What's happening at the
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 05:17 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 11 Dec 2018 | 05:17 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's best of 2014: Modi and Indian foreign policy, Mearsheimer, the Pivot and Congress, defence spending


2 January 2015 08:00

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and January 12 when The Interpreter will be back for 2015.

What would Modi mean for Indian foreign policy?, by Danielle Rajendram, 7 April.

While Modi's foreign policy rhetoric is likely to continue to be tougher and more nationalistic than under Manmohan Singh, this will signify more of a change in emphasis and style, rather than substance. Though we can expect some more assertive diplomatic signaling, especially in relation to provocations from China and Pakistan, it's unlikely we'll see a significant departure from the UPA's foreign policy of the last ten years. For Australia, Modi's emphasis on economics and trade policy aligns well with the Coalition's own mantra of 'economic diplomacy', and this could give bilateral ties a boost.

Mearsheimer’s big question: Can China rise peacefully?, by Julian Snelder, 15 April.

Mearsheimer seems surprised by the revival of the wuwang guochi ('never forget national humiliation') narrative, which lies at the core of hypernationalism. He shouldn't be. Wuwang guochi has been the hairshirt (as Geoff Dyer recently put it) of China's 'rejuvenation' for more than a century. It has powerful resonance and motivation for Chinese people. The troubling paradox for Mearsheimer, though, is that as China has become more successful in the international system, its resentment has also risen. He puzzles on why the foremost beneficiary of this order in the last three decades increasingly appears set to challenge it, and to dig up old bones of contention in doing so.

The pivot: Obama committed, but Congress a big obstacle, by Aaron Connelly, 24 April.

Congress could prove an even bigger obstacle in the year to come. Democrats in the House have promised to obstruct passage of any new trade agreements, including TPP. The House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership over the past year has sought to limit US engagement with some governments in Southeast Asia due to human rights concerns – limits that would prevent the Administration from effectively addressing those concerns. Individual Senators continue to block Obama nominees for key posts as a way to extract Administration concessions on unrelated issues, leaving the Defense Department without a confirmed Assistant Secretary for Asia Pacific Security Affairs for much of its two terms. There are no remaining members in Congress with the deep knowledge of the region boasted by giants like Dick Lugar, Bill Cohen, Daniel Inouye, Kit Bond, or Jim Webb, and few junior members on the horizon interested in following in their footsteps.

Defence spending: A better measure for holding government to account, by Ric Smith, 2 May.

Another, and in some ways more useful, indicator is available: namely, the percentage of government outlays or expenditure allocated to defence. This is a measure which is entirely in the hands of the government of the day, and has the additional advantage of enabling comparisons within government over time and between spending on particular sectors. In concentrating attention on the issue of where defence sits in the array of alternative uses of a government's limited spending capacity, it enables a sharper and more focused policy debate on the issue of a dollar spent on defence versus a dollar spent on social security (or even tax cuts).

On this measure, the performance of the Howard and Rudd/Gillard governments make for interesting reading.According to DIO figures, Defence's share of nominal government spending ranged from 5.3% in 2003 to 5.7% in 2007, the year the Howard era ended, and reached 5.8% in 2008 before declining to 4.9% by 2012.

You may also be interested in...