This week the attacks in Paris, and the subsequent manhunt for its perpetrators, has held the attention of the West. One thing that has struck me is the multiplicity of debates the attacks have touched and in some cases sparked anew, including on the role of the media and social networking sites, the Syrian civil war, refugee policy, European integration, intelligence failures and the future of terrorism. Daniel Woker, a regular contributor to The Interpreter, was in Paris on the night of the attacks:
Suddenly, a loud noise from the Boulevard. My wife says 'shots' and I reply 'I think not', as it sounds different to the dimly remembered live ammo exercises in my long gone army days. But a young woman runs by, gripping my arm and shouting with fear, 'viens, viens, they are shooting from cars at all of us'. We all race into the opposite direction. I distinctly remember thinking at that second how absurd that was, though of course it wasn't, as it turned out later.
Is this a new type of terrorism? Lydia Khalil suggested that the attacks displayed a mix of trends:
'Mumbai-style' attacks — multiple coordinated ambushes with small arms and suicide bombs — were certainly possible but appeared to be the purview of other capitals in the Middle East and South Asia. Sophisticated, audacious attacks a la 9/11, directed and organised by an international terrorist organisation, were a distinct but fading possibility. The consensus was that ISIS was a potent, but regional, threat and its focus was on state-building, consolidating territory in the Levant and building legitimacy for its caliphate.
What makes the Paris attacks particularly troubling is that it appears to be a confounding mix of all three trends. These were homegrown violent extremists, directed by a well funded international organisation that controls vast resources and territory, hitting purely civilian, soft targets in a sophisticated manner
Former intelligence analyst David Wells wrote on the role of Western security agencies in the attacks, and what they will view as an intelligence failure:
The first thing to point out is there a difference between specific, actionable threat intelligence, and intelligence indicating intent. Yes, ISIS rhetoric pointed towards attacks in the West. And ISIS clearly had the capability and manpower to attempt these type of attacks. But without specific intelligence, the threat remains latent.
So does the attack constitute an intelligence failure? In the most general sense, yes. France and her partner intelligence agencies, including in the UK and US, are specifically looking for this type of intelligence. Internally, they will all regard their inability to prevent the attack as a failure.
Vanessa Newby related some personal stories about spending time in the Beirut neighbourhood that was bombed last week:
ISIS is believed to have launched this attack to punish Hizbullaah for its military involvement in Syria. I was surprised it picked Burj because this is not just a 'Shi'a dominated or Hizbullaah stronghold', as has been reported. In fact, it is a very diverse area where if you launched an attack you would be just as likely to kill some of your own people as you would the other side. The level of support for Hizbullaah in Burj is unclear for two main reasons. First, the area is populated by a great many Syrians, who fled the Assad regime, and by Palestinians. Secondly, in the Shi'a community political support is divided between Amal and Hizbullaah.
What did these attacks have to do with the war in Syria? Rodger Shanahan suggested that ISIS may be trying to distract from the fact that it is losing territory:
In the space of 36 hours we saw suicide bombings in Baghdad and Beirut and the attack in Paris. This is unlikely to be coincidental, and more likely to be the result of explicit direction from ISIS central or implicit guidance understood by its affiliates.
In the last week and a half, the news regarding ISIS showed Kurdish forces re-taking Sinjar in Iraq, Iraq government forces closing in on Ramadi, Syrian government forces breaking a two-year siege by ISIS of the Syrian airfield at Kwereis and the likely killing of the ISIS Western poster-boy 'Jihadi John'. With the entry of Russian forces into Syria, and the bolstering of Assad’s ground forces by Iran and its militia allies, the ISIS main forces are under increasing military pressure on multiple fronts in the Middle East.
Anthony Bubalo on the growing sense of 'pragmatism' and dealing with Assad:
Assad is no more capable of returning stability to Syria with Western backing than he is without it. Any political process built upon Assad playing a transitional role in his country will soon collapse once it becomes clear that his role is becoming permanent. Any deal that unintentionally or otherwise helped Assad survive will also entrench Russian and Iranian strategic gains in Syria. No one in Syria owes more to the Russians and Iranians than he does. In fact, the West would be complicit in increasing the security threat that Iran and Hizballah pose to Israel as they expand their presence in Syria.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull continued with his world tour this week. Binoy Kampmark on Turnbull's bilateral meeting with Germany's Chancellor Merkel and the difference with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott:
Certainly the meeting in Berlin provided an interesting counterpoint between the old and the new. After Australia's rapid turnover of leaders, it's fair to say Australia's politics and politicians have featured more frequently and in more detail than usual in German media this year. In its coverage of the the party coup that unseated Mr Abbott as leader, for example, the popular German newspaper, Der Spiegel, went so far as to note various designations, including the title of the 'Mad Monk'.
With the UN Paris climate change negotiations just a week away, Erwin Jackson examined what has changed since 2009 and Copenhagen:
Throughout 2015, a number of Australian businesses have released statements showing their willingness to take action on climate. The Australian Climate Roundtable brought business, investor, union, research, environment and welfare groups together. A statement was released encouraging Australia to do its bit on climate change. In September, leaders from AGL, BHP Billiton, GE, Mirvac, Santos, Unilever, Wesfarmers and Westpac Group published a statement that supports an effective Paris agreement outcome
Fergus Green from LSE and Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute have a two-part series on the end of coal. The first piece looked at the global trends in the commodity, both in terms of energy consumption and the private sector:
Moreover, coal companies are becoming increasingly isolated politically. As the corporate world perceives increasing risks of binding carbon budgets, the oil and gas industries have begun to split the fossil fuel camp and stake their greater claim to the remaining budget. Coal, after all, is the highest-emitting and lowest-value of the three fossil fuels. (The motivations of the oil and gas executives in criticising coal are no doubt self-serving, but their political-economic heft could be helpful to the fight against coal.) In a sign of the industry’s growing desperation, coal companies have even started fighting publicly amongst themselves.
Both Adam Henschke and Albert Palazzo continued our debate on drones this week. First, Adam on whether the falling costs of autonomous vehicles is worrying:
The overall point is that, as far as the ethics of remote weapons is concerned, we have largely left the initial concerns about the remoteness behind. In some senses we are moving into a new phase of assessment, where contrasting ideas of cheapness and complexity highlight a new set of areas that require further consideration and reflection.
Albert Palazzo had a short but interesting piece questioning whether armed drones can actually affect the outcome of war:
The contribution to success in war (to victory) is an important aspect of any evaluation of the ethical utility of a weapon. I would argue that a weapon that doesn't meet ethical standards is unlikely to make a positive contribution to forcing your enemy to accept your will. Rather, it is likely to have the opposite effect.
Armed drones have dazzled many military and political minds with their ruthless efficiency. But efficiency and effectiveness in war are not the same thing. Efficiency in killing won't translate into effectiveness in war unless the ethics are right.
Fergus Hanson continued his series on the internet and power by looking at the influence of social media conglomerates like Facebook:
What does this mean for policy makers? For a start, there is a need to look seriously at options for maintaining competition online. This isn’t easy, but the Europeans have begun. We also need to consider the implications and obligations companies with global monopolies might have when it comes to issues like censorship: if a company like Facebook is where most people get their news, should it be able to apply a stricter censorship regime than that allowed in your country of origin.
Leon Berkelmans took a closer look at the make-up of services in trade:
OK. Point taken. But when we are talking about dismantling barriers to trade, it is what crosses the border that counts. You can make all the changes to accountancy regulations you want, but if the cheese can’t get across the border, it doesn’t matter.
An interesting post from Stephen Grenville on capital flows, and the links between academic and practitioner economists:
They say that the challenge for academic economists is to prove that what happens in the real world could also happen in theory. Blanchard and his colleagues have taken a useful step in this direction, reconciling theory with inconvenient reality. This might be seen as progress, if only the political-economy of international economics were not still in the hands of Keynes' 'madmen in authority … distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back'.
Finally, how do observers, policymakers, academics, students and journalists see North Korea? Robert Kelly:
In short, North Korea is post-ideological and akin to The Godfather: a massive racket to shake down anyone, inside North Korea and out, to fund the self-indulgent lifestyle of a narrow elite. North Korea is what happens when Don Corleone takes over an entire country and can enforce his clan rule with a secret police rather than just capo henchman. Actually, North Korea is barely a country at all; it's an Orwellian gangster fiefdom.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user mafate69.