Grattan on Friday: Being a Trump ‘bestie’ comes with its own challenges for Scott Morrison



It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

“How good is this?” Scott might have said to Jenny, when word came that he’d be the first Australian prime minister since John Howard in 2006 to score a White House state dinner when he visits Washington in September.

It’s now widely observed that Morrison and President Donald Trump have struck an early bromance, demonstrated by the dinner Trump hosted for Morrison at the G20 and now the planned gold star reception.

Never mind that many Western leaders view with the deepest concern Trump’s erratic foreign policy, leading to caution in their comments.

Morrison last weekend happily praised the president as “a strong leader, who says what he’s going to do and then goes and does it. … I can always rely on President Trump to follow through on what he says.”

Key to this flourishing relationship is Trump’s assessment of Morrison. As Herald Sun columnist Shaun Carney, explaining “Why POTUS loves ScoMo”, wrote this week, “Morrison fits Trump’s requirements pretty much down to a tee. Morrison is a conservative and an election winner. Trump loves winners.”

And of course there is Morrison’s ministerial record on border security.

Even Malcolm Turnbull received some generally favourable rub-off from the government’s tough line on people smuggling. It was one point referenced positively (sort of) by Trump during that excruciating phone conversation in which Turnbull begged the then-new president to honour Barack Obama’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus.

Turnbull and Morrison are very different, but there’s a similarity in their approaches to dealing with this idiosyncratic president. Turnbull sought, and Morrison seeks, to establish a link-in with Trump on a personal basis.

Turnbull made his pitch with the line that “I am a highly transactional businessman like you”. In the Turnbull time, Trump did reluctantly agree to honour the refugee deal, and Australia – aided by a range of US advocates, including members of Congress – won exemptions from Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminium tariffs. (These days Trump is somewhat irritated that Australian aluminium exports to the US have ballooned, as its position has been strengthened vis-a-vis competitors hit by the tariffs.)

It’s too early for a detailed read of how Morrison will handle foreign policy generally. But the description by a Liberal colleague has Trumpian overtones: “[Morrison] likes to establish relationships and he likes to be a dealmaker. He likes to be able to demonstrate back home the benefits of these international dealings.”

One crucial continuity in Australia’s handling of the Trump administration has been the work of Joe Hockey, Australia’s man in Washington. Hockey is the accidental ambassador, the former treasurer who was a casualty of the coup that took down Tony Abbott.

A hail-fellow-well-met character, Hockey has been the right man for the Trump era. Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, says: “Much of what we’re seeing owes a lot to Hockey. He’s been a remarkably effective diplomat for Australia. He’s very tight with the inner [Trump] circle.” Topped by his golf diplomacy with the president himself.

As well as schmoozing, Hockey (to be replaced early next year by former minister and one-time Howard chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos) is also willing to remind the Americans in forceful terms of how solid an ally Australia has been.

That takes us to a key unknown in this evolving Trump-Morrison relationship. Were the US to resort to the use of military force against Iran, would Trump ask Australia for some involvement? Probably. In such circumstances, as we’ve seen previously, Australia’s presence would be for the sake of appearances.

If a request ever came, it’s close to impossible to believe Morrison would say no. Australia never does. But any involvement would likely be limited to joining international patrols and escorts of oil tankers. Morrison recently said that while he was not getting into hypotheticals, “it’s not unheard of to have Australian frigates in that part of the world engaged in maritime operations”.

Jackman detects “growing weariness” in Canberra strategic circles at Australia’s support of US efforts in the Middle East, especially given Australia’s priorities are increasingly with the “step up” in the Pacific.

That “step up” is driven primarily by the push of China deeper into the region.

Morrison has already marked out the Pacific as a priority in his foreign policy – one that fans out into the much broader issue of managing relations with China, on which so much of our prosperity depends.

The perennial talk about Australia facing a choice between the US and China is false. This is because the alliance will always have the stronger overall pull, however vital the China relationship is and however specific issues play out.

Despite the aim of keeping Australia’s dealing with China calm and pragmatic, experience shows that is near impossible. Irritants keep arising, whether it is Chinese interference in Australia via cyber attacks and the like, pressure in the South Pacific, or, as we saw this week, the fallout from an ABC expose about China’s appalling treatment of the Uyghurs.

On the Pacific stage, ANU professor of strategic studies Hugh White is highly sceptical of the effectiveness of trying to stop China’s encroachments.

Writing in the July issue of Australian Foreign Affairs, White argues that China’s “ambitions constitute a far bigger threat to US leadership in Asia than ever before, and a far bigger threat to Australia’s position in the South Pacific than we have ever faced. The costs of us of trying to keep China out of the region might simply prove impossible to bear.”

A cheaper alternative, White suggest, would be to boost our own military capabilities to deal with come what may; he argues we should engage in the region to the maximum but abandon “our traditional ideas about keeping intruders out of the South Pacific”.

Others see the situation in less stark terms, suggesting that while Australia can’t compete with China in dollars in the Pacific, it can give leaders of these countries more choice, allowing them to avoid getting sucked into a net of Chinese influence.

China will be a major item on the talks menu in Morrison’s Washington visit – for which he arrives September 19 – including the US-China trade dispute put on hold at the G20.

One challenge in being feted by Trump is capitalising on the “bestie” status while avoiding the appearance of over-familiarity and identification with a leader Australians don’t much like or trust.

This year’s Lowy Institute poll showed that, despite their strong recognition of the importance of the alliance relationship for Australia’s security (72%), only 25% of Australians had confidence in Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.

Allan Behm, former defence official and former adviser to Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, suggests Morrison take “a long-handled spoon” to Washington. “Both are foreign policy novices. Morrison has to be very careful he doesn’t allow the developing personal relationship with Trump to draw him into decisions he might later regret – especially in relation to Iran.”

Morrison has already invited Trump to Australia for the Presidents Cup golf event in Melbourne in December. If he came, it might be a case of careful what you wish for. Especially when it’s Melbourne.

On his US visit, it will be important the PM be seen as his own man. He will have a significant opportunity when, as anticipated, he takes part in the leaders week at the United Nations in New York. He is expected to address the General Assembly.

However, one notable dilemma could be presented by UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Summit on Monday, September 23. If Morrison attends, there could be some awkward conversations; if he doesn’t, it’s a bad look for Australia.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.

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US Democratic presidential primaries: Biden leading, followed by Sanders, Warren, Harris; and will Trump be beaten?



Joe Biden is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
AAP/EPA/Justin Lane

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next US presidential election will be held on November 3, 2020. Incumbent president Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, but there is a contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Republican and Democratic nominees will be the only candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency.

Both major parties will hold presidential primaries and caucuses in the various states between early February and early June 2020. These contests select delegates to the party conventions in mid-July (Democrats) and late August (Republicans), at which the party’s candidate is formally nominated. Primaries are administered by the state election authority, while caucuses are managed by the party.

Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who clear a high 15% threshold, both within each Congressional District (CD) and state. The more Democratic-leaning a CD is, the more delegates it will receive. The total number of delegates for a state depends on that state’s population and how Democratic-leaning it is.

There will be a grand total of 3,768 pledged delegates, so 1,885 is needed to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates (Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders) cannot vote in the first round, but if no candidate has a first round majority, it becomes a “contested convention”, and superdelegates can vote.

Four Democratic contests are permitted in February 2020: the Iowa caucus (Feb 3), New Hampshire primary (Feb 11), Nevada caucus (Feb 22) and South Carolina primary (Feb 29). Relatively few delegates will be chosen at these contests, but they are still very important for establishing front runners and winnowing the field.

On “Super Tuesday” March 3, 14 states will vote including delegate-heavy California and Texas. 1,358 pledged Democratic delegates, or 36% of the total, will be determined as a result of these contests, so this could be the decisive moment of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Current Democratic primary polling

In the RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, Joe Biden has 28.4% support from national Democrat-aligned voters, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15.0%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Kamala Harris at 12.6%. Everyone else is at 5% or less.

The first Democratic presidential debate was held over two nights, June 26-27, to cope with the 20 candidates who qualified. As a result of this debate, Biden dropped from the low 30’s to the mid 20’s, but has recovered a little. Harris surged from 7% to 15%, but has fallen back since.

The next Democratic debate will also be held over two nights, July 30-31. For the following debate on September 12, the qualification threshold has been raised, so fewer candidates will qualify.

In early-state polls taken since the first debate, Biden had 24% in Iowa, Harris 16%, Warren 13% and Sanders 9%. In New Hampshire, Biden averaged 22.5%, Warren 18%, Sanders 14.5% and Harris 13.5%.

On current polling, Biden would win the Democratic nomination as he would be the only candidate certain to pass the 15% threshold in the vast majority of CDs and states. Unless one of Sanders, Warren or Harris can build their support beyond 20%, this is a viable scenario.

Biden appeals to older and more conservative Democrats, but an important reason for his lead is his perceived electability. After Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016, Democrats are desperate to ensure Trump is a one-term president. In a Quinnipiac poll of California, 45% of Democrats thought Biden had the best chance of any candidate to beat Trump, with no other candidate getting more than 12%.

By the time of the 2020 general election, Biden will be almost 78, Sanders will be 79, and Trump will be a mere 74. Warren will be 71. Harris is easily the youngest top-tier candidate; she will be 56 by the election. According to CNN analyst Harry Enten, only 33% of Democrats would feel comfortable with a nominee aged over 75.

Another reason for scepticism about Biden’s electability is that, like Clinton, he is an established politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. There are likely to be some things in Biden’s long political career that Trump will be able to exploit in the general election.

For the record, Trump has over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination.

What about the general election?

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are currently 42.4% approve, 52.8% disapprove with all adults. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.3% approve, 52.4% disapprove.

With the official US unemployment rate at just 3.7%, Trump’s ratings are weaker than they should be given economic data. There has been little change in his ratings since a slump during the January 2019 government shutdown, followed by a recovery once the shutdown ended.

Trump’s current ratings show that, if the next election is a referendum on his performance, he should be defeated. Trump’s best chance of re-election is if the Democrats nominate somebody who is also unpopular, as Clinton was in 2016.

On current economic figures, Trump will probably be defeated in 2020, but this is by no means certain. However, there is a major political risk to the economy: a “no-deal” Brexit. Right-wingers have strongly advocated a hard Brexit, and they may get what they want with Boris Johnson certain to be the next British PM – as I wrote for The Poll Bludger on July 10. The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader will be declared on July 23.

If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, there is likely to be a large negative impact on the UK economy, with knock-on effects for the world economy. A no-deal Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are likely to have some impact on the US economy. A US recession in 2020 would be very bad for Trump’s re-election chances.

As I said in the article I wrote immediately after the May Australian election, I believe the left’s only hope to consistently win elections is if there is a major economic disaster that is blamed on the right.




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Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election

I wrote on my personal website on July 8 that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.The Conversation

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

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

US House of Representatives condemns racist tweets in another heady week under President Donald Trump


Bruce Wolpe, University of Sydney

The past three days in US politics have been very difficult – and ugly.

President Donald Trump chose to exploit divisions inside the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives – generational and ideological – by attacking four new women members of Congress, denying their status as Americans and their legitimacy to serve in Congress. They are women of colour and, yes, they are from the far left of the Democratic Party. They have pushed hard against their leaders.

But Trump’s vicious, racist attacks on them have in fact solved the unity problem among the Democrats: they are today (re)united against Trump.




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Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


You can draw a straight line from Trump’s birther attacks on Obama, to his “Mexican rapists” attack when he announced his run for the presidency, to his Muslim immigration ban, to equivocating over Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to sending troops to the US-Mexico border, to shutting down the government, to declaring a national emergency, to what he is doing today.

And his attacks on these lawmakers is based on a lie: three of the congresswomen were born in America. One is an immigrant, now a citizen, and as American as any citizen – just like Trump’s wife.

I worked in the House of Representatives for ten years. I learned early that you do not impugn – you have no right to impugn – the legitimacy of an elected member of Congress. Only the voters can do that.

Other presidents have been racist. Lyndon Johnson worked with the southern segregationists. Nixon railed in private against Jews. But none have spoken so openly, so publicly, without shame or remorse for these sentiments. So this is new territory.

And this is unlike Charlottesville, where there was vocal and visible pushback from Republicans on Trump giving an amber light to the Nazis in the streets. This is how much the political culture and norms have corroded over the past two years.

The Democrats chose to fight back by bringing a resolution condemning Trump for his remarks to the House of Representatives floor. Historians are still scurrying, but it appears this is unprecedented – the house has never in its history, which dates to the 1790s, voted to condemn a president’s remarks. (The Senate censured President Andrew Jackson over banking issues in 1834.)

The house passed the measure almost along party lines, with only four Republicans out of 197 – just 2% – voting for the resolution.

The concluding words in the resolution are these:

Whereas President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimised fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color: Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives […] condemns President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimised and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should “go back” to other countries, by referring to immigrants and asylum seekers as “invaders”, and by saying that Members of Congress who are immigrants (or those of our colleagues who are wrongly assumed to be immigrants) do not belong in Congress or in the United States of America.

So Trump is secure within his party – and he believes he has nothing to fear from the testimony of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, next week before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.

Much attention will be paid to the examination of obstruction-of-justice issues when Mueller testifies. But the more meaningful discussion will occur in the assessment by the intelligence committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the persistence of a Russian threat in 2020.

Mueller ended his Garbo-like appearance before the media in May with these words:

The central allegation of our indictments [is] that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interference in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.

The US presidential election remains vulnerable and it is not clear that sufficient safeguards are being put in place to protect the country’s democracy.

But it is the unresolved drama over impeachment that will colour Mueller’s appearance on Wednesday.




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Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president. However, he forensically detailed ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that if he believed Trump had not committed a crime he would have said so and that, as a result, he could not “exonerate” Trump.

The key question that will be asked of Mueller is: “If the record you developed on obstruction of justice was applied to any individual who was not president of the United States, would you have sought an indictment?”

And on the answer to that question turns the issue of whether there will be critical mass among House of Representatives Democrats, and perhaps supported by the American people, to vote for a bill of impeachment against Donald J. Trump.The Conversation

Bruce Wolpe, Non-resident senior fellow, United States Study Centre, University of Sydney

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

Two dozen candidates, one big target: in a crowded Democratic field, who can beat Trump?


Brendon O’Connor, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, University of Sydney

An unprecedented 24 Democrats are currently running to be their party’s 2020 presidential nominee. Why are so many well-qualified, ambitious and smart people in the race?

The answer is Trump. The triumphant Democrat will face a president who was elected in 2016 with a historically high unfavourability rating, and the party is hoping this could mean an easy path to victory. In fact, many potential Democratic candidates are already significantly outpolling Trump.

In addition, those running view Trump as an existential threat to America, which means their candidacy can be spun as a calling rather than a career move.

On top of Trump’s ignorance, misogyny and frequent lying, he is despised by Democrats for his cruel immigration policies, loosening of environmental regulations, tax cuts for the wealthy, appointment of conservative anti-abortion judges, and habitual praise for dictators.




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Yet despite his policies and character, the president could well be re-elected. As Hillary Clinton discovered, running against Trump has its challenges. His attack-based, fear-mongering style is more electorally effective than many would hope.

Pundits frequently write about the loyalty of Trump’s base – rusted-on Republicans and whites without college degrees. However, Harvard voting data suggests that, in key swing states, registered independents and self-described moderates switched parties or turned out to deliver Trump victory.

So many Democrats are running for the nomination, the field was split in two for the first debate.
Giorgio Viera/EPA

The leader: Biden

Last week, we saw the 2020 election season officially kick off, with two televised debates featuring ten Democratic candidates apiece. But while the stages were packed, only a few candidates seem to have a genuine chance of taking out Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

Currently, Biden is well ahead in the polls. He also claims to be the most “electable” Democrat in the field. However, primary voting does not start until February, and early leads can evaporate between the first debate and the first vote.

And since May, Biden’s polling average has declined from around 41% to 31%, according to an average of eight major polls. Right now, he’s riding name recognition and the warm glow of association with still-popular former President Barack Obama.

Joe Biden suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar territory as the front runner.
Tannen Maury/EPA

We’re particularly cautious about Biden’s chances, because when he campaigned to be president in 1987-88 and 2007-08, he was unimpressive. The former vice president remains notoriously gaffe-prone and his speech-making abilities are middling. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:

The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth.

Biden’s policy record is also full of controversial positions that are already being challenged. He supported the 2003 Iraq War, has a long-standing record of opposition to the federal funding of abortion clinics, and has been notoriously tough on urban crime. He also has a history of being on the side of financial institutions, backing a bankruptcy bill that was supported by credit card companies.

But in the race, Biden will look to highlight some of his positive policy achievements, such as his advocacy for landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act and his involvement in promoting global poverty alleviation goals through proposed bills such as the 2007 Global Poverty Act.

The progressives: Warren and Sanders

Biden’s career of centrism and bipartisanship contrasts starkly to those of Sanders and Warren, his two closest competitors. Warren has been steadily improving her position in national polls in recent months, as Sanders’ has slightly declined – Sanders now averages around 17% of Democratic primary voters and Warren 13%.

Both have staked out left-of-centre policies the like of which have not been prominent in American presidential campaigns since the beginning of the Cold War. They support a progressive tax code and higher minimum wage. Both want to significantly cut US defence spending and curtail America’s overseas military involvements. Addressing climate change is also a priority.




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They have shifted the tone. Conversations about decriminalising illegal immigration to the US, expanding Medicare to all Americans, and cancelling more than a trillion dollars in student debt – all unthinkable in mainstream American politics even three years ago – are suddenly being taken seriously.

Why has America arrived at a moment where progressive policies are popular and it is conceivable Sanders or Warren could become the next US president?

The short answer is that status quo politics and economics have failed many Americans and the nation seems open to new solutions. Those “solutions” might still look like Trump, but they might also take the form of leftist policies that have long been considered irrelevant or unrealistic.

In the past, the Democrats have offered younger voters a less moralistic and more inclusive form of capitalism. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are now promising a social democratic vision that is far easier to communicate to the electorate than the complicated social policies promoted by the Clintons.

Gaining ground: Harris and Buttigieg

Harris and Buttigieg both sit to the left of Biden, but to the right of Sanders and Warren. Harris performed especially well in the debate – she effectively attacked Biden’s political history, and used her own past as a prosecutor to push for a ban on assault weapons. After the debate, one poll showed her moving from 6%-12% among Democratic voters.

Harris’ own history as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, however, could prove a weakness, particularly in an environment where candidates are being challenged on progressive terms. In January, a New York Times op-ed argued that, when in power, Harris failed to push criminal justice reform and worked to uphold wrongful convictions.

A debate clash with Biden helped raise Kamala Harris’ profile among voters.
Etienne Laurent/EPA

Buttigieg is attempting to stake out the ground of the “scholar politician,” echoing Obama’s Ivy League credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, and reportedly speaks seven languages. He also served in the US military and would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.

Popular among progressives, Buttigieg has made electoral reform a central policy platform – supporting abolishing the electoral college and introducing automatic voter registration – and has called for restructuring the Supreme Court to enshrine political balance.




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Among the challenges confronting Buttigieg is his response to the shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city, South Bend. At the Democratic debate, he was asked why he has been unable to improve African-American representation on the city’s police force. Buttigieg responded, “Because I couldn’t get it done”.

As the campaign wears on, we will likely see increasingly heated debate among the winnowing field, with any weakness that puts a candidate at risk of being defeated in the presidential race ruthlessly confronted and thoroughly interrogated.

As we approach February 2020, when the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats will continue to go through an existential struggle between those who believe the time has come for fundamental social reform, and those who believe such a platform would make a candidate un-electable, even against Trump.The Conversation

Brendon O’Connor, Associate Professor in American Politics at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney and Dan Dixon, Research Assistant at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Trump and Kim are talking (again). But the leaders have yet to find real common ground



Handshakes and symbolism only go so far – eventually, the US and North Korea will need to work toward something more concrete.
KCNA/EPA

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Sunday’s trilateral meeting in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between US President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae In made for compelling viewing, the latest chapter in Korean peninsula summit diplomacy.

Indeed, such a meeting would have been unthinkable only 18 months ago. It was an unprecedented event – the leaders of the US, South Korea and North Korea meeting together, especially in the DMZ.

Critics have argued, however, that the meeting was merely a heavily manicured photo-op. While heavy on symbolism, it covered nothing substantive and signalled only that the parties are willing to restart the negotiating process.




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A couple of major questions remain unanswered. First, what is the ultimate purpose of negotiations? Are the US, North Korea and South Korea talking about the same thing when they talk about “denuclearisation”?

And is the endgame of negotiations ultimately about denuclearisation, or is it about reaching a permanent peace settlement to formally end the Korean War?

Symbolism vs substance

Given the abrupt failure of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, a symbolic photo-op at the DMZ is an encouraging sign that the parties are still interested in talking.

These kinds of symbolic gestures are the foundation upon which negotiations can move forward, given that all parties are starting from a place of mutual mistrust. Without this kind of patient state-to-state relationship building, the US and North Korea will never reach a stage where more substantive issues can be discussed.

The symbolism is also important in signalling intent to the public in all three countries. For the US and South Korea, building domestic support for engagement is key to the ultimate ratification of any future agreement.

Define ‘denuclearisation’

We also need to place the DMZ meeting in the proper context. There are several parallel games at play in which the US, North Korea and South Korea have diverging interests.

The first of these games revolves around the US demand of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”, or CVID, which has formed the basis of US policy on North Korea for successive administrations since 2002.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program represents a threat to America’s nuclear weapons supremacy – both in and of itself, and as an example to other countries that might seek to develop their own nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-armed North Korea also demonstrates the diminished authority of the US as a regional and global power.

We see the CVID game at play in the rhetorical commitment of the US government to denuclearising the DPRK, despite the evidence that CVID has thus far failed, and in the pushback against Trump for his perceived willingness to sacrifice this aim in order to reach a deal with Kim.

The North Korean interpretation of a nuclear-free Korea, meanwhile, involves the full relinquishment of nuclear weapons by all nuclear powers, including the US.

With this in mind, the Kim government is committing to a negotiating process from which it can obtain sweeteners, not an end goal.




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This leads into the second game at play: Kim’s quest to modernise the North Korean economy, which is important to the legitimacy and longevity of his government. Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program was developed as a security umbrella under which the government can move forward with economic modernisation, while minimising the risk of state collapse.

As such, the North Koreans are likely to seek an easing of economic sanctions and economic assistance to accelerate the development of their economy in negotiations with the US.

One way to achieve these objectives is by stretching the negotiating process out for as long as possible – this allows the North Koreans to secure incentives for small concessions over a longer-term, incremental negotiating process.

The impromptu trilateral meeting on Sunday played well to audiences in the US, North Korea and South Korea.
Yonhap/EPA

The race to develop the North

The third game relates to the potential opening of North Korea to foreign investment. Kim’s economic modernisation drive means that extensive opportunities for infrastructure development will emerge for foreign investors when the political climate eventually warms sufficiently.

The contours of a contest to develop North Korea are beginning to coalesce, with South Korean, Chinese and Russian companies jockeying for position to develop this relatively untapped space.

Moon, for one, sees this engagement strategy as part of South Korea’s broader push to integrate northeast Asia through economic and infrastructure linkages, such as gas pipelines, railway connections, seaports, regional electricity grid integration, Arctic shipping routes, shipbuilding, labour exchange, and the development of agriculture and fisheries projects.




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If a US-North Korea summit does happen, we’ll have Moon Jae-in to thank for it


Elements of this emerged in last year’s Panmunjom Declaration, which mentioned the potential opening of railway and road corridors across the DMZ.

A peace settlement, or at least a negotiating process towards that end, is the magic key that could unlock possibilities for infrastructure development in North Korea. This would remove economic sanctions as an obstacle to investment and reduce the political and economic risk for investors.

Trump’s unique diplomatic style

Finally, the fourth game relates to Trump himself. His businesslike approach to diplomacy and penchant for policy-by-Twitter are far removed from longstanding US diplomatic practices, in both style and substance.

Trump’s desire to reach an agreement with Kim has brought him to the brink of relinquishing the US demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” by the North.




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While one could argue, as I have, that CVID has long been a fantasy anyway, Trump’s apparent willingness to make concessions on this front puts him at odds with many in his administration and within the broader US foreign policy establishment.

This may explain one notable absentee from Trump’s entourage in South Korea – National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was dispatched to Mongolia instead. Bolton’s hardline stance on North Korea is well known, so his absence was significant. In February, the North Korean media criticised Bolton for trying to be a spoiler in the negotiations in Hanoi.

More work to be done

Engagement with the North is hugely preferable to the uneasy status quo on the Korean peninsula that carries with it a heightened risk of conflict escalation. However, for this engagement to continue, the parties need an agreed purpose to keep negotiations moving forward.

The DMZ leaders’ meeting shows just how far apart the interests of the US, South Korea and North Korea are, and how much work needs to be done to build trust and align the parties to a basic common goal.

Handshakes and symbolism only go so far. Eventually, the parties will need to work towards something more concrete for the process to be sustained.The Conversation

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer in International Relations, Department of Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

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

Vital Signs: having a bob each way on US and China is Australia’s own super power


Richard Holden, UNSW

Ahead of this weekend’s G20 meeting in Osaka, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a speech that was pretty accurate in framing the problem facing his nation as trade tensions between the United States and China rise.




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As Morrison put it:

The world’s most important bilateral relationship – the US-China relationship – is strained. Trade tensions have escalated. The collateral damage is spreading. The global trading system is under real pressure.

One might be tempted to characterise his speech, to use the Australian vernacular, as having a bob each way.

At one point, he seemed to be channelling former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders when he said:

It is now evident that the US believes that the rules-based trading system, in its current form, is not capable of dealing with China’s economic structure and policy practices. Many of these concerns are legitimate. Forced technology transfer is unfair. Intellectual property theft cannot be justified. Industrial subsidies are promoting overproduction.

At another point, he noted China’s importance for Australia:

We share a comprehensive strategic partnership and free-trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China, with a broad and deep relationship underpinned by people-to-people ties; evidenced by the fact we are home to 1.2 million ethnic Chinese and are host to 1.4 million Chinese visitors and 205,000 Chinese students each year.

What Morrison’s speech shows is that Australia is in a bind.

Both China and the US are indispensable economic partners for Australia.

The quarter of our exports going to China make it a crucial trading partner. Without China our best universities would be bankrupt.

But as I documented in a 2017 report for the United States Studies Centre, two-way investment between Australia and the US dwarfs that between Australia and China.

US investment constitutes more than a quarter of all foreign investment in Australia, and has done for decades. Its cumulative worth – now A$860 billion – is nearly double that of Britain and about ten times more than Chinese investment.

So Australia can’t afford to pick sides economically, or strategically.

International institutions

Morrison pointed out that China’s rise has not been a “zero sum” game. Its economic gains have not all come at the expense of other nations, particularly the US.

What he seems to favour – and it makes sense – is to emphasise the importance of international institutions like the World Trade Organisation.

The challenge, of course, is that US President Donald Trump doesn’t like being constrained by international institutions any more than China. His presidency thus far has been characterised by moves away from mulitilateralism, to bilateral negotiations, where the US can better leverage its power to its own advantage.

Trump fancies himself a “deal guy”, not an “institutions and rules” person.

This isn’t just a challenge for Australia but for the whole G20.

As the noted economist Nouriel Roubini has pointed out, there are multiple scenarios where relations between the US and China end up in a very bad place, and not too many where they turn out well.




Read more:
What’s worse than the US-China trade war? A grand peace bargain


But so long as both countries remain engaged with international bodies like the G20, there is the possibility such forums can act as a kind of pressure-release valve on simmering tensions. Mutual friends like Australia have a chance to help keep the peace. Morrison’s admonition about China’s rise not being “zero sum”, for example, is no doubt a message for the American president.

Vulnerability is our strength.

In this sense Australia’s economic vulnerability might also be our strength.

We cannot afford for the US and China to end up in a “hot” economic war, and the current situation isn’t great either. As long as Australia has to essentially pick sides issue by issue, we will end up annoying both China and the US. Witness the Chinese reaction to Australia’s Huawei 5G ban.

So we have a vital interest in seeing them get along better, working with other nations within the G20 to nudge things toward a more acceptable outcome.

As Morrison himself said after his speech: “What choice do we have?”The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Is Australia’s electricity grid vulnerable to the kind of cyber attacks taking place between Russia and the US?



Power grids are high priority targets during conflict.
Shutterstock

Andrew Dowse, Edith Cowan University and Mike Johnstone, Edith Cowan University

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the United States was increasing its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. The attacks are seen as a warning against Russian intrusions into US systems, but one that carries a risk of escalation.

The public reporting of previously covert cyber attacks earned a retort from US President Donald Trump, who accused the New York Times journalists of a “virtual act of treason”.

But the story has been useful in generating discussion about the reasons for – and potential consequences of – such actions. It also raises the question of how vulnerable Australia’s power grid is.

So let’s take a look at who is capable of carrying out these kinds of attacks, how they work, and whether Australia is doing enough to protect itself.




Read more:
What’s critical about critical infrastructure?


Are these attacks limited to the US and Russia?

Recent events may be newly reported, but the events themselves aren’t that new. Russian cyber attacks on US infrastructure may have been going on for years. According to the New York Times report, the US may have been undertaking similar intrusions in Russia since 2012.

While the story is limited to discussing cyber conflict between the US and Russia, there are many nation states with the ability to carry out such attacks.

To make things more complex, non-government actors can also launch cyber attacks. That includes individuals, organised crime groups, and proxies for nation states.

Why are we learning about this now?

When we talk about cyber security, and how to defend against threats from nation states, we’re usually talking about protecting confidential information. But when it comes to power grids, confidentiality isn’t particularly important. What is important is continuity of service, also called “availability”.

An adversary’s power availability would be a high-priority target during a conflict. Outside of conflict, the only logical rationale for a nation state to intrude on such systems would be to undertake reconnaissance and deploy malware that can remain dormant until needed.

In this regard, it doesn’t make sense that the US would intentionally leak its efforts, as appears to have been the case. It would prompt Russia to find the malware and, by disclosing intrusion techniques, it would “burn capabilities”.

Additionally, evidence of attacks could lead to an escalation of cyberwar between the US and Russia. Escalation is unlikely as long as responses to counter cyber attacks are undertaken in line with the principles of necessity and proportionality. But the uncertainty of attribution and consequences creates a potential for miscalculation in conducting cyber attacks.

The New York Times article was notable because it suggested the US president gave his commanders authorisation to undertake cyber attacks without his oversight. To avoid miscalculation, a balance is needed between a speedy response in cyber “active defence” and the kind of proper deliberation that will ensure the response is appropriate.

To date, there is no evidence that nation-state delivered attacks have resulted in power outages in the US or Russia. The apparent leak to the New York Times may not relate to a specific counterattack against the Russian power grid. Instead, it may be a form of diplomacy intended to signal US willingness and capability to counterattack.




Read more:
Internet of Things: when objects threaten national security


How are such attacks possible?

Critical infrastructure is a term that refers to chemical production plants, power stations, oil platforms, and water pump stations. The technology that operates such infrastructure is called “operational technology” (OT). OT is a cyber-physical system that controls electricity generators and valves that mix chemicals in vats or transfer gas through pipelines.

To understand the threat, it helps to contrast OT with information technology (IT).

Confidentiality is a primary consideration for IT staff, who are focused on securing data from threats. They are well practised in patching vulnerable systems under their control. In an OT environment, availability is the primary driver, so keeping the plant working is considered more important than protecting against cyber threats.

Another difference between the IT and OT worlds is the lifetime of assets. OT system devices are built to last a long time before replacement. Using legacy OT technology that still works in itself is not a problem, as long as that technology is separated from other systems.

But the IT and OT worlds are converging to enable remote control and access to real-time plant operating data. Aside from the tension between priorities of confidentiality and availability, this convergence opens up OT vulnerabilities to attack.

When OT systems were developed decades ago, there was little thought of security, since most systems were only accessible on-site or through dedicated networks. With IT-OT convergence, keeping systems secure becomes a priority, but not at the expense of availability. Stopping a system, either for an update or due to a cyber attack, results in lost revenue and impact upon customers who could, for instance, lose power to their homes.

Have we seen successful attacks in the past?

Cyber attacks on Ukrainian power stations in 2015 and 2016 affected more than 200,000 customers, and provided lessons for the rest of us.

These events showed that an attack was more than just theoretical in the domain of energy systems. Engineers needed to physically visit each substation to return systems to operation.

As similar technology is used worldwide, the power grids of other nations are potentially vulnerable. Additionally, the malware used to command and control attacks is increasingly available for hire as cyber crime moves to a service-based model. And more sophisticated tools mean attackers require less skill to locate and attack internet connected devices.




Read more:
Why we should be wary of expanding powers of the Australian Signals Directorate


How vulnerable is Australia’s power grid?

In 2016, Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel released a review into the future security of the national electricity market. Following advice that the cyber threat to the national energy market was increasing, Finkel recommended stronger security measures be put in place.

By 2017, some action had been initiated to mitigate threats in the energy sector. Subsequently the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 was passed. The Act contains elements to help the government better appreciate the risk and to make certain directions to service providers to increase security.

The government is reportedly considering a proposal to enable the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to access the networks of companies operating critical infrastructure to defend them against cyber attacks.

In 2018, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released the first annual report into the cyber preparedness of the market, identifying that current provisions are inadequate. AEMO has established a framework for operators to assess their security maturity, and strengthen measures.

Notwithstanding these efforts, recent reports suggest the number of attacks on critical infrastructure is growing. Meanwhile, the ability to prevent, detect or respond to these attacks remains low.

For many critical infrastructure systems, OT is a sunk investment that would be expensive to replace. Implementing substantial security improvements to upgrade the legacy energy environment will also be expensive, and it’s likely that costs will be passed onto customers. But there are cost-effective ways of improving security, including threat/vulnerability system monitoring. Some companies in Australia are doing this.

Cyber warfare is a reality. We should expect that cyber criminals and nation states adversaries could have some impact our lives in future by attacking critical infrastructure, such as the electricity grid.

Securing our infrastructure is a priority for the government and increasingly recognised as such by the market participants. The cost and need for security mitigations may seem unpalatable to many, but steps need to be taken to prevent a return to the dark ages.The Conversation

Andrew Dowse, Director, Defence Research and Engagement, Edith Cowan University and Mike Johnstone, Security Researcher, Associate Professor in Resilient Systems, Edith Cowan University

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