We know how to cut off the financial valve to Myanmar’s military. The world just needs the resolve to act

Jonathan Liljeblad, Australian National UniversitySince the coup in Myanmar on February 1, the international community has struggled to agree on coherent action against the military (also known as the Tatmadaw).

Tough action by the UN Security Council has been stymied by China, Russia, India and Vietnam, who see the Myanmar crisis as an internal affair.

Outside the UN, a strong, coordinated response by Myanmar’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also been lacking due to their reluctance to interfere in each other’s affairs. Thai political expert Thitinan Pongsudhirak called it an “existential crisis” for the bloc.

Read more:
As killings, beatings and disappearances escalate, what’s the end game in Myanmar?

This reluctance, which has now cost the lives of over 500 civilians, rules out the use of military force to stop the violence, peacekeeping operations or even a humanitarian intervention.

It has left the international community with one remaining option for a coordinated response that could change the military’s behaviour: the imposition of economic sanctions. But even this action has been subject to much debate.

Follow the money

General sanctions that try to change the behaviour of authoritarian regimes by damaging their economies have proven problematic in the past. Many leaders have invariably found ways around the sanctions, meaning civilians have disproportionately borne the costs of isolation.

In contrast, targeted sanctions against the specific financial interests that sustain authoritarian regimes have been more effective. These can impose pressure on regimes without affecting the broader population.

Read more:
Ethical minefields: the dirty business of doing deals with Myanmar’s military

This is where the international community has the greatest potential to punish the Tatmadaw.

Since the US and other countries pursued more general sanctions on Myanmar in the 1990s and 2000s — with mixed results — the international community has gained a greater understanding of the Tatmadaw’s transnational revenue streams.

In particular, in 2019, the UN Fact-Finding Mission (UNFFM) on Myanmar released a report detailing the diverse Tatmadaw-linked enterprises that funnel revenue from foreign business transactions to the military’s leaders and units.

More recently, this list of potential targets has been expanded by non-government organisations and investigative journalists.

Researchers have also outlined the Tatmadaw’s dealings in illegal trade in drugs, gemstones, timber, wildlife and human trafficking.

The extent of information on the Tatmadaw’s financial flows shows just how vulnerable the military’s leaders are to international pressure.

Tracking the military’s legal and illegal business dealings makes it possible to identify its business partners in other countries. Governments in those countries can then take legal action against these business partners and shut off the flow of money keeping the junta afloat.

To some degree, this is starting to happen with Myanmar. The US and UK recently decided, for instance, to freeze assets and halt corporate trading with two Tatmadaw conglomerates — Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanma Economic Holdings Limited. Both of these oversee a range of holdings in businesses that divert revenues directly to the Tatmadaw.

Myanmar’s trading partners can do more

This is only a starting point, though. To tighten the pressure on the junta, targeted sanctions need to be imposed against the full suite of entities identified by the UNFFM. These include groups like Justice for Myanmar and journalists.

The sanctions need to be accompanied by broader investigations into the Tatmadaw’s revenues from illicit trade. To counter this, Human Rights Watch has urged governments to enforce anti-money laundering and anti-corruption measures, including the freezing of assets.

Singapore’s central bank has reportedly told financial institutions to be on the look-out for suspicious transactions or money flows between the city-state and Myanmar. Singapore is the largest foreign investor in the country.

Moreover, for maximum impact, targeted sanctions need to be imposed not just by the West, but by Myanmar’s largest trading partners in the region. This includes Singapore, along with China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Thailand.

Business leaders in these countries have historically had the closest ties with Myanmar’s military and business elites. But their participation in a multi-national targeted sanctions strategy is not out of the question. For one, this would not require direct intervention within Myanmar, something they are loath to do. Imposing targeted sanctions would merely entail enforcing their domestic laws regarding appropriate business practices.

Read more:
Resistance to military regime in Myanmar mounts as nurses, bankers join protests – despite bloody crackdown

International action is becoming more urgent. Beyond the concerns about the killings of unarmed civilians, there is a larger issue of the violence extending beyond Myanmar’s borders. There are growing fears the crisis could turn Myanmar into a failed state, driving refugee flows capable of destabilising the entire region.

In short, this is no longer an “internal” matter for Myanmar — it is becoming a transnational problem that will affect regional peace and security. The tools are there to stop the financial flows to the Tatmadaw and curtail their operations. It is critical to act before the Myanmar crisis grows into an international disaster.The Conversation

Jonathan Liljeblad, Senior Lecturer, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s plan for manufacturing missiles to be accelerated

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe government is speeding up the establishment of its planned $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise, which aims to boost Australia’s own defence production capabilities as it faces a deteriorating security outlook.

The defence department will now start the process of selecting a strategic industry partner to operate a sovereign guided weapons manufacturing capability to produce missiles and other weapons on the government’s behalf .

The new enterprise will specialise in guided missiles for use across the defence force.

The increasing assertiveness of China and Australia’s deteriorating relations with that country, as well as the lessons of COVID, have strengthened the push for greater sovereign capability.

Scott Morrison, who will announce the acceleration in Adelaide on Wednesday, said in a statement, “Creating our own sovereign capability on Australian soil is essential to keep Australians safe, while also providing thousands of local jobs in businesses right across the defence supply chain.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, having the ability for self-reliance, be it vaccine development or the defence of Australia, is vital to meeting our own requirements in a changing global environment.”

Peter Dutton, who was only sworn into the defence portfolio on Tuesday, said the announcement “builds on the agreement the Morrison government achieved at AUSMIN last year to pursue options to encourage bilateral defence trade and to advance initiative that diversify and harness our industry co-operation”.

Dutton said Australia would work closely with the United States “to ensure that we understand how our enterprise can best support both Australia’s needs and the growing needs of our most important military partner”.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a defence think tank, estimates Australian will spend $100 billion in the next 20 years on buying missiles and guided weapons.

ASPI defence expert Michael Shoebridge wrote in June last year:

“The ADF gets its missiles from US, European and Israeli manufacturers, at the end of long global supply chains. And, when the home nations of these manufacturers need missiles urgently themselves, their needs can get in the way of meeting ours […]

“The deteriorating strategic environment in our region, combined with the heightened understanding of how vulnerable extended global supply chains are, means the current situation has become unacceptable.”

Companies that could be a potential partners include Raytheon Australia, Lockheed Martin Australia, Kongsberg, and BAE Systems Australia. The partner will need to be suitable to work with the US and have strong links with Australian supply chain businesses.

The new Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter released a National Manufacturing Defence Roadmap on Tuesday, for a 10 year plan for investment.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s plan for $15 billion ‘reconstruction fund’ to promote post-pandemic manufacturing economy

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA Labor government would set up a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to promote manufacturing in Australia’s post pandemic economy.

The fund, to be announced on Tuesday as Labor begins its national conference, would partner with private investors and superannuation funds, which have access to large reserves of capital.

It would be aimed at helping build new industries and boosting existing ones. The $15 billion would be provided through a combination of loans, equity, co-investment and guarantees.

In a statement on the plan, Anthony Albanese and shadow minister for national reconstruction. Richard Marles, say the pandemic has highlighted the serious deficiencies Australia has in its manufacturing capabilities and its ability to be globally competitive in innovation and technology.

“If there is anything that COVID has taught us, it is the need for Australia to be a place which makes things – to have our own industrial and manufacturing capabilities, our own sovereign capabilities,” they say.

“From commercialising our historic capacity in science and innovation to boosting the development of medical devices and pharmaceuticals, through to reviving our capability to make cars, trains and ships, today’s announcement will support the businesses in these industries to secure the capital and investment to grow and prosper,” Albanese and Marles say.

The fund would concentrate on a range of strategic industries. These would include resources value adding; food and beverage processing; transport; medical science; renewables and low emission technologies; defence capability, and enabling capabilities across engineering, data science and software development.

Objectives of the fund would be to:

  • reduce the risk of investment in innovation
  • help firms grow by support for new investment especially in regional areas
  • strengthen self-sufficiency and industrial diversity in Australia by assisting businesses build national sovereignty and decrease the risks in their supply chains
  • support regional developoment by enhancing private sector investment in industries of the future.

Labor would model the fund on entities such as the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which was set up by the Labor government. It has invested billions to promote the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies.

Labor’s proposed fund would have an independent board.

Assistance it provided would need to return rates above the government borrowing rate.

The $15 billion capital provided would be off-budget.

Labor points out that according to the OECD Australia ranks last in manufacturing self-sufficiency among industrialised countries. It produces just over two thirds of what it uses.

The pandemic as well as the deepening Australia-China tensions have increased debate over the past year about the need for greater self-sufficiency especially in certain key areas, such as medical supplies. The pandemic led to supply chain problems which are still being experienced for some products.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison sets up his own women’s network but will it produce the policy goods?

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison has brought two “lenses” to his ministerial reshuffle.

The first is the one that drove the shakeup initially: dealing with the problems presented by Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds.

The second, the “lens” on which Morrison is now primarily focused, is all about trying to manage the deep problem he and his government are facing with women’s anger and issues.

Minister for Women Marise Payne called it a “gender equality lens”.

Morrison wants to make his “women’s problems” – to the extent they can be addressed at a policy level – a whole-of-government challenge.

The situations of Porter and Reynolds have been resolved more or less as expected. Porter goes from the nation’s first law officer to minister for industry, science and technology. Reynolds has lost defence to Peter Dutton and moved to government services and the NDIS.

It’s an inevitable comedown for both, softened by remaining in cabinet. Reynolds, struggling in defence even before the Brittany Higgins maelstrom broke, should be relieved at the move, although service delivery is exacting. Porter’s current preoccupation is with clearing his name, the main objective of his defamation action against the ABC.

Morrison likes creating structures. Remember his decision to set up the national cabinet, and then make it permanent. In his reshuffle, he’s used a combination of promotions and new machinery to send his message about the importance he now places on women’s issues, and to boost the government’s policy clout in relation to them.

When it comes to promotions and extra responsibilities, it’s a case of almost every woman (leaving aside Reynolds) getting a prize, with some being significant winners.

Michaelia Cash becomes Australia’s second female attorney-general (after Labor’s Nicola Roxon). She also assumes the other part of Porter’s old empire – industrial relations.

Karen Andrews, who’s been outspoken during the government’s present crisis, moves to the key national security area of home affairs.

Melissa Price stays in defence industry but returns to cabinet, taking the number of women there back to seven.

Anne Ruston is elevated into the leadership group, and has minister for women’s safety (which she already deals with) added to the title of her families and social services portfolio.

The full proposed Morrison ministry can be found here.

Further down the totem pole, Jane Hume and Amanda Stoker have additional, women-related, responsibilities buttoned onto existing jobs. Hume takes on women’s economic security, while Stoker becomes assistant minister for women, and assistant minister for industrial relations.

In his structural change, Morrison has erected an edifice that simultaneously boosts and dilutes the role of Payne, who has been widely criticises for under-performing in recent weeks.

He and Payne will co-chair a new “cabinet taskforce” that will include all the women in the ministry.

It is to “to drive my government’s agenda and response to these key issues involving women’s equality, women’s safety, women’s economic security, women’s health and well-being”.

Also on this group will be Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.

Payne would be “effectively amongst her female colleagues, the ‘prime Minister for Women’, holding the prime, ministerial responsibilities in this area as the Minister for Women,” Morrison enthused, a description even he quickly thought he should amend to “the primary Minister for Women […] just to ensure that no one gets too carried away with puns”.

“It is her job to bring together this great talent and experience across not just the female members of my cabinet team and the outer ministry and executive, but to draw also in the important contributions, especially in areas such as health and services and aged care and other key important roles that go so much to women’s well-being in this country,” Morrison said.

The taskforce will both work up ideas and apply the “equality lens” to other policies coming up through government.

Whether this super-coordinating role will end up augmenting the power of Payne as minister for women, or watering it down, will only become clear over time.

What’s clear now is that the government needs louder, more active female ministerial voices speaking out on issues and promoting the government’s case.

While there was a good argument for moving Payne from the women’s portfolio, including her heavy load as foreign minister, Morrison chose to leave her there.

This is typical Morrison – not wanting to give ground to critics, and also staying loyal.

But surely he has told her she will have to step out more in the media – unless all the other women are supposed to fill the gap she’s left in the public discourse. By giving women’s issues formal stakes in so many portfolios, Morrison has also provided these ministers with licences to speak.

The real test of the effectiveness of this reshuffle on the women’s front will be policy outcomes – immediately, in next month’s budget, and then post budget and in the policies the government takes to the election.

The reshuffle, however, doesn’t relieve the immediate pressures on Morrison, who will continue to be hammered over condoning disgraced Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming remaining in the parliamentary party while welcoming his intention not to seek preselection again.

With a knife edge majority, Morrison doesn’t want to lose a parliamentary number to the crossbench, so he’ll defend the indefensible. For his part Laming, on health leave and supposed to be concentrating on the counselling he’s undertaking to gain “empathy”, was on radio on Monday defending his actions.

He insisted the photo he’d taken showing a woman’s underwear was
“completely dignified” – a working woman “kneeling in an awkward position, and filling a fridge with an impossible amount of stock, which clearly wasn’t going to fit in the fridge”.

As his fellow Coalition MPs will tell you, Laming’s a very strange cat.

Meanwhile the allegations keep coming.

Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster has complained about the behaviour of a Coalition colleague towards her in the chamber just last week. The incident wasn’t serious (compared with everything else going on), and the man apologised.

Interviewed on the ABC, Webster said, “When I told my husband, he asked the question, ‘Where has he been? Under a rock?’”

Indeed. Probably with more than a few of his colleagues.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Vaccine rollout has enough problems without ministers politicking

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraCOVID-19 has an evil sense of humour. Despite Australia being mostly free of community transmission, it managed to spoil Christmas for quite a few Sydneysiders and their families and now it’s struck just before the Easter holidays.

The Brisbane lockdown was lifted but many people cancelled plans, and the Byron Bay Bluesfest was called off.

The latest disruption, though limited, reinforced the importance of rolling out the vaccine as fast as possible.

If you believe Health Minister Greg Hunt, that’s going fabulously – even though we’re way behind the original targets. If you believe the NSW and Queensland governments, and many people’s lived experience, it’s another story.

NSW reacted furiously to Wednesday’s News Corps tabloid report, sheeted home to Hunt, that focused on states failing to get enough shots into arms. Queensland was riled when senior Nationals minister David Littleproud condemned the states for doing “three-fifths of bugger all”.

Federal “spin” and blame shifting were red rags to the two states; NSW health minister Brad Hazzard declared “I’m as angry as I have ever been in this 15 months of war against this virus”. The federal government was criticised for the lumpy and unpredictable distribution of vaccine supplies.

Hunt and Scott Morrison sought to soothe; things calmed somewhat.

Morrison didn’t hide his anger at Hunt and Littleproud for their provocation.

The feds like to say the rollout is “not a race,” because we don’t have a “burning platform” like many countries.

Read more:
4 ways Australia’s COVID vaccine rollout has been bungled

But – apart from the risk of bigger breakouts – the slower the rollout, the longer we endure spot lockdowns, a closed international border, and a brake on the economy.

In the coming weeks and months, Morrison will be grappling with two very tangible issues and another which is much more elusive and for him, especially difficult. They are the rollout, ensuring the economic settings are optimal, and the “women problem”.

The rollout is basically about administration. It should get better. The vaccine shortages will ease with the ramp up of local production. The efficiency on the ground will presumably improve but how fast and to what extent remain open questions. The job will get done, but the October deadline for jabs all round looks beyond reach.

Behind the scenes, another job is in full swing – work on next month’s budget; like the rollout it is complex, albeit in a completely different and much more familiar way.

This budget, like its October predecessor, is being crafted against a backdrop of high uncertainty.

The Australian economy is recovering remarkably well from the COVID recession, climbing back up that V shape. But with JobKeeper ended, and people on JobSeeker receiving less money than before, there are big unknowns. How many businesses will close? How many workers will lose jobs? What will be the economy-wide effect on spending?

The government gets “real time” information; even so, it is framing the budget in rapidly changing conditions. On the positive side, the latest numbers indicate a better fiscal position than at the December update, which had a deficit forecast of just under $200 billion for this financial year.

Economist Chris Richardson, from Deloitte Access Economics, says in preparing the budget the government will need to consider where more “sticky tape” is required (like that already applied to the aviation and tourism industries), and what should be done about the failed JobMaker scheme (which was designed to encourage the employment of younger people).

Richardson also argues the government needs to move towards the Reserve Bank’s position in what it says about unemployment. It has said it won’t make budget repair a priority until unemployment, presently 5.8%, is “comfortably” under 6%. But the bank wants to see unemployment down to 4.5%, which Richardson maintains is the rate the government should be embracing.

Read more:
The true cost of the government’s changes to JobSeeker is incalculable. It’s as if it didn’t learn from Robodebt

The big new spending will be on aged care, with its huge challenges. Hunt took on major responsibility for this in the December reshuffle – the rollout problem must be eating into the attention he can devote to the policy drafting.

The October budget was criticised for not containing enough for women; now Morrison has his new “lens” on them. That comes with the danger of disappointing expectations.

One of Morrison’s many problems in dealing with the women’s issue is that it extends beyond policy although good policies, such as initiatives addressing workplace sexual harassment, are vital.

Since Brittany Higgins’ allegation she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office, the country has seen the eruption of a social movement that is about feelings, perceptions and attitudes as much as about specific policies.

It is about the behaviour of men – in parliament house, and everywhere else.

While bad behaviour exists on all sides of politics, the recent revelations have mainly been about the Coalition.

Last week saw the spotlight turned on Liberal MP Andrew Laming, accused of trolling constituents and taking an inappropriate photo of a woman. Laming says he won’t seek another term, but Morrison isn’t wanting to banish him to the crossbench, which would wipe out the government’s majority.

Although the allegations against him are far less serious, trenchant critics would say he should follow the example of NSW Nationals MP Michael Johnsen, who has resigned from state parliament after an accusation (which he vehemently denies) that he raped a sex worker.

Another bad week for Morrison could have been worse if parliament had been sitting, when Laming would have been front and centre. But this is only a temporary reprieve: if Laming is still on the government benches come budget week, he’ll be a distraction.

The national debate sparked by Higgins and escalated by the historical rape allegation against Christian Porter – strenuously denied by him – is seeing tough conversations in many Australian households.

It would be fascinating to know what impact it is having on Morrison’s own close-knit family, which is mostly female, including his wife, two young daughters and his mother. We heard early on about Jenny’s advice, but how’s the kitchen table discussion going?

Read more:
Yes, politicians need to change the way they treat women. But so, too, do some in the media

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over

Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.

Read more:
Nato-Russia tensions: what a Biden administration can do to lower the temperature

China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.

Read more:
Biden faces the world: 5 foreign policy experts explain US priorities – and problems – after Trump

Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.

Read more:
Australia’s strategic blind spot: China’s newfound intimacy with once-rival Russia

Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Israel elections: Netanyahu may hold on to power, but political paralysis will remain

Ran Porat, Monash UniversityAt the end of another round of elections, the fourth in just two years, Israel still cannot break away from debilitating political stalemate.

This means there will now be weeks of daunting coalition negotiations between parties chained to pre-election promises not to share a government with a particular party or prime minister – specifically, Israel’s longest-serving leader, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu.

Depressingly for Israelis, election number five is lurking in the shadows before the end of 2021.

The pro- and no-Bibi camps

This campaign seemed like another referendum on Netanyahu. Currently on trial for corruption, the PM has been facing months of mass demonstrations against him.

With his back to the wall, Netanyahu was able to sustain his popularity within his base by personally taking credit for Israel’s world-leading coronavirus vaccine rollout, as well as the diplomatic achievement of forging ties with several Arab and Muslim states in the “Abraham Accords”.

Netanyahu’s supporters celebrate after first exit poll results are released at his party’s headquarters.
Ariel Schalit/AP

The coalition of right-wing and religious parties supporting the PM has captured 52 seats of the Knesset’s (parliament) 120 seats in this week’s election, short of the 61 seats needed to form a government.

With 30 seats, Netanyahu’s Likud party retains its status as the biggest in Israel. Problematically, a small but essential element of this bloc is the extreme-right racist party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish power”) and the anti-LGBTQI faction Noam.

Naftali Bennett, the leader of the national religious party Yamina (“Rightwards”), refused to commit to support or reject Netanyahu. However, he effectively tied himself to the PM when he promised not to join a government headed by the centrist politician Yair Lapid, who leads the anti-Bibi bloc.

The anti-Netanyahu camp secured 57 seats — not enough to dethrone the PM. Moreover, no single party leader is considered a possible challenger to Netanyahu, and the parties in this group profoundly advocate contradictory policies.

This bloc includes the second-largest party in the Knesset, Yesh Atid (“There is a future”), led by Lapid, with 17 seats. There are myriad other parties on the political right, left and centre in this group, each with between six and eight seats apiece.

Read more:
Stark choice for Israel as voters head to polls for fourth time in two years

Israeli Arabs’ political power

The biggest story of the election is the paradoxical shift in the political power of Israeli Arabs, who may become the grain of rice that could tip the scales.

On the one hand, internal divisions and a low voter turnout among Arab Israelis resulted in fewer seats being won by Arab-led parties in the Knesset. The main culprit for this downturn is the leader of the Islamic conservative United Arab List Ra’am party, Mansour Abbas, who gambled on running independently from the Joint List of Arab parties. As a result, the Joint List shrank to six seats, from 15.

Indirect Arab representation came in the form of Zionist parties such as Labor and Meretz, who introduced Arab candidates in their lists in hope of capturing Arab voters.

More dramatically, the Ra’am party, which captured four seats, transformed almost overnight the political status of Arabs in Israel from unwanted to a coveted partner, wooed by both blocs.

Read more:
Israel election: why is Palestine no longer an important campaign issue?

The party is now potentially a “kingmaker” that can determine the nature of Israel’s next government. Its agenda is focused on issues important to Arab Israelis, such as crime, violence and funding shortages, instead of, for example, the Palestinian question.

Abbas said he is open to joining a Zionist government or at least supporting it from the outside, even with Netanyahu as PM, if his demands for legal changes and extra funding for Arab municipalities are met.

However, Abbas seems closer to the anti-Bibi bloc, as Ra’am and the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit mutually disqualify each other as coalition partners.

Mansour Abbas could be a ‘kingmaker’ in the formation of the next government.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

No change in international policy

Domestically, Israelis want a government that will address mounting social tensions, for example, between secular and ultra-orthodox Jews, exacerbated over the disregard among some of the latter for the government’s coronavirus guidelines.

Internationally, many yearn for a stable government in Jerusalem after two years of uncertainty. US President Joe Biden may prefer someone other than Netanyahu, given the animosity between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu when Biden was vice president.

Yet, the special alliance between the US and Israel remains strong, despite any personal antagonism.

The Biden administration is a staunch supporter of the two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gerald Herbert/AP

The Palestinians expressed indifference after the election and little hope for a change in Israel’s policy towards them.

They are facing their own parliamentary and presidential elections this year, which could affect the reign of 86-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, the longtime president. These elections may embolden or empower Abbas’ main opposition, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and many Western countries.

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The outcome of another key Middle Eastern election, Iran’s vote in June, seems predetermined. The next Iranian president will likely be a hardline ideologue affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons will continue to dominate the dynamics of the region.

Given all this, the aggressive Israeli policy set by Netanyahu of promising not to allow Iranian nuclear weapons and curbing their influence across the Middle East will continue, no matter who is the leader in Jerusalem.

Such a position vis-à-vis Tehran will also be positively welcomed by the Persian Gulf kingdoms, led by Iran’s arch-nemesis, Saudi Arabia. This will likely contribute to the tacit and open ties these countries have been forging with Israel.The Conversation

Ran Porat, Affiliate Researcher, The Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.