ASPI suggests
19 Aug 2016|

Image courtesy of Flickr user Duncan Hull

It has been a big week in the Middle East, as Russia became the first foreign military to operate from Iranian soil since at least World War 2. Russian Tu-22M3 bombers and Su-34 fighters took off from Iran’s Hamadan air base on Tuesday, signifying a new phase in Russian involvement in the Middle East, and adding a new complication to its relations with the US (unpacked by this piece at The New York Times). The aircraft (captured here in this short video) conducted air strikes around the Syrian city of Deir-ez-Zor.

Now’s a good as time as any to reflect on the turmoil in that war torn corner of the world, so be sure to read the Institute for the Study of War’s latest Syria Situation Report, which offers some detailed analysis of the Russian strikes. This longer offering from CSIS examines US strategy in the Middle East, and the endpoint of its involvement in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Two interesting pieces of photojournalism have emerged from BuzzFeed this week too, the first on life inside a US military base in Iraq, and the second (which includes an interview with Kurdish veterans) on the offensive to retake Mosul.

In Trump news (because it wouldn’t be ASPI suggests without it), The New York Times dives into a juicy scoop linking Trump’s former campaign manager to a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, and The Economist has a good read on The Donald’s new war on the media, which has more recently evolved into a war against freedom of speech. Vox offers some food for thought with this longer read on the rise of American authoritarianism, arguing that:

‘…the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.’

Sound like anyone you know?

Speaking of authoritarianism, as the Olympics wraps up, this piece from Quartz argues that the world’s biggest sporting event allows democracies to devolve into dictatorships. And a good read from The Australian says that ‘even the Olympic swimming pool has become disputed water,’ reflecting on last week’s spat between Mack Horton and Sun Yang.

Two awesome interactive global maps have surfaced recently. The first shows the complicated interconnected weave of shipping trade routes across the world, sorted by their content. You can zoom in and out of certain areas to identify hotspots: see, for instance, the Strait of Malacca. The second is a global map of wind, weather and pollution conditions—alter the settings to show CO2 emissions and hover over China for a not-so-pleasant surprise.

Fresh research is in abundance this week, kicking off with Charged Affairs, a brand new website showcasing rising leaders’ and experts’ perspectives on foreign policy and global security issues. A scary new RAND report unpacks what a war between the US and China might looks like, concluding (surprisingly) that hot conflict between the two would be far more detrimental to China’s economy than America’s. A nice short little piece from RSIS holds a magnifying glass to the relationship between Indonesia’s President Jokowi and right hand man Luhut Panjaitan. An interesting infographic from the Human Rights Watch unpacks the wartime atrocities unfolding in South Sudan. And a cool piece of analysis from Engadget argues that humans should learn to trust artificial intelligence because it’s an inevitability (which of course leads us to NASA’s space robot race).

And finally, Kim Jong-un, chief hermit of the hermit kingdom, has once again proven that US sanctions mean nothing to him by rolling out an DPRK-style Netflix equivalent called ‘Manbang’. In response to sanctions prohibiting economic transfers (here meaning Netflix) with the country, North Koreans can now raise a glass of that hangover-free alcohol and curl up on the couch to view state-approved TV or documentaries about the beloved leaders. So kind of like Stranger Things, just with more totalitarianism.


Headlining this week’s podcast picks is the brand new Pacific Pundit, an independent podcast series distributed by the ever-excellent War on the Rocks. Hosted by Van Jackson, the new series will focus on America’s engagement in the Asia–Pacific through history, geopolitics, IR theory and foreign policy. The first episode, Offshore Balancing is for Suckers (29 mins), is a not-to-miss for strategy wonks.

After an expert look into the tumultuous relationship between China and Japan? In this week’s ChinaPower podcast from CSIS, Bonnie Glaser chats (40 mins) to Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations about tensions—both historical and present—that affect friendly diplomacy between the world’s second and third largest economies.


Last month, CSIS’ International Security Program held a panel discussion (1 hr 28 mins) on what military challenges the next occupant of the Oval Office will face as they step into President Obama’s shoes. Unpacking the campaign rhetoric surrounding the two major candidates, topics range from nuclear warfare to global terrorism.


Canberra: A top notch lineup of Malaysian political figures, commentators, activists and scholars will voice their thoughts on the state of Prime Minister Najib’s Malaysia in a day-long conference on 26 August. Southeast Asianists, jump aboard here.

Sydney: The stellar youth engagement program CAUSINDY, aimed at giving young leaders from Australia and Indonesia the chance to voice their thoughts on the future of the bilateral relationship, is hosting both the University of Sydney and University of Jakarta debating teams for a discussion on business, trade and power on 3 September. Check out this page for more info on the event, and register here.

Melbourne: In the picturesque setting of the State Library of Victoria, La Trobe Asia and the Australia India Institute will hold a panel discussion next week on the intersection of India’s need to play a more substantial role on the global stage with its domestic struggles with unemployment, inequality and pollution. Mark your diaries for 30 August.