This week, the new Director of the Lowy Institute's International Security Program, Euan Graham, gave an assessment of US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's recent visit to Asia. The tour followed a particularly forceful speech the Secretary gave last week on the US pivot:

The logic of visiting Tokyo and Seoul ahead of other capitals in the region is straightforward. Between them, Japan and South Korea host over 80,000 US military personnel and the bulk of forward-deployed assets in the Western Pacific. They also bring more military capability to the table than other US allies in Asia. For these fundamental reasons, the US rebalance remains top-heavily reliant on its Northeast Asian treaty allies, not counting the US build-up on Guam, an American Pacific territory. 

Secretary Carter's introductory trip appears to have avoided unexpected traps or hurdles in the fickle business of alliance management.

Lauren Williams on Iraq and the sectarianism that is threatening to tear it apart:

The Iraqi Government is hopelessly sectarian and corrupt. In fact, it was the overtly sectarian policies of previous Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his coziness with Iran that gave rise to ISIS. His successor, Haidar al-Abadi, appears to present a genuinely moderate and unifying figure, but Maliki continues to lead his Dawa Islamic Party and the Government is paralysed by sectarian differences.

For Abadi to lead a pacified and united Iraq, the need to include the Sunni population (particularly the tribes) and avoid a further sectarian conflagration in resisting ISIS is paramount. The Iraqi parliament is working on a draft of a highly contentious National Guard bill that would form a unified military umbrella incorporating Sunni entities and tribal forces, possibly including the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite irregulars.

The Interpreter is running a new series,'Digital Disruption.' Danielle Cave has the first entry on Australia and digital diplomacy:

Today, digital diplomacy is a foreign policy essential. We live in a world where state and non-state entities all compete for influence and power in the same online space. That space now hosts more than 3 billion people, most of whom only access the internet through their mobile phone. When used properly, digital diplomacy is a persuasive and timely supplement to traditional diplomacy that can help a country advance its foreign policy goals, extend international reach, and influence people who will never set foot in any of the world's embassies.

The good news is that DFAT's online reach has grown significantly over the past two years.

An excellent piece from John Carlson breaking down the more technical aspects of the Iran nuclear agreement and negotiations:

So, the scale of a 'legitimate' enrichment program easily dwarfs Iran's current program. This could be why the capacity/needs principle was dropped from the negotiations. But it is an important principle, and it should never be accepted that nuclear hedging is a legitimate purpose under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a 'peaceful' nuclear program. The last thing anyone – including Iran – would want is a proliferation of enrichment or reprocessing programs. It is essential for the international community to use the 15-year breathing space to address this problem of nuclear hedging.

At the end of last week, the Taliban published a biography of their leader Mullah Omar. Susanne Schmeidl thinks it is a desperate attempt to gain relevance against the tide of ISIS's online recruitment:

The Mullah Omar biography fails to speak the language of the young fighters when it reminds them of their leader's long list of war credential. Describing Mullah Omar as coming from a family of jihadists with the RPG-7 as his 'preferred weapon of choice,' in which he is said to be 'proficient and an expert,' does not seem particularly impressive. Where are the videos in which we can see Mullah Omar touting said RPG? That is what ISIS would have done. Furthermore, many know that the rock-star name of Mullah Rocketi has long been booked by ex-Taliban Mullah Abdul Salam. If Mullah Omar was better with the rocket than Rocketi, why did Abdul Salma get the name?

Andrew Selth on what the media got wrong about the recent student protests in Burma:

None of my interlocutors in Burma last month tried to excuse the MPF's violent tactics. Clearly, excessive force was used at Letpadan in what was described by one onlooker as 'a complete breakdown of police discipline'. Yet, as was also pointed out to me, on 10 March some officers, probably from the Bago Region MPF, attempted to curb the behaviour of the security battalions and even tried to protect protesters and bystanders.

Those actions highlight an aspect of the disturbances that has not been addressed in the news media, namely that the uncompromising attitude of the security battalions was not representative of the entire MPF. Indeed, one senior police officer told me that many in the force were shocked and disappointed by events. They regretted what had occurred and recognised the damage the Letpadan incident in particular could do to the MPF's reform program and its attempts to regain public confidence.

Has the Australian Treasury been assuming too much in their modelling of capital mobility? Leon Berkelmans thinks so:

When modelling and discussing the effects of taxes, Treasury frequently makes the assumption of perfect international capital mobility. This assumption means there is only one worldwide after-tax (risk-adjusted) rate of return on capital. If there were anywhere that offered a better deal, perfect capital mobility would imply that capital would flow into that area, until the return differential was arbitraged away. Similarly, if anywhere offered a worse deal, capital would flow out until, again, returns were equalised…

…In 1980 Marty Feldstein and Charles Horioka published a famous and influential paper that claimed capital was quite immobile. They based this claim on a very tight correlation between a country's saving and its investment. That may sound esoteric, but it is not. As I said before, if capital is freely mobile across country borders, it will seek the highest yielding opportunities. There is no reason for it to be invested in places with the highest savings. The most plausible explanation for the correlation was that savings tended to be invested in the home country, or in other words, there was a high degree of home country bias in investment.

Malcolm Cook on upcoming elections in the Philippines and how they might affect the country's position on the South China Sea:

Binay has no foreign policy experience, having risen to national prominence as long-time Mayor of Makati, the wealthiest city in Metro Manila and the country. In one of his first extended interviews addressing foreign policy issues, Binay focused on the prospects for joint Philippines-Chinese development of natural resources in the West Philippine Sea, and downplayed the case filed by the Aquino Administration to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea regarding the Philippines' maritime boundary disputes with China. The ruling on this landmark case is expected to be delivered in mid-2016, potentially at the same time Binay takes over as president.

If Binay wins and follows through on these views, it would be a return to the policy preferred by Aquino's predecessor, President Macapagal-Arroyo…

Has the UK lost it's internationalist vibe, asks Nick Bryant?:

Britons watch their prime ministers attend commemorative events for the two world wars, and see them at summits like the G7, and tend to assume that the country's traditional lead role in global affairs is assured. But there's been a noticeable slippage. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is viewed by the Obama Administration as the dominant European leader. The French, rather than the British, have become the most interventionist European power, deploying troops in the Central African Republic and Mali. When it came to negotiating the Ukraine ceasefire between Moscow and Kiev, it was Merkel and Francois Hollande who brokered the deal rather than David Cameron, a notable absentee. As its failed campaign to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission demonstrated, Britain is often isolated in Europe.

Hugh White took aim at two recently published reports on US-China relations, one of which is authored by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

So what should America do? Rudd says America and China can resolve the tensions caused by China's ambitions through diplomacy. The two powers can and should negotiate in a spirit of 'constructive realism', deepening cooperation where their interests coincide while quarantining and managing the issues on which they disagree.

It's a nice idea, but Rudd's account of it evades the hard question: is America willing to deal with China in the way he proposes? His model implies a complete transformation in the nature of US-China relations so that they become true partners in regional leadership. But his prescription will only work if America is willing to deal with China as an equal, which is of course incompatible with the old model of US regional leadership in Asia.

Yet Rudd does not acknowledge this in his report. No doubt he understands that it is something his American audience will not want to hear, but until this issue is squarely addressed, America's debate about China will keep on missing the mark.

Should global health be a G20 issue? Tristram Sainsbury thinks the current global health system is inadequate:

What is needed is a technical body that monitors vulnerabilities, identifies gaps, informs policymakers and coordinates responses. The WHO, with its current funding, structure and staff, does not seem able to provide the necessary oversight. Yet there is no other organisation that can match the reach or representativeness of the WHO. As Bill Gates points out, the problem isn't that the system didn't work well enough, it is that we hardly have a system at all.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ash Carter.