Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Last weekend we posted two insightful essays on Nelson Mandela's legacy by British academic James Hamill. The first considered Mandela's domestic record:

After winning a decisive victory in the historic 1994 election, Mandela became president on a wave of local and international goodwill.

He pledged to pursue two core objectives which would become the defining features of his one-term presidency, although over time a tension emerged between the two which he perhaps failed to fully appreciate.

The first was his noble attempt to promote national reconciliation, racial inclusiveness and a healing of the wounds of apartheid. Building a broad sense of South African-ness against a backdrop of four decades of apartheid and three centuries of racial division was a formidable challenge.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Reconciliation would become the leitmotif of Mandela's presidency. He personified it, as the natural extension of his commitment to the principle of a non-racial society which he famously outlined at his trial in 1964.

The second objective was to achieve economic and social justice for South Africa's dispossessed black majority and to begin the herculean challenge of addressing the acute socio-economic legacies of apartheid.

James' second piece looked at Mandela's record in the realm of foreign policy:

At first, Mandela approached the debate over foreign policy with a continuation of the earlier simplicities. In a November 1993 article for the prestigious US journal Foreign Affairs entitled South Africa's Future Foreign Policy, Mandela, still in opposition, famously asserted that the defence of human rights would be the 'light that guides our foreign affairs.' 

This stirring declaration signalled a departure from the militarism and grinding realpolitik which had characterised South African foreign policy hitherto, and it grew out of the fact that the 'new South Africa' was itself the product of a protracted human rights crusade.

The new administration could not proceed entirely driven by narrow conceptions of self-interest and would have a pronounced sensitivity to the democratic struggles of other peoples. This established a clear benchmark against which future policy would be judged. In many respects, however, it proved to be rather too demanding a benchmark, one restricting the government's room for manoeuvre and meaning that all of its foreign policy actions were subject to the most rigorous scrutiny and measured by very exacting standards. 

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrote for The Interpreter this week, discussing the Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum:

The Australia-PNG relationship is one of this Government’s highest foreign policy priorities. I believe there is still so much more we can do to deepen the relationship, including moving on from stereotypes. We should not think of the relationship in terms of aid-donor and aid-recipient – rather we need to treat each other as equal partners.

PNG is undergoing an economic transformation thanks to a resources boom. Energy projects have enormous potential to grow the PNG economy and provide unparalleled opportunities for the country.

A new middle class is emerging in PNG, including a new generation of young leaders and entrepreneurs, many of whom I was pleased to meet at last month’s Australia-PNG Emerging Leaders Dialogue.

At the same time, PNG is an increasingly important regional player, assisting in combating the people-smuggling trade and hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in 2018.

Mike Callaghan, Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre, discussed the aftermath of the 'small win' WTO trade deal, signed in Bali on 7 December:

The Bali experience showed how difficult it is to reach agreement in a multilateral setting, even on less contentious issues. And it took two years to complete.

Bali demonstrated the problems of negotiating a package of measures where difficulties in one area can block agreement in others. For example, the trade facilitation agreement was the most beneficial aspect of the deal and was described as a win-win outcome or a ‘no brainer’. Yet the whole Bali deal, and in turn the future of the WTO, nearly came unstuck at the last minute over Indian refusal to accept the agricultural aspects and Cuba objecting to the removal of a reference to the US trade embargo on Cuba.

WTO decisions are made on a consensus basis and one member can scuttle the whole deal. Rather than saving multilateralism, the Bali experience may have increased momentum for countries to pursue regional agreements. China has been a traditional supporter of a multilateral approach to trade centered on the WTO, but in Bali Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hudeng said ‘We are also open minded toward other multilateral  and plurilateral – negotiations’.

On India, the Lowy Institute's Danielle Rajendram deliberated on the possible impact of the past month's state elections on the general Indian election in 2014:

These results don't bode well for Congress' prospects in 2014, and point to a clear dissatisfaction with the federal government. Between corruption scandals, slowing economic growth and perceived weakness on foreign policy, it is unsurprising that voters are disappointed. Should Congress declare Rahul Gandhi, the inexperienced scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, as its prime ministerial candidate, it won't help the party to dispel perceptions of uncertainty and weakness. The BJP's choice of decisive, yet controversial, Hindu-nationalist Narendra Modi (pictured above), presents an alternative to the status quo.

Fortunately, this disappointment in the government hasn't led to wholesale rejection of the political system.

In fact, quite the opposite; the results represent a vote of confidence in Indian democracy, and the ability to achieve change through democratic means. These state elections witnessed record voter turnouts and the 'none of the above' option available to voters for the first time registered an extremely low response — less than 1% in Delhi.

 Still on India, Shashank Joshi focussed on the politics of civil-military relations:

Last year, during a period in which then army chief VK Singh was locked in an administrative dispute with the Defence Ministry over his age of retirement, those insecurities re-emerged after reports of curious troop movements towards Delhi, prompting the brief activation of contingency plans for mutinies. The military, in turn, resented what they dismissed as 'this phobia or paranoid feeling...utilised by various other groups, to keep the armed forces slightly away' from policy making. On top of all this, members of the armed forces are furious about what they see as eroding pay, pension, and status in comparison to their civilian counterparts.

These accumulated anxieties largely explain why successive Indian governments, from Nehru's onwards, have ignored the recommendations of committee after committee that the army, navy and air force should be knitted together by something other than the relatively powerless institutions currently in place

And finally, we've kicked off our 'book of the year' recommendations, where Lowy Institute research staff select the best book they've read this year: part 1, part 2 and part 3 have been published thus far.

Photo by Flickr user domkey kong.