The Interpreter covered a lot of territory this week, from the continuing debate around Prime Minister Tony Abbott's climate action plan to a garbage crisis in Lebanon. First, here is Rodger Shanahan on the Chair of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee Dan Tehan's remarks that Australia should consider expanding its counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East to Syria:
Suspicions about how well considered the proposal is should begin with Mr Tehan's call for Australia to lead a campaign in the UN, alongside Washington, to get global consensus on action in Syria. Because obviously nobody has tried that for the past four years. Perhaps a better use of our diplomatic resources would be to ask our friends in the Middle East why so few of them are contributing aircraft to the fight against ISIS when Australia is.
Nonresident Fellow James Goldrick wrote an informative piece on naval shipbuilding in Australia:
The key requirement is for the detailed design work to have been completed and checked before metal is cut. This is the critical and often misunderstood element of shipbuilding. It relates not just to the platform as a whole but to every element inside it and is generally the key 'critical path' activity. The fact is that a lack of expert naval architects and draughtsman has been the single greatest impediment to naval construction programs over the last century, even more so than the availability of finance. It has both prevented the introduction of new ships and delayed the completion of approved projects in many major navies, not just the RAN.
Vanessa Newby reported on a garbage crisis in Lebanon that is really a symptom of political paralysis:
The rubbish mountain got so bad near the airport that it raised concerns that fumes and smoke from burning trash was elevating ground temperatures and risked affecting the ability of aircraft to land and take off. Residents took to burning the rubbish on the streets to help eliminate the smell, but in the process released potentially hazardous toxic gases. One temporary dumpsite was close to the Bakalian Mill (one of Lebanon's larger flour mills), eliciting threats of closure from the company due to health concerns and prompting a brief scare over a bread shortage.
Singapore celebrated its 50th year of independence earlier in the week. Euan Graham on how Singapore's colonial history has meshed with its modern identity:
Such is the excoriating importance assigned to 1965 as year zero in Singapore's modern history that this has created a distorted historical narrative. References to pre-independence Singapore as a 'fishing village', swamp or colonial backwater are surprisingly pervasive, including in past National Day speeches.
Colonial Singapore, to be sure, had its share of plantations, swamps and kampung (villages). However, as the most important of the Straits Settlements, it was already established as a thriving entrepot for regional trade by the mid-nineteenth century. When the British handed over control, they left behind Southeast Asia's leading port, a naval base, several airfields, and the accumulated soft and hard infrastructure from over a century of settlement. This solid foundation for statehood was inherited by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party. It was not a swamp, or a fishing village.
What has been going on in Tokyo politics in the lead-up to Prime Minister Abe's speech on the 70th anniversary of World War II? Christopher Pokarier:
Perhaps to escape the political entanglements of his own right-wing associations, Abe commissioned an expert advisory group to inform the preparation of his anniversary statement. The final report of the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan's Role and the World Order in the 21st Century reported on 6 August, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. It strongly endorsed the upholding of the Murayama statement and its frank admission of Japan's past aggression, although there were two dissenting voices amongst the sixteen members. The panel explored the reasons for Japan's effective reconciliation with some former enemies such as Australia and the need for redoubled efforts to achieve the same with China and South Korea.
Milton Osborne recently returned from a trip to Southeast Asia and found that the Mekong River is not on anyone's mind:
In a month spent traveling through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, I found a remarkable disconnect between the concerns of academic critics and NGOs about the Mekong River's future and the public attitude of governments already engaged in dam-building. I also found that awareness of what has happened and could happen to the river in the future is very much limited to those who live beside it.
Considered narrowly, the costs of a well-managed transition to a renewables-based energy system are, over the long term, likely to compare favourably with the continuation of a fossil fuel-based one. Yet key dynamics are hard to model, and are ignored or coarsely treated in standard modelling studies of the economic costs of decarbonisation.
Stephen Grenville has responded to Senator Nick Xenophon's call for a settlement of the Timor Gap border issue:
Here is the dilemma: this border depends on East Timorese and Indonesian territory, not Australian. If you want to draw this border with a view to getting Sunrise into Timor's territory, you will surely open up the issue of Indonesia's border. It is certainly true that Sunrise is closer to Timor than it is to Australia, but it is closer to Indonesia than it is to Timor. Indonesia could well claim that the 1972 border was drawn under duress, at a time when Australia was strong and Indonesia was weak, and that it should be redrawn to reflect current UNCLOS norms. If that were to happen, it seems unlikely Indonesia would be ready to give 50% of Sunrise revenue to Timor.
Andrew Erickson and Kevin Bond from the US Naval War College wrote on China's growing dredging fleet:
China did not climb to the top of the dredging pyramid by simply having more ships than everyone else, but by building much larger and much more sophisticated dredgers. Between 2005 and 2012, China built 20 trailing suction hopper dredgers with hoppers of 9000m3 or larger. From 2004–2011, China launched at least 44 large cutter suction dredgers, including the world's third-largest self-propelled cutter suction dredger, Tianjing, in 2010.
Another entry into the debate on Ken Ward's Condemned to Crisis?, from Ristian Supriyanto:
But Indonesia needs to do more to rectify the asymmetry. Rather than learning about their host, many Indonesian students come to Australia just to study their own country. There are more Indonesian studies institutions in Australia than vice versa; the Australian Studies Centre established at the University of Indonesia lasted only around a decade. Despite the plummeting interest in the Indonesian language, more Australians are still academically interested in Indonesia than Indonesians are about Australia. Perhaps reversing this trend will require an Indonesian version of the 'New Colombo Plan' obliging Indonesian students to study their neighbours, including Australia.
Graeme Smith from the International Crisis Group, based in Kabul, wrote on the rise of factionalism in the Taliban after the death of Mullah Omar:
The dissent often focuses on the Taliban's recent forays into politics, and the degree to which some groups feel the movement's hardline ethos is being undermined. The Taliban is discovering that it's easy to rally fighters with a battle cry, but more difficult to transform an insurgency loosely based on opposition to the status quo into a coherent political organisation with a vision for the future. Shortly after the Taliban admitted Omar's death, the central leadership of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an occasional ally, formally swore allegiance to ISIS.
J Michael Cole looked at a new military recruitment campaign from China:
The text then claims that China has 3 million square kilometers of ocean under its jurisdiction, a territory that includes as many as 6700 islands. 'The struggle over our sea rights is not over,' it continues. 'We will not yield even the tiniest speck of our resources.' Note that the text says 'resources', not 'territory', though the latter is implicit. In other words, territory and the resources it contains are China's alone. According to a recent report on the PLAN by the US Office of Naval Intelligence, the references by Chinese commentators to China's '3 million square kilometers of blue territory' would incorporate 'nearly 90 percent of the area within the major bodies of water within the First Island Chain, including the Bo Hai, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea.'
Finally, Bob Bowker on whether the Iranian nuclear deal will open political doors for diplomacy over Syria:
Further, the nuclear deal sends the message to the Saudis that, while Washington will remain active in Saudi Arabia's defence, the US will not be responsive to Riyadh's agenda when diplomacy can achieve better outcomes for US interests. This last factor is complemented by the death of King Abdullah, whose bitterness towards Assad was personal as well as a reflection of wider strategic concerns. Nor should one underestimate the importance for Saudi policy thinking of the emergence, under the patronage of King Salman, of officials with a sophisticated appreciation of the US political and policy environment under the Obama Administration.
Photo courtesy of Australian Defence Image Library.