Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.
With Prime Minister Abbott committing to the still-developing international coalition that will work toward containing and combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, several Interpreter contributors discussed what it meant for Australia. Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Rodger Shanahan:
More importantly, the Australian public needs to understand that this mission is simply about targeting IS; it's not about making a better Iraqi nation. I would argue that the multiple identities (to coin a Bernard Lewis term) of Iraqis make it virtually impossible to do this in the short- to medium term, if ever. That doesn't mean we shouldn't contribute to defeating IS, but it does mean we should be mature enough to understand that this is not a binary battlefield — in other words, it's not the Iraqi government vs Islamic State.
Anthony Bubalo outlined three core reasons why he thought Australia was making the right decision:
Iraq does threaten core Australian interests. The existence of ISIS-stan increases the terrorist threat faced by Australians both in Australia and in our region (not to mention places Australians like to travel, such as Europe). This is because, as has been mentioned many times now, Iraq and Syria are providing military skills to extremists from Australia, but also neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines, and around the world.
A number of commentators have argued that an air campaign on its own won't defeat ISIS. This is true, but I don't think this is what the US intends. I think the US and its allies will pursue the same strategy they used successfully in Afghanistan in 2001-2 and in Libya in 2011. That is, they will provide air support to allied local ground forces teamed with Western special forces.
The more interesting question is what to do with the guys that do come back. At the moment, the focus in Australia and some European countries seems to be on a law-enforcement response. Clearly, however, there needs to be a case-by-case treatment. As noted, you probably won't have hardcore fighters returning home. And what you don't want to do is to push returnees onto a violent course they never intended to take because they feel persecuted.
And Michael Green on the possible effects on Australia’s regional engagement:
The deployment of 400 RAAF and 200 SAS personnel and associated equipment to Dubai is not going to undercut Australia's strategic engagement with Indonesia, India and the rest of South and Southeast Asia. Australia is hardly a one-dimensional player in Asia, and has more than enough capacity to shape regional developments through navy-led exercises, diplomacy in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum, and in trade negotiations such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Stephen Grenville took a look at the idea of economic convergence:
But in any case, the convergence story was never about aggregates, combining the diverse experience of all emerging economies taken together. The convergence story is the counter to the view that poor countries are inexorably stuck in poverty because of geography, lack of savings, or unreformable institutions. This pessimistic generalisation is refuted by the cases of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Then, rebutting the argument that these were special cases, less dynamic economies like Thailand and Indonesia showed that the income gap could be narrowed, even in the face of inefficient and corrupt institutions. The point of the convergence story is that, with competent policies, poor countries can grow quickly by adopting proven technology and techniques.
Elliot Brennan undertakes a study of religion in Southeast Asia:
As the region undergoes rapid development, the role of religion is shifting. This will ultimately affect perceptions of identity, a change that will create anxiety in many young men and women and may see them gravitate toward extremism or other positions of intolerance. Coupled with labour migration, shifting gender roles and changes to traditional social structures, this creates a crucible for potential conflict. Addressing these insecurities of identity in a changing society (where identity is less likely to be prescribed by religion) will be key to tackling the spread of communal violence and extremism.
Julie Bishop's first year as Foreign Minister has been busy, and one success is the MIKTA grouping, says Alex Oliver:
It's early days, but each of the MIKTA foreign ministers appears enthusiastic about the possibilities of the new grouping. None of the five are part of a natural regional or security bloc, so their thinking is presumably that the grouping can achieve more together than each can achieve alone – the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. And while the parts are significant, the whole is potentially formidable.
In a fine analysis, Shashank Joshi on the Indian-Chinese relationship ahead of Xi Jinping's visit to New Delhi:
India is therefore fostering a web of commercial and military ties across the region, the sort of 'middle power coalitions' that Rory Medcalf and Raja Mohan have described in their recent paper, while prioritising economic interaction, avoiding the language of containment or even balancing, and resisting 'a bloc-based Asian order with alliances and counter-alliances'. These relationships don't just strengthen India's regional influence; they also force China to court India more intensively, as it did in the decade after the US-India rapprochement.
Julian Snelder argued that China will not follow its realist foreign policy forever:
The bigger question is what happens when China's power outgrows its calculative strategy. At some point, clever and pragmatic might start to look cynical and amoral. It is often said that China didn't create the current global order and therefore is not beholden to it. That raises the obvious question of what system Beijing would prefer instead.
As Jokowi begins to select a new cabinet for Indonesia, the present foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has undergone a public flaying, says Greta Nabbs-Keller:
Among the most damaging of Susilo's criticisms was that Natalegawa had overseen the death of innovation and reform in the Foreign Ministry instituted by his predecessor, Hassan Wirajuda. Appointed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri in the early stages of Indonesia's democratic transition, Wirajuda initiated a substantial legislative, organisational and ideational reform. He transformed a foreign policy-making culture constrained by the military's political influence and concentration of authority in autocratic President Suharto into one which better reflected the values of Indonesia's 'reformasi' experience.
And following the Fijian elections this week, Lowy Institute Melanesia Program Director Jenny Hayward-Jones said there are a few reasons to be worried:
The Fiji Government had said the military would not be involved in pre-election and election-day proceedings, but on the eve of the election, Tikoitoga announced the military was on standby. The military also conducted a highly visible training exercise in a public area on election eve, creating a storm on social media, and marched in the streets of Suva. These actions have unnecessarily and unhelpfully raised the profile of the military at the very time when it should have taken a low profile.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Natasia Causse.