As the US leaves the UN Human Rights Council, it may leave more damage in its wake



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Nikki Haley, the United States’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations, has announced the US will withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council.
AAP/EPA/Justin Lane

Sarah Joseph, Monash University

Editor’s note: This is a longer read


US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have announced the US was withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC”).

In doing so, they claimed the council was a roadblock to genuine global human rights protection. This move by the Trump administration has been anticipated for some time. In a sense, the elephant has left the room. But in doing so, the elephant has belled the cat on a number of serious issues regarding the HRC.

Is the United States’ decision sound in terms of international human rights protection? Is it one that Australia, an HRC member from 2018-2020, should follow?

What is the Human Rights Council?

The UN Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which ran from 1947 to 2006. By the time of its demise, the commission was criticised from all sides for being overly politicised.

The HRC’s 47 seats are divided between the five official UN regions in the following way: Africa (13); Asia (13); Latin America and the Caribbean (8); Western Europe and Other (7); Eastern Europe (6). The US (and Australia) is in the Western Europe and Other Group, known as WEOG.

One-third of the council is elected each year by the UN General Assembly, and members serve three-year terms. No member may serve more than two consecutive terms. A member can also be suspended from the council in a vote of two-thirds of the UN General Assembly: Libya was suspended in 2011 after Muammar Gaddafi’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters and armed dissidents. No other member has been suspended.

The HRC meets three times a year for a total of around ten weeks. Its 38th session has just begun. It also meets for one-day special sessions at the initiative of one-third of its members. It has so far held 28 special sessions.

The HRC’s functions include the drafting and adoption of new human rights standards, as arose in its first year with the adoption of new treaties dealing with the rights of people with a disability and the scourge of enforced disappearances, as well as the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

The HRC also authorises independent investigations into particular human rights issues, either thematic (dealing with a human rights issue such as torture or LGBTI rights) or, more controversially, focused on a particular state. At the time of writing, there are 46 thematic mandates and 12 country mandates for these “special rapporteurs”.

It has one major new function compared to its predecessor, the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”), whereby the human rights record of every UN member is reviewed by the HRC (as well as all other “observer” nations) every five years.

The US’ grievances against the HRC arise with regard to the human rights records of its members, and its politicised character. Its key red line concern seems to be the HRC’s “unconscionable” and “chronic bias” against Israel (to quote from this morning’s press conference). These issues are examined in turn below.

HRC membership

Membership criteria as they stand are very soft: candidates commit to the highest standards of human rights, and states should take into account a nominee’s human rights record when voting. Both of these rules are basically unenforceable.

Human rights criteria were mooted as prerequisites for membership when the HRC was created. However, the UN’s nearly 200 members could not agree on substantive criteria, as they have very different views on human rights. The US, for example, wanted only “democratic nations” to be eligible. Such a criterion would have led to debates over the meaning of “democracy”, and would seem to prioritise civil and political rights over economic, social and cultural ones. A focus on the implementation of economic and social rights might have led to the exclusion from eligibility of the US itself.

In any case, the “measurement” and respective ranking of human rights records across states is contentious. While comparisons between two states may lead to easy conclusions over which one is better or worse, it is a fraught exercise across the entirety of the UN membership.

Procedural criteria, such as a nation’s record on ratification of human rights treaties, would be more objective. However, such criteria might have led to the exclusion of the two most powerful countries in the world – the US and China, which have both failed to ratify crucial treaties. Realpolitik indicates that such an outcome is very unlikely.

In the press conference, Haley and Pompeo decried the presence of human rights abusers on the council, including China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Consternation has also commonly been expressed over the common presence of Saudi Arabia and Russia on the HRC. Certainly, none of those states is remotely close to upholding the highest standards of human rights. Haley and Pompeo went further, claiming that these states manipulate the HRC to shield abusers and target blameless states in its resolutions.

So how bad is the HRC membership? Freedom House is a non-government organisation (NGO) that rates states as “free”, “partly free”, or “not free”, according to certain civil and political rights criteria, such as press freedom. While Freedom House’s methodology is assailable, I will use its rankings in assessing the current HRC, as the US itself historically uses them in making certain policy choices.

According to its 2018 rankings, the HRC of 2018 contains 21 “free” states, 12 “partly free”, and 14 “non-free”.

2018 is in fact one of the worst years in terms of the numbers of non-free HRC members. Nevertheless, free states always outnumber unfree states on the HRC, and can easily pass or block any resolution with the cooperation of just a few partly free states, if they vote together.

Any problem with “bad” resolutions on the HRC arises not from a preponderance of bad states, but from bloc voting within regions, like-minded groups and alliances.

The phenomenon of clean slates

Nevertheless, one can still fairly criticise the HRC for containing 14 non-free states. How do such states get elected?

A major problem for HRC elections is the issue of “clean slates”, whereby the number of candidates presented by a UN region correlates exactly to the number of seats it is scheduled to have elected at any particular time. For example, a region might put forward only two candidates for two seats. In such circumstances, the various candidates’ election seems to be a fait accompli. This phenomenon of clean slates was what Pompeo was referring to when he said that some states were elected by a rigged, collusive process.

Yet clean slates are a problem with all of the UN regions. The US itself was initially elected to the HRC on a clean slate in 2009. Australia was elected to the HRC on a WEOG clean slate in 2017, due to France’s belated withdrawal of its candidature.

Genuine elections do occur when open slates are presented by regions. This is how Russia was rejected in 2016, an unprecedented and humiliating blow that probably led to Russia’s failure to even stand for election in 2017. Other serious human rights abusers, such as Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Belarus, have failed to gain seats in similar circumstances.

Although states are elected on a regional basis, each member must still attain the majority of votes in the general assembly in order to be elected. There remains a possibility that an unacceptable candidate will simply not reach that threshold, even in the case of a clean slate.

That possibility has in the past led to the late replacement of controversial candidates, such as Syria’s replacement by Kuwait in 2011. This author eagerly awaits the day when the General Assembly finally flexes its muscle by refusing to elect an entire clean slate, thus depriving a region of a seat for a year. Such an outcome, in the absence of a relevant reform, is one way to dissuade future clean slates.

Finally, while states – particularly WEOG countries – might rail against the awful records of other members, those sentiments might not be reflected in their actual voting. After all, voting is by secret ballot. For example, given that Saudi Arabia is a key US geopolitical ally, it seems likely that the US (and even Australia) has voted for it on occasion. Certainly, the UK seems to have done so.

The US is correct that membership criteria should be revisited. Certain obstacles could be put in the way of the worst abusers, such as compulsory open slates, public voting (which might help prevent UK votes for Saudi Arabia), and a requirement that an eligible state must allow visits by all special rapporteurs.

Politicisation of the HRC

As the HRC’s members are representatives of their governments, the HRC is a highly politicised body, like its predecessor. State governments are political constructs, so any institution made up of government representatives is inevitably political too.

Unfortunately, states will generally vote in favour of their national interests rather than human rights interests if the two should clash. Pompeo inadvertently admitted that this morning, when he praised Haley by saying that she always put “American interests first”.

Politicisation inevitably leads to the manifestation of political biases. The most notorious HRC bias concerns Israel. It seems that the US’ biggest complaint over the HRC, and the “red line” that has led to its withdrawal, is the HRC’s treatment of Israel.

Israel and the HRC

The HRC is biased against Israel. It has aimed a disproportionate number of resolutions against that country. The HRC’s regular agenda of ten items contains only one item that focuses on a particular state, that state being Israel.

Its special rapporteur mandate stands until the occupation is over, so its renewal is automatic rather than the subject of periodic debate, as is the case with other mandates. The mandate-holder investigates its actions rather than those of the Palestinian authorities, whose abuses are largely ignored.

Israel has been the subject of more special sessions than any other state (more than a quarter of the 28 sessions). Having said that, it was the subject of the first three special sessions in 2006, and four of the first six, so the “hit rate” of 4 out of 22 is less stark since then.

Why is the HRC preoccupied with Israel? For a start, Israel has committed serious human rights abuses that are worthy of the HRC’s condemnation. It is absurd for Pompeo to have implicitly suggested that Israel has “committed no offence”. Any HRC bias does not mean that the substance of its criticisms is wrong. The recent killings of Palestinian protesters, targeted killings, illegal settlements, forced evictions, war crimes, the Gaza blockade and, most fundamentally, an ongoing occupation of Palestine that has lasted for more than 50 years, will cause critics to proliferate.




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Nevertheless, that does not explain the HRC’s disproportionate attention to one country, given the scale of human rights abuses by other states that receive far less attention.

Ardent supporters of Israel often contend that the bias is driven by anti-Semitism. While such a motivation cannot be dismissed, there are other reasons that seem likely to be driving this phenomenon. The equation of “anti-Israel” with “anti-Semitic” is simplistic.

Israel has many enemies among UN states. Some have never accepted Israel’s right to exist, believing that it was established illegitimately on Arab (Palestinian) land. Indeed, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was set up in 1969 to unite Muslim states after the 1967 war in which Israel seized the occupied territories, so opposition to Israel has been an article of faith since its inception. The OIC routinely brings as much diplomatic pressure to bear on Israel as possible. As OIC states straddle the two biggest UN groupings, Africa and Asia, they can rely on significant bloc solidarity for support in their initiatives.

The racial element, whereby the Jewish State of Israel illegally occupies lands populated by Arabs in the occupied territories, attracts the ire of developing states, which have historical grievances regarding racial oppression. Yet other instances of racial tension – such as the oppression of the Tibetans, the Kurds, the West Papuans, the Tamils or the Chechens – fail to attract the same HRC scrutiny.

One difference is that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories is not recognised as legitimate by any other state, unlike for example China’s sovereignty over Tibet or Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua.

Indeed, increasing numbers of states have diplomatically recognised the occupied territories as the State of Palestine, and the UN General Assembly voted in 2012 to recognise Palestine as a non-member state.

Occupation also allows states to feel safe in attacking Israel without being too hypocritical. While human rights abuses are sadly common, the status of “occupier” is rare. Indeed, Israel is sometimes seen as a remnant of colonialism, and its actions certainly breach the right of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter.

However, Israel is not the only occupier. Morocco has long annexed the [Western Sahara], yet the global silence on that situation is deafening in comparison.

Israel is also seen as a surrogate for the West, particularly the US. Given that Israel is almost always defended within the UN by the US, and is often defended by much of WEOG, the question of “Israel-bashing” has become part of a greater North/South divide in the UN. Anti-American states such as Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Russia see Israel as a US surrogate in the Middle East, and exploit the issue accordingly.

Bias against Israel is matched by biased displays of support for Israel by its allies, such as the US and Australia. For example, the US instinctively presumed that the recent border killings were justified. Past bombings of Gaza (in 2009 and 2012) have been blithely dismissed by Australia as an exercise of Israel’s right to self-defence. But a legitimate case of self-defence can still result in an illegal use of excessive, indiscriminate or unnecessary force.

Regardless of its causes, the HRC’s perceived bias against Israel is counterproductive. It provides Israel with a ready-made argument to reject even legitimate condemnation, thus providing cover for human rights abuses. Indeed, claims of bias (within and outside the UN) have become a dominant part of the Middle East narrative on both sides, detracting from a focus on the actions of the actual protagonists. It has facilitated Israel’s progressive disillusionment with and disengagement from the UN, and now, the disengagement of the US. It reduces the HRC’s credibility and opens it up to charges of hypocrisy. None of these outcomes is useful for those who sincerely wish for improvements in human rights for all in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories.

Finally, the biggest problem with the focus on Israel is the corresponding lack of focus on other serious human rights situations. While it is impossible to demand or expect that a political body, or even an apolitical one, should achieve perfect balance in its human rights focuses, it is fair to expect that such focuses not be way out of balance.

The US and human rights

Haley and Pompeo reassured us that the US will continue to play a leadership role in human rights, despite its withdrawal from the HRC. And certainly, the US’ role on the HRC was in many ways positive. For example, it took the lead in addressing impunity in Sri Lanka. The WEOG group suffers from some dysfunctionality on the part of EU states, which generally seek a common position. Strong non-EU voices are important in this regard.

Yet the US is as political as other players on the HRC. Just as some states instinctively oppose Israel, the US instinctively supports it. Neither position is principled. The US has also protected other allies, such as Bahrain.

Outside the HRC, US President Donald Trump is not a credible leader on human rights. He seems to have an affinity with leaders with horrible records, such as the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. Most recently, he responded to comments about North Korea’s human rights record, which is possibly the worst in the world, by praising the “talented” Kim Jong-un.

And of course, the US has long had its own serious human rights problems, which are too numerous to mention, but which include torture and the highest proportion of incarceration in the world. Its recent decision to separate migrant children from their parents and intern them reflects its status as the only country in the world that has failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Furthermore, it is nonsense for Pompeo to suggest that the HRC had sought to infringe on US sovereignty. This betrays a serious misunderstanding of the concept of sovereignty, indicating that it dictates immunity from criticism. It does not.

Is the council salvageable?

The US is correct to note there are major deficiencies in the current HRC. Is its response therefore the correct one? If so, that would seem to indicate that Australia should also quit the HRC. It is very unlikely that Australia will do so.

The HRC is the peak global intergovernmental human rights body, which may represent the world of today, warts and all. The battle for universal human rights observance will not be won by adopting an “us and them” mentality, which excludes significant numbers of countries in the world from “the human rights club”. Such a solution is more likely to lead to balkanised human rights discussions, and possible competing institutions inside and outside the UN.




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The HRC must remain a forum where non-like-minded states, and civil society, can talk to each other, and occasionally cross divides to make important human rights decisions.

Furthermore, the HRC is meant to be a political body. Other parts of the UN human rights machinery are made up of independent human rights experts, and accordingly take a more impartial approach than the HRC. While their human rights findings are more credible, it also seems that states generally take their findings less seriously.

States tend to care more about what their peers think than what human rights experts might think. Hence, human rights would suffer in the absence of a relevant intergovernmental global body.

Despite its flaws, the HRC does make decisions that benefit human rights, even in the face of political lobbying by members with scurrilous motives. For example, a special rapporteur was appointed to investigate Iran (after the application of US pressure), and it remains in place, despite that influential country’s forceful efforts to dismantle the mandate. A special rapporteur on LGBTI rights was appointed in 2016, despite fierce opposition from the OIC and homophobic states, due to an alliance of developed and developing states, and civil society.

The HRC will continue to be an imperfect institution for as long as the UN is made up of states with imperfect human rights records. However, the council still can and must be improved.

The ConversationBut the worst way to achieve that goal is by just walking away.

Sarah Joseph, Professor, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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ABC contributes as much to the economy as it costs the taxpayer: Michelle Guthrie


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has hit back against critics with a Deloitte Access Economics assessment that the public broadcaster contributed more than A$1 billion to the Australian economy in the last financial year.

This was on a par with the public funding of the organisation, she told the Melbourne Press Club, in an address coming days after the Liberal Federal Council urged the ABC be privatised – a call rejected by the government.

Far from being a drain on the public purse, the audience, community and economic value stemming from ABC activity is a real and tangible benefit,“ she said. The Deloitte study was commissioned by the ABC; Guthrie said its report was still being compiled and would be released next month.

Of the $1 billion, “more than a third is economic support for the broader media ecosystem. Far from being Ultimo-centric, the ABC is boosting activity across the country,” she said, giving as examples the filming of Mystery Road in the Kimberley and the production of Rosehaven outside Hobart.

Deloitte calculated the ABC was helping sustain more than 6000 full-time equivalent jobs across the economy. “It means that for every three full-time equivalent jobs created by the ABC, there are another two supported in our supply chain – local artists, writers, technicians, transport workers and many more.

“In hard figures, the research shows that the ABC helps to sustain 2500 full-time equivalent jobs in addition to the 4000 women and men who are directly employed by the public broadcaster.

“When broken down this equates to more than 500 additional jobs in production companies, over 400 jobs elsewhere in the broadcast sector, and close to 300 full-time equivalent jobs in the professional services.

“Amidst the debate over the ABC’s purpose and its funding we should all remember that there are 2500 jobs outside public broadcasting at risk in any move to curtail our remit and activities”.




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Addressing the critics’ argument that the ABC’s about $1 billion funding wasn’t well spent, Guthrie pointed out that the broadcaster’s per capita funding had halved in real terms in three decades while the demands on it had increased, and that this financial year 92% of its budget would be spent on making content, supporting content makers and distribution.

“Thirty years ago, the ABC had five platforms and 6000 people working around the country. Today, Your ABC has two-thirds the number of people operating six times the number of platforms and services with half the real per capita funding”.

Guthrie argued that the claim that the latest 1% efficiency dividend could easily be accommodated ignored the accumulation of efficiency takes over the past four years, and the fact these efficiencies robbed the organisation of its ability to finance new content and innovation.

She rejected what she described as two other “fallacies” – that the ABC should be stripped back to servicing gaps in the market, becoming a “media failure operator”, and that the ABC served only sectional interests.

Referring to the ABC charter, she said that “as the independent national public broadcaster, our purpose is to provide a balance between broadcasting programs of wide appeal as well as specialised interest”.

Public broadcasting was “about providing the distinctive programs that Australians young and old, left and right, rich and poor, in Bourke and in Brisbane, both want and need”.




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She attacked those commentators and politicians who liked “to pigeonhole our audience as being of a particular political bent or social strata.

“In the two years since I’ve been in this role, I have been constantly reminded how wrong that is”, she said, citing the 12 million Australians who would watch ABC TV this week, the nearly five million who’d listen to ABC radio, and the 13 million ABC podcast downloads that occurred every month.

“If all those listeners and viewers were on the one side of politics, there wouldn’t be much politicking left to do.

“I note also the findings of the recent Reuters Digital News Report. Australia may have an increasingly polarised media sector, but ABC television attracts viewers from across the political spectrum for its news coverage”.

The ConversationGuthrie said that Australians regarded the ABC “as one of the great national institutions” and “deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Coalition’s record Newspoll losing streak, and Rebekha Sharkie has large lead in Mayo



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Recently, hard-right Coalition MPs have not had as much influence on government policy as they used to, and Malcolm Turnbull is probably benefiting from this.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of 1,660, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 38% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (up one) and 6% One Nation (down two).

This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 34th consecutive loss as prime minister, four ahead of Tony Abbott. According to analyst Kevin Bonham, this is the worst Newspoll losing streak for a government, with Turnbull and the Coalition now one ahead of Julia Gillard’s 33 successive losses as PM.

Prior to July 2015, Newspoll was conducted by landline live phone polling with samples of about 1,100. Since July 2015, Newspoll has been administered by Galaxy Research, using robopolling and online methods with samples of about 1,700. The new Newspoll is much less volatile than the old Newspoll, so trailing parties have far less chance of getting lucky with an outlier 50-50 poll.

In this Newspoll, the total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one to 48%, and the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation was down two to 44%. This matches a late March Newspoll as the highest vote for the left-of-centre parties this term. These changes would normally give Labor a two party gain, but it is likely the previous Newspoll was rounded up to 52%, and that this one has been rounded down.




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40% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up one), and 50% were dissatisfied (also up one), for a net approval of -10. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down one point to -22. Turnbull continued to lead Shorten by a large 46-31 as better PM (47-30 previously).

Turnbull’s ratings improvement has been sustained since the budget. It is likely he is benefiting from the tax cuts in the next financial year. Recently, hard-right Coalition MPs have not had as much influence on government policy as they used to, and Turnbull is probably benefiting from this.

While Turnbull’s ratings improved, I believe the greater focus on the government’s tax policies and the publicity regarding Barnaby Joyce are holding back the Coalition’s vote. One Nation probably slumped owing to the split between Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston, who is now a senator for Clive Palmer’s new United Australia Party.

Both Newspoll and Essential’s fieldwork was mostly conducted before the federal Liberal council passed a motion to privatise the ABC on Saturday. This vote is likely to be embarrassing for Turnbull and Coalition ministers.

The Australian has been campaigning against the Australian National University’s refusal to allow a Western civilisation course. Most voters would have heard nothing about this issue. It is not surprising that, when given a question skewed in favour of the Western civilisation course, voters backed it by a 66-19 margin.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of just over 1,000, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two) and 35% Labor (down two). Tables have not yet been published, so The Poll Bludger’s report is the best for domestic issues.

79% supported the first stage of the income tax cuts that are introduced in the next financial year, but only 37% supported the third stage, which is scheduled to be phased in from 2024 – these tax cuts would flatten the tax scales. Support and opposition to the company tax cuts were tied at 39% each.

From Peter Lewis in The Guardian, 35% thought the agreement between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un would make the world safer, 8% less safe, and 41% thought it would make no difference.

Despite Trump’s presidency, 50% consider it very important for Australia to have a close relationship with the US, followed by the UK at 47% and China at 39%. Russia at 17% and Saudi Arabia at 14% are at the bottom of this table.

By 54-11, voters had a favourable view of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, followed by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (54-14), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (43-18), French President Emmanuel Macron (42-15) and UK PM Theresa May (42-19). Trump had an unfavourable 64-22 rating, Russian President Vladimir Putin 56-19 unfavourable and Kim Jong-un 68-9.

Two Mayo polls give Rebekha Sharkie 58-42 leads over Georgina Downer

On July 28, Mayo is one of five seats up for federal byelections. The incumbent, Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, was forced to resign over the dual citizenship fiasco, but will recontest. The Liberal candidate is Georgina Downer, daughter of Alexander Downer, who held Mayo from 1984 to 2008.

A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute and a Galaxy poll for The Advertiser both gave Sharkie a 58-42 lead over Downer. Primary votes in Galaxy were 44% Sharkie, 37% Downer, 11% Labor and 6% Greens. In ReachTEL, primary votes were 41.4% Sharkie, 35.5% Downer, 11.1% Greens and 8.2% Labor.

These poll results represent a 3% swing to Sharkie in Mayo compared to the 2016 election. The ReachTEL poll was conducted June 5 from a sample of 1,031, and the Galaxy poll June 7 from a sample of 515.

In the Galaxy poll, 62% had a positive view of Sharkie and just 10% a negative view. In contrast, 31% had a positive view of Downer and 41% a negative view.

The Centre Alliance was Nick Xenophon’s former party, and the expectation was that Sharkie would follow Xenophon down. However, it appears that she has built up a strong profile in Mayo that is independent of Xenophon’s appeal. It is likely Sharkie will defy the collapse of her party to retain Mayo.

It could be perceived that Downer thinks she should have the seat because it was her father’s seat. Other weaknesses for Downer are her membership of the hard-right Institute of Public Affairs, and her absence from Mayo for the last 20 years.

The Australia Institute ReachTEL has left-skewed additional questions. Question 2, regarding company tax cuts, gave unpopular examples of large companies — banks, mining companies and supermarkets. It then offered three options for company tax rates (increased, kept the same or decreased), with only one unfavourable to The Australia Institute’s left-wing agenda.

Three weeks ago, The Australian had a right-skewed company tax cut question in Newspoll, but left-wing organisations often do the same thing, though their profile is far lower than Newspoll.




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In brief: Darling Range (WA) byelection, Conservatives win in Ontario and Colombia

A byelection for the Western Australian state seat of Darling Range will be held on Saturday. At the March 2017 state election, Labor won Darling Range by 55.8–44.2 against the Liberals, a massive 18.9% swing to Labor from the 2013 election. However, Labor member Barry Urban was forced to resign over allegations of fraudulent behaviour. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian gave Labor a 54-46 lead in Darling Range.




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At the June 7 Ontario provincial election, the Conservatives won 76 of the 124 seats, the left-wing NDP 40, the centre-left Liberals seven and the Greens one. The Liberals had governed Ontario for the last 15 years. The Conservatives won just 40.5% of the popular vote, with 33.6% NDP, 19.6% Liberals and 4.6% Greens. First Past the Post, which is used in all federal and provincial Canadian elections, greatly benefited the Conservatives with the left vote split. You can read more at my personal website.

The ConversationAt the Colombian presidential runoff election held on Sunday, conservative Iván Duque Márquez defeated the left-wing Gustavo Petro by a 54.0-41.8 margin. Duque opposes the 2016 peace deal between the government and guerrilla fighters.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Clive Palmer’s back on the trail, with Brian Burston in tow


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Surely Clive Palmer is one soufflé unlikely to rise twice – although predictions are hazardous when we’re talking about a man dedicated to buying votes.

It beggars belief that Palmer, discredited in the political shambles and business disasters and disgraces of the last few years, can be starting out again, planning to run candidates in “all seats” in the House of Representatives and for the Senate.

The comings and goings into, out of and within the Senate this term have made that house a travesty.

The changes to the Senate voting system will curb the ability of “rats and mice” – micro parties and independents – to win seats at the election. But any voters so angry about the more conventional parties that they are tempted to look Palmer’s way again might like to consider the shenanigans on Monday.

Senator Brian Burston, formerly of One Nation, after his acrimonious divorce from Pauline Hanson told the Senate just after 10am that he was sitting as an independent.

He was one of three senators making statements about their new affiliations. Tasmania’s Steve Martin, who was on the Jacqui Lambie election ticket but had sat as an independent, reported he’d joined the Nationals since the full Senate last met; Fraser Anning, formerly of the One Nation ticket who’d also been an independent, put on record that he had now moved to the Katter’s Australian Party.




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An hour or so after his declaration, Burston had publicly re-partnered – as had already been anticipated. Now he “leads” the United Australia Party (UAP) in the Senate – its sole member. In today’s Senate, you don’t need company to have a party.

The UAP is the new iteration of the Palmer United Party, which made a splash at the 2013 election but had drowned by 2016.

It will be recalled by those who follow these things that Palmer had originally wanted to use the UAP moniker, ripping off the name of the major conservative party of the 1930s and early 1940s.

But someone had grabbed a similar name ahead of him and so we had PUP, three of whose candidates reached the Senate on Palmer’s popularity and money, while the man himself won the Queensland seat of Fairfax. Then the PUP family imploded, just as the Hanson clan has done in this parliament.

Palmer, welcoming Burston as his face in the Senate, said he looked “forward to a long and happy relationship with him”. Clive is not a man who learns from experience.

Palmer also doesn’t like “name” parties these days. “The structure of one-person parties has been shown to be a failure. It is not about Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Clive Palmer, Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi or Bob Katter, that’s not what matters,” he said in a statement. Never mind that Palmer has huge billboards of himself around the place over the slogan “MAKE AUSTRALIA GREAT”.

“What matters is that we need to unite the country to do what’s best for all our citizens”. Palmer claimed to have had a big response to his new party.

Whatever the truth of that, having a parliamentary representative means the UAP doesn’t need the 500 members otherwise required for registration. It’s a two-way street – Burston knew any prospect of his being re-elected would be better if he had a rich backer. When Hanson wanted someone else to head the next NSW Senate ticket, he was shopping around.

Palmer thrives on hyperbole and publicity. His Monday news conference with Burston was typically farcical, with its clashes with the media and plenty of blather. Palmer praised Burston’s “courage” – Burston publicly fell out with Hanson over her breaking the deal with the government to back the company tax cuts – and his “foresight to stand up for the people who elected him, to aim for their aspirations”.

The Labor member for Herbert, Cathy O’Toole broke protocol and joined the fray, confronting Palmer about the fallout out from the collapse of his company Queensland Nickel in 2016. Later Palmer said he was “discussing with my political advisors” the possibility of contesting Herbert.

The ConversationAmong his declarations Palmer said that “Australians are sick of parties based on vanity”. Let’s hope so.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s relentless lies demand we make truth-telling great again



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As Donald Trump heads to the summit in Singapore with the North Korean leader, a reminder: He’s on record as lying on average nine times a day.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Henry Giroux, McMaster University

U.S. President Donald Trump is a serial liar who appears to exult, if not take pride, in every petty deceit, particularly if it casts him into the glare of publicity.

With Trump preparing to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore in a highly anticipated summit this week, it’s worth a reminder: Not unlike Kim, Trump lies to hide the brutality of his cruel policies. He lies to discredit reliable sources of information and to discredit those public institutions that educate a public to create informed citizens who are able to distinguish between the truth and falsehoods.

He will lie about the summit. He can’t help himself.

The Washington Post reports that in his first 466 days in office, Trump has made more than “3,001 false or misleading statements,” averaging “about nine claims a day.”

Trump has lied, along with a tsunami of other fabrications, about former president Barack Obama’s birthplace, he’s made false claims about why he did not win the popular vote, he’s stated he knew nothing about payments prior to his election to the porn star Stormy Daniels, and he’s wrongly declared that the U.S. is the highest taxed nation in the world.

Stormy Daniels speaks to the media after a federal court hearing in April 2018 with her attorney, Michael Avenatti.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Craig Ruttle

Most recently, the New York Times reported that Trump’s lawyers have admitted that the president drafted a misleading statement about a meeting his son had with a lawyer associated with the Kremlin in Trump Tower, though for months he denied it.

He has falsely claimed 72 times that he passed the biggest tax cut in history; incorrectly states that he has eliminated Obamacare; and fallaciously argues that the Democrats were responsible for eliminating DACA (the Deferred Action for Child arrivals that he terminated).

‘The truth is dangerous’

In Trump’s Orwellian world, the truth is dangerous, thinking is a liability, and the sanctity of free speech is treated with disdain, if not the threat of censorship.

Trump uses an endless stream of tweets in which the truth is distorted for ideological, political or commercial reasons. Under the Trump administration, lying and the spectacle of fakery have become an industry and tool of power.

All administrations and governments lie at times, but under Trump, lying has become normalized, a calling card for corruption and lawlessness that provides the foundation for authoritarianism.

As in any dictatorship, the Trump regime dismisses words, concepts and news sources that address crucial social problems such as climate change, police violence and corporate malfeasance.

In Trump’s dystopian world, words such as a “nation of immigrants,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “diversity,” “entitlement,” “climate change,” “democratic,” “peaceful,” “just” and “vulnerable” disappear into a “memory hole.” Under the Trump regime, language has become a political tool and operates in the service of violence, unchecked power and lawlessness.

For Trump, lying has become a toxic policy for legitimizing ignorance and civic illiteracy. Not only does he relish lying repeatedly, he has also attacked the critical media, claimed journalists are enemies of the American people and argued that the media is the opposition party. His rallying cry, “fake news,” is used to dismiss any critic or criticism of his policies, however misleading, wrong or dangerous they are.

Facts are erased

There is more at stake here than the threat of censorship, there is also an attack on traditional sources of information and the public spheres that produce them. Trump’s government has become a powerful disimagination and distraction machine in which the distinction between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy are erased.

Under Trump, language operates in the service of civic violence because it infantilizes and depoliticizes the wider public, creating what Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl has called, in a different context, “the mask of nihilism.”

Trump’s attacks on any criticism of his policies and the truth go far beyond the public deploying of personal insults. In the case of his attack on the FBI and Department of Justice, his penchant for relentless lying constitutes both a possible obstruction of justice and an egregious attempt to discredit criticism and corrode democracy.




Read more:
Did Sessions and Trump conspire to obstruct justice?


What happens when a government excludes language that addresses social problems, provides resources for the vulnerable and dismisses all information related to climate change?

Reminiscent of book-burning

Trump’s politics of erasure is more than a page out of the dystopian novels of George Orwell or Ray Bradbury, it also echoes an earlier historical period when censorship and book burning was the currency of fascist regimes. As American historian Karen J. Greenberg warns, the suppression of language opens the doorway to fascism.

The president’s fabricating Twitter machine is about more than lying, it is also about using all of the tools and resources to create a dystopia in which authoritarianism emerges through the raw power of ignorance, control and police-state repression.

Of course, Trump does not lie in isolation. He is encouraged by a right-wing disimagination machine that American sociologist Todd Gitlin rightly calls “an interlocking ecology of falsification that has driven the country around the bend” and into the abyss of authoritarianism.

Trump’s endless fabrications echo the propaganda machines made famous in the fascist regimes of the 1930s. He values loyalty over integrity, and he lies in part to test the loyalty of those who both follow him and align themselves with his power.




Read more:
Trump’s loyalty fixation recalls one of the US’s most disastrous presidencies


Trump’s lying must be understood within a broader attack on the fundamentals of education and democracy itself. This is especially important at a time when the U.S. is no longer a functioning democracy and is in the presence of what sociologists Leonidas Donskis and the late Zygmunt Bauman referred to as a form “of modern barbarity.”

‘Civic illiteracy’

Trump’s lying undermines the public’s grip on language, evidence, facts and informed judgement, and in doing so promotes a form of civic illiteracy in which words and meaning no longer matter. Depriving the public of the capacity for critical analysis and discerning the truth from lies does more than empty politics of any meaning, it also undermines democracy.

As ethics wither, people become prisoners of their own experiences, indifferent to an ignorance and brutishness in which they become complicit.

As the theatre of lies, insults, and childish petulance triumphs over measured arguments, a world emerges in which the only real choices are among competing fictions — a world in which nothing is true and everything begins to look like a lie.

Trump smiles in the White House on June 7, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Susan Walsh

If the spirit and promise of a sustainable democracy is to survive, it’s crucial to make truth-telling virtuous again. If we are going to fight for and with the powerless, we have to understand their needs, speak to and with them in a language that is mutually understandable as well as honest.

There is also a need to reinvent politics through alternative narratives in which the American public can both identify themselves and the conditions through which power and oppression bear down on their lives.

This is not an easy task, but nothing less than justice, democracy and the planet itself are at risk.

Authoritarianism creates a predatory class of unethical zombies who produce dead zones of the imagination that even Orwell could not have envisioned, while using an unchecked language of lying to wage a fierce fight against the possibilities of a democratic future.

The time has come for progressives and others to develop a political language in which civic values, social responsibility and the institutions that support them become central to invigorating and fortifying a new era of civic imagination.

There must be a renewed sense of social agency, and an impassioned international social movement with a vision, organization and set of strategies to challenge the dystopian nightmare engulfing the United States, and a growing number of illiberal democracies all over the globe.

Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet, wrote after Franco destroyed the Spanish Republic: “I swear to defend until my death what has been murdered in Spain: The right to happiness.”

The ConversationThis tribute to justice, the public imagination, dignity and the right to be free from the curse of those who use their power to lie and malign the crucial institutions of democracy must once again be defended in the spirit of urgency and the “right to happiness” — not to mention the right to truth.

Henry Giroux, Chaired professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Threat to the ABC is not sale but more bullying


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A re-elected Turnbull government wouldn’t sell the ABC, whatever scare Bill Shorten might be raising. But you’d have to be an optimist to think that if it wins, it won’t intensify its bullying and denigration of the public broadcaster.

There is more than a little irony in the Liberal federal council on Saturday delivering Labor a campaign issue around the ABC before the Super Saturday byelections.

Just a while ago, the government was surfing on the skirmishing on refugee policy ahead of the ALP national conference, only to see that dispute put on the backburner when Labor delayed the conference because the byelections were set for the same date.

The council motion came from the Young Liberals – who over the years are variously on the left or the right of the party – and called for “the full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas that are not commercially viable.”

Unlike Labor, where conference policies formally carry heft with the MPs, Liberal council motions are non-binding.

This one has been described as “virtue-signalling” to the base. I think it is rather more serious than that. It will reinforce the anti-ABC sentiment of some in government ranks – which has reached, frankly, absurd levels.

The fact that Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues did not, would not, could not prevent its passage says a lot, especially about the Prime Minister.

When he was clawing his way towards the leadership, Turnbull was the conspicuous friend of the ABC. Now he’s critic-in-chief, as Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minister’s Office fire off complaints about errors and interpretations.

No one should object when the prime minister or ministers call out journalists’ factual mistakes (though they make quite a few of their own). And it is absolutely their right to argue the toss on commentary.

But we know there’s a lot more to this than robust criticism. Much of it is an attempt – that to a degree has been successful – at intimidation.

This isn’t the first government to engage in ABC bashing. On the other side of politics the Hawke government at one stage had (to borrow a Turnbullism) a red hot go. But I don’t remember any government sustaining the onslaught so strongly for so long.

What makes the assault even more concerning is that it’s part of the culture wars now engulfing multiple fronts of public debate. The media provide battlegrounds and targets in these wars.

News Corp, fuelled by financial imperatives as well as ideology, relentlessly stalks the ABC. News Corp is squeezed between the strains on the commercial media’s business model and the successful expansion, especially online, of the ABC.

The ABC is cast not simply as another competitor, but one that must be discredited in terms of both professionalism and legitimacy, by portraying it as out of touch with the “mainstream” and robbing the commercial media of what’s rightfully theirs.

As parts of News Corp have increasingly become bold, self-declared standard-bearers for the right, they are ever drawn to the ABC as a useful punching bag.

One can see what’s in this for the ABC’s commercial competitors, and indeed for a right wing think tank such as the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which urges that the ABC be privatised.

It’s more difficult to discern what the government gets out of its obsession with attacking the ABC to a degree disproportionate to the alleged sins of individual journalists or the organisation as a whole.

Perhaps it’s a gesture of frustration – kicking the car tyres when you find you have a puncture. Or the feeling that if you can just cow the buggers, they mightn’t be so “biased” – ignoring that the perception of “bias” mostly varies according to where you’re coming from, and in journalism the notion of giving diverse viewpoints a fair go can be a more manageable one.

It’s noteworthy that for all their carrying on, ministers still seem anxious to appear on the ABC. If it were so bad, so unresponsive to the “mainstream”, you’d think some might be calling for a boycott now and then.

One reason why they line up is they actually know the public regards it as a trusted and credible media outlet.

The Australia Institute at the weekend released an ABC question taken from its earlier ReachTEL poll in Mayo that showed crossbencher Rebecca Sharkie leading Liberal Georgina Downer 58-42% in two-party terms. The June 5 poll asked: “In the budget the government cut the ABC’s funding by A$83.7 million. Do you think funding for the ABC should be reduced, increased, or stay the same?” Nearly three quarters said funding should be increased (40.5%) or stay the same (33.5%), with only 23% saying it should be decreased.

Last week Shorten promised a Labor government would restore that funding. The Liberal council motion has played into his hands.

In Mayo, the council motion has handed Sharkie a small gift. There will be interest in what Downer, who comes from the IPA, has to say about how she would like to see the future of the ABC.

The ConversationNot quite as interesting, however, as hearing members of the Turnbull team protest they really are committed to the ABC, however badly they behave towards it. That they have to do so is a sort of perverse justice – the price of overreach.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Summit with Kim is boosting Trump’s confidence – that might not be a good thing



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North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Stephen Benedict Dyson, University of Connecticut

Moments after President Donald Trump shook North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s hand for the first time, Trump pronounced: “We will have a terrific relationship.”

Trump’s snap judgment fulfilled his prediction before the June 12 summit that he would be able to evaluate Kim’s intentions “within the first minute” of meeting him.

High-level politicians often think that they are experts at reading and influencing other leaders. They quickly come to believe that they are the world’s leading authority on any counterpart they meet in person. For example, President George W. Bush was so enamored with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that senior advisers launched a concerted campaign to curb his enthusiasm.

“You’re my man,” Bush would say to Maliki. When advisers told the president he was undercutting U.S. efforts to pressure Maliki, Bush responded with incredulity: “Are you saying I’m the problem?”

If Trump follows this pattern I’ve found when studying the personal side of foreign policy, he may believe that he now has special insight into Kim. And that means the dynamics of U.S. policymaking toward North Korea have changed. Having met Kim, the president will be even less likely to listen to experts in the intelligence and diplomatic communities.

From first impressions to agreement

Hours after Trump and Kim first met, the two leaders emerged from their talks to sign a joint document. The U.S. is prepared to guarantee the regime’s security, and North Korea is willing to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” according to the statement. Trump called it a “very comprehensive agreement.”

Critics are charging that the letter was closer to North Korea’s preferences than the “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible de-nuclearization” sought by the United States.

Perhaps the document is underwhelming, repeating North Korean promises of the past without any clear road map to making them reality. But something significant changed in Singapore: President Trump has met Kim face to face.

Intelligence

On the eve of the summit, details emerged of a profile of Kim’s personality, provided to the president by allied intelligence agencies.

This is standard practice prior to meetings with foreign leaders. But once the leaders have met in person, intelligence analysis takes second place to first-hand impressions.

In the future, expert counsel on Kim’s intentions may clash with Trump’s positive perception of the North Korean leader. In the post-summit press conference Trump called Kim “very talented.” He told journalist Greta van Susteren that Kim has “a great personality, he’s a funny guy, he’s very smart. He loves his people.”

From now on, analyses from the diplomatic and intelligence communities that fit Trump’s view of Kim will be favored, those at odds with his view may be dismissed.

This dynamic is common in policymaking, and there are reasons to think it could be extremely consequential in this case.

Relying on ‘touch, feel’

First, Trump’s tendency to trust his instincts is already pronounced. Asked by a reporter before the summit how he would know if Kim was serious about de-nuclearization, Trump said he would rely upon “my touch, my feel. It’s what I do.”

Second, the intricate series of steps toward disarmament of a nuclear arsenal require expert verification. Ostensibly cooperative actions – like destroying nuclear test tunnels – might turn out to be empty gestures once analysts have pored over the surveillance footage. The North Korean regime has a history of making public agreements, then advancing their nuclear arsenal in secret.

The ConversationThis summit process began with a snap decision by Trump to accept an offer to meet with Kim. The most significant result may be Trump’s new confidence that he uniquely understands the North Korean leader. This will further reinforce the defining dynamic of Trump’s presidency so far: Ignore the experts, trust your gut.

Stephen Benedict Dyson, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Connecticut

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The US nuclear arsenal: A quick overview



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Warhead-containing nose cone of an inert Minuteman 3 missile.
AP Photo/Charlie Riede

Jeffrey Fields, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

I spent many years working on nuclear nonproliferation at the Department of Defense, the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. Between 2009 and 2010, I worked with the special representative for nonproliferation at the State Department.

As the world focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, this seems like a good time to ask: Is the U.S. doing anything to limit the size of its own nuclear arsenal?

Commitment to disarming

The United States is one of five recognized nuclear weapons states – including Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – under the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The treaty permits these states to possess nuclear weapons. Other countries signed on as non-nuclear weapons states, pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for access to peaceful civilian nuclear technology like power reactors.

This was not meant to be permanent a state of affairs. An article of the treaty calls on all nuclear weapons states “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

To this end, President Barack Obama pledged to decrease the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, committing to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama was the first president to talk about steps to disarmament this way.

By contrast, in December 2016, President-elect Trump tweeted that the U.S. need to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

In 2018, the Department of Defense released a review of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review. It recommends the U.S. add to its arsenal a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile.

The recommendation struck many observers as a pivot from the Obama administration’s policies toward an increased role for nuclear weapons. They view it as the beginning of a new arms race. Others see it as necessary to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and consistent with past administrations’ nuclear policies.

The Obama administration had also come to the conclusion that even if disarmament was an ultimate if distant goal, many of the components U.S. nuclear arsenal still needed to be maintained and updated. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that modernizing current U.S. nuclear forces would cost US$1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.

US arsenal over time

The New START Treaty, signed between the U.S. and Russia in 2010, was another bilateral agreement to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons and cap the number of deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550. That may sound like a lot, but at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. arsenal contained more than 30,000 nuclear weapons.

The New START Treaty only places a cap on deployed nuclear warheads, meaning weapons that are on delivery vehicles like ICBMs and ready to use, versus, say, warheads in storage. The stockpile, which is the total number of nuclear weapons both deployed and non-deployed, is much larger. The Obama administration first declassified the number in 2010. The number then was 5,113.

In 2017, the total number of weapons in the U.S. stockpile was reported as 3,822.

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The New START Treaty also places limits on the number of vehicles used to deliver nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy. The United States maintains a so-called nuclear triad: nuclear weapons deployed on ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers like the B-2 aircraft. Since it would be difficult for an adversary to knock out all three methods of delivery, this strategy allows at least one leg of the triad to respond in the event of a devastating nuclear attack.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal today is the smallest it has been since the early days of the Cold War. Whether this makes the world safer is still a subject of intense debate.

The ConversationOptimists see any reduction in the size of arsenals as a positive. Pessimists see the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence, whatever the size of states’ arsenals, as inherently dangerous. While most nuclear armed states agree that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence and thus likely never to be used in war, their devastating power will always provoke fierce debate on their utility.

Jeffrey Fields, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.