Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 17:07 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 17:07 | SYDNEY

Weekend catch-up: Bibi, idealogues, Australia and the AIIB, India, Cyclone Pam and more



21 March 2015 08:00

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

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was re-elected to a fourth term on Tuesday, if he can form a coalition government in the coming weeks. Anthony Bubalo wrote on the election victory and the comments made by Bibi in the lead-up to election day:

There is no doubt that a little panic had crept into the Bibi camp.

A week before the poll he declared that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch, because any territory ceded would quickly fall to Islamic extremists. On election day he warned, via Facebook, that Israeli Arabs were being bussed to the polls by left wing NGOs, imploring his supporters to save his nationalist government.

But it also seems that panic worked.

Rodger Shanahan took aim at the ideologues in Iran and the US who are against the ongoing nuclear negotiations:

There is a deep thread of exceptionalism that runs through both American and Iranian notions of self. The problem with conservative ideologues from both countries that harbour this notion of exceptionalism is that they rarely understand that it isn't a view shared by anyone outside their respective countries. Without a modicum of self-awareness, such mindsets can lead to foreign policy adventurism as they both believe in their divinely-ordained right to lead. And, while the embarrassing letter has been seen for what it is, it reveals a way of thinking that reminds us that not all dangerous ideologues reside in the Middle East.

This week, after the UK signaled that it would become a founding member of the China-sponsored Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, news broke that Australia was revisiting its position. It now seems almost certain that Australia will in fact join. Malcolm Jorgensen wrote on what the bank means for the rules-based global order:

For the US to maximise its leverage through a rules-based order it must accept the evolution of global finance to encompass the reality of growing Chinese power. Importantly, China continues to engage with existing global financial institutions even as it fosters parallel alternatives. The 2015 US National Security Strategy recognised the need to reform the World Bank and IMF to 'make them more effective and representative.' No such reforms have been forthcoming however, with the US Congress refusing to relinquish power that was crystallised in a previous era.

Stephen Grenville also wrote on the bank and the rise of regional economic institutions:

The region already has the ADB. Does it need the AIIB, the BRICS New Development Bank and the Chinese New Silk Road initiative? Probably not. But Japan continues to monopolise control of the ADB (where Japan and the US each have voting rights well over twice as large as China's and the president is always a Japanese). The US dominates the Washington institutions, with the American Congress preventing even modest governance reformsat the IMF.

Given this ossified and unwelcoming environment, China's search for alternatives is inevitable. 

One of Australia's former allies in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, Matiullah Khan, was killed this week in a suicide bombing in Kandahar. Susanne Schmeidl, who met and interviewed Matiullah during her time in Afghanistan, reflected on the strongman's death:

And that was the ultimate problem with how the West fought in Afghanistan. Why fight in a war you cannot win militarily, especially if you leave before it is over? Why fight the war if it means that in the end you need to align with men of questionable reputations? When the Australians left Uruzgan, the job was not done. With a stretched Afghan National Army, it was for the Afghan National Police, and hence Matiullah, to continue the fight.

The Interpreter also published a series of articles on India this week. First, Crispin Rovere responded to a debate between Hugh White and Shashank Joshi on India's strategic role in the Indo-Pacific, and its growing partnership with the US:

As for India and the US, I find it astonishing that after more than 50 years of being repeatedly burned, some Americans still have not learned their lesson (though many have), and continue insisting that China and India are 'natural competitors'. This is false. China and India are historical competitors, but such competition is not necessarily 'natural' and certainly nothing like the strategic competition that exists between China and the US. After all, any Chinese expansion in the Western Pacific will be at America's expense. It is hard to argue that India's expansion into the Indian Ocean is being actively resisted by China. 

Sam Roggeveen, who was in India throughout the week, wrote on a speech he attended by the new head of India's foreign service, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar:

In fact, the speech struck me as setting a more pro-American posture than I was used to hearing in my short time here. Yes, he focused a lot on shortcoming and challenges, but all in the service, it seemed to me, of wanting to move the relationship forward — the problems he identified were framed as ones to be overcome, not as reasons to limit ambitions. I have had the sense, during this visit, that it's the Americans who urgently want to elevate the relationship even more than has already occurred, and that the Indians are reluctant to match this enthusiasm. Jaishankar seemed to turn this on its head. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded a tour through the Indian Ocean region, and David Brewster argued that the trip was strategically significant:

As nascent and aspirational as India's initiatives in the Indian Ocean may be, they represent important steps in giving substance to its claims to be a 'net security provider' to the region. A grouping with the island states may represent the beginnings of a new multilateral alignment in the Indian Ocean, with India at the centre. For India it would represent an important psychological step beyond its traditional adherence to nonalignment, which could have much broader implications.

Vanuatu suffered a devastating cylone earlier this week, displacing up to 70% of the population. Anna Kirk on the long-term implications:

Following a visit to Tanna, one of the most badly damaged islands, Prime Minister Natuman said that even though it was the Government's job to serve the people, they will need to survive on their own. The Government will provide some relief, he said, but in the long term they must become self-sufficient. This has always been the reality for the majority of ni-Vanuatu. There are few government services on outer islands and communities have always been self-sufficient. But the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam means this is no longer an option. It will take years for Vanuatu to recover.

Tom Switzer had a popular profile piece on former US National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft:

Why is this case? Why should we recognise Scowcroft as the most distinguished US foreign policy figure of modern times?

Well, for one thing, he was widely regarded as a calm, sober, judicious, loyal, non-partisan and highly intelligent strategist. A master of the day-to-day process of coordinating Washington's bureaucracies and an honest broker in high-level deliberations, he was scrupulous about presenting different arguments to be widely debated among policymakers. Scowcroft was also something of a rare exception in a town like Washington: he lacked the insatiable drive toward power and celebrity.

Will the Chine Communist Party collapse? Kerry Brown:

Finally there is the biggest question, and one that hovers over much of Shambaugh's article. Beyond shrill nationalism, what precisely does the Chinese Communist Party offer as a belief system and national vision to its people and the world in the 21st century? We know what it doesn't want; some of these things are spelt out in documents like the No. 9 edict Shambaugh refers to from 2013. But beyond national rejuvenation and addressing historic resentments, what is the great China vision which the country and the world can buy into in the coming decades?

Vanessa Newby on religion and the public sphere in the Middle East:

If you look broadly across the Muslim world, you will notice that governments tightly control religious space because of the potential threat religion poses to existing political power structures. Extreme piety in Western converts is viewed with great suspicion by governments in the Middle East, not just in the West. This means it is not easy to emigrate to a Muslim state as a Western convert without running the risk of attracting unwanted attention from the local security services, even in places such as Saudi Arabia or Iran. Equally, those born Muslim in Western states may not always feel comfortable displaying their religion openly for fear of arousing suspicion or censure.

I am concerned the space for piety without violence is shrinking in this battle of ideas about what is good Islam (preferably as secular as possible?) and bad Islam (indicated by the wearing of the Niqab and a pious lifestyle?).

Finally, Leon Berkelmans revisted Thomas Piketty's Capital:

In addition, Piketty's paper contains a valuable reminder that his book also discusses labour income inequality. I've had people say to me in the past  something like, 'Of course, Piketty is all wrong because inequality over the last few decades has been driven by inequality of labour income.' These people obviously have not read the book. The title of Chapter 9 is 'Inequality of Labor Income'.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Speaker John Boehner.

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