What a Biden presidency means for world trade and allies like Australia



Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Lisa Toohey, University of Newcastle

Back in March, Joe Biden lamented “the international system that the United States so carefully constructed is coming apart at the seams”.

“As president,” he declared, “I will take immediate steps to renew US democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world.”

Among the closest allies of the US, none arguably has more at stake in Biden making good on his promises than Australia.

The international system Australia wants repaired is one defined by rules and consensus. As a middle-ranking power, it has long recognised its national interests are best protected by international agreements and the rule of law, rather than one in which might makes right.




Read more:
Why the Australia-China relationship is unravelling faster than we could have imagined


At the heart of Australia’s desired international trade system are multilateral trade deals, rather than bilateral deals which tend to favour the stronger nation, and a strong international authority – namely the World Trade Organisation – to negotiate rules and adjudicate disputes.

Donald Trump’s presidency undermined both. His “America First”
polices were grounded in grievances about other nations playing the US for “suckers”. He obstructed the WTO, turned his back on multilateral deals and started trade wars.

A Biden presidency promises a return to multilateralism. But it remains to be seen how it approaches the WTO.

Trump’s war on multilateralism

As president, Trump rapidly undid decades of mutilateral trade negotiations.

In his first week in office he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral trade deal intended to strengthen economic ties between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam and the US. (The agreement was modified and signed without the US as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.)

Trump’s trade war with China was also an exercise in power over principle. Both the escalating tariffs and the truce struck in January, known as the “Phase One Agreement”, repudiated established free-trade principles.

Donald Trump, holding the Phase One trade agreement signed with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on January 15 2020.
Donald Trump, holding the Phase One trade agreement signed with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on January 15 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP

Along with commitments to reduce “structural barriers”, China is required to buy an extra US$200 billion in specified American goods and services over two years in return for the US cutting tariffs on $US110 billion in Chinese imports.

This worries Australian exporters.

The US shopping list for China includes more American seafood, grain, wine, fruit, meat and energy – all markets in which Australia is a significant exporter to China. As former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd asked at the time the deal was signed:

How can the US pursue another $US32 billion of American beef, wheat, cotton and seafood – all listed in the agreement – without Australian exporters becoming collateral damage?

The deal, as the Minerals Council of Australia rightly noted, undermined “the principles of free trade which have underpinned Australia’s bipartisan approach to trade policy for many decades”.




Read more:
Are Trump’s tariffs legal under the WTO? It seems not, and they are overturning 70 years of global leadership


Blocking the World Trade Organisation

The Trump administration has also continued the slow strangulation of the World Trade Organisation, on the grounds it doesn’t serve American interests.

The US has blocked every recent appointment and reappointment to the WTO’s Appellate Body, which hears appeals to WTO adjudications. Appointments require the agreement of all of the WTO’s 164 member nations, and the Appellate Body requires three judges to hear appeals. US obstruction reduced the number of judges to just one by December 2019, meaning it simply cannot function.

It’s important to note that US antagonism to the WTO predated Trump. The Obama administration also blocked appointments it considered would not sufficiently represent US preferences. But the Trump administration certainly upped the obstructionism.

Indeed, just days before the 2020 election it blocked the appointment of former Nigerian finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to head the World Trade Organisation. A highly regarded development economist with a 25-year career at the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala is widely considered to be an outstanding candidate to lead the WTO. The United States stood alone in objecting to her appointment.

What will change under Biden?

Dropping opposition to Okonjo-Iweala and other appointments so the WTO’s processes can function would be an important symbolic and practical first step for Biden. It would reassure Australia and others that global rules still matter.




Read more:
Arrogance destroyed the World Trade Organisation. What replaces it will be even worse


How quickly, and on what terms, Biden returns the US to multilateralism remains to be seen.

He has acknowledged the importance of deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to ensure an increasingly powerful China “doesn’t write the rules of the road for the world”. But he has also pledged to not enter any more international agreements “until we have made major investments in our workers and infrastructure”.

For Australia – and other US allies – it is important that the US return to the multilateral negotiating table sooner rather than later. For global stability, long-term interests need to override the temptation of short-term expediency.

For “America to lead again” there’s a long and difficult diplomatic road ahead. The international trade system and the WTO are not perfect, but a world without rules would be far worse.The Conversation

Lisa Toohey, Professor of Law, University of Newcastle

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

Biden will place Asia back at the centre of foreign policy – but will his old-school diplomacy still work?



Carolyn Kaster/AAP

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

The election of Joe Biden represents not only a repudiation of Donald Trump and his divisiveness, but an embrace of centrism and a mainstream approach to government and policy.

On the global stage, as at home, Biden is likely to follow a familiar script. Most obviously, he will embrace America’s alliances and strengthen its engagement with multilateral institutions. Rhetorically at least, he will give human rights and democracy a much more prominent role in Washington’s approach to the world.

In short, he is likely to pursue a global role much more in line with how the US has acted globally since the end of the Cold War. While it might be tempting to assume Biden will run foreign policy as a continuation of the Obama administration, there will be some points of continuity but also key changes. And some very significant challenges will remain.

Asia, and particularly China, in focus

One area of continuity, with both Obama and Trump, will be the centrality of Asia to US global strategy. This is in part for the same reasons his predecessors made the region a priority: it will be the most consequential part of the world for decades to come. But it is also because stretched US finances will mean the country will be unable to sustain a significant European presence or the kinds of policies it has pursued in the Middle East.

For Obama, the “pivot” to Asia was a choice about where to focus efforts. For Biden, the scarcity of resources will focus the mind on Asia. It will also mean a scaling back of US activity in those other theatres.

The biggest foreign policy question facing Biden will be how to approach the People’s Republic of China. Under Trump, the US moved toward a posture, on paper at any rate, of full-spectrum strategic competition. The 2017 National Security Strategy described China as intent on eroding Washington’s global advantage, and the US would reorient the instruments of national power to contest that effort.

In practice, Trump’s China policy was incoherent and inconsistent. Trump himself pursued a peculiar relationship with Xi Jinping, even allegedly encouraging the herding of millions of Uyghurs into concentration camps.




Read more:
Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won’t be an easy fix, even if Biden wins


Biden is unlikely to move US China policy back to its “engage but hedge” setting of previous years – the mood in the US has hardened decisively, and not only because of Trump. However, the way the US competes with China is likely to change and there will be a need for co-operation. Biden won’t wind back the trade conflict significantly and moves to delink the two economies will continue, particularly in high-technology areas.

The US will continue to work to limit China’s ambitions to change Asia’s regional order, but it is likely to try to build on some areas of common interest to improve co-operation. The aim will be to advance their shared goals on that issue but also mitigate against the more damaging consequences of geopolitical competition.

This is most like to occur in relation to climate change. The Biden administration will put a very high premium on this vast threat and to advance that agenda meaningfully will require collaboration with China. So expect a more moderated approach to competition with the PRC but not an end to contestation in the region.

… and North Korea, too

North Korea was the scene of Trump’s most high-profile foreign policy gambit. While nuclear testing has stopped, it is increasingly clear that, in spite of protestations to the contrary from the president’s Twitter account, North Korea has a functional nuclear weapon capability.

The US-DPRK relationship, such as it is, has become highly personalised and the move away from Trump raises questions as to whether North Korea will revert to its bombastic past form – it has described Biden as a “rabid dog”. The most likely scenario will be a Biden administration that learns to live with a nuclear North Korea and, in contrast to Trump, works closely with its allies in South Korea to co-ordinate their approach.




Read more:
‘America First’ is no more, but can president-elect Biden fix the US reputation abroad?


Resuming normal transmission

The return to normality in Washington will greatly hearten America’s allies. They will no longer be ignored or, in some cases, overtly disparaged by the president. The Biden administration will place a strong emphasis on the role allies play in its foreign policy ambitions. It will value the alliances, rather than debase them, and use the reach they allow and political support they create to drive a more strategic approach to managing China.

But this greater value will not come cost-free. A financially constrained US will expect allies to do more to advance their shared security interests than they have in the past. This will be most evident in Asia, where treaty allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea will be under renewed pressure to play a more expansive, risky and expensive role in the region’s geopolitics. For Australia this will be a challenge in terms of both its capacity and its risk appetite.

A Biden presidency will restore dignity to US leadership and bring a much more integrated approach to managing its global interests. It will also act in stable and predictable ways.

But Biden will inherit an America whose power and credibility are in decline. The global institutions that the US built to stabilise international order and advance its interests are in a parlous state, and not only because of the attacks of the Trump presidency. It faces a global stage with ambitious emerging powers that have shrewdly used the incoherence of the Trump presidency to advance their position.

Biden’s election symbolises a return to orthodox ways in Washington. His instincts, and that of his foreign policy team, will be in line with how the US has approached the world for many decades.

We know the Trump approach has undermined US power and prestige. What remains to be seen is whether Biden’s instincts are the right ones in a dangerous and unstable global environment.




Read more:
The China-US rivalry is not a new Cold War. It is way more complex and could last much longer


The Conversation


Nick Bisley, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

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

Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won’t be an easy fix, even if Biden wins



ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Hui Feng, Griffith University

Few would have thought a US-China relationship marked by relative stability for half a century would be upended in just four years.

But US President Donald Trump’s privileged tour of the Forbidden City in November 2017 by Chinese President Xi Jinping now looks like it happened in a bygone era, given the turbulence in the bilateral relationship since then.

The shift in the US’s China policy is no doubt one of the major legacies of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, alongside a renewed peace process in the Middle East.

When Trump’s daughter Ivanka said at the Republican National Convention that “Washington has not changed Donald Trump, Donald Trump has changed Washington”. This would certainly include its handling of China.

Trump was the first US president to be given a state dinner in the Forbidden City.
Andrew Harnik/AP

From strategic partner to competitor

Although China’s rise had been a concern of the previous Bush and Obama administrations, it was the Trump administration that transformed the entire narrative on China from strategic partner to “strategic competitor”, starting with its National Defence Strategy report released just one month after Trump’s 2017 China visit.

This read, in part,

China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reorder the region in its favour.

This new way of thinking deemed the US’s decades-long engagement strategy, deployed since President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, a failure.

US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast in 1972.
Wikimedia Commons

Prior to Trump, the US had sought to encourage China to grow into a responsible stakeholder of a rules-based international order.

But the Trump administration believes such “goodwill” engagement has been exploited by China’s “all-of-nation long-term strategy” of asserting its power in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to the Trump administration, this is centred on “predatory economics” in trade and technology, political coercion of less-powerful democracies and Chinese military advancement in the region.




Read more:
As the US election looms, Trump is running as hard against China as he is against Biden


Trump takes a unilateral, transactional approach

Trump’s sledgehammer approach to the US-China relationship has been problematic at best.

For one, Trump viewed the relationship transactionally, hardly scratching the surface of the deeper structural issues — such as state subsidies and labour standards — that exist between the countries.

He believed he could reduce the massive US trade deficits with China through a “big, beautiful monster” of a trade deal and this would be a silver bullet for both the economy and his re-election prospects.

This explains all the flip-flops during the drawn-out trade negotiations, during which Beijing largely managed to use the deal as bait to keep larger strategic issues off the table.

China and the US signed a trade deal in January, but relations have only soured further since then.
ERIK S. LESSER/EPA

Moreover, Trump’s policies toward China, at least on the trade front, were unilateral. Instead of finding common ground with allies, Washington angered and deserted its allies by invoking punitive tariffs (Canada), renegotiating trade agreements to the US advantage (Japan and South Korea) and reducing its security commitments under NATO.

At the same time, the Trump administration relinquished US leadership in global institutions dealing with trade, climate change and human rights. As a result, the US lost its allies when it needed them most and gave China a new platform on the international stage.




Read more:
The China-US rivalry is not a new Cold War. It is way more complex and could last much longer


China hawks get the upper hand

Trump’s China policy has been further mired by competing interests in his cabinet.

According to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump’s team was “badly fractured” in its handling of the trade war against China and its wider China policy.

The spectrum of voices in the cabinet ranged from China moderates such as Treasurer Steven Mnuchin and senior advisor Jared Kushner to sceptics such as US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to more radical China bashers such as Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

China hawks like Mike Pompeo have become increasingly vocal in their anti-China rhetoric in the past year.
Andrew Harnik/AP

As Trump became increasingly frustrated with a recalcitrant Xi reneging on “the deal” in mid-2019, followed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the China hawks in the administration gained the upper hand.

Although this led to a more coherent approach to addressing the strategic challenges posed by China, the result was more direct confrontations with Beijing and heightened tensions.

The past year has marked a low point in relations with tit-for-tat actions on a number of fronts, including

The China hawks in the Trump administration now advocate empowering the Chinese people to change the Communist Party’s behaviour — just shy of calling for a regime change in China.

China becomes more assertive under Xi

Beijing was largely wrong-footed in dealing with a maverick US president so different from previous administrations it had handled with ease.

However, it would be wrong to assign blame for the deteriorating relationship on Washington alone. It takes two to tango.

As Xi has consolidated his power, China has

The list goes on. And these were not provoked by the US.

China has increased its military exercises near Taiwan in recent weeks, including a simulated invasion of the island.
Taiwan Ministry of National Defense/AP

A new president won’t fix the relationship

It is extraordinary that what started as Trump’s petty complaints on trade with China eventually escalated into what many call “a new Cold War”.

Trump may not have succeeded in completely changing Washington, but his administration has at least shifted the public narrative and strategic view of China among the US elites.

Getting tough on China has become a source of rare bipartisan consensus in a polarised political climate. In fact, even if Trump loses the election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, a fundamental U-turn in US-China relations is still unlikely.

China could face more challenges with a Biden presidency than another four years of Trump.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Democratic Party platform contains similarly harsh criticisms of China. Biden has also written:

if China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property.

However, Biden does suggest he would ditch tariffs as means in securing a fairer trade deal with China. And he wants to build a

united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations.

So, if Beijing was hoping the upcoming election would fix its Trump problem by bringing someone new into the White House, it shouldn’t hold its breath.

The US-China relationship has been drastically changed by Trump — and this won’t be undone easily.




Read more:
October surprise: how foreign policy can shape US presidential elections


The Conversation


Hui Feng, ARC Future Fellow and Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

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

Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Speculation China may be seeking to lower the temperature in its fractious dealings with Australia appears to be premature.

This follows confirmation that Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian thermal and metallurgical coal.

On top of this, Australian cotton exporters have been advised exports will be cut next year, a blow to a business worth about $2 billion annually.

Australian mining giant BHP has received “deferment requests” for its coal shipments, according to the company’s chairman, Ken MacKenzie.

On the face of it, this is the most damaging trade reprisal by Beijing against what it perceives to be Australia’s hostile attitudes to it in tandem with its security partner, the United States.

It seems more than coincidental that just days after Australia took part in a meeting in Tokyo of the Quad (previously known as the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue and involving Japan, Australia, India and the US), China took such action.

To put this in perspective, China has targeted Australia’s third-largest export commodity to the Chinese market behind natural gas and iron ore.




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It’s hard to tell why China is targeting Australian wine. There are two possibilities


In 2018-19, Australia’s exports to China of thermal coal for power stations and metallurgical coal for steel-making reached A$14.1 billion.

In the latest move in the Australia-China stoush, Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian thermal and metallurgical coal.
Dan Peled/AAP

The Quad session left no doubt about its purpose. It was squarely aimed at furthering a China containment strategy, and perhaps outlining an Asian NATO.

“Asian NATO” is the description Chinese propagandists apply to the Quad.

Australia finds itself in a grouping that includes a hawkish US Trump administration, a Japan that is understandably anxious about tensions in its own region, and an India that recently found itself in armed conflict with China on its Himalayan border.

In all of this big-power manoeuvring, Australia is the minnow. So it is more vulnerable to Chinese reprisals, trade and otherwise.

In a statement following the Quad, Foreign Minister Marise Payne avoided specific mention of China, but her message was clear. Australia was not hesitating to align itself with its Quad partners in confronting China. The statement said:

Ministers reiterated that states cannot assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This was aimed at China’s refusal to accept a mediation ruling under UNCLOS that contradicts its territorial claims in the South China Sea.




Read more:
China-Australia relations hit new low in spat over handling of coronavirus


However, even if Australia wanted to detach itself from a hard-edged American position on China, it would be difficult given the sort of rhetoric emanating from Washington.

For example, in a statement issued by US Secretary Mike Pompeo after his meeting with Payne, he said they had discussed “China’s malign activity in the region”.

Australia’s circumspect foreign minister would not have said this publicly.

The Pompeo remarks play into a Chinese narrative that Canberra is Washington’s appendage. In the conduct of its regional diplomacy in close co-ordination with the US, Australia tends not to challenge this narrative.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the ‘Quad’ talks in Tokyo.
Nicolas Datiche/EPA/AAP

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Pompeo said the Quad would enable participants to “build out a true security framework”. This will not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.

Nor would his description of the Quad as a “fabric” that could “counter the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party presents to all of us”.

Payne would not have gone this far.

In the wake of the Quad meeting, China’s strident mouthpiece, the Global Times, accused Canberra of using the gathering to “promote its own global status”. It asked:

[…] how much strength does Australia own with its limited economy and population? Moreover, if Canberra is bent on infuriating China, Australia will only face dire consequences.

This sort of bombast can be dismissed as simply another case of Beijing letting off steam at the expense of a country that is more vulnerable to Chinese pressures than other Quad members.

On the other hand, Australia’s vulnerability to trade penalties invites the question. What will come next? Will it be Australian wine exports to China worth more than A$1 billion a year, or will gas be the next target?

China has been picking off Australian exports over the past year as relations have soured.

It has slapped tariffs on barley, making the Australian commodity uncompetitive in the Chinese market. It has used non-tariff measures to stifle beef imports from five abattoirs. It has told Chinese students to look elsewhere for education opportunities. It has also discouraged Chinese tourists from visiting Australia.

The latter is moot, since the COVID-19 pandemic means inbound tourism has been stopped.

However, a series of trade reprisals should be deeply concerning for the Australian government as it wrestles with an economy hit hard by recession.

The last thing Australia needs in this environment is for its trading relationship with China to fall off a cliff.

The trade numbers underscore Australia’s unhealthy dependence on China.

In 2018-19, more than one-third, or A$134.7 billion worth, of Australia’s total merchandise exports went to China. On top of that Australia’s services business with China, mainly education, totalled A$18.5 billion.

In the first six months of this year, Australia’s exports to China neared 50% of total exports, mainly due to increased iron ore prices.

This level of business may be advantageous to Australia from a short-term perspective, but in the longer term such heavy reliance on a single market is highly undesirable.

It gives China the option of penalising Australia if Canberra’s policies do not correspond with Beijing’s wishes.

This is precisely what is happening now.

In the circumstances, it is hard to reach any other conclusion than that Beijing is targeting Australia as a means of conveying its displeasure that a regional united front appears to be forming to contain China’s ambitions.

In this context it is worth noting that despite a sometimes acrimonious “trade war” between the US and China, Beijing has, for the most part, refrained from penalising American business.

Of course, China exports far more to the US than it imports.

In the lead-up to the US election on November 3, Australia should be hoping for a Biden victory on the grounds that a more normal diplomatic environment will enable a reset of our relations with Beijing.

The alternative is further nasty surprises weighing on a critical trading relationship.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

The WHO’s coronavirus inquiry will be more diplomatic than decisive. But Australia should step up in the meantime



US Mission Geneva/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Anthony Zwi, UNSW

This week the World Health Assembly, the governing structure of the World Health Organization, endorsed a resolution that comprehensively addressed the global COVID-19 response.

Buried almost at the end, in the penultimate clause of the seven-page document, was the outcome several nations (including Australia) have been clamouring for – or a version of it, at least. The resolution calls for a global investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak, albeit not in the strongest of terms.

With noticeable caution, it calls on the WHO to:

…initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.




Read more:
The World Health Organization must answer these hard questions in its coronavirus inquiry


Specifically, the inquiry will investigate:

  1. the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal to deal with pandemics

  2. the functioning of the International Health Regulations – a globally agreed set of rules for controlling diseases across borders – and whether prior recommendations had been implemented

  3. WHO’s contributions to the United Nations’ disease control efforts

  4. the specific actions taken by WHO and the timeline of the pandemic response.

The inquiry will also seek recommendations to improve future pandemic preparedness and responses, including potentially strengthening WHO’s powers.

Vindication for Australia?

Some media and politicians hailed the resolution as a vindication of Australia’s call for a deep and searching independent investigation, with a particular spotlight on China’s role in containing the initial outbreak. But China has branded this claim “a joke”.

So what does the resolution actually add, and is it likely to deliver anything concrete?

It is a great example of well-constructed UN “bureaucratese”. It has something for everyone but demands little from anyone. But buried in the verbiage are some important considerations, which suggest how to forge the way ahead.

Australia can take comfort that there is to be an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation”. But it’s not exactly what Australia had in mind. It is left to the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (himself a target of criticism by the United States), to initiate such an enquiry. The timing is vague, although a report on progress (which presumably could include delaying the inquiry altogether), is expected a year from now.

Many countries, including China and several European states, argue such an investigation is needed, but not now. They would like the pandemic to be under control first. But when might that be? It might yet intensify, and could grind on for years. Even if an effective vaccine is developed, getting it to the people of the world will take years, and until almost everyone is vaccinated, nobody will be entirely safe.

Previous efforts

The WHO has previously set up investigations into the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 and the 2015 Ebola outbreak. These were led by respected, independent, evidence-driven global health leaders. So we can be confident the WHO has access to people of the right calibre to mount a rigorous and critical inquiry.

Australia will presumably also be gratified by another clause of the resolution, which calls on the WHO, alongside the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to identify the animal source of the virus and its route of introduction to the human population. Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has cited the risk of such “zoonotic diseases” as a major concern.

Sitting outside the broader evaluation of the WHO response to the pandemic, Australia should actively support an in-depth study of the interfaces between animal and human diseases. Facilitating and resourcing such an investigation in relation to COVID-19, leading to evidence-informed guidance, would be a solid global contribution.

Australia and others can also draw satisfaction from a clause in the resolution calling on all countries to provide the WHO with “timely, accurate and sufficiently detailed” information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Improving incentives to report early and promptly, such as the offer of financial support to offset any recommended travel or trade restrictions, would sharpen the International Health Regulations which frame such action.

Despite being the source of the pandemic, the resolution does not single out China (or indeed any country) for particular scrutiny or accountability. Several clauses refer instead to “national context”, a commonly used piece of diplomatic language that glosses over political contentions.




Read more:
Yes, we need a global coronavirus inquiry, but not for petty political point-scoring


With more than 5.1 million people infected and 332,000 deaths so far, the world needs cooperation, collaboration and coordination. The resolution offers important elements, and reinforces important values: balancing public health measures alongside human rights and economic concerns; transparency of information; solidarity with the people most affected; a focus on the most vulnerable; support to health workers; and global equity in access to testing, PPE and, ultimately, a vaccine.

All nations must play a part in the global push to curb COVID-19. The political blame games and the United States’ threat to cut funding to WHO are unhelpful.

The WHO should be supported and strengthened to puruse its vital work, and to overcome the weaknesses in current and previous epidemic responses. It needs to be better resourced, better structured and better respected to fulfil the roles we expect and demand of it.

Wealthy countries like Australia should do more to bolster multilateral institutions like the WHO as well as to support low and middle income country health systems. Since 2012 Australia’s official development assistance to health has fallen from almost A$1.8 billion in 2012 to A$1.1 billion in 2018. If Australia really wants its voice to be heard in a forum such as the World Health Assembly, it should step up and let others follow its example.The Conversation

Anthony Zwi, Professor of Global Health and Development, UNSW

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

Australia is spending less on diplomacy than ever before – and its influence is suffering as a result



Scott Morrison has heavily promoted his government’s ‘Pacific Step Up’, but it hasn’t invested the requisite funds to support the initiative diplomatically.
Darren England/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

Ten years ago, the Lowy Institute published a report on the state of Australia’s diplomatic capacity that painted a “sobering picture” of overstretched foreign missions and declining resources.

In the words of then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was quoted in the report:

Given the vast continent we occupy, the small population we have and our unique geo-strategic circumstances, our diplomacy must be the best in the world.

However, since then we haven’t put enough resources into our diplomacy as we should. New research by Asialink at the University of Melbourne published in Australian Foreign Affairs shows continuing under-investment in Australia’s diplomatic capacity, with funding for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) now at a new low of just 1.3% of the federal budget.

Still in deficit?

According to Allan Gyngell, the founding director of the Lowy Institute, the reason for its 2009 report, Diplomatic Deficit, was simple.

For Australia to do things in the world, it needs a number of assets. These include the instruments of foreign policy, including the overseas network of posts.

The idea for the report was to go beyond the usual suspects and involve people like business leaders in making the case for diplomacy. It made 24 recommendations, many of which were not specifically about funding. These have mostly been met.

Sadly, the situation is less positive for recommendations that called for additional funding. Since 2013, Australia’s total diplomatic, trade and aid budgets have fallen from 1.5% of the federal budget to 1.3%. In pure dollar terms, this is a fall from A$8.3 billion to A$6.7 billion.

At the same time, the budgets for defence, intelligence and security have ballooned. In the almost two decades since the September 11 terror attacks, the Department of Defence budget has increased by 291%, while the allocation for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has grown by 528% and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service by 578%.




Read more:
Methodology: finding the numbers on Australia’s foreign aid spending over time


Lost opportunities

This systematic under-funding of DFAT has run down Australia’s diplomatic capacity to the point that it is under-resourced to confront current foreign policy challenges.

To give an idea of what this means, these are some examples of what Australia’s diplomats do on a day-to-day basis:

  • consular work assisting Australians in trouble with law enforcement, such as visiting them in prison and advocating for fair treatment

  • counter-terrorism cooperation, working with overseas governments to build capacity and help keep Australian travellers safer

  • business promotion of Australian products and services and investment promotion for companies considering setting up operations in Australia

  • networking with influential politicians and business people to try to impact decisions that will affect Australians.

When Australia’s diplomats are asked to accomplish more with fewer resources, they have to cut back what they can do.




Read more:
As Australia’s soft power in the Pacific fades, China’s voice gets louder


Scaling back has a real effect on Australia’s influence. If Australia reduces the scholarships to bring future regional leaders to study in Australia, for instance, they’ll likely study and form bonds elsewhere.

If Australia reduces its investment in Indonesia’s education system, it will be dominated by the country’s other major funder, Saudi Arabia.

When Australia pulls back on its diplomacy, other countries take up the slack.

One impetus for the Morrison government’s much-vaunted “Pacific Step Up” was the realisation that cuts in aid and diplomacy had led to lessened Australian influence in its neighbourhood. In the words of one diplomat I spoke to, “China had been eating our lunch”.

The problem is that the “step up” did not come with increased funding for diplomats, meaning that DFAT’s new Office of the Pacific is being formed by taking staff and resources from other parts of department.

Getting back in black

We recommend an immediate increase in spending on diplomacy, trade and aid to 1.5% of the federal budget. This is closer to the spending of countries such as Canada (1.9%) and the Netherlands (4.3%), though still much lower than the challenging era after the second world war, when Australia was spending 9% of the federal budget on diplomacy, trade and aid.

If nothing else, DFAT should be granted an exemption from the efficiency dividend – an annual funding reduction for government agencies – until its budget rises to a more normal, historical level. This measure, usually levied at 1% to 1.25% of the administrative budget, reached 4% in 2012–13. With DFAT cut to the bone, the focus should be on increasing its budget, not constant cuts.




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Next government must find Australia’s place in a turbulent and rapidly changing world


The aspirations for our diplomacy must be upgraded beyond the bare minimum. Ten years on from Diplomatic Deficit, Australia must resist the magical thinking that foreign affairs and trade somehow happen by themselves. In the 2009 report, former DFAT Secretary Richard Woolcott is quoted as saying:

I do feel that the Department of Foreign Affairs … has been allowed to run down to a dangerously low level … we can’t go on doing more with less … these sorts of undertakings do need to be properly resourced.

If only this had changed in the last 10 years.


Mitchell Vandewerdt-Holman, a Master of International Relations student at the University of Melbourne, contributed to this report.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Director of Diplomacy at Asialink, University of Melbourne

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

America now solves problems with troops, not diplomats


Monica Duffy Toft, Tufts University

Is America a bully?

As a scholar, under the auspices of the Military Intervention Project, I have been studying every episode of U.S. military intervention from 1776 to 2017.

Historically, the U.S. advanced from a position of isolationism to one of reluctant intervenor, to global policeman. Based on my research since 2001, I believe that the U.S. has transformed itself into what many others view as a global bully.

I do not use the word lightly. But if, by definition, a bully is someone who seeks to intimidate or harm those it perceives as vulnerable, then that is an apt descriptor of contemporary U.S. foreign policy.

The decline of traditional diplomacy

Venezuela is indicative of a larger problem facing U.S. foreign policy, which currently favors troops over diplomats.

During a January press conference addressing the crisis in Venezuela, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s legal pad notes indicated that he felt that sending 5,000 American troops to Colombia was the preferred method to solving the presidential crisis in Venezuela.

What began as social, economic and political crisis under former president Hugo Chávez has continued into the presidency of Nicolás Maduro; who is now being pressured to step down through mass civic protests and constitutional challenges. The U.S. has struggled to respond effectively. Part of the difficulty is that the U.S. has not had an ambassador in Venezuela since July 2010.

Historically, as a reward for those with deep donor pockets, political appointees made up only 30% of U.S. ambassadorial appointments, leaving 70% of the posts to career diplomats. Under the current administration, that proportion is nearly reversed.

The professional corps of foreign affairs bureaucrats has also diminished. According to the Office of Personnel Management, under the Trump administration, the State Department lost some 12% of employees in the foreign affairs division. Its remaining diplomats are increasingly isolated from the formation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, with foreign policy being established much more often by the executive branch, and then implemented by the Department of Defense.

From the perspective of conservative U.S. political elites, U.S. diplomacy has not suffered. Rather, its quality has shifted from often hard-headed and hard-won negotiations among career diplomats in possession of in-depth local knowledge – what we political scientists think of as traditional diplomacy – to what I have elsewhere referred to as “kinetic diplomacy”: “diplomacy” by armed force unsupported by local knowledge.

Examples from recent history

Looking at the overall use of U.S. armed force abroad, it’s clear that the U.S. has escalated over time as compared to both small and great powers.

In our database, we note every hostile incident. We rate each country’s response on a scale from 1 to 5, from the lowest level of no militarized action (1), to threat to use force, display of force, use of force and, finally, war (5). In some cases, states respond; in others, they don’t.

Over time, the U.S. has taken to responding more and more at level 4, the use of armed force. Since 2000 alone, the U.S. has engaged in 92 interventions at level 4 or 5.

Consider Mexico. Data from the Military Intervention Project reveal that the U.S. has been far more likely to attempt to resolve conflicts with Mexico by the use of armed force than has Mexico in its disputes with the U.S.

Granted, the U.S. has become dramatically more powerful in military terms than Mexico, but power in the more traditional sense is not as critical in interstate relations as it once was. Increasingly, smaller states have been able to frustrate the objectives of larger ones.

Nevertheless, our data make clear why so many Mexicans had come to think of America as a belligerent bully.

With Mexico, for instance, the U.S. frequently resorted to the use of force. Often, Mexico didn’t even offer a response to armed U.S. action. From 1806 to 1923, Mexico engaged in 20 interactions with U.S. with varying levels of hostility, while the U.S. engaged in 25, and with higher levels.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. levels of hostility have continued to increase. In fact, during the Cold War, the U.S. was relatively less hostile. But once the Soviet Union and its bloc went bust, the U.S. began to engage its armed forces more intensely and more frequently.

Just as with Mexico, U.S. resort to force against Iran is consistently higher than Iran’s use against the U.S. While our database records 11 hostile engagements from Iran directed at the U.S. from 1953 to 2009, the U.S. intervened in Iran 14 times.

Of course, Mexico and Iran are relatively small powers compared to the U.S. But what of China?

As with Mexico and Iran, the U.S. resort to force is much more consistent and at higher levels toward China than vice versa. From 1854 to 2009, the U.S. intervened nearly twice as much in China as China did in the U.S. Our database records 17 incidents for China and 37 for the U.S.

Tanking US global reputation

Is kinetic diplomacy – bullying – an effective way to advance U.S. national interests?

In terms of the country’s global reputation, being a bully is not paying off. A February survey revealed 45% of global respondents viewed U.S. power and influence as a major threat to global security, with the largest shares originating in South Korea, Japan and Mexico – notably all U.S. allies.

The U.S. is now seen globally as a bigger threat to global prosperity and peace than China and Russia.

The U.S. is seen as a threat not simply because it has expanded its use of armed force abroad over time, but because at the same time it has abrogated a number of its own core principles of legitimacy.

Among the principles that have been abandoned: The U.S. maintains it has a right to treat “enemy combatants” outside the rules of the laws of armed conflict, while insisting its own armed forces not be subject to international investigations.

It has detained people without trial, sometimes indefinitely and without legal representation.

It has even allowed its chief executive – in this case President Barack Obama – to order the execution of an American citizen abroad without trial.

It has separated young children from their asylum-seeking parents in order to deter other families from seeking asylum, regardless of the validity of their asylum claims.

In short, the U.S. has surrendered its moral high ground. That makes any U.S. use of armed force increasingly appear illegitimate to the residents of other countries, and increasingly our own.The Conversation

Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

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

As pressure on Iran mounts, there is little room for quiet diplomacy to free detained Australians


Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has offered to help free three detained Australians in Iran, but the attacks on Saudi oil facilities have made the situation vastly more complicated.
Stringer/EPA

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia’s attempts to secure the release of an Australian national and two with joint UK-Australian citizenship from an Iranian prison have become vastly more complicated following the brazen attacks on Saudi oil facilities over the weekend.

Room for quiet diplomacy has been narrowed while the world comes to terms with a strike at the very heart of global energy security.

At this stage, it is not clear to what extent facilities at Saudi Arabia’s main refinery have been crippled, but initial reports indicate it could be weeks and possibly months before it is brought back into full production.




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As Australia looks to join a coalition in Iran, the risks are many


Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq refinery processes about half the kingdom’s oil production. According to initial reports, the attack reduced throughput by 5 million barrels a day, or nearly 5% of global production.

‘Hostage diplomacy’

Australia’s former foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has offered to intervene with the Iranian authorities in an attempt to secure the release of the Australian nationals being held in Tehran.

These include Mark Firkin and his UK-Australian girlfriend, Jolie King. The two were arrested earlier this year for the unauthorised flying of a drone near a military facility on the outskirts of Tehran. They have not been charged.

More serious at this stage, however, is the case of Melbourne University Middle East specialist and joint UK-Australia citizen Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was detained in October 2018. She has been sentenced to 10 years in jail.

University of Melbourne Middle East specialist Kylie Moore-Gilbert.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Handout/EPA

Iran has not publicly announced details of charges against her.

The cases of Moore-Gilbert, Firkin and King have, inevitably and unhelpfully, become enmeshed in wider geopolitical tensions in which Iran is fighting back against a US sanctions regime that seeks to cripple its economy.

Iran is being accused of “hostage diplomacy” by resorting to the incarceration of foreign nationals at a time when sanctions are rendering enormous damage to its oil-exporting economy.

This is the background to the diplomatic challenges facing the Australian government in its efforts to free its citizens. These are, by any standards, unpromising circumstances.

While Australian officials insist Canberra’s decision to commit to a US-led mission to protect ships travelling through the Strait of Hormuz is unconnected to the detention of its citizens, Tehran has a history of using individuals ruthlessly as bargaining chips in a wider geopolitical game.




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Infographic: what is the conflict between the US and Iran about and how is Australia now involved?


Hostage taking, or “hostage diplomacy”, has a lengthy tail in the history of the Islamic Republic going back to the November 4, 1979, seizure of the American embassy in Tehran and a siege that ensued for 444 days. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage for more than a year.

More recently, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was held in Iran for 544 days before being released with three other Iranian-Americans as part of a prisoner swap in 2016, just before economic sanctions on Iran were lifted under the terms of the nuclear deal.

In recent weeks, Iran has also detained a UK-flagged oil carrier in the Persian Gulf. The Stena Impero remains in Iranian custody, but members of its crew have been let go.

US blaming Iran for Saudi attack

All this was contributing to heightened tensions in the gulf before this weekend’s attacks at the very heart of Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wasted little time in blaming Iran for the attacks. Although Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the strikes using drones, Washington is investigating whether cruise missiles were the weapon of choice, fired from either Iraq or Iran itself. A Trump administration official told Reuters,

There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate.

Tehran has denied Washington’s accusations.

Saudi Arabia and its Yemeni government allies have been engaged in a vicious conflict with Houthi rebels since 2015. Thousands have been killed, and many more displaced, in what is regarded as the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world today.




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Yemen: a calamity at the end of the Arabian peninsula


Iran is supporting the Houthis and is widely accused of fuelling the Yemen conflict to weaken Saudi Arabia.

In other words, the gulf and its environs are primed for worsening conflict unless the US and Iran can reach an accommodation that would enable an easing of sanctions.

President Donald Trump has been angling for a face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly to address ways in which tensions could be eased.

Attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities – and, thus, the global economy – hardly provides a favourable environment for discussions that might, or might not, take place.

Iran has set as a precondition for talks a relaxation of sanctions.

Satellite image of smoke from fires at two major oil installations in Saudi Arabia after the attack over the weekend.
NASA Worldview Handout/EPA

Australia’s limited leverage

Meanwhile, the Australian government finds itself in a situation where it has limited leverage. Trade between Australia and Iran is negligible and holds little promise as long as sanctions remain in place. Canberra’s decision to join a US-led mission in the Middle East means that it is now identified with Washington’s “maximum pressure” approach.

Australia is one of three countries to have signed up to the US initiative. The others are Britain and Bahrain.

In all of this there is another complicating factor, and one that has been little-reported. Tehran was displeased when Australia arrested an Iranian citizen at the request of the US for breaching sanctions.

Iran made repeated representations to secure the release of Negar Ghodskani after her arrest in 2017. She has pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate the illegal export of technology from the US and faces a hefty fine and jail time.

This is a tangled web, and hardly likely to become less so.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Iran’s leader is losing his grasp on power. Does this mean diplomacy is doomed?



President Hassan Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, but his hard-liners rivals now appear to be setting the political agenda in Iran.
Iranian Presidency Office Handout/EPA

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deakin University

Iran’s announcement last Sunday that it would break the limit on uranium enrichment agreed to in the nuclear deal with world powers was not a surprise. It came hot on the heels of another breach only a few days earlier on the 300-kilogram limit agreed to in the deal on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.

Iran had warned Europe that it would start dismantling the nuclear accord if the promised economic benefits of the agreement did not materialise. A year after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and imposed very strict sanctions on Iran, the Iranian leadership appears ready to give up on finding a diplomatic solution to this deadlock.




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This bodes ill for the future of President Hassan Rouhani and regional security. A weakened Rouhani will find it difficult to fend off his hard-line critics in Iran and keep the nuclear deal alive.

With every step away from diplomacy, the hard-liners have taken a step forward and appear to be now setting the political agenda in Iran.

Rouhani’s riskiest gamble

The JCPOA was signed in 2015 between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.

This was Rouhani’s greatest achievement and riskiest gamble. He faced the ire of hard-liners in Iran who continue to have a formidable presence in the parliament, as well as the security and judicial system.

They accused Rouhani of selling out Iranian sovereignty and betraying the ideals of the Islamic revolution by scaling back Iran’s nuclear program and subjecting it to an unprecedented international monitoring regime.

Rouhani nonetheless pushed through his agenda of finding a diplomatic solution to Iran’s isolation because he believed that years of sanctions and mismanagement had pushed the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse.

He staked his political fortunes on bringing Iran out of isolation.

The JCPOA was the compromise deal to assure the international community that Iran would not pursue a nuclear weapons program in return for sanctions relief to revive the Iranian economy.

But US President Donald Trump never liked the deal. He campaigned against it and often questioned Iran’s commitment to it, though the UN International Atomic Energy Agency consistently reported on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement.




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Why Donald Trump is backing the US into a corner on Iran


Despite much lobbying by European powers, Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and reimposed severe unilateral sanctions on Iran, and anyone dealing with Iran.

Losing control to the hard-liners

Trump’s decision to tear up the nuclear deal was seen by the conservatives in Iran as a vindication of their feelings towards the United States. They lambasted Rouhani for putting his trust in the US.

In May 2019, the situation got even more tense after Trump announced that US warships were sailing to the Persian Gulf to counter potential Iranian hostility. No intelligence regarding a suspected Iranian threat was shared.

The escalation of tensions following the alleged Iranian attack on two oil tankers last month, and the downing of a US reconnaissance drone by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards has made it very hard to find a diplomatic solution. Drums of war are silencing voices of diplomacy.

While Rouhani came to office with an olive branch, he realises that he has effectively lost the political contest against his hard-line critics. He has another two years in office, but is at risk of losing the presidency if the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who yields ultimate power in Iran, is disillusioned with his performance.

This realisation has seriously undermined Rouhani, who appears to have adopted the language and posture of the hard-liners in relation to the US. It is unclear if this can save him in office, or embolden his critics who seem to be gaining significant momentum.

In May, the Supreme Leader appointed a battle-hardened General as the commander of the Basij paramilitary force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that suppresses domestic dissent.




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Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread – so will Islamic Republic now develop a bomb?


This was a significant development for the hard-liners in case they seek to assert political control. Basij has been a ruthless security force inside Iran and can provide the necessary street support for a potential coup against Rouhani.

Another notable military commander is General Qasem Soleimani, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Iran due to his performance as commander of Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards’ international arm operating mostly in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State.

He is considered a war hero by the public and now has the confidence of the Supreme Leader. This is an ominous development for Rouhani.

A woman carrying a picture of Qasem Soleimani during an anti-US demonstration in Tehran earlier this year.
Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Breaking with the tenets of the nuclear deal was also clearly not Rouhani’s objective, as it would reverse his hard-won diplomatic gains and discredit his legacy.

Iran’s recent breaches on uranium enrichment and stockpiles were incremental steps to exert pressure on European leaders to adhere to their promises of sanctions relief. This strategy was predicated on the assumption that Europe has more to lose with the collapse of JCPOA than a rift with the United States. It can only be described as a desperate move, showing that Rouhani is fast running out of options.

The window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution is fast closing and the alternative scenario of the return of a combative government in Tehran is looking more and more unavoidable. This would shut the doors to diplomacy and increase the chance of confrontation with the West.

Trump accused Iran of not wanting to sit at the table. He may be fulfilling his own prophecy.


An earlier version of this article implied General Qasem Soleimani was the leader of the Basij security force, when he is actually the commander of the Quds Force.The Conversation

Shahram Akbarzadeh, Professor of Middle East & Central Asian Politics, Deputy Director (International), Alfred Deakin Research Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

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

Diplomacy and defence remain a boys’ club, but women are making inroads



Julie Bishop and Marise Payne have risen to the top in foreign affairs, but their successes may be masking more systemic issues preventing women from advancement.
William West/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University and Elise Stephenson, Griffith University

The Lowy Institute has launched a three-year study on gender representation in Australia’s diplomatic, defence and intelligence services, and the findings are critical: gender diversity lags significantly behind Australia’s public service and corporate sector, as well as other countries’ foreign services.

In a field which has long ignored research on gender or feminist approaches to understanding international relations, this report is welcome and sets forth an important research agenda within Australia.

Gender diversity is an important issue for all who value the pursuit of Australia’s national interests overseas. Attracting and retaining the best talent is more important now than ever before.

As then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in June 2017:

The economic, political and strategic currents that have carried us for generations are increasingly difficult to navigate.

The report’s most significant findings

The Lowy Institute found that of all the fields in international relations, women are least represented in Australia’s intelligence communities.

As the funding and resources of the intelligence sector continue to grow, this is a serious problem with little transparency. The sector appears to be struggling with a “pipeline” and “ladder” problem: women are both joining at lower rates and progressing at far slower rates than their male counterparts.

Another important finding is that the presence of female trailblazers in these fields, such as foreign ministers Julie Bishop and Marise Payne and Labor’s shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, may be masking more systemic issues. This may be leading some agencies to becoming complacent, rather than proactive, on gender diversity.




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Women’s pathways to leadership continue to be impeded by institutional obstacles, such as unconscious bias and discrimination built into the cultures of these sectors, as well as difficulties in supporting staff on overseas postings. For instance, the report notes that in 2017 the government cut assistance packages for overseas officers, including government childcare subsidies. This has gendered ramifications given that women continue to do the bulk of domestic labour.

As such, the most important and high-prestige international postings are still largely dominated by men. DFAT’s Women in Leadership Strategy has proved successful in meeting initial targets for improving women’s representation, however the industry as a whole has not yet followed suit.

Further, it is not enough to just consider how many women there are, but what roles they occupy, given that women have often been siloed into “soft policy” or corporate areas and out of key operational roles needed for career progression.

The report also draws attention to the marginalisation of women from key policy-shaping activities.

From the study’s research on declared authorship, a woman is yet to be selected to lead on any major foreign policy, defence, intelligence, or trade white paper, inquiry or independent review.




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We would mention a few exceptions of women in other high-profile foreign policy roles – Heather Smith’s stewardship of the G20 during Australia’s presidency and Harinder Sidhu’s leadership in the crucial India High Commission. We would also note the contribution of Jane Duke to the ASEAN Summit in Sydney.

Rebecca Skinner has served as associate defence secretary since 2017 and Justine Grieg was appointed deputy secretary defence people in 2018. Major General Cheryl Pearce was also appointed commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus – the first Australian woman to command a UN peacekeeping mission.

Cheryl Pearce was commander of the Australian joint task force group in Afghanistan before taking up her current role.
Paul Miller/AAP

While the under-representation of women in international affairs remains a core concern, we would argue the report could have taken a broader look at gender representation in foreign affairs-focused academic communities, think tanks and publishing industries, as well.

Many of these organisations have similarly woeful records when it comes to gender diversity. For instance, Australian Foreign Affairs magazine has been criticised for the lack of women authors it publishes. We know that it is not for lack of credible voices, but rather seems indicative of a systematic form of marginalisation of women within the wider foreign affairs community.

Bright spots for gender diversity

However, there is some cause for optimism. For instance, our current PhD project is documenting the gender make-up of leaders and internationally deployed representatives in the departments of foreign affairs and trade, defence and home affairs, as well as the Australian Federal Police. As of this January, women represented 39.5% of those in the senior executive service in DFAT, and 41.4% of those employed as heads of Australian embassies and high commissions globally.

Further, we’ve found an increase recently in the number of women who work in diplomatic defence roles. While the Lowy report notes that women held just 11% of international roles in defence in 2016 (it is unclear exactly what international roles they are talking about), we found a slightly higher percentage of women (19%) currently employed in defence attaché roles.




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Australia’s performance on gender equality – are we fair dinkum?


The achievements made in this sphere are not just limited to gender either, with women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds forming an important and growing part of representation.

In fact, a more in-depth analysis of the Lowy report’s data would have produced some very interesting, and more nuanced, findings. For instance, foreign affairs has long been the preserve of men, however it has also been the preserve of certain types of men. Diplomacy remains a bastion of prestige, social class, heteronormativity, and in Australia, Anglo-Saxon privilege. It was only last year, for example, that Australia’s first Indigenous woman, Julie-Ann Guivarra, was appointed ambassador (to Spain).

Overall, as the report outlines, gender equality is not just nice to have, nor is it a marginal issue in foreign policy. Rather, the findings are clear: addressing the continued gender gaps are imperative to Australian foreign policy, national security and stability.

We can, and must, do better. Australian foreign policy needs good ideas, and it needs a lot of them. We cannot assume they will all come from the same place.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University and Elise Stephenson, PhD Candidate, Griffith University

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