ASPI suggests

The world

If your trust in the United States has been shaken in recent years, you’re not alone. Michael Fullilove argues in The Atlantic that while the US is not in decline as many argue, the strength of its institutions is eroding and consequently the allure of liberal democracy is fading. Middle Eastern powers, according to this article in Foreign Policy, are just as concerned about the internal political turmoil in America, with some concocting plans to find new strategic partners. And in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, two articles stood out, one highlighting the actual power of America in today’s world, and the other putting forward some interesting arguments about why the US shouldn’t be the world’s primary power.

It had seemed like Ireland may have missed the wave of populism that has spread through much of the West. However, as reported in The Atlantic, this has now changed with Sinn Fein’s election to government. As the article explains, Brexit has helped boost Irish nationalism, although the party’s win is credited more to general dissatisfaction with mainstream parties. Yet, as Foreign Policy explains, Sinn Fein shares similar views on foreign policy with Ireland’s other major parties. The Irish Times, meanwhile, reports that Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald has called for the European Union to ‘take a stand’ and support Irish reunification as it did with Germany.

The situation in Syria has continued to deteriorate as Turkey becomes increasingly involved in the conflict. Idlib is the epicentre of the fighting, with this Bloomberg article arguing that Turkey has increased its troop presence because it fears that Bashar al-Assad’s regime will take the city and decrease Ankara’s leverage in a post-war Syria. The Brookings Institution delves into the deterioration of Turkish–Russian relations over the Syrian conflict following years of improved relations. The Guardian provides a quick explainer on US involvement in the country, while this report by Human Rights Watch addresses a somewhat forgotten subject—the failure to find or determine the fate of Syrians (and others) captured by Islamic State prior to its military defeat.

The Philippines has ended its visiting forces agreement with the US, a move that will not only have serious implications for the two countries’ future relationship but also alter regional dynamics and impact its security. The Economist has more. The Philippines is considering agreements with other countries, possibly including Australia.

Sudan’s Sovereign Council is reportedly set to hand over former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity, including three counts of genocide in the country’s Darfur region. The New York Times notes that Sudanese analysts are sceptical and question whether the move is simply part of the negotiation process between the government and Darfuri rebel groups. Foreign Policy argues that it’s largely for these reasons that other countries are adopting a wait-and-see approach before considering removing sanctions on the country. The Economist reports that the ICC’s chief prosecutor has said most cases filed against Africans are referred by African governments and are often used as a way to remove political rivals.

The Gambia surprised some by making a case for the protection of Rohingya people in Myanmar in the International Court of Justice in recent months. The ICJ has ordered Myanmar to complete measures to protect the Rohingya. As outlined in a recent article in The Interpreter, the Gambia is a Muslim-majority country and wants to see the protection of the minority Rohingya people, who are also Muslim. The Washington Post explains how the recognition of the Rohingya as a protected group would force Myanmar to change its rhetoric and acknowledge their legal status. This article in The Guardian details how the deaths of 16 Rohingya refugees could be evidence that transnational trafficking networks in the region have been revived.

Tech geek

The US Department of Defense has released its 2021 budget request to Congress. The proposed US$740.5 billion budget focuses on nuclear deterrence recapitalisation and the cyber and space domains, and seeks to emphasise acquisition of emerging technology capabilities, such as hypersonics, over the retention of legacy systems. Cuts to existing platforms have been written into the funding request, including a range of air combat capabilities and four of the navy’s earliest littoral combat ships. Under the plan, construction of Arleigh Burke–class destroyers would be slashed by five hulls and more money will be sought for new ‘SSN(X)’ submarines.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently shifted the hands of its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, shaving 20 seconds off the 2019 setting. The clock measures how close we are to a global catastrophe brought about by nuclear war, uncontrolled technologies and, more recently, climate change. War on the Rocks has a great piece analysing how the organisation decides how close we are to self-destruction.

Business Insider and the South China Morning Post take you inside the Central Military Commission’s Joint Battle Command Centre, which is the People’s Liberation Army’s main leadership bunker in case of nuclear war. It’s northwest of Beijing just off the Hanhe Road, outside of Tahoushen, near the Temple of Azure Clouds, for those of you playing at home. See here for video of the place from 2016, and here for a rough location Tech Geek found on Google Earth.

Finally, the age of quantum communications is upon us. Chinese scientists have reportedly transmitted ‘qubits’—quantum memory—via optical fibre over a distance greater than 50 kilometres, shattering the previous record of 1.3 kilometres.

This week in history

The Yalta Conference, a meeting between the US, UK and USSR to discuss the postwar reorganisation of Germany, concluded this week in 1945 after seven days of debate. The Atlantic Council has a great article on the lessons learned from the conference, and here are some photos of the event.


Al Jazeera has released an ‘In pictures’ series that shows the plight of Syrians fleeing for safety as the conflict continues.

ABC’s Four Corners program has released its latest episode for 2020, which looks at an insider-trading scandal involving a US congressman and his Sydney-based investment.

The National Security College podcast examines the intricacies of Australia’s politics and the potential impact on our relationship with Asia should the country move away from multiculturalism. [56:08]


Sydney, 19–21 February, ‘Safety, Security, Counter Terrorism and Counter Drones Forum’. For more information, see here.

Canberra, 20 February, 4–5 pm, Australian Institute of International Affairs: ‘Australian foreign policy in practice’. Register here.