Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: F-35s, the end of America, Raqqa's fate, and more

This week two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters landed in Melbourne for the Avalon Air Show, the first time the RAAF's fifth generation fighter aircraft have visited the country.

Two F-35s en route to Melbourne, 2017 (Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence)
Two F-35s en route to Melbourne, 2017 (Photo: Commonwealth of Australia/Department of Defence)
Published 4 Mar 2017 

This week two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters landed in Melbourne for the Avalon Air Show, the first time the RAAF's fifth generation fighter aircraft have landed in Australia. John Blaxland on the significance of the moment:

For those involved, it is a moment of great relief. It demonstrates to the sceptics that the aircraft is definitely set to be the centrepiece of the Royal Australian Air Force for the next couple of decades.

Last week Euan Graham recorded an interview with US Air Force pilot David Skalicky, who is currently operating the F-22 out of RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory. This week, Graham interviewed the RAAF's William Grady, who is operating in Skalicky's squadron. Grady describing the F-22:

It is a truly amazing aircraft, one that definitely lives up to the hype of a 5th generation platform. Stealth, super cruise, integrated avionics and super manoeuverability allow USAF pilots to perform at a level that other platforms just can't meet. In one respect this is fantastic. It means every day we are able to challenge ourselves and take tactics to the next level. But it can also be very humbling as there are very few excuses when things don't quite go to plan.

Last week it was reported that Singapore and New Zealand are considering a basing arrangement whereby up to 500 Singaporean personnel would support a squadron of F-15s on the North Island. Euan Graham on this historical power shift:

Half a century later, how the tables have turned in the air domain. New Zealand, with neither bombers nor fast jets in its air inventory, is now vying to host F-15s in service with the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

This week a man was arrested in Young, about two hours' drive northwest of Canberra, on charges of attempting to provide Islamic State with advanced missile technology. Hussain Nadim:

This worrying sign that extremism has reached rural Australia prompts a fresh look at three drivers of extremism: ideology, economics, and politics.

On Wednesday Donald Trump delivered his first address to a Joint Session of Congress. Sam Roggeveen on what Trump's rhetoric indicates:

'My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America'. Welcome to the post-American era. It is a transition which in fact began under Obama, but which has now been given full voice by Trump: America is not going to disappear from the international scene, but it is transitioning from an indispensable nation, the guarantor of the global rules-based order, to a normal great power.

Peter Rutland: whatever happened to the supposed 'grand bargain' between Trump and Putin?:

If there is not going to be a grand bargain, what might a petty bargain look like? Presumably it would be a slow and gradual return to cautious engagement, something resembling business as usual. But there has been no business as usual between the US and Russia since at least 2003, so it’s hard to know what this would look like.

Next week Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will attend the first ever leaders' summit for the Indian Ocean Rim Association. David Brewster on the importance of the institution to the region:

Despite its failings, IORA remains important to Australia’s institutional engagement in the Indian Ocean region. As the only pan-regional political grouping, IORA remains an important tool for Australia’s regional engagement for both positive and defensive reasons.

After travelling to South Korea, Michael Fullilove reported on the general malaise afflicting the nation's political leaders, think tankers and journalists:

My impression is that South Koreans feel set upon. And why wouldn’t they? A year ago, the country seemed to be ticking along quite nicely, with a stable political situation and a prosperous economy. But now things are falling apart.

The Interpreter continued its debate on the Foreign Policy White Paper this week (as the Institute hosted a roundtable with Institute experts and the White Paper's Taskforce). Ruth Adler emphasised the need for foreign policy prioritisation:

The White Paper provides an opportunity to look afresh at Australia’s priorities in international engagement and to consider how the many competing priorities should be resourced.

While Christian Downie examined the need for a more thorough approach to energy in Australian foreign policy:

Australian foreign policy has often overlooked energy. Yet the global energy system is failing to keep up with the rapid transformations taking place in energy markets.

It's copped a lot of flak, but Obama's approach of strategic patience on North Korea is still the best option, argued Robert Kelly:

Just sitting in a room with North Korean diplomats is in fact a concession to them and serves their interests. This is why the North Koreans are constantly calling for talks. Even if they do not intend to take them very seriously (maybe they do; it is hard to know), the North Koreans always want to meet.

Lisa Louis reported from France on the prospects for National Front's Marine le Pen, and the spectre of 'Frexit':

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is one of the top contenders in this year's French presidential elections. And a President Le Pen would reconfigure international relations for good.

Stephen Grenville on why universal basic incomes appears to be the new flavour of the month:

When the Indian Finance Ministry devoted a full chapter of its recent Economic Report to the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), it might seem like revolutionary ‘pie in the sky’ musings, especially as the cost would equal nearly half of India’s budget. But in fact the ministry is just joining the zeitgeist or, more accurately, revisiting an idea with a long and active history.

The arrest of Philippine Senator Leila de Lima will be a test for President Rodrigo Duterte's political opposition, argued Malcolm Cook:

If the Liberal Party can act against the stereotype of Philippine political parties as feckless and empty, then some good could come out of the Duterte-de Lima battle. If the Liberal Party fails this test, then checks on presidential powers will again likely come from outside the political system.

Finally, Rodger Shanahan on the race for Raqqa (and what happens after):

The most difficult aspect of the Raqqa operation is not the seizure of the city but the post-seizure governance. Late last year Washington said it was working with Turkey to develop a plan for Raqqa’s governance. No such plan has been enunciated, and with clashes between pro-Turkish and Kurdish Syrian rebel groups occurring regularly, the ability of Turkey to support groups as far south as Raqqa is open to question.

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