Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Weekend catch-up: The Gulf and Syria's refugees, R2P, General David Petraeus, PNG drought and more

Weekend catch-up: The Gulf and Syria's refugees, R2P, General David Petraeus, PNG drought and more
Published 5 Sep 2015   Follow @BrendanTN_

This week a photo of a young boy – just one of 12 Syrian refugees who are confirmed to have drowned trying to reach Greece – has shocked the world into paying attention to the growing refugee crisis stemming from conflicts in the Middle East, primarily Syria's ongoing civil war. Rodger Shanahan wrote on the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the astounding fact that the Gulf states have yet to resettle even one Syrian refugee:

Perhaps the Australian Government could put aside aspirations for the chimera of a GCC Free Trade Agreement to publicly question the groups lack of commitment to the regional refugee crisis ,and their unwillingness to sign up to the UN Refugee Convention. Or, the Government could spend less time advocating for the Europeans to join in bombing Syria and more time in advocating for the Gulf States to join in accepting Syrian refugees. Perhaps refugee lobby groups could also expend some of their energy and advocacy in publicly questioning why the GCC appears unwilling to share the refugee burden in their own region, while Australia does.

There is something intrinsically wrong when Saudi Arabia can source 1.5 million people to act as domestic help, and a country like Bahrain can issue visas for more than 33,000 housemaids, and yet they can't even resettle one Syrian refugee. 

The Australian Government is also considering expanding airstrikes to inside Syria, something several former foreign ministers have come out supporting. Crispin Rovere on why that's a bad idea, and how R2P won't help:

And there is a price to be paid by Australian bombing in Syria. Australia's current military campaign in Iraq has the solid legal foundation of being undertaken at the request of the duly-elected Iraqi Government. Bombing Syria is illegal without a UN Security Council resolution authorising it (notwithstanding dubious contentions to the contrary). This is problematic for us, because promoting rigorous adherence to international rules regarding the use of force accords with our own long-term security interests. It would be unfortunate if, for example, one were to call the South China Sea 'ungoverned space' for the purpose of employing military force.

The Lowy Institute had a big week, with General David Petraeus delivering the annual Lowy Lecture. Euan Graham wrote about Petraeus' idea of a 'Greater Asia':

The unfamiliar and daunting nature of this challenge is perhaps sharpened by the fact that Petraeus is representative of the 9/11 generation of US commanders who obtained their combat experience 'in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan'. Despite Petraeus' commendable efforts to link together the US Central and Pacific Command areas of responsibility as a single geo-strategic entity, the question can legitimately be asked: how transferable is the accumulated stock of US military experience from these CENTCOM army-centric environments to PACOM's bigger, more maritime area of responsibility, including more capable potential adversaries than the US has faced on the battlefield in well over a generation?

Agricultural scientist and PNG specialist Mike Bourke warned of the significance of the drought currently affecting the Highlands of PNG: [fold]

Of Papua New Guinea's population of about 8 million, 80% are rural villagers who produce most of their own food. This makes them vulnerable to extreme weather events. Reports of severe impact on food crops from the recent frosts and ongoing drought in Papua New Guinea are coming from most areas in the Central Highlands. This is where over 40%, or more than 2.5 million, of rural villagers live.

Are the media and 'professional doomsayers' playing up the swings in China's financial markets? Stephen Grenville thinks the underlying factors of China economy haven't changed:

Over the last few weeks, global financial markets have once again demonstrated their predilection for over-reacting to ephemeral news. For their part, the media are always happy to pad out the 24-hour news cycle with a breaking crisis. If it's transient, so much the better: you can report a fresh crisis tomorrow. Together, the drama-queens of the markets and the media might confuse us about the prospect of the global economy.

Australian journalist Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues were sentenced to three-years in prison after their retrial in Egypt. Anthony Bubalo:

This is not just a moral issue for the West, it is also a practical one.  Western policymakers rightly condemned the former Maliki Government in Iraq for its repressive and discriminatory policies against the Sunni minority – policies that paved the way for ISIS to roll into Mosul and other Sunni towns and cities virtually unopposed.

Yet remove the sectarian dimension, and Sisi’s policies in Egypt don’t look all that different. Under Sisi, the jihadist insurgency in Sinai has already worsened and has seen partisans of ISIS raise the movement’s black flag on the peninsula. Meanwhile, Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is driving younger members toward militancy.

In a two-part series, Jenny Hayward-Jones and Jonathan Pryke examine the state of Australia-PNG relations. Part one focused on the series of crisis currently engulfing PNG:

Papua New Guinea is renowned for muddling through crises and avoiding the worst-case scenarios that economic forecasters and political analysts predict for the country. This history influences a seemingly unhurried approach to crisis-management – based in part on traditional Melanesian coping mechanisms and negotiation skills, and in part on an Australian-like 'she'll be right, mate' attitude – that can both alarm and reassure.

Part two took a broad look at the state of the bilateral relationship:

There will likely always be bumps in the Australia–Papua New Guinea relationship. Even with the best of political stewardship on both sides, there will be unpredictable elements (and individuals) creating problems that are not easily solved and give rise to wider discontent. The Australian Government’s dependence on Papua New Guinea to run the Manus Regional Processing Centre as a key plank of its asylum seeker policy acts as a further constraint on foreign policy options.

I wrote on the nuclear ballistic missile submarine programs of China and India, based on a new Lowy Report by Rory Medcalf and I:

But during the early periods of the Cold War, when SSBNs were first introduced by the Soviet Union and the US, technical limitations forced them to patrol close to enemy shorelines, making them vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare and tracking. Some of these same limitations, such as short patrol ranges, loud acoustic signatures and limited range of their ballistic missiles, are now also present in the programs of China and India, making their deployment potentially destabilising in the short-term.

Julian Snelder on the role of Beijing in China's financial market meltdown:

The market is a capricious master. When Beijing devalued its currency two weeks ago, ostensibly in response to supply and demand, the reaction was so violent that the central bank was forced back in to support it. They've opened Pandora's box. As FT's Asia bureau chief David Pilling marvels: 'In order to convince markets the bank was seeking a market-friendly exchange rate regime it has been obliged to intervene on a massive scale. How perverse is that?'

What is the state of Japan-China relations? Yanmei Xie and Rachel Vanderbrink:

In short, Japan is enhancing its capability not only to defend itself, but also to project power and contend for influence in a theatre where China considers itself the natural leader.  Asia’s two most powerful nations are treading farther down a path of strategic rivalry in a region rife with flashpoints.

For now, it appears both sides understand the disastrous consequences of sliding towards open conflict. They have made progress on establishing a maritime crisis management mechanism scheduled for operation by year-end and aimed at preventing military clashes in the East China Sea. Faithfully implemented, this will go a long way towards averting accidents and miscalculation.

Also, Malcolm Cook on the recent protests against defence normalisation in Japan. But it seems Abe isn't going anywhere:

The protests, while large and loud, are not a significant political threat to Prime Minister Abe or his administration. Abe's position in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is rock-solid and it looks very likely that he will be re-elected unopposed as party leader this month. Second, the LDP faces no serious opposition party threat, and the popularity of Abe's cabinet has actually increased despite these mounting, headline-grabbing demonstrations, a slowing economy and an embarrassing flip-flop on the centrepiece stadium for the upcoming 2020 Olympics.

Hussain Nadim had a popular piece on why the Australian Government needs to do a better job separating ISIS and radicalisation:

The Australian Government must shift its narrative and its overwhelming focus on counter-radicalisation programs, and recognise that Islamic radicalisation has less to do with Muslims against the West, and a lot more to do with Muslims against Muslims. Explaining Islam in terms of one 'version' or another, as the Australian Government has attempted in the past, will only mire it in a centuries-old feud within the Muslim world, and is likely to be viewed as an inappropriate interference in religion by a secular government. 

In a follow-up to a post on Lebanon's garbage crisis a few weeks ago, Vanessa Newby on the continuing protests in the country and the bigger political picture:

Ultimately the Lebanese are tired of a malfunctioning political system that appears to benefit only those in the upper echelons of power. The ever-present security threats that extend from the region – be it ISIS or an Israeli invasion – are consistently used by politicians to justify their grip on power, such as postponing elections and failing to appoint a new head of the armed forces or a new president. Bureaucrats sometimes invoke security threats in absurd attempts to cloak bureaucratic incompetence.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user plus8gmt.

You may also be interested in