ASPI suggests

The world

Yet another devastating school shooting occurred in the US last week, this time in the Texan city of Santa Fe. This long read re‑visits Concord High, where in 1985 Louis Cartier walked into his school with a shotgun and carried out an unprecedented attack on his fellow classmates. Cartier’s actions left students, teachers and parents wondering why it had happened—a question that has become all too familiar. Meanwhile, Amanda Fortini bleakly recounts the Las Vegas shooting last year and its effects on survivors and the victims’ families. Most of them were disappointed to see how quickly the media moved on to cover other news and feel like ‘the forgotten people’.

Chatham House analyses the limits of Mohammed bin Salman’s social and liberalisation projects in Saudi Arabia. The arrests of activists who campaigned for women’s driving rights underlines inherent contradictions in the kingdom, which seeks to present an image of reform while maintaining an autocratic political regime.

In the aftermath of the Iraq elections, here are a couple of pieces that are worth a read. First, Carnegie offers critical insight on Muqtada al‑Sadr’s surprise victory, while the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ISCR) at King’s College London situates al‑Sadr’s victory within broader regional political trends and the role of the populist al‑Hashd al‑Sha’abi. And The Atlantic dissects America’s approach to foreign policy in the Middle East with particular reference to two turning points: the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The piece argues that failing to learn from past mistakes will ultimately compromise America’s national security.

Peter van Buren’s commentary for Reuters gives us a better understanding of how students in Tehran feel about the US, offering an unusual yet welcome change of narrative. Some students he talked to are mostly concerned that Donald Trump has reinforced the hardliners in Tehran, who warned against trusting the US in 2015.

Renowned Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis died earlier this week. The Atlantic has republished his 1990 essay, ‘The roots of Muslim rage’. His analysis and commentary are reflective of the Orientalist scholars of his time: he coined the term ‘clash of civilisations’ in characterising the West’s relationship with Islam. The Economist astutely argues that while Lewis’ early work was revered, ‘his world view grew increasingly reactionary, nostalgic and bitter’.

Darryl Pinckney reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, We were eight years in power: an American tragedy, an intellectual deep dive into the political, philosophical and practical struggles for racial equality in America. A captivating account from Longreads tells the struggles and stories of female fighters of the Tamil Tigers. Despite their large numbers in the ranks, over a 25‑year period these women have been subjected to terrible oppression, suffering and humiliation at the hands of the group they’ve given their lives fighting for.

The Guardian has a fascinating story on the intricacies of Aboriginal astronomy. Kirsten Banks explains in detail the differences in how constellations are perceived in Aboriginal culture compared to Western understandings of the sky, and how ‘star stories’ influence everyday life in Aboriginal culture. National Geographic’s alarming exposé on the devastating effects of plastic estimates that on some beaches in Hawaii, 15% of sand is actually grains of plastic.

Lastly, two new research papers caught our attention. ISCR evaluates counter-speech and counter-extremism in the UK, Germany and France. Demos’ latest paper, ‘The social benefits of economic ties’, highlights how a potential Australia–UK free trade agreement ‘could become a prototype for a more socially conscious era of free trade’.

Tech geek

An airpower focus this week. Let’s start with fifth-generation fighter aircraft. China is threatening to send its J‑20 stealth fighter close to, or above, Taiwan as part of an ongoing campaign of military coercion against the island. A Chinese spokesperson argued that ‘J‑20s can come and go at will above Taiwan’. Taiwan’s riposte was noted in this week’s ‘The five-domains update’.

Derek Grossman argues that China is relying more on military coercion to pressure Taiwan to accept reunification on China’s terms. With the risk of future conflict with Taiwan in mind, stealth aircraft will be important, and China is working hard to perfect the stealth capability of both the J‑20 and its smaller cousin, the FC‑31.

Meanwhile, for the F‑22 fans out there (and there are many of us), here’s a high-resolution version of the awesome image of an F‑22 pulling a high‑G manoeuvre at an air and space expo in Virginia.

The B‑1B Lancer (‘aka ‘Bone’) bomber is due to be replaced by the B‑21 Raider in the mid‑2020s (if the program remains on schedule and on budget). Until then the B‑1B has to keep on flying: the last one won’t head for the ‘boneyard’ until the 2030s. In the meantime, a major upgrade program is underway to keep them effective.

Finally, the current diplomatic phase in the ongoing Korean nuclear crisis seems to be on a knife edge, and so once again attention is turning to what might happen if it fails. Here’s a great analysis of how US and South Korean special forces will fight a war against North Korea.

Photo series

Saferworld put together a photo series and stories of Syrian refugees and their hosts in Lebanon.

Reuters captured the contrasting views about Ireland’s abortion referendum, which takes place today (25 May).


Vox explains why it’s problematic to compare President Trump to former President Richard Nixon, especially with an entirely different media landscape today. [8:43]

Political correctness: a force for good? Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson debate Michael Eric Dyson and Michelle Goldberg for Munk Debates. [2:04:00]


The BBC’s The Inquiry podcast investigates how North Korea is funding its investments, and whether the country is broke or experiencing an economic boom, by interviewing different expert witnesses. [23:00]

Playwright David Mamet talks to Anne McElvoy at The Economist about the role of the male on modern culture in the age of #MeToo. [25:28]


Sydney, 29 May, 6.15–8.30 pm, ‘A world in revolution: 1968–now’, hosted by Senator Lee Rhiannon. Free registration.

Canberra, 31 May, 11 am–12.30 pm, UNSW Canberra Research Group on Cyber War and Peace, ‘Cybersecurity in China and the balance of power’. Register here.

West Wodonga, 2 June, 5–6.30 pm, Voices for Indi, ‘Politics and rural Australia—in conversation with Gabrielle Chan’. Info and registration here.