ASPI suggests

The world

Starting with bleak news, the crises in Afrin and Eastern Ghouta show no signs of relenting as we enter the eighth year of the Syrian civil war. Al Jazeera looks at seven documentaries about the conflict, and this photo essay documents the fate of the more than 465,000 Syrians killed and the desperation of the millions displaced.

There’s never a dull day with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin around. After Theresa May directly accused the Kremlin of involvement in the Sergei Skripal case, Brookings discusses the foreign policy and national security implications for the West’s relations with Russia. But this CS Monitor piece questions the credibility of the allegations against Russia. And BuzzFeed has a fascinating story on Felix Sater—a recurrent figure in the protracted Trump-Russia scandals. This deep dive portrays Sater as a jack of all trades with fingers in many a pie, from the Russian mafia and North Korea to al-Qaeda. To round off, and in preparation for Russia’s presidential election this Sunday, the Financial Times looks at the new generation of (male) politicians that Putin has been grooming.

Trump remains the star of his own reality TV show, ‘The White House: making and breaking the public service since 2016’. After publicly criticising Russia’s role in the Skripal case, Rex Tillerson was fired by Trump (via Twitter). FP argues in two separate articles that his successor, former CIA boss Mike Pompeo, might be closer to the president, but his new job will be a challenge, while The Economist forecasts a miserable future for US foreign policy under Pompeo’s guidance.

A couple of unorthodox but very interesting pieces focussing on China. First, this War on the Rocks primer on intercultural communications for US military officers meeting Chinese counterparts is a great introduction to Chinese negotiation techniques. Second, Aeon discusses the growing practice among country girls who move to larger Chinese cities of becoming ernai—the ‘second woman’.

Nationalism and populism are increasing internationally, to the detriment of liberal democracy and globalism. Shadi Hamid offers an insightful analysis of Yascha Mounk’s new book, The people vs democracy, which argues that nationalism can be reclaimed by liberals using the rhetoric of patriotism.

Here are two complementary pieces on automation and AI. The MIT Technology Review hypothesises that machines will eventually outperform humans, but we’re not there just yet, while Jamie Bartlett predicts an age of ‘neo-luddism’ during the period of radical change that we’re experiencing in tech and machine learning.

Climate change and increased pollution are visibly destroying the planet. A short clip last week caused an outcry: a British diver filmed waves of plastic waste off Bali’s coast. How people in other regions deal with climate change—fostering sustainability and helping in the fight against fundamentalism—is explored in The Atlantic’s piece on octopuses in Zanzibar.

National Geographic confronts its racist and ‘exoticist’ past in its latest issue. It includes some shocking—yet unsurprising—revelations on how the magazine covered people of colour, looking specifically at the 1916 issue that featured Aboriginal people of Australia.

This week, one of humanity’s greatest geniuses, Stephen Hawking, began his own journey to the stars. The Guardian penned a reflective obituary, while Leonard Mlodinow wrote a heartening tribute about his collaboration with Hawking. The Canberra Times and Washington Post offer some of his most famous quotes.

Tech geek

President Trump flagged the prospect of a US Space Force. An earlier proposal floated in Congress for a ‘space corps’ was resisted by the USAF. Yet the US is gearing up for war in space. As was the case with airpower in the 20th century, new operational domains tend to lead to new organisations and new ideas.

There’s a great series of articles in CIMSEC on seabed warfare that looks at how mine warfare, unmanned underwater vehicles and seabed-emplaced systems might transform the undersea battlespace.

The F-35 JSF is in the news again—and there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that costs have stabilised … for the moment. The bad news is that Block 4 modernisation could drive costs up again because many of the Block 3 improvements have been pushed into Block 4.

Finally, a couple of interesting articles on hypersonics. Space systems will become vital to track hypersonic weapons, and US R&D into hypersonics is looking increasingly underfunded. This news comes in the face of a successful Russian test of its Kinzhal Mach 10 air-launched hypersonic weapon.


Far-right nationalism is present across the globe. Japan is no exception. This Al Jazeera documentary looks at the city of Kawasaki, where a large Korean population has been subjected to hate speech. [26:00]

BBC Newsnight reports on Poland’s identity crisis, and talks to proponents and opponents of the country’s populist Law and Justice Party. [13:00]


The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi has a new audio series called Caliphate in which she reports on Islamic State and the fall of Mosul. Subscribe here.

The latest episode of Arms Control Wonk discusses President Trump’s proposal to meet with Kim Jong-un. [29:00]


Sydney, 19 March, 5–6.00 pm, The Education and Social Work Dean’s Lecture Series, ‘Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees: implications and challenges’, organised by The University of Sydney and Sydney Ideas. Register here.

Canberra, 20 March, 4–5.30 pm, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, ‘Myanmar and North Korea: divergent paths’. Details here.

Melbourne, 22 March, 5.30–7.00 pm, The University of Melbourne, ‘Can China really lead on climate change?’ More info and registration here.