If there is to be an effective response to climate change, it will probably emanate from China. The geopolitical motivations are clear. Renewable energy is increasingly inevitable, and those that dominate the markets in these new technologies will likely have the most influence over the development patterns of the future. As other major powers find themselves in climate denial or atrophy, China may well boost its power and status by becoming the global energy leader of tomorrow.
President Xi Jinping has been vocal on the issue. He has already called for an “ecological civilization”. The state’s “green shift” supports this claim by striving to transition to alternative energies and become more energy efficient.
But there are material benefits as well. China’s proactive response has impacted on global energy markets. Today, five of the world’s six top solar-module manufacturers, five of the largest wind turbine manufacturers, and six of the ten major car manufacturers committed to electrification are all Chinese-owned. Meanwhile, China is dominant in the lithium sector – think: batteries, electric vehicles and so on – and a global leader in smart grid investment and other renewable energy technologies.
This is only a start. There are modest projections that just 20% of the country’s primary energy consumption will come from non-carbon sources by 2030. Nonetheless, China’s sheer size means Beijing’s aggressive pursuit of emergent and expanding renewables markets should not be ignored. After all, dominating such markets has strong material benefits, while pioneering a green revolution provides intangible benefits in terms of state image and prestige.
So what are these benefits? First, concerns over environmental degradation are very real in China, owing to issues such as air, food and water pollution, and should be acknowledged. Beijing doesn’t want food and water scarcity or smoggy skies either, whether for altruistic environmental reasons or concerns over its popular legitimacy.
But it is worth also considering the geopolitical implications of climate change leadership. Take the US for example, historically the largest carbon emitter. The country had previously been active in climate policy, if somewhat hypocritical (support for hydraulic fracturing, for instance). But the current Trump administration is forthright in its baseless denial of climate change, having withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. It has also hired climate deniers to head its environmental agencies and other offices of power.
Contrast this with China, which is becoming increasingly proactive. In 2016 it became the largest shareholder in a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which, along with the BRICS-established New Development Bank, invests heavily in green energy. The two institutions are seen as potential competitors to the IMF and the World Bank.
Of course, the situation is not black and white with China “going green” and everyone else sitting idly by. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which commits to political, economic and military integration across Eurasia, the world’s largest landmass, for instance, comprises of nations with strategic interests in exporting hydrocarbons and coal. However, the same is true for the more environmentally aware Obama administration which advocated forcefully the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would have overriden attempts to establish green industries and constrained signatory states to its agreements with big business ahead of climate change action.
To this end, former president Obama argued that it was necessary for the US to shape the rules of global trade to US benefit. That being the case, what about China? As a major power, it is strengthening its international agency by pioneering these multilateral alternatives, many of which heavily invest in green energy projects. Through development banks or Asian trade agreements, China can provide an alternative vision to an international integration ostensibly based on the universal values espoused by the US and its chief allies.
“Going green”, then, while undeniably necessary, is a useful image or value to uphold as it serves to legitimate Chinese international and regional leadership. In this sense, it mirrors the way G7 nations espouse “democracy” or “freedom”. Going green also happens to be economically viable for those that have the funds to invest, contributing to China’s transition from the world’s manufacturing base to a truly major power.
China’s response to climate change combined with the size of its economy has thrust it to the centre of a global shift. Large-scale funding through Chinese-led multilateral frameworks could see a new energy system emerge – led by China. This would greatly extend its influence on the international political economy at the expense of those major powers unable or unwilling to respond.
Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper released today cannot be accused of understatement.
Navigating the decade ahead will be hard, because as China’s power grows, our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.
That’s the point. What we are witnessing is “without precedent” in Australian post-second world war history, during the various tremors that have unsettled the region from Korea to Vietnam and beyond.
Despite all of that, there has been nothing in our experience like China’s rise in all its dimensions.
The changing of the guard?
The much-used word “disruption” hardly does justice to the impact a modern China is having on age-old assumptions about a regional power balance in which US military superiority would prevail, come what may.
Starting with the above declaration, the white paper – a year in the making and more than a decade since the last such effort – does a reasonable job in laying out Australia’s choices in a new and challenging environment.
In this regard, we are spared an impression that policymakers are seeking to cling to the old order in which the US was paramount and suggestions to the contrary smacked of agnosticism about American power and influence – even an incipient anti-Americanism.
Those days – described in a 2003 white paper that underestimated the velocity of China’s rise and sought to adhere to age-old certainties about US paramountcy – are over.
Here’s the 2017 white paper on the end of the age of certainty for Australian foreign policy:
Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-World War II history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.
There is nothing profound in the above observation. It’s simply a statement of fact.
What is clear is that policymakers in Canberra are hedging their bets. They cannot be sure the US will remain invested in a wider security role in the Indo-Pacific, and one that will be long-lasting.
This prompts observations like the following:
The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.
US alliance remains strong
However, for the foreseeable future the US will remain the “bedrock” of Australia’s security.
Interestingly, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed alliance issues on the eve of the white paper’s release.
In an important speech, at a moment when Labor itself is debating how to frame its adherence to the alliance, Wong was at pains to encourage a sense of realism about what America might – or might not – be prepared to do in the event that Australia’s security was challenged.
She spoke at length about mutual obligations under the ANZUS Treaty that are misinterpreted as a blanket requirement for the US to come to Australia’s assistance in extremis. Put simply, what is required under Articles III and IV of the ANZUS Treaty is a commitment to consult.
In the final analysis, the 2017 white paper cannot be read separately from the 2016 Defence White Paper. This laid down a reinvigorated commitment to Australia’s ability to assert power in the Indo-Pacific via a significant investment in its maritime capabilities.
Leaving aside whether you agree with spending upwards of A$50 billion on 12 new French-sourced submarines rather than less expensive alternatives that could have been bought off the shelf, the defence paper foreshadowed an Australian foreign policy that recognised a more challenging environment, and thus the need for a more robust approach.
In this regard, the foreign policy paper speaks of “shifting power balances” in an era of “greater rivalry”, and calls on the US to remain “strongly engaged in the economic and security affairs of the region to help shape its institutions and norms”.
The paper also acknowledges challenges inherent in Australia’s policy of maintaining a balance between its alliance relationship and its management of relations with China if both the US and China cannot be persuaded their own interests would be served by preserving regional harmony. The paper adds that “this is not assured”.
In the decades ahead we expect further contestation over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.“
Our place in the region
The white paper’s emphasis on the need to bolster regional friendships and alliances is a clear reference to moves by the Turnbull government to resuscitate a quadrilateral security dialogue with the US, Japan and India. The Rudd government shelved this on the grounds that it would appear to be a grouping whose aim was to contain China.
In its latest incarnation, the “Quad”, as it is known, clearly has a hedging purpose. But whether it develops past an agreement to consult and perhaps conduct joint military-to-military exchanges will depend on circumstance.
In other words, China’s regional assertiveness will dictate the extent to which Australia and its like-minded partners collaborate in seeking to balance China’s inexorable rise.
The Quad’s critics regard it as an unhelpful diversion, unnecessarily antagonistic to China. Its supporters see it as a prudent step to bring together functioning democracies intent on preserving regional security.
What would seem to be more productive would be a consensus involving the US, China, Russia, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand in an East Asia Summit agreement on regional security arrangements, much like the Helsinki Accords.
An encouraging aspect of the unclassified version of the white paper (a classified version will use starker language) is that within the constraints of bureaucratic language it provides a fairly direct challenge to China to live up to its commitment to a rules-based order.
So it encourages China to “exercise its power in a way that enhances stability, reinforces international law and respects the interests of smaller countries”.
This implies that China’s recent behaviour does not meet this standard.
Finally, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Australia’s policymakers have more or less come to the view – reluctantly – that US leadership in Asia is on a downward trajectory, and there is little point in pretending otherwise. The question is how fast, and to what extent will China continue to assert itself.
In his introduction, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sets the tone for the next phase of Australian policy in a way that recognises these realities. “Australia,” he writes, “must be sovereign not reliant.”
If that’s not an acknowledgement of a disrupted security environment in which power relationships are shifting, I’m not sure what is. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper makes progress in coming to terms with that reality.
A new phase of massive violent ethnic cleansing is under way in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. An estimated 160,000 men, women and children of the Muslim Rohingya community have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing indiscriminate attacks by the armed forces.
The military crackdown was in response to a co-ordinated assault against police posts by a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The militants killed 12 security personnel. In the armed forces’ “clearance operations” that followed, 400 people have died so far.
This is the latest wave of violence involving the local Buddhist Rakhine ethnic community and the Rohingya since 2012. Around 1,000 have died over this period, amid reports of mass rape and the deliberate razing of villages by the military.
About 250,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in the past five years. Others have embarked on an often deadly journey to find asylum, while many more remain in squalid detention camps within Myanmar, to which aid workers or outside observers are regularly denied access. Satellite images suggest that over 100km of land has been burned in the recent attacks.
Survivors have recounted numerous atrocities such as beheadings and the slaughter of children. These are often acts of intimidation intended to ensure communities do not return. It seems likely that another round of violent, intentional and perhaps permanent expulsion has occurred.
History of the conflict
The causes of the turmoil are as complex as they are old. Rakhine State is the poorest region in Myanmar. Both the Muslim Rohingya and the indigenous Buddhist Rakhine community have suffered longstanding injustices at the hands of the military regime and each other.
Many Rakhine believe they lost large tracts of traditional land when the British encouraged Bengali labourers to move into Burma after assuming control in 1824. Large-scale violence between the two communities has occurred several times since the second world war.
Many Rakhine died when the Rohingya fought for Muslim-majority parts of northern Rakhine State to be integrated into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Subsequent military campaigns drove many Rohingya into Bangladesh: 250,000 in 1978 and a further 250,000 in 1991 and 1992, although many were forcibly repatriated to Rakhine.
Many Rakhine now seemingly support the expulsion of the group from the state, with some participating in recent military-led attacks. The ARSA attacks have dramatically worsened the already perilous position of the 1 million Rohingya left in Rakhine.
The broader political context
Also driving the contemporary violence are two broader phenomena. The first is political liberalisation since 2005; the second is a national discourse that denies the Rohingya rights as citizens of Myanmar.
A 1982 citizenship law stripped the Rohingya of the status of one of Myanmar’s “national races”, deeming them to have entered the country after 1823. This means they have no citizenship, voting rights or the right to travel. Any property they own remains vulnerable to expropriation.
Now that a partial democracy has come to Myanmar, both national and Rakhine-based political parties (such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party) deride the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, “interlopers” and the perpetrators of brutal crimes. This is a way of radicalising and thereby capturing the Buddhist vote.
The historical record suggests that these claims of the Rohingyas’ recent arrival in Myanmar are questionable. Many are descended from Bengali labourers who arrived after 1823, but this means they have resided in the state for almost two centuries.
And many Rohingya also lived in Rakhine before 1823. In 1799, Francis Buchanan, a visiting representative of the East India Trading Company, reported meeting “Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan (Rakhine), and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan”. Many Muslims were living in Rakhine under the Kingdom of Mrauk-U between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Has the hatred become genocide?
Buddhist nationalists, in particular the Ma Ba Tha (Patriotic Association of Myanmar) led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, are promulgating much of the hatred of the Rohingya. Despite Muslims constituting only 4% of Myanmar’s population, he and other nationalists have portrayed the Rohingya as a potentially devastating cultural and physical threat to Buddhists in Myanmar.
Wirathu’s extremism has brought him a large following and, with it, political influence. He successfully pushed a series of “race and religion” laws through parliament, including a population control bill he described as necessary to “stop the Bengalis”.
Many observers now say that recent events in Rakhine constitute genocide. The bar to this most heinous of crimes is set very high, reserved for events intended to eliminate a group in whole or in part.
The difficulty of proving intent has left many large-scale killings uncategorised as genocide. But it seems increasingly apparent that the military’s campaign against the Rohingya meets this restrictive criterion. The repeated mass violence, the execution of civilians, destruction of villages, and atrocities designed to engender terror and effect permanent exodus, combined with the government’s ongoing denial of citizenship and other rights, all point to an intention to eliminate the Rohingya as a distinct group within Myanmar.
Using a phrase commonly used in genocides around the world, the Myanmar army chief said recently that the Bengali problem was a longstanding one which has become an unfinished job.
How can and should the international community intervene?
It is difficult to see how these waves of killings and forced expulsions will cease without international involvement. While her supporters will say she can do little in the face of ongoing military power, government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen to inflame rather than calm the situation. Her office has referred publicly to “Bengali terrorists”, claimed aid agencies are assisting Rohingya militants, stated Muslims are burning their own houses, and denied any wrongdoing by the military.
Regional and international states should intensify their pressure on the Myanmar government and the military to halt the violence and protect all civilians, whether citizens or not. ASEAN states in particular should pressure Myanmar to bring the crisis to an end.
Once this has been achieved, several measures might help reduce the frequency and intensity of the violence. The first and most important step is to grant the Rohingya naturalised citizenship and the rights that go with it. The group would then continue to live in the state, be allowed to vote and hold politicians to account.
To deflect the concerns of Rakhine, the Rohingya will need to rescind their claim to indigenous status and their ties to a traditional homeland in Rakhine. The implementation of certain electoral mechanisms – such as requirements for parties to win a portion of the votes from each community and for pairs of running mates to include a member from each group – will also slowly depoliticise ethnicity in the state.
The provision of aid, which must be rapid and substantial, must be carefully balanced so as not to cause further anger. It should be delivered to both displaced and non-displaced communities from both Rakhine and Rohingya.
None of these measures will be easy. All will face substantial resistance. But the alternative is ongoing mass killing and displacement, and further radicalisation.
Chris Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations
What is this awkwardly named idea? It’s the concept that someone’s experience of the internet in Turkey, for example, is increasingly different from their experience of the internet in Australia.
Travellers to China, in particular, will be familiar with this phenomenon. Thanks to the government’s tight control, they have to use Baidu rather than Google as their search engine, and are unable to access Facebook or news sites like The Economist and the New York Times.
Read More: Is America’s digital leadership on the wane?
We have a growing splinternet because of regional content blocking and the need for companies to comply with diverse, often conflicting national policies, regulations and court decisions.
This tension is particularly apparent when it comes to the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter. These platform companies have users in almost every country, and governments are increasingly insisting that they comply with local laws and cultural norms when it comes to access and content.
The internet was never truly open
The idea of the internet as an independent, global and unregulated platform has always been something of a fiction. Even at the height of techno-futurist rhetoric about its potential to transcend national boundaries in the late 1990s, there were always exceptions.
The Chinese Communist Party understood from the start that the internet was simply a new form of media, and media control was central to national sovereignty and its authority.
But the splinternet refers to a broader tendency to use laws and regulatory powers within territorial jurisdictions to set limits on digital activities.
A threshold moment was Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013. The documents he shared suggested that the US National Security Agency, through its PRISM program, had been collecting information from global users of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo.
In countries such Brazil, whose leaders had had their communications intercepted, this accelerated moves towards developing national internet control.
Brazil’s Marco Civil da Internet law, for instance, now requires global companies to comply with Brazilian laws around data protection.
Is this a bad thing?
Until now, much of the appeal of the internet has been that it’s driven by user content and preferences, and not by governments.
But people are paying more attention to hate speech, targeted online abuse, extremism, fake news and other toxic aspects of online culture. Women, people of colour and members of certain religions are disproportionately targeted online.
Academics such as Tarleton Gillespie and public figures such as Stephen Fry are part of a growing rejection of the typical response of platform providers: that they are “just technology companies” – intermediaries – and cannot involve themselves in regulating speech.
A UK House of Commons report into “hate crime and its violent consequences” noted that:
…there is a great deal of evidence that these platforms are being used to spread hate, abuse and extremism. That trend continues to grow at an alarming rate but it remains unchecked and, even where it is illegal, largely unpoliced.
If we say online hate speech “should be policed”, two obvious questions arise: who would do it and on what grounds?
At present, content on the major platforms is largely managed by the companies themselves. The Guardian’s Facebook Files revealed both the extent and limitations of such moderation.
We may see governments become increasingly willing to step in, further fragmenting the user experience.
Fair play for all
There are other concerns at play in the splinternet. One is the question of equity between technology companies and traditional media.
Brands like Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Amazon are eclipsing traditional media giants. Yet film, television, newspapers and magazines are still subject to considerably greater levels of country-specific regulation and public scrutiny.
For example, Australian commercial television networks must comply with locally produced material and children’s content regulations. These mostly do not apply to YouTube or Netflix despite audiences and advertisers migrating to these providers.
It is increasingly apparent to media policy makers that existing regulations aren’t meaningful unless they extend into the online space.
In Australia, the 2012 Convergence Review sought to address this. It recommended that media regulations should apply to “Content Service Enterprises” that met a particular size threshold, rather than basing the rules on the platform that carries the content.
Do we want a splinternet?
We may be heading towards a splinternet unless new global rules can be set. They must combine the benefits of openness with the desire to ensure that online platforms operate in the public interest.
Yet if platform providers are forced to navigate a complex network of national laws and regulations, we risk losing the seamless interconnectedness of online communication.
The burden of finding a solution rests not only on governments and regulators, but on the platforms themselves.
Their legitimacy in the eyes of users is tied up with what Bank of England chair Mark Carney has termed for markets is a “social licence to operate”.
Although Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and others operate globally, they need to be aware that the public expects them to be a force for social good locally.
There has been an alarming upward trend in the number of deaths in war around the world since 2012.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute concludes that in the first decade of the 21st century, the total number of deaths from organised violence worldwide stabilised at around 35,000. But, by 2014, it had multiplied to 130,000. The small decline to 118,000 in 2015 didn’t reduce the severe global anxiety about armed conflict.
Half of this shocking increase was due to the war in Syria, and much of the rest to the spread of Islamic State (IS). In 2015 the number of state-based conflicts increased steeply to 50, up from 41 in 2014. This is the second highest number since 1945, due almost entirely to IS’s expansion.
However, the Syrian and IS wars are not the causes of the violent conflicts in the 23 other countries. In 2015, war was causing more than 25 battle deaths a year in these countries. They included Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, India, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, South Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Yemen.
Nor is IS the cause of conflicts in many areas where major violence has not yet erupted, but where it occurs spasmodically or is threatened. These include Burundi, Georgia, Israel and Palestine, Nigeria, Sudan, Western Sahara, and places where terrorists are active.
Neither do these include those situations where participants and observers consider there is a serious possibility of conflict erupting, and where efforts to ease conflict could be of great value. These include Bougainville, the East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, Myanmar, the Solomon Islands, the South China Sea, and West Papua.
Violent conflict is causing explosive growth in numbers of forcibly displaced people worldwide, numbering 65.3 million in 2015. This is the largest number on record. Of these, 21 million are refugees, more than half of whom are under 18.
The SIPRI Yearbook 2016 argues:
… peace is not being well served by national governments or the array of international institutions, forces and instruments that are currently devoted to enhancing security and international stability.
This disastrous situation led the new UN secretary-general, António Guterres, in his first address to the UN Security Council in January this year to say:
… the priority of everything we do together [must be] preventing conflict and sustaining peace.
… we spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them.
It has proved very difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international level that prevention must be their priority.
Therefore, strengthening and professionalising capacity for peacemaking is vital.
In September 2015, Australia joined with every other member country in the UN General Assembly in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals. Goal Sixteen is that all UN members accepted responsibility for promoting “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” and for providing “access to justice for all”. The first of the targets under this goal is to:
… significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.
Australia therefore shares in the global commitment to implement more effective means of peaceful conflict resolution. The question is: how could Australia do that most effectively?
For the last year, the University of Melbourne’s Australian International Conflict Resolution Project has been studying how seven other countries prevent conflict and build peace. The countries studied have been Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the UK and the US; the most detailed attention was given to Canada, Norway and the UK, because they focus substantial attention onto peace processes.
The conclusions focus on possible lessons and recommendations for Australia in how best to respond to conflicts and support peace processes.
Every conflict is different and requires carefully considered action. This might include:
the appointment of an expert committee of inquiry;
a political mission;
use of the good offices of the secretary-general;
reference to regional peacemaking agencies or to the UN Security Council;
reference to an international judicial tribunal.
More training in the range of conflict resolution skills such as mediation would be highly valuable.
Action to resolve or prevent conflict at an early stage is far more cost-effective than attempts to resolve, restore or repair once violent conflict has erupted.
To maximise the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s foreign policies, there would be great value in strengthening Australia’s conflict prevention and resolution capabilities.
Aiming to strengthen security is a fundamental goal for the process of development. Australia cannot be secure unless the countries in our region also feel secure. It is essential for Australian security that we seek and support additional ways of contributing to the peace and justice in the region and globally.
The idea the world is sleepwalking to war, much like Europe did in the early years of the 20th century, deserves to be taken seriously. One of us (Chris Barrie) set the hares running recently when he said that, as in 1914, political leaders today are doing just that.
Barrie was following the lead of eminent historians like Margaret MacMillan and Christopher Clark, who concluded that Europe did sleepwalk into the first world war – even if they are at a loss to explain why. MacMillan, like Barrie, has pointed out the “disquieting parallels with the present”.
But the problem with history is that it is always easy to gainsay such parallels. History doesn’t repeat itself – at least not in an exact way. The parallels that exist are usually at such a high level of abstraction that small shifts in local circumstances can render them useless.
History’s problem is the problem of the dynamics of all complex systems. Their futures are not determined, yet nor are they random. At any given point in time, the next step for any complex system exists as many possibilities – some of which are much more likely to occur than others.
How complex systems thinking can help
Complex systems thinking offers another approach to examine the parallels between today and the early 20th century. We can look forward with a complex systems perspective to seek the many possible futures, and then ask the question: which is the most likely?
We can do this through simulation. In this case, we need a model of the strategic interactions between countries that is sufficiently general that both the model and the real world are similar complex systems. And we need a model that is sufficiently realistic that its behaviours are easily recognisable in the real world of strategic interaction.
Until about 20 or 30 years ago, simulations of complex systems were pretty clunky and unrealistic. With advances in complex systems science, we can now build models that meet both criteria – generality and realism.
In this vein, we (Roger and Dmitry) have been building a general simulation framework that models the strategic interactions between countries. In discussion with Chris, we created a model within that framework that explores the essence of the sleepwalking hypothesis.
What we found broadly confirmed the hypothesis – but added some surprising wrinkles of its own.
What we found
The model stripped the problem to its essentials – a set of countries that interact with each other through competition (at its extreme, war) and co-operation (at its extreme, peace).
Countries can grow in wealth and power through these interactions. But there are costs imposed (especially by war) even on winners, so countries can also decline in wealth and power. Countries choose how to interact with a strategy they develop from their past experience and from observing what works for their neighbours.
For the sleepwalking hypothesis, we focused on two parameters that are part of a country’s strategy – hawkishness and risk aversion.
There is evidence of hawkishness in the rise in nationalism within countries as they adopt more aggressive postures in their international relations. In recent years, hawkishness has been growing in China, Russia, North Korea and the US.
An aggressive posture is one thing – but doing something about it is another, as countries factor in the costs and risks of aggression. So, we see risk aversion as a parameter distinct from hawkishness.
Saudi Arabia has demonstrated less risk aversion combined with high hawkishness in its Yemen excursions – as have Turkey and Iran in their Syrian adventure. But they also can be decoupled – North and South Korea are both pretty hawkish, but South Korea’s subtly calibrated risk aversion in the face of outrageous North Korean aggression has kept the two countries from war.
For instance, in 2010, a North Korean submarine, in an unprovoked attack, sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan. South Korea kept its response to the diplomatic domain.
We hypothesised that the world sleepwalks to war when hawkishness rises to high levels and risk aversion falls to low levels across the ensemble of states.
The interactive below shows the evolution of countries’ strategies when they believe war is not costly (whether it is or not), and when they have a tendency to copy other countries’ successful strategies.
We see that hawkishness grows very quickly and risk aversion declines very quickly across the whole ensemble. We also see that these strategies are very stable once achieved. When successful, the willingness of countries to resort to war to resolve their strategic dilemmas increases, the threshold for such a resort decreases, and this willingness is resistant to change once it is in place.
The model clearly confirms the hypothesis.
Is there a way out?
But is a de-escalation path available once the ensemble of countries is locked into high hawkishness and low risk aversion, and just waiting for a trigger for a major conflict?
Because of the in-step nature of “sleepwalking to war”, we wondered if explicit policy action by individual countries could carve out a de-escalation path. So, we drilled down into the behaviour of pairs of countries to see if we could visualise paths from war to peace.
Here we modelled, for a pair of countries, the most likely regions of war, peace and stand-off in their interactions for different degrees of hawkishness for each. We added the idea of a stand-off to our model to account for the “not-peace, not-war” phenomenon observed, for example, during the Cold War.
We then tracked the evolution of that landscape as risk aversion increased, as shown below.
We can see clearly that increased hawkishness alone will not lead to war unless risk aversion is also low. When risk aversion is high, there is plenty of peaceful space available even in the highly hawkish parts of the landscape.
In the Cold War, even though both sides mirrored each other in highly hawkish ways, their mutual risk aversion actually created a long, if tense, peace – a stand-off. And statesmanship on both sides continually steered the strategies towards the more peaceful parts of the landscape.
But we can also see that the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war.
What does all this mean?
Taking both sets of results together, we think that, in walking countries away from war, statesmanship might find much more purchase on risk aversion than on hawkishness.
It seems hawkishness is more about values (as seen, for example, in emotional calls to nationalism and populism). Risk aversion, by contrast, seems more about the rational balance of war’s costs and benefits.
With hawkishness strongly influenced by the behaviours of other countries, it is easier to talk it up than down. And, with high emotional content, it’s likely to be resistant to statesmanship – that is, policy actions that go against the grain of the moment.
But risk aversion, as a rational action, depends to a significant degree on a country’s internal policy environment – how its citizens feel about the costs of war – and so may be more amenable to change.
In an increasingly hawkish world, this may be our best bet for maintaining peace.
Roger Bradbury, Professor, National Security College, Australian National University; Chris Barrie, Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, and Dmitry Brizhinev, Research Assistant, National Security College, Australian National University
The Outer Space Treaty (OST) is the framework multilateral treaty that establishes the principal rules regulating the exploration and use of outer space. Established in 1967, it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
But now we need an update. While the fundamental principles set out in the treaty are vitally important to the peaceful and orderly use of outer space, the pace of development of space-related technology – which allows for activities far beyond the contemplation of those that put the treaty together – means that some activities in space may fall between the cracks.
50 years of OST
For 50 years, the OST has largely allowed for a consideration of the interests of both the space “powers” and the space “have-nots”.
In 1967, the Cold War superpowers were continuing to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of destroying entire cities and taking the lives of all their inhabitants. In that context, the OST set a delicate balance between the strategic interests of the US and the USSR in space. At the same time, the OST elevated the interests of humanity in outer space above the parochial interests of individual states. Appearing in person for the signing of the treaty, US President Lyndon Johnson said:
This is an inspiring moment in the history of the human race.
Indeed, the treaty has (thus far) successfully created an environment that has prevented warfare in space. Its binding provisions are not only legally defensible, but have also historically reinforced an overwhelming political dynamic to refrain from overt military action in space.
The treaty is, however, expressed in broad statements of principle; such as, that the exploration and use of outer space “shall be the province of all mankind” – or “humanity” in more gender-enlightened times. This was necessary in the geopolitical context. Broad statements of principle were sufficient to regulate relations between space-faring states in the first several decades of space exploration and use, while allowing some flexibility to those same states.
However, as space has become more accessible and commercialised, those broad statements of principle are, in our view, still necessary but no longer sufficient. They need to be supplemented – but not replaced.
Adapting the OST
At a time of heightened global strategic tensions, relative insularity and increasingly diverse vested interests, the prospect of new, legally-binding instruments seems remote, at least in the short term. Even the common mistrust that united space powers in the negotiation of the OST in 1967, is today fractured by uncertainty about the promises, prevalence and purposes of great powers and their allies. This is particularly the case with respect to an impending sense among some observers – which we do not necessarily accept – of the “inevitability” of armed conflict in space.
So, where could we find the mandate to champion the cause of new legal instruments to supplement the broad principles of the OST? To adapt global space governance to the needs of the next 50 years?
It is future generations who have the strongest claim to preserve and even improve the benefits from the peaceful exploration and use of outer space over the coming decades. They have at least a moral – and, arguably, legal – mandate to insist that states seriously consider supplementing the OST. And the opportunity for the next generation to state their claim is right here, right now.
In late September 2017, Adelaide will host the largest space-related meeting on the annual calendar – the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). In more recent years, there has been a companion conference just prior to the IAC – the Space Generation Congress (SGC). This was initiated on the request of states through the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to represent the interests of the next generation in outer space.
At the SGC, a group of young Australians will lead a working group of delegates from across the globe, to develop and propose a set of supplementary protocols to the OST, in order to adapt global space governance to the needs of the next 50 years.
Crafting instruments that address the current and foreseeable future challenges in global space governance will not be easy. The challenges are not just big, they’re existential.
Stephen Hawking recently suggested that humanity must become an inter-planetary species to escape climate change on this planet, which threatens to make the Earth environment increasingly incompatible with human existence.
Climate change is not the only threat – an asteroid impact could wipe out our species, and one of the regular solar events in the life of our Sun could severely disrupt satellites and terrestrial networks and electronics. We can’t control that, although we could do something about human-generated space debris, which may make valuable Earth orbits unusable for millennia to come.
But who should be responsible for space debris and how? What laws should apply to humans living on another planet? Who has legal authority to take timely action to divert an asteroid on behalf of the whole planet?
Furthermore, if states continue to develop means of space warfare, in addition to the many pre-existing means of warfare on Earth, we might still be the authors of our own demise. But how do you regulate “space weapons” without undermining “the great prospects opening up before mankind as a result of man’s entry into outer space” (the opening words of the OST)?
The global space industry is already worth over US$330 billion and generates hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Even in Australia, a 2015 report commissioned by the Government estimated that the space industry here generated $3 billion to $4 billion in revenue. Possible future commercial mining of the Moon and asteroids potentially involves trillions of dollars.
Furthermore, space is becoming democratised – accessible to all – through small satellite and small launcher technology. Can we find ways to share the benefits of outer space, as well as the responsibility for preserving it?
The working group at the SGC face a difficult task in articulating new rules to supplement the broad principles set out in the OST. However, they represent important stakeholders who, more than any state, have a moral mandate to champion changes to adapt the OST to the needs of the next 50 years. We wish them great success.