ASPI suggests
7 Apr 2017|

The horrific chemical attack that took place in Syria’s Idlib province this week is yet another brutal milestone for those living fractured lives in a broken country. It’s thought that upwards of 80 people were killed, at least 30 of them children; 22 of the victims were from one single extended family. Now in its seventh year, the war is estimated to have killed over 400,000 people, displaced 6.3 million and led 4.8 million to flee the country. Those numbers are diabolical. A gang of four from the Century Foundation recently held a sizable discussion on where things stand in Syria, one year after their first meeting. It’s worth setting some time aside for, especially after today’s news that the US has launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at regime-controlled Shayrat airfield and is said to be cobbling together an international coalition to oust Basher al-Assad. Watch this space as the implications unfold.

In the recently released book Civil Wars: A History in Ideas, David Armitage looks at how the concept of ‘civil war’ has developed over the last two millennia. Turns out it’s been surprisingly slippery, as this elegant review points out:

‘Armitage’s insight is that the concept of the civil war has become one that is best understood, or perhaps only understandable, by reference to the struggles that inevitably accompany its invocation. One person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist, as the saying goes. So too one person’s civil war is another’s criminal conspiracy or treason plot or coup d’etat. The language matters because entire worlds of meaning – moral, political, and legal – follow from the choice of words. And so people embrace or reject the label because of the train of consequences that will follow from its successful invocation.’

Hats off to the ANU’s National Security College team for pulling together the Women and National Security conference that went down in Canberra this week. If you couldn’t get along, never fear: thankfully there was a remarkable level of digital fluency among those who did, so head on over to the #WaNS collection on Twitter to catch up with the goings-on. The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong delivered a dinner keynote which won mad props online; check out an edited extract here on The Strategist.

Two stateside national-security sites have recently had their work scrutinised and celebrated by some big-deal operations. Lawfare had it’s time in the sun in The New York Times: ‘How a Wonky National-Security Blog Hit the Big Time’. And Nieman Lab was digging the erudite efforts of War on the Rocks: ‘War on the Rocks is a national security site for a military “tribe” that knows what it’s talking about’.

And finally, Rex Tillerson: Hemingway or Kerouac? After his sparse statement this week on North Korea’s latest missile moves, it seems that prolix stream-of-consciousness isn’t his thing. His 23-word statement was equal parts remarkable, confusing and off-beat. As you could almost fit State’s statement into a tweet, former Caerus Associates boss, Erin Simpson, naturally took to the Twitterverse to deliver a surgical strike in the form of this GIF thread. Boom.


This week, two good listens from the Harvard Kennedy School’s PolicyCast. First up is a snappy lecture on public diplomacy and journalism in the post-truth world, which was delivered by Rick Stengel, a former managing editor of Time who until recently headed up Foggy Bottom’s public diplomacy effort (31 mins). The second involves another Obama-era official in Josh Earnest, who talked Trump and Clinton and pulled back the curtain on some key moments during his time wrangling the White House press corps (32 mins).


The FT’s foreign affairs chief, Gideon Rachman, has just released a new book, Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline. The thesis is familiar, with Rachman outlining how the status quo is being remade, before offering a plan for how we might stay upright as the sands shift. He was at CSIS this week to launch the book, sitting down for a meaty conversation with Senior VP for Asia Mike Green (56 mins).


Brisbane: If you’re in Brissie next week, be sure to get along to Peter Layton’s speech to the AIIA. Peter will survey Beijing’s efforts to win friends and influence people in Southeast Asia, and will also turn his mind to how Canberra should be calibrating its efforts in response. Registration essential.

Sydney: CSIS’s Andrew Shearer will be back in Oz in a couple of weeks, and will be stopping by the USSC at Sydney Uni to talk about the Trump administration’s first few months in office and what’s on the cards for the alliance relationship. Details here.