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Weekend catch-up: Ukraine and Munich, Malcolm Turnbull's foreign policy, West Papua, economic growth and debt and more

Weekend catch-up: Ukraine and Munich, Malcolm Turnbull's foreign policy, West Papua, economic growth and debt and more
Published 14 Feb 2015   Follow @BrendanTN_

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

Events have moved fast this week regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The 51st Munich Security Conference, held last weekend, showed the cracks that were beginning to develop in NATO over the continuing crisis. Then yesterday, a cease-fire agreement brokered by Germany and France was announced that is set to take effect Sunday night. But the critical issue of Ukraine's borders remains unresolved. Until then, fighting continues around Debaltseve and Mariupol. Meanwhile, the IMF has agreed to extend Ukraine a new US$17.5 billion financial aid package in order to prop up its beleaguered economy.

Matthew Sussex wrote on the aftermath of the Munich Security Conference and how each side is maneuvering to secure the moral high ground:

Unfortunately, public debates about force — and the question of whether the West should help Ukraine fight for peace is a good example — are frequently superficial. This is because moral, if not outright ideological, justifications tend to predominate. For instance, Russia claims the moral high ground on behalf of human security for Ukrainian separatists, but is simultaneously a stalwart defender of state sovereignty against external (read: Western) 'interference'. But by the same token there is little real difference between the crusading moralism of some US officials on arming Ukraine and the long-held Wilsonian belief in peace through democracy.

But lumping choices into morally 'good' and 'bad' categories obscures why actors respond the way they do to conflict.

The 70th anniversary of the Yalta Conference also coincided with the negotiations over Ukraine. Tom Switzer on the similarities and differences:

The issues that have made Yalta so controversial are as relevant today. They confront Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel and other Western leaders in their standoff with Russia. What should have been asked about Stalin 70 years ago this week has been asked about Putin today: can Moscow be trusted? Can Russian ambitions be limited by diplomacy? Will the Kremlin honour agreements?

But there is a difference between the Soviet Union and post-Cold War Russia. Stalin's intervention in Eastern Europe was designed to transform the international state system in his communist image; Putin's incursion into Ukraine is a way to protect a buffer zone. Stalin was not responding to any Western encroachment upon Russia's near abroad; Putin is responding to years of NATO and EU expansion that culminated in the Western-backed coup to topple a democratically elected pro-Russian government in Kiev a year ago.

The Liberal party-room defeated a motion to spill the leadership on Monday in Australia, with 39 for and 61 against. Hugh White speculated on what the foreign policy of Tony Abbott's still-potential successor, Malcolm Turnbull, could be: [fold]

And intellectually he has more to offer than anyone on his own side of politics, simply because he has thought about it more, and more openly than his colleagues. One reason for that is his obviously deep curiosity about China, especially, simply because he seems to see it as the most interesting, as well as perhaps the most important, place in the world today. That's not a bad starting point for Australian foreign policy.

As a result of the spill, Japan's role in Australia's future submarine project is under pressure. Rikki Kersten, who just returned from Japan, took a look at the possible domestic repercussions in Tokyo:

Without Australia as a substantive partner, and without Abbott in his corner, Abe may find it difficult to persuade even his own coalition partner, the Komeito, to sign up to his legislative agenda, let alone the Japanese voting public. Already leery of messing with the pacifist clause of the constitution, the Komeito will not risk alienating its support base before the April 2015 round of nation-wide local elections by openly supporting contentious security policy changes, including constitutional revision, which is also on Abe's agenda for 2016. Australia's presence in the policy landscape would have softened the message for them too.

Collaborating with Australia on submarines offers an anchor of stability and trust for Abe as he persuades observers at home and abroad that Japan's trajectory towards defence normalisation is legitimate and achievable. The tribulations of a first term Abbott administration have added another complication to an already herculean task for his partner Abe that may stymy the evolving potential of this bilateral security relationship.

Last week, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Niell, in a wide ranging speech, acknowledged the oppression of the people of West Papua. Jenny Hayward-Jones commented on the interesting role of social media, and where the speech leaves Australia's policy:

Interestingly, O'Neill indicated he was concerned about the pictures of brutality appearing on social media. If his decision to speak out now was even in part inspired by the images of human rights abuses posted by supporters of West Papua on Facebook and Twitter, this is a breakthrough moment for the influence of activists who use social media for political advocacy in Papua New Guinea. Indeed, those who post pictures on social media of brutality that women experience in Papua New Guinea will hope the Prime Minister may be paying attention to them too…

… The move also wrong-foots Canberra. It would be naïve to imagine Canberra can comfortably stay neutral on this issue. Australia wants a stable relationship between its two nearest neighbours and therefore has an interest in averting tensions over West Papua. The Australian Government's position in relation to West Papuan lobbying efforts has always been that it supports the sovereignty of Indonesia over the provinces of Papua and West Papua, a position shared by the Papua New Guinea Government.

Stephen Grenville wrote on the role of debt and economic growth:

We don't have much of an analytical framework. We know that the 'zero net debt' view (additional expenditure by borrowers is cancelled out by lenders' reduced expenditure) doesn't capture the reality, but we can't tie down the relationship between debt and spending. We know that more debt makes a country more vulnerable to cyclical excesses and disruptive reassessments, just as more international trade makes a country more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of global trade. But being able to borrow and lend — shifting purchasing power from those with no immediate spending requirements to those with productive opportunities — ought to make the economy work better.

Vanessa Newby reported in from Lebenon about US allies in the region, and had an interesting anecdote:

Finally, in terms of the US human rights agenda, the recent much circulated photo in an Israeli Ultra-Orthodox newspaper of the Charlie Hebdo march where all the women were electronically removed is well, just plain embarrassing. As Alison Kaplan Sommers is quoted as saying in Haaretz: 'Sure, we Israelis can say this is par for the course with parts of the Ultra-Orthodox community — but it is rather embarrassing when, at a time that the Western world is rallying against manifestations of religious extremism, our extremists manage to take the stage'.

Are multinational corporations paying enough tax in Australia? Mike Callaghan thinks international law has not caught up:

There are many problems with the TJN report. It confuses accounting profit and taxable income, and it confuses companies and trusts. It also fails to take into account that companies operating overseas pay taxes in those jurisdictions. But the report does tap into a widespread view that some corporations are not paying all the taxes they should. And there is some justification for this view. According to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), most taxpayers comply with the law. But the ATO points out that some multinational corporations are engaging in complex profit-shifting structures.

Rumours persist that former prime minister Kevin Rudd is setting himself up for a run at being the next Secretary-General of the UN. Peter Nadin reckons there are a few obstacles in the way:

Firstly, a candidate must be seen as P-5 'compatible'. The inevitable result of all P-5 consultations is a watered down compromise. In the case of the selection of the Secretary-General, this invariably results in the position going to the lowest common denominator. Secondly, the Secretary-General race is played out on a merry-go-round which shifts between the UN's five regional electoral groups. It is widely accepted that the next Secretary-General will be Eastern European. Thirdly, the successful candidate must be proficient in French. Fourthly, candidates require the support of their own country. During the last electoral race, South Korea allowed then-foreign minister Ban-Ki Moon to make ministerial visits to all fifteen members of the Security Council.

Elliot Brennan argues Thailand may be moving closer to China since the junta took control of the country in May 2014:

That euphemism was further highlighted in the past week, when the US followed through with its October promise of a scaled-down version of its annual joint military exercise. Cobra Gold, which began yesterday, is (usually) the world's largest annual multinational military exercise. This year it is smaller. Washington cut the number of troops it sent compared to lat year by nearly a quarter, to 3600. It stopped short of scrapping the event altogether, as this would have had wide-ranging implications across the region. 

Bangkok then played some strong-arm diplomacy of its own. On Friday, during a two-day visit by China's Defence Minister, Chang Wanquan, China and Thailand agreed to boost military ties over the next five years. The agreement includes, among other things, intelligence sharing, cooperation on transnational crime, and increased joint military exercises. 

Catriona Croft-Cusworth on the similarities between Javanese and French wordplay, and the confusion over what to call President Jokowi:

The French and the Javanese happen to share a sense of humour when it comes to wordplay. Both love to play with acronyms, portmanteaus and syllable order. The French slang known as verlan, which involves reversing the order of syllables in a word, bears similarities with Central and East Javanese slang, such as the consonant-switching basa walikan in Yogyakarta, or the habit in Malang of turning words back to front (which on top of mixing Indonesian with Javanese didn't make language learning any easier when I studied in those two cities).

A very interesting post from Julian Snelder on why the Chinese leadership is being instructed to read The Old Regime and the Revolution by Alexis de Tocqueville:

What Wang reads into this book is that the maximum danger to an authoritarian government is when it reforms successfully, for the rising expectations of its citizens may eventually become unattainable. They may demand new liberties whereas before they suffered without, as in revolutionary France: 'consequently, their yoke became most unbearable where it was, in fact, least burdensome.' They may come to resent the privileges of the elites and the injustices of a rigged legal system: 'the evils, patiently endured as inevitable, seem unbearable as soon as the idea of escaping them is removed...the burden has become lighter but the sensitivity more acute.'

Finally, Robert Kelly wrote on why North Korea is investing so heavily in its cyber capabilities:

Cyberspace attacks allow North Korea to wreak havoc, but with only oblique links between its action and real-world consequences such as injury or property damage. For example, if a patient dies in a hospital whose power was cut in a hack, whose fault is that? Perhaps the hospital should have had stronger redundancy systems or better trained staff, because power failures happen anyway.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Department of State.

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