Our most popular post this week was Shashank Joshi's piece on India's incredible shrinking air force:

The IAF presently operates around 37 combat squadrons, expected to fall to 32 to 35 (estimates vary) by the end of the year. Its 'sanctioned strength' was supposed to be 42 combat squadrons by 2022. On present trends, this looks to me to be entirely unattainable. MiG-21s are retiring quicker than other aircraft are coming in. Even if the 90-aircraft 'Rafale gap' is filled, I struggle to see how India gets above the mid-30s in squadron numbers by 2020. And after that point, India will start losing its dedicated ground attack aircraft (5 MiG-27 and 7 Jaguar squadrons). The IAF has shown little interest in procuring dedicated replacements for the strike role, suggesting that multi-role aircraft like the Su-30MKI and Rafale will have to take up the slack – underscoring the problem of numbers.

Malcolm Jorgensen had a strong piece about the differences between new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott on China and the US alliance:

Turnbull's attitude toward the alliance is pragmatic: he has a strong preference for deep US commitment to the region, but is concerned about whether the US will realistically appraise its evolving position in the region and forgo temptations to contain China. The 'pivot' to Asia is welcomed as 'a vitally important, stabilising, reassuring factor in the peaceful development of our region.' Yet the preoccupation with conflicts in distant parts of the globe has compelled Turnbull to remind US leaders to remain 'engaged, aware, committed to the Asia Pacific.'

Turnbull has demonstrated a genuine and long held commitment to engaging in the debate over the shifting Sino-American power balance. He specifically accepts Hugh White's thesis that the trajectory of growing Chinese power makes a rebalance in the Asia Pacific unavoidable. In Washington, the cross-party consensus remains that US primacy must continue as the guiding principle in the region. Turnbull, however, openly contemplates whether Western nations are ready 'to adapt to a very different distribution of global power than that which they've been used to'.

Turnbull's cabinet reshuffle is great news for the Pacific, says Jonathan Pryke:

The new Turnbull cabinet is great news for the Pacific. Julie Bishop will continue to set the tone and policy priorities for the region, while Minister Ciobo can focus on day-to-day implementation in the region. The Pacific is often neglected by Australian politicians; having two ministers focused on the region is a welcome change.

Turnbull's new treasurer Scott Morrison was urged to attend upcoming multilateral talks in Peru. Tristram Sainsbury writes:

...our economics dictate a focus on international economic issues. As a medium-sized, open economy, Australia has long been influenced by overseas economic developments. We are a capital importing country that relies on foreign savings to finance domestic investment. In the last few decades we have benefited significantly from a long and sustained push to lower tariff barriers and liberalise our financial system.

Our international inter-connectedness gives us great opportunities and exposes us to risks and vulnerabilities. The past seven years have been a tumultuous period for the global economy, and the global financial crisis demonstrated the close inter-connectedness of financial markets. Global norms affect our policy choices too, as the recent shifts in our pledges on climate change have reinforced.

Stephen Grenville came out strongly against the economic arguments for local construction of Australian submarines:

Part of this sentimental attachment to manufacturing has been a nebulous security argument: in the event of war, we need to be self-sufficient. But self-sufficiency in modern defence technology for a small country like Australia is a pipe-dream. Even if the submarines are built here, large key components are going to have to come from overseas. In the event of hostilities, we'll inevitably be dependent on overseas suppliers to keep our submarines operational (same for our military aircraft). 

Those who put forward the canard of defence self-sufficiency should recall the World War II experience of sending home-made Boomerangs up against Japanese Zeros. This did not turn out well. We need state-of-the-art subs, not compromises to boost domestic content.

Peter Layton argued the other way:

Defence can have a multiplier effect across industry, science, innovation, and the economy, if properly focused. Some will argue that defence money should mainly be spent offshore (in Dallas, not Sydney) to get the most bang for the buck. Australian money should fund American science, innovation, and new technology, not be wasted in Australia. This somewhat narrow procurement argument neglects the fact that defence capabilities are much more then just hardware. The equipment needs to be funded by all Australians, crewed and maintained by skilled people and continuously upgraded to stay at the military leading edge. And all across several decades.

Do recent joint exercises suggest an emerging anti-China security quartet in the Indo-Pacific? Abhijit Singh writes:

India's forthcoming naval interactions with Pacific powers, therefore, are likely to focus on contingencies arising from greater Chinese naval presence in Asia's littorals. According to media reports, the India-US Malabar naval exercises later this month will go beyond the traditional ambit of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to also include anti-air and anti-submarine warfare operations. The fact that New Delhi has extended an invitation to the Japanese navy to participate in these exercises reveals a willingness to expand the framework of maritime engagements.

Did you know New Zealand is debating a change of flag? Robert Ayson surveys the debate:

As this process has meandered towards a stunning anti-climax, some commentary has suggested that it has come to look like a branding exercise and not a thriving discussion about New Zealand's national identity. But it isn't clear that New Zealanders were itching for the latter. One hundred years after the Gallipoli landings, New Zealand is in the middle of a four-year stretch during which much is being made of the First World War centenary (including in its more significant strategic moments). It's an odd time to highlight New Zealand's distinctness from Australia and its independence from the old empire.

But there may actually not be a right time for this debate. New Zealanders seem willing to put up with an unexciting national anthem (even if it has been improved with the practice of singing it in both Maori and English) and an unremarkable national flag. This is probably a healthy sign at a time when the uglier side of nationalism is becoming obvious in other parts of the world.

US congressional negotiations over the Iran deal bode ill for US China policy, writes Jacob Berah:

The controversy over the Iran deal raises the spectre that as key points of contention with China become the subject of politicised debate in Congress and on the campaign trail, the ability of the executive to conduct deft diplomacy in response to tensions with China will be curtailed. In particular, an environment where acts of significant diplomatic compromise, concession or accommodation are portrayed as capitulation will make it increasingly difficult for US leaders to find creative ways to solve disputes and avoid escalation with China. Already the stagnant opposition to US ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arguably weakens US credibility and limits policy options on territorial disputes and island-building in the South China Sea.

Why is Europe's approach to the refugee crisis incoherent? Former Danish senior civil servant Martin Bresson answers:

The root of the conundrum lies in the constitutional and institutional set-up of the EU and in the cultural and historical heritage of its members.

The EU is constitutionally and hence institutionally a patchwork of what was politically possible at the time of various founding treaties. It is a case of forever balancing the desire (and sometimes the need) for more unified decision-making with the desire (and sometimes the need) for national sovereignty over specific issues. So, although the EU has a common set of rules for persons traveling inside the EU (the Schengen Agreement, of which only the UK, Ireland and Denmark opted out), the EU has no rules on how, at a community level, to handle refugees or immigrants to the Union. It does have FRONTEX, which helps member-state secure their exterior borders and coordinates border guard agencies, though it leaves member states 'of arrival' such as Italy, Greece and Hungary with the financial burden of border management, as well as the burden of handling incoming refugees or immigrants.  

The EU has no rules of common treasury, let alone rules of common economic burden-sharing, except for a scarcely respected set of 'rules' about budget-balancing and the procedural rule that almost any agreement that relies on national treasuries has to be unanimous.

Does China's non-interference policy still work in the age of ISIS? Marie-Alice McLean-Dreyfus answers:

With a Chinese citizen now being held hostage, it seems the Chinese Government does not know how to react. There have only been two statements from the Foreign Ministry, neither of which gave any indication of how China will respond. The spokesman has only said that 'the Chinese side reiterated its firm opposition to any violence against innocent civilians' and that it has launched an 'emergency response mechanism.' There has been next to no coverage of this event in the Chinese media. 

While China prefers to remain on the sidelines when it comes to the fight against ISIS, the kidnapping of one of its citizens may prompt Beijing to seek a more proactive role in the Middle East. The incident could act as the impetus to change its longstanding policy of non-intervention.

Tristram Sainsbury from the G20 Studies Centre writes: 'The question I have been asked most frequently in overseas discussions about the G20 this year is: whatever happened to Australia's Global Infrastructure Hub?' The answer?

At this stage, the Hub remains an experiment.  The only likely deliverable in 2015 is the business plan. However, we should not scoff at what has been achieved so far. As those developing the other new kids on the infrastructure financing block (the AIIB and BRICS New Development Bank) have quickly learned, multilateral institutions take time to set up. It is important to get the right people in key positions.

Ultimately, the Hub will be judged on what it delivers over the next three years. But at a time when the G20 needs to demonstrate that it is delivering outcomes, the Hub still carries the potential to contribute to real improvements in the coming years to global investment financing, and give a compelling reason for an extended mandate. Momentum is beginning to build.

Photo by Flickr user Dongyl Llu.