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Weekend catch-up

Weekend catch-up
Published 26 Oct 2013   Follow @SamRoggeveen

Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Plenty of great longer pieces on The Interpreter this week. Malcolm Cook continued the debate on Japan-China relations, arguing that Australia should not be too concerned about 'annoying China' by having friendly relations with Japan:

Prime Minister Abbott's reference to Japan as Australia's best friend in Asia is both true and very much in line with standard, decades-old Australian diplomatic language about Japan. The fact that Abbott reiterated this language in reference to Japan-Australia relations and an invitation for the Japanese prime minister to visit Australia bilaterally (something that has not happened since Prime Minister Koizumi) should not be noteworthy or annoying.

As for the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue's opposition to 'coercive or unilateral actions that could change the status quo' in the East China Sea, it is China itself that has fulminated most about recent Japanese unilateral actions. This TSD declaration could be as much use to China as it is to Japan, or perhaps even more, given that China is not a TSD member. Rob's suggestion that Australia should seek to express such normal diplomatic language only in larger regional forums that include China would prove difficult, as China routinely quashes any such discussions in forums it is a member of, or in those over which it has leverage. Just ask ASEAN.

For more on this series see our Japan-China relations debate thread.

Economist Stephen Grenville turned his attention to the impact of US fiscal policy adjustments on emerging markets

US policy adjustments can be disruptive for emerging economies. Financial markets are the conduit. Sharp movements in exchange rates and interest rates are the manifestation, and these in turn disrupt domestic confidence and investment.

Exchange rates fell sharply in India and Indonesia but in the end the falls were not much greater than occurred in Australia. The difference is that confidence was not undermined in Australia; in fact the fall was seen as a positive factor, restoring international competitiveness. Indonesia and India are not yet ready to judge these big shifts with the same equanimity.

While both these countries have been given a reprieve, the story is not yet over. The US will have to do its QE taper at some stage and the arm-wrestle on debt will resume early next year. In Europe the banking system is still frail and the peripheral countries are ripe for renewed crisis. Can the emerging economies seek protection by asking the advanced economies not to repeat their damaging policies?

In a word, no. The emerging economies should assume they are on their own.

Following on from his popular post on cooling US-India ties a couple of weeks ago, Shashank Joshi returned with some analysis on India-China relations in the context of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Beijing:[fold]

Singh's visit this week underscores the fact that the government is charting a middle course. It continues to increase its military capabilities against China at a ferocious pace, adding high-attitude airbases (the latest, Nyoma, is near the site of the April incursion), US-supplied transport aircraft and ultra-light artillery, and a long-delayed mountain strike corps.

Notwithstanding criticism from some who wanted to see greater investments in sea power rather than land, India's long-term aim is to narrow the widening power differential with China and consequently speak to Beijing from a position of strength. Whereas China wants curbs on the number of forces within 20 kilometers of the border – something that would favour its military position, given its better transport links and ability to ramp up troop levels quickly – India resists any such constraints.

Despite the tension, things look quite different for Manmohan Singh in the short term. The Government's priority is to keep the border quiet. National elections are looming next year, and the disputed border with Pakistan is at its most violent in a decade. The opposition parties and much of the media demand just the sort of escalation towards China that the Government is desperate to avoid.

I sparked some debate this week with my post defending the use of drones in warfare:

The technology actually facilitates restraint. If the Royal Air Force had been offered the chance to target German munitions factories with drones and precision-guided munitions in 1940, do you think they would have said 'no thanks' and continued with their campaign of flattening entire German cities with fleets of bombers? As for the 'antiseptic' feel of modern warfare, drones are really just a culmination of humanity's efforts, which date from the dawn of warfare, to invent 'stand-off' weapons that can be used from a position of safety. So in terms of turning people into 'distant statistics', it's hard to see a moral difference between a drone and a crossbow.

It's also worth noting the positive impact drones can have on international security. For one thing, the ability to conduct constant surveillance can help facilitate ceasefires and arms control agreements, because it will be so much harder to cheat. Drones might even be a factor incontrolling tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea.

If you got any thoughts in response to this post please send them to

Something that's going to feature more on The Interpreter in coming weeks is the joint Lowy Institute-Sea Power Centre debate on the development of a 'maritime school of thought for Australia'. The Sea Power Centre's Justin Jones kicked off the debate:

In hindsight, 2012-13 might come to be seen as a watershed period for maritime strategic thinking in Australian defence policy.

During the 37 years that Australian governments have produced defence white papers, the notion of maritime strategy has been applied in only half of these documents, despite consistent references to the maritime nature of Australia's geostrategic environment. The 1976 Defence White Paper stated that 'any confrontation would be, initially at least, maritime in character.' The 1987 White Paper noted the 'importance of maritime a result of Australia's geography.' In 1994, the term 'maritime operations' appeared, reflecting 'strong maritime emphasis in the concept of defence in depth.'

The 2000 Defence White Paper was the first to apply the term 'maritime strategy' (four times) and to allude to key principles of maritime strategy. The 2009 Defence White Paper mentioned the term maritime strategy only three times, but used the phrase 'sea control', a key concept in maritime strategy, six times.

This year's defence white paper reflects a definite maturing in the evolution of maritime strategic thinking in our defence policy. The term 'maritime strategy' is used ten times. The first use is in the contents, alluding to the fact that a whole section is devoted to maritime strategy. And while the use of air forces in a maritime strategy might seem axiomatic, the 2009 paper also highlighted the need for land forces in maritime strategy, and the 2013 paper elaborated on that need.

There was a follow-up post from US Naval War College professor James Holmes:

And yet there's even more to maritime affairs than military strategy, commerce, or even politics. As King's College professor Geoffrey Till points out in his book Seapower, maritime strategy is also about extracting natural resources from the seas and the sea floor. It's even a mode of cultural interchange, as anyone who lives in a seaport frequented by foreign merchantmen and warships will tell you. That's why the lore of the sea — poetry, art, music — is so rich. That's why Robert Kaplan maintains that maritime civilizations are more cosmopolitan and more moderate than their continental brethren.

Finally, Roger Pielke Jr, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, discussed carbon price policy, saying that 'Australia remains a bellwether of international climate politics':

Consequently, its climate policy debates have significance far beyond the nation's borders, so I will try to place the Australian experience into such a larger context.

Apparently, Prime Minister Abbott accepts both the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the previous government's commitment to a 5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from a 2000 baseline) by 2020. He has proposed what remains an ill-defined 'direct action plan', the details of which are apparently now being worked out.

The mathematics of Australia's emissions are not terribly complicated. To achieve a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 5% from 2000 levels would require a rate of decarbonisation of the Australian economy (measured as a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per A$1000 of GDP) of greater than 5% per year from 2013 to 2020. This is consistent with my earlier analysis which looked at data through 2006. For comparison, Australia averaged a 2.9% annual rate of decarbonisation from 2007 to 2012. (NB: As in my 2011 paper and in The Climate Fix, here I focus on carbon dioxide, while the Australian target refers to greenhouse gases. Data on GHG emissions comes from BP 2013 and GDP figures from the UN and DFAT).

Photo by Flickr user socialstratmatt.

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