

Judging Austria’s lurch to the right

Austria’s far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) who was sworn-in just before Christmas as part of the Austrian government issued from legislative elections last October, is very right wing. Steeped in a brown past, it makes no bones about authoritarian leaning, anti-immigrant positions. In the European

Russia is not really withdrawing from Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin was reported this week to have ordered Russian military chiefs to redeploy ‘most’ of Russia’s Syria contingent back home. Exactly what constitutes ‘most', though, is anyone’s guess. There are reports that Russia

Post-Soviet states feel lure of (Chinese) socialism

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang's visit to Hungary for the sixth China-Central and Eastern Europe Countries (CEEC) Summit last week demonstrates that China has become an increasingly important player in the post-Soviet space. Its presence in Central Asia is now an undeniable fact, but less well-

Trump and the Russian ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’

Truth and Russian affairs do not sit comfortably together. Churchill observed in 1939 that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, and we find ourselves today struggling with this intrigue amid persistent claims about Donald Trump and links to Russia. This struggle also speaks to

Breakdown in Berlin

Since the beginning of Germany's election campaign a few months ago, Christian Lindner has demanded his role on centre stage. His slightly dishevelled face stared out in black and white from every brochure, billboard and advert for the Free Democratic Party (FDP), shamelessly transforming the proud

Russia in Syria: A course strewn with obstacles

Having vanquished Syria’s rebels militarily, Russia now faces the challenge of reconstructing a durable Syrian state. To convert military victory into a lasting political settlement that benefits it and its allies in Syria, Bashar Assad’s government and Iran, Moscow has moved quickly to

Macron, America and Iran: Searching for a middle way

French President Emmanuel Macron is considering a visit to Tehran in early 2018. Macron would be the first French President to visit Iran since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1976, and given the tensions between Washington and Europe over the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of

What drives Russia’s Korea policy?

To discuss what's driving Russia's Korea policy, we need a framework within which we can begin to understand Moscow’s motives regarding North Korea’s nuclearisation and the ensuing international crisis.   First, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and more broadly in

Britain’s defence planners face hard questions

In the last few days, the British press and social media have been rife with reports that the Royal Marines are to be reduced by 1000 from their present establishment of 6500. In addition, the amphibious fleet may be similarly reduced with the decommissioning of the landing platform dock (LPD) that

What the German election means for Europe and the world

The German far-right AfD has entered the Federal Republic’s parliament, while Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats suffered heavy losses. The 87% of Germans who did not vote for the ‘Alternative für Deutschland’, along with their elected leaders in government and

German elections: The collapse of consensus

It is unusual for a major party to assume a 'great responsibility' by being relegated to opposition. But this is precisely the situation facing the German Social Democrats (SPD) following its disastrous election performance last night. Humiliated by its worst result since World War II, SPD leader

Turkey’s EU accession: A useful fiction

By any measure, the German Chancellor debate between Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz last weekend was a dispiriting, monotonous affair. On irrelevant issue after irrelevant issue, both candidates spoke around each other, barely acknowledging one another's presence and finding themselves more often

How Trump’s new approach to Pakistan might pan out

Perhaps the most notable part of President Trump's new Afghanistan 'strategy' is its treatment of Pakistan, with Trump saying out loud what was once largely debated and threatened in private: The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan. We can no

The Russian ‘taboo’ and the German election

We need to come out of the dead end … Something must be offered so that Putin can change his policy without a loss of face … To express a taboo: I fear that the Crimea must be regarded as a permanent provisional solution. These words caused something of a sensation in Germany earlier this

US-Russia relations: No light at the end of the tunnel

Each month – each week – brings new and alarming developments in US-Russian relations. No one seriously expects any improvement in the near future. The only question is: how much worse can things get? During the initial period of the Trump presidency, the fear was that Trump would make some

Humanitarian corridors: Safe passage but only for a few

There is a counter-narrative emerging in Europe’s approach to irregular migration, even as EU governments seek new ways to discourage desperate journeys across the Central Mediterranean route to Italy. Via the skies over Rome and Paris, other journeys are getting safer, as church groups fly asylum

Clash or compromise: The return of history in Poland

Poland today gets almost uniformly bad press in the West, replete with stories alleging that Beata Szydło's government has all but dismantled the foundations of democracy on orders from Jarosław Kaczyński, Chairman of the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), often identified as its é

Boris Johnson: Three cheers for the Anglosphere

Boris Johnson clearly has a soft spot for Australia. No white bread politician, his whole manner is a breath of fresh air. Not only was he smart enough to renounce his dual citizenship, he has turned dishevelment into an art form. He was at it again last night, delivering the 2017 Lowy Lecture

Macron puts his stamp on French foreign policy

French President Emmanuel Macron is striking a new, pragmatic and self-confident tone in the country's foreign policy, for which he's received a lot of kudos. The recent reception for US President Donald Trump in France is a perfect illustration of this new approach. Macron invited Trump to attend

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

The G20 Hamburg riots and the German election

In many ways, the city-state of Hamburg embodies the self-image that contemporary Germany likes to project. With sparkling new galleries and trendy cafés interspersed among rough-and-tumble beatnik quarters and burly workers' bars, it exudes an elegant but unpretentious charm. The gleaming new

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