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Weekend catch-up: Team Guterres, the Timor Sea dispute, Boris's protest, and more

Weekend catch-up: Team Guterres, the Timor Sea dispute, Boris's protest, and more
Published 15 Oct 2016 

By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.

This week former Portuguese PM Antonio Guterres was appointed UN secretary-general for a five-year term starting in January. In the first of a two-part series, Sarah Frankel examined the immediate challenges facing Guterres come 2017:

It's now Guterres' turn to tackle what many have called 'the most impossible job in the world,' and while he will be taking the helm as an insider with deep expertise in the UN and its organisational culture (unlike Ban), there are several things he should keep in mind to ensure he avoids the pitfalls that vexed his predecessor.

In part two, Frankel highlighted some steps Guterres should take in the few remaining months of 2016 to prepare for his term:

By using his transition wisely to line up a skilled senior team, prove his commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, formulate a communications strategy, and listen to the concerns of key stakeholders, he will stand a better chance of establishing his credibility and hitting the ground running.

Finally, Frankel also speculated as to where former Australian PM Kevin Rudd might end up on ‘team Guterres’: 

Rudd's chances of winning a top spot at the UN will hinge largely on his relationship with Guterres. The two men almost certainly have some sort of relationship, as Rudd's two stints as prime minister overlapped with Guterres' decade as UN refugee chief, but it's unclear how well they get along personally or if the UNHCR's criticisms of Rudd's refugee policies caused any friction between them.

Two notable deaths were marked on The Interpreter this week, the first was King Bhimibol of Thailand. Herve Lemahieu wrote:

The genuine outpouring of grief and affection for the late king speaks volumes about Bhumibol. Over seven decades he became the preeminent symbol of his country, yet he remained an enigma: a figure of stability and unity who leaves behind a profoundly divided country; a constitutional monarch with few legal powers but the status of a semi-divine ruler; a man of the people and particularly of the agrarian classes but also aloof, sober and conservative in character. So personalised was the affection and support he commanded that there are questions as to the continued viability of the monarchy, the prestige of which he helped rebuild. So powerful has become the myth of the mediating father figure, it seems the political system no longer entirely trusts itself to function in the absence of his political legitimacy.

Desmond Ball, ANU defence and security scholar, also died this week. Paul Monk:

Our esteem for Des and his academic work and his bluff, worldly, candid personality should not lapse due to short memory. He has been one of this country’s finest analysts of the outside world and of US forces and we are all indebted to him for his scholarship, his honesty, his attention to detail and the very Australian character of the liberties he took and the freedoms he cherished – here and abroad.

On Wednesday the Australian Cyber Security Centre released its 2016 Threat Report. Fergus Hanson:

The newly released Australian Cyber Security Centre Threat Report contains some fascinating tit-bits and telegraphing of messages. It's the Centre's second report but the first since the Government released its Cyber Security Strategy. Here are my takeaways:

Brendan Thomas-Noone examined what the report had to say about Australia’s information systems:

The control, security and credibility of information is central to the cyber domain. Financial markets operate smoothly because the public has confidence in the integrity of online banking information. Critical infrastructure is safe because it is difficult for terrorists to not only gain access to those networks, but also know what to do once they get there.

Information is also central to how our political system operates, to how the public is informed by the media, and to how public opinion is shaped. Information operations, as they are referred to in the military, can be used to influence decision-makers, convince the public of a particular narrative or encourage others to follow a particular course of action. 

Hugh White outlined how Australian officials should go about writing a Foreign Affairs White Paper:

In fact, there is a lot we can say, and some important decisions we can make. A Foreign Affairs White Paper could be a really valuable and important document, if done right. And at the risk of seeming partial, I’d suggest that doing it right means doing it the way we’d do a Defence White Paper – or at least the way we should do a Defence White Paper.  

It seems pointless to try picking a winner or a loser from the US presidential debate on Monday, wrote James Bowen: 

It’s more tempting to repeat a common joke from the current campaign: there was only one loser and its name was ‘America’ (given the great external interest in the campaign this could be extended to ‘the world’).

Northeast Asia faces two very different US approaches to the region following the presidential election in November, wrote Robert E Kelly: 

Hillary Clinton basically promises the status quo regarding the US role in the region. True, she has backpedalled on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and her hawkish, interventionist instincts suggest more involvement in the Middle East, which implies less attention to Asian security. But she promises no revolution...Donald Trump, of course, is much harder to predict.

Bec Strating analysed how the maritime border dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste is likely to play out from here: 

The problem with the Timorese government’s foreign policy strategy is that Timor-Leste is running out of time, and Australia knows it. The Bayu-Undan oil field will stop producing in 2022 and the $16 billion sovereign wealth fund could be depleted by 2025. From 2010 to 2015, the revenues that flowed from the Joint Petroleum Development Area furnished approximately 90% of Timor-Leste’s state budget, and 70% of total GDP. 

Timor-Leste’s bargaining vulnerabilities means it is likely that Australia will prolong boundary negotiations for as long as possible.

Last week US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Russia should be investigated for war crimes; this would be an error, argued Matthew Dal Santo:

In Russia the perception is widespread that Moscow is only entitled to the foreign policy that the West allows it to have. Whereas as Washington is empowered to dismiss and summon sovereigns, making and unmaking states from Iraq to Libya, Ukraine and Syria, Russia is not entitled to submit an opinion on the survival of an allied state. 

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for public protests outside Russia’s embassy in London – at once a puerile and understandable comment, wrote Shashank Joshi:

Johnson’s remarks need to be understood with two pieces of context in mind. The first is that his speech was in part a response to the increasingly grotesque hypocrisy of Britain’s fringe left, now in control at the top of the Labour Party … the second piece of context is Moscow’s disgraceful record on protecting foreign diplomats within its own borders.

In a part of the world where political transitions are scarce commodity, the death of Islam Karimov and the rise of Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Uzbekistan presents Western powers with a rare opportunity, argued Deidre Tynan and Magdalena Grono:

Since Uzbekistan's main partners in Russia and China have little interest in seeing an injection of liberalisation into the region, it is up to the US and the EU to play a more active role. For example, their ability to offer technical improvements in the farming, energy and water sectors can help decrease Uzbekistan's reliance on and frictions with neighbours. But there should be a quid pro quo that Tashkent opens up too.

Finally, Ben Wellings made the case for Australia playing it cool on a prospective FTA with a post-Brexit Britain:

Here’s the rub: no formal negotiations with the UK can begin before it leaves the EU. If they began too soon, Australia and the UK would jeopardise both sets of negotiations and harden European attitudes.

 Photo: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

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