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Weekend catch-up: Donald, Darwin, Doklam and more

The Interpreter introduces a new podcast, who won the Doklam stand-off, how is Trump's Pakistan strategy like to play out, and more.

International observers and Lowy Institute International Security Program Director Euan Graham (far left) at Warrawui for Exercise Crocodile Strike (Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence)
International observers and Lowy Institute International Security Program Director Euan Graham (far left) at Warrawui for Exercise Crocodile Strike (Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence)
Published 2 Sep 2017 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

The Chinese clearly had not expected India’s strategy of deterrence through denial, argued Rory Medcalf:

Of course it is too early to identify all the lessons of Doklam. But unless China brings back the bulldozers soon, India will have won this round. And it did so without substantial involvement by the US. This is a tangible riposte to claims that the rest of Asia should embrace a China-centric order if it finds itself having to live without an American-led one.

Meanwhile, Darshana Baruah wrote on Delhi’s ramped-up engagement with Indian Ocean littoral states:

As Sino-Indian competition continues to ramp up, however, India is going to have to accelerate the switch from reactive to proactive policies. While Delhi’s recent efforts have been welcomed across the Indian Ocean region, they may not be enough to keep pace with China.

A particularly consequential aspect of US Donald Trump’s address on South Asia strategy might be the nature of his new approach to Pakistan. Shashank Joshi mapped out some potential short- and long-term scenarios:

Both of these scenarios, including the first 'success', are sobering. They involve high levels of region-wide uncertainty and instability. They draw in virtually all the current and aspiring great powers (the US, China, Russia, and India) in different ways, thereby connecting the Afghanistan question to other regional issues. Yet it is now difficult to see the status quo as stable.

Trump’s new strategy on Afghanistan was the best in 16 years, argued Jim Molan:

It can fairly be considered to be new because, in the 16 years of this conflict, a sustained, open-ended military presence and real pressure on the neighbours - especially Pakistan, and non-specified support from India - has not been tried.

Last month Carla del Ponte dramatically resigned from the UN Commission Inquiry on Syria. In comments to the New York Times, del Ponte blasted the UN Security Council for their inaction. Peter Nadin on how the UN Security Council failed Syria:

I have studied the Council for the best part of a decade (I wrote my PhD on the topic of Council agency). Early on in my work I came to understand a rather self-evident fact – that whenever the Council membership is not unified, the Council cannot be effective. There are no exceptions.

Across the border, Vanessa Newby argued against attempting to change the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s mandate:

On the face of it, destroying Hizbullah’s weapons caches in south Lebanon would be in line with Western interests. But the question of Hizbullah is a national debate that requires national solutions, not international impositions. Changing UNIFIL’s mandate has the potential to trigger another regional conflict, destroying the positive gains UNIFIL has made since it was deployed after the 2006 war.

Lydia Khalil on how Islamic State is changing the nature of terrorism:

Islamic State has now married two types of terrorism – the home-grown, domestic variety and the more sophisticated, internationally-planned attacks - into a hydra threat. Security analysts are calling these 'remote controlled' operations. The recently thwarted airline plot was exactly this type of threat: planned and controlled by operatives abroad, but carried out by 'cleanskin' individuals domestically.

An understanding of the role women can play in communities at risk of radicalisation is critical to Australian attempts to prevent future incidents of violent extremism, argue Katrina Lee-Koo and Jacqui True:

The research demonstrates that women are often ‘first responders’ to the possibilities of radicalisation within their communities. In families, schools, workplaces, community groups and religious centres, women play an important role in preventing and countering both the spread and persuasion of extremist ideologies.

Sidney Jones argued that the ongoing conflict in Marawi should prompt analysts and policymakers to reconsider the peace process in the Southern Philippines:

For years, the common wisdom about conflict in the southern Philippines was that the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was the best antidote to radicalisation. We all said it – analysts, activists, donors, diplomats, anyone who cared about making Mindanao a better place.

Now it's time to face facts: the peace process in Mindanao may be dead, and no one has a Plan B. Thinking about alternative options is now critical.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, President Jokowi is using strong langauge against foreign drug smugglers, wrote Olivia Shen:

Australia should not overreact to Widodo's tough talk, but nor should we ignore it. Indonesian policies on this issue could affect the more than one million Australians who visit Indonesia each year. It's no coincidence that Widodo singled out foreign drug dealers in his speech, with the implication that these foreigners should be made examples of. A week earlier, a suspected drug trafficker from Taiwan, Lin Ming Hui, was gunned down by police near Jakarta as he tried to escape.

Drug cases have seriously strained Australia's relations with Indonesia in the recent past. Australia's domestic policy on illicit drugs takes a harm minimisation approach that would be considered permissive by Indonesian standards and by most of our Asian neighbours. Many Indonesians viewed Australia's pleas to stay the executions of Chan and Sukumaran as hysterical and insulting to Indonesia's sovereign right to enforce their laws. The prospect of an Australian being caught up in another trafficking case in Indonesia would be a diplomatic nightmare.

Last week, the Lowy Institute’s International Security Program Director Euan Graham visited Northern Australia to observe Exercise Crocodile Strike, a joint drill involving the Australian Defence Force and the US Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D):

Now into its sixth rotation, the MRF-D strength is currently around 1250, well below the 2500 troops and full Marine Air Ground Task Force originally envisaged. Negotiations between Australia and the US on co-funding the enabling infrastructure were prolonged and at times painful. But the key support elements to MRF-D over its 25-year lifespan have now been agreed, as part of the wider Force Posture Initiative, which additionally comprises an Enhanced Air Cooperation strand.

Stephen Grenville examined a new report from McKinsey on international capital flows, and argued against the IMF’s implicit stigmatisation of capital controls:

The IMF even accepts that capital-flow management (the acceptable term for what used to be condemned as 'capital controls') may be appropriate in some circumstances. But this possibility is right at the bottom of the policy toolbox, and there is no discussion how it would be applied in practice. The implication is that such measures still don't have a full endorsement by the IMF, and hence will be seen by financial markets as a measure of policy weakness.

How has five years of Abenomics helped or hindered Japan? Peter McCawley:

As Greg Earl noted recently, Japan is now close to 'producing its longest run of economic growth this century'.

But major problems remain. Choices for fiscal policy look very difficult. The level of public debt in Japan is extremely high, with the IMF saying it is 'unsustainable' under current policies. Further, growth objectives remain elusive. It seems difficult for the Japanese economy to grow at much above 1% per annum. And in the longer term, the Japanese population is expected to decline markedly over the next few decades. There is much concern about the implications of ageing for Japanese society

Alan Oxley on whether global free trade is being reversed, or merely put on hold:

Trump has not overturned the open global trading system; he has merely blocked open trading routes involving the US. History suggests this will be temporary. But it matters. Global growth is slow and the global economy is not in the best of shape. Major trade liberalisation worldwide requires US participation.

And finally, The Interpreter launched a new occasional podcast series. Titled ‘Canberra Conversations’, The Interpreter’s Founding Editor Sam Roggeveen will interview the figures that play a prominent role in the capital’s community of policymakers, staffers, journalists, academics, diplomats and students. Roggeveen’s first interview was with Mike Pezzullo, head of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (and likely head of the Department of Home Affairs upon its eventual creation):

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