ASPI suggests
2 Jun 2017|

Image courtesy of Flickr user Brian Talbot.

The ‘America First’ pendulum has been in full swing this week, as the President returned from his time abroad to stamp on the progress made by the Paris climate agreement and ask the Supreme Court to reinstate the travel ban that blocked entry to travellers from six Muslim-majority states. But never fear, H.R. McMaster, White House national security adviser, and Gary D. Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to reassure the world that, despite hard facts and the clear disappointment of the Europeans, the Trumpian jaunt overseas was a smashing success. That’s based largely on The Donald’s apparent reconfirmation of commitment to NATO and Article V—which in actual, as opposed to alternative, reality, did not happen. Read David Frum’s and Dan Drezner’s double smackdown of the ‘most extraordinary op-ed of 2017 (and not in a good way)’ for more. But on a different note, a longer read from The New Yorker looks at the psychological strain of keeping skeletons in the cupboard—perhaps a good read for those who have to front the press with feel-good stories about a White House that’s still “finding its way”?

Three great reads that are simultaneously nostalgic and forward-thinking emerged this week. First up, a longread from Foreign Policy discusses American political amnesia when it comes to global tragedy, arguing that comfort and complacency about the postwar order has caused Americans to forget about their leading role in maintaining the international system. Over at The Atlantic, Ben Sasse offers some comments on his new book, The Vanishing American Adult, which laments the disappearance of virtue from American politics. And a final piece from Aeon leaves readers with an interesting thought: ‘that the US needs its dreamers most when the world seems to be shaming them’.

A couple of fresh research efforts take the cake this week. The headliner, a massive joint effort between our friends at the Perth USAsia Centre and the United States Studies Centre, is titled America’s Role in the Indo-Pacific (PDF). The project involved an extensive polling effort across six Indo–Pacific countries, and measured attitudes towards foreign investment in infrastructure, the Korean peninsula, and whether or not the US can be the global ‘rule-setter’ under Trump. China was one of the countries polled, which makes it an especially interesting study. Next up, Van Jackson—host of the fabulous Pacific Pundit podcast series—has offered some thoughts to the Naval War College Review (PDF) on grey zone operations, and has delved into a handful of poignant case studies. And, finally, a new read from the American Enterprise Institute argues that Iran is well on the road to increasing its spending on elite military forces. At the paper’s launch, US Special Ops Vice Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Trask vowed to add the report to SOCOM’s required reading list, so have a gander now to get ahead of the curve.

Donald Trump said it best when he asked his trove of Twitter followers (or bots, you be the judge), ‘Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe”???The New Yorker has admirably tried its hand, while the geniuses behind Merriam-Webster’s Twitter persona have tossed in the dictionary and given up entirely. For more, #covfefe’s got you covered.

But after the week that was, I’d hardly blame you if you were keen to jump ship. Literally, jump. Off the ship. Into the ocean. Fortunately, this piece from New Republic looks at what’s in store for the future-gazing members of the “seasteading movement”—those who wish to live politically independent, utilitarian, energy-efficient life on the high seas, in floating structures powered by nuclear reactors. Unfortunately, as the author concludes, while technology can do plenty to improve the world, it can’t help us to bypass unsavoury politics. Keep those snorkels stored for another day.

Apropos nothing—not at all related to the fact that my boss is a massive science nerd and wanted it included—here’s a great NY Times science story on colliding black holes and gravitational waves.


For those in need of a fresh take on China beyond the headlines, look no further than this great little offering from Chinoiresie, dubbed The Little Red Podcast Series. Each episode sits around the half-hour mark, and features experts, academics, journalists and policymakers who look beyond ‘mainstream narratives of modern China’. For instance, the latest episode is an interview on freedom of the press with Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, who recently made the news after being held in detention in Guangzhou. A must-listen for all you Sinophiles out there.

And for something a little out of left field, tune in to the latest episode of Undark (37 mins), which follows the travels of writer Jeff Marlow as he looks at how lethal viruses like Ebola develop and are transmitted across species. Marlow spent a considerable time in the Democratic Republic of Congo preparing this cover story for the Undark magazine. Both the report and the podcast are worth checking out, if you’ve got an abiding interest in biosecurity.


In a beautiful finale (12 mins), The Measure of a Fog, acclaimed film director Ian Cheney wrapped up his six part series on climate change and the challenges it poses to humanity—‘from the scientific and technical to the emotional, psychological, and political.’ The series, and the finale that wraps up findings from the six episodes, is a must-watch for anyone (cough) who needs a lesson on the serious impacts that climate change will have on our planet.

While he’ll be touching down in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue right about now, US Secretary of Defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis sat down with CBS’s John Dickson for a detailed discussion on defeating ISIS, Trump’s message to NATO leaders and North Korean missile tests. He also briefly touched on haunting people’s nightmares. Check it out (and be afraid) here (13 mins).


A big few weeks ahead here in the capital, so whip those diaries out, Canberrans.

First up, US–Australia relations bigwig Kim Beazley and former US Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper sit down and discuss future of our two countries’ alliance, and how we might navigate a turbulent Asia–Pacific, on 13 June at ANU’s National Security College. This level of insight on the Alliance’s defence and security mechanisms is a rare opportunity, so make sure you register soon.

And second, also on 13 June, the nation’s capital offers you a beautiful setting for a poignant topic. At the National Portrait Gallery, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Australian Red Cross will host a discussion on the important role of wartime journalism, a profession in danger as it becomes increasingly difficult for correspondents to report from war zones, and how that impacts on the international community’s responses to conflicts and humanitarian crises. Be a part of the action by signing up here.