Archive for the ‘Blogs & Talks’ Category

On the changing character of warChangingWar_Tim

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15.10.2012 Available at

The Guardian opened its weekend editorial on the merits of the news from Oslo that Europe had won the Nobel Peace Prize, with the line that ‘satire was abolished the day that Henry Kissinger got the peace prize’. Only against this measure does the decision by the Nobel Committee seem well founded.

The same US Secretary of State, who as a young man at Harvard wrote a doctoral dissertation on the 19th Century Concert of Europe, is attributed with the quip, ‘Who do I dial when I want to call Europe?’ Yet the absence of a strong and singular conception of sovereignty at the heart of the European Union should not mask the achievements of its project.

If it were possible to give an accolade for a vision, then the ideas underpinning the European project are unquestionably deserving of recognition. The 1950 Schuman Plan, led by then Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, realised the need for concrete cooperative measures to be taken if Europe’s future was to be unlike its warring past. 

Underpinning the Schuman plan, and countless subsequent policies and initiatives taken by the European Union, is the idea that peace is a process rather than an end state. And that process is advanced by being attentive to practical and material issues and concerns, such as the need for cooperation over vital resource extraction set out in the 1950 plan for a coal and steel community. Through these small steps, the early visionaries hoped that war in Europe would become not merely unthinkable but materially impossible.

Europe remains a complex entity in which governance happens across at least three institutional levels (supranational, state-based, sub-state regional governance). This means that, when it leads, it frequently leads from behind, as the sovereign debt crisis shows, or the inept European interventions in the Balkans crises during the 1990s.

So is it hurray, urrà, and hurra for Europe? No, in the sense that Europe has not been a great success in promoting peace on a global scale; its peace is what one of its towering philosophers, Immanuel Kant, called a ‘separate peace’. Even then this peace required US diplomatic support, massive US economic investment, almost 300,000 pairs of boots on the ground (a high point reached in 1962), and NATO’s collective defence charter and operations. But yes, in the sense that the separate peace needs recognising, just as the interplay of economic and security logics that underpin its vision needs valorising.

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23.10.2012 Available at

By Alex Bellamy & Tim Dunne

This is the season when the UN General Assembly becomes something of a diplomatic pageant, as the candidates for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council vie with each other for what in many respects is the biggest prize of all: a seat at the table. For 2013 and 2014, five countries—Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea, and Rwanda—join Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo as non-permanent members of the UNSC, the latter five of which have one remaining year to serve.

Candidate countries engage in long and drawn-out campaigns to garner promises of support when it comes to the vote—promises that are undeclared and sometimes unfulfilled. While capitals produce pamphlets showcasing their countries contribution to the UN, their domestic publics tend to focus on the mundane materiality of the anticipated costs and benefits of membership.

“Why bother?” This question is frequently posed in national newspapers and on blog sites. Below we set out a number of answers to this question, and in so doing, reveal several under-studied aspects of non-permanent members’ role: their agenda-setting power, the influence they are able to exert over the Permanent Five (P5), and whether it is meaningful to consider the Elected Ten (E10) as a grouping with a shared identity and common purposes.

The first and most obvious point to make about the E10 is that it is the “other” to the P5. These global powers have, by virtue of Article 23 of the UN Charter, a double privilege: a permanent place at the table, and decisive influence that is given to them by their veto power.

By comparison, he non-permanent members are hardly ever noticed outside of the small world of international diplomacy, with the only notable exception being when the U.S. scrambled for votes in support of the 2003 Iraq War—a state of affairs which catapulted the E10 to global prominence.

Nonetheless, when they are prepared to work hard and innovate, non-permanent members can leave an indelible mark on the Council. During its stint on the Council in 1999-2000, Canada pioneered two critically important initiatives that not only improved the effectiveness of the Council, but also contributed to the protection of civilians in armed conflict. Through its activism on the Angola sanctions committee it introduced the notion of “naming and shaming” states that failed to comply with the Security Council’s demands. This led to a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of the sanctions regime targeting UNITA; it also created a precedent followed by other sanctions committees.

Since then targeted financial sanctions and asset freezes have proven to be highly effective tools. Canada also championed the adoption of the protection of civilians as a thematic agenda item. Thanks to this initiative, the Council continues its ongoing consideration of the issue, which has helped prompt the UN to mainstream protection in its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions and place demands on combatants.

Today, so-called “Arria formula” meetings—developed and championed by Diego Arria, Venezuela’s permanent representative to the Security Council in 1992-1993—are a standard part of the Council’s agenda. These meetings allow Council members to informally seek the advice of nongovernmental organizations on particular issues. The Council’s first discussion of the crisis in Darfur, for example, was an Arria formula meeting.

It is also worth remembering that when they act together, the members of the E10 can enjoy their own veto. For even if the P5 find a consensus, they still require four additional votes from the E10, as resolutions require nine affirmative votes to pass.   In theory, therefore, it is possible that the E10 could block even the most determined joint action by the P5 if they so chose.

But even if blocking the P5 is an unlikely scenario, the combined power of the E10 members should not be underestimated. It is worth remembering, for example, that in 2011, as the Security Council debated action over Libya, the E10 included several so-called “rising great powers”: Brazil, India, and South Africa, and Germany, the EU’s indispensable state. India, in particular, sought to use its E10 status to pursue the policies and purposes of rising powers.

How does the weight of the newly elected E10 members compare? Of the five successful candidates, three are pivotal to the security and prosperity of their region—Argentina, Australia, and the Republic of Korea. It is possible that they will find common cause in progressive middle power agenda-setting, such as over arms control and disarmament, development, and the R2P framework for atrocity prevention and response.

In terms of the process of selection, it is useful to be reminded of the “brief” (in both meanings) that is given in the UN Charter. When selecting candidates seeking to join the E10, the 193 UN member states that are eligible to vote are instructed to give “due regard” to the contribution of the candidate states to “the maintenance of international peace and security’ and also ‘to equitable geographical distribution.”

The latter criterion ought to be straightforward given the regional blocs. Yet there are many anomalies in the groupings—anomalies that are perhaps unavoidable given that geography and history are often poorly aligned. Israel and Australia, for instance, are in the so-called West European and Others Group, which is why Australia found itself in a highly competitive three-cornered contest with Luxembourg and Finland. The defeat for Finland in the current round is a surprise given its historic contribution to peacebuilding going back to the Helsinki Accords of 1975.

Over the years, there have been dozens of proposals for reforming the voting system to ensure that the votes reflect these criteria. Some have suggested that membership ought to be conditional on contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping operations. That might rule out Australia, Finland and Luxembourg, who together contribute fewer peacekeepers to UN missions than does Fiji. Others have argued that states found to have poor human rights records ought not to be permitted to stand. Here it should be remembered that the Rwandan government was on the Security Council at the time of the genocide, suggesting that E10 membership provides opportunities to diplomatically cover-up barbaric policies at home.

But whose standards would be taken as the guide? One rather instrumentalist proposal suggested that a state’s financial contribution to the UN should be taken into account, and that states with significant financial debts to the UN ought to be barred from standing. According to the most recent budget figures, this would rule out Japan. Of course, by that standard the United States would have had a hard time getting on the Council for much of the 1990s.

Clearly, formal prescriptions about the criteria for membership are not desirable as they would produce harmful effects for the UN and international society more broadly. Nonetheless, informal pressure might be brought to bear if states and societies are given easy access to information about the qualities that a potential E10 candidate country brings to the table.  For example, a repository of data that presented an index of global citizenship explicitly tied to UN benchmarks would assist the calibration and transparency of this aspect of the criteria. Among other things, such a dataset would need to include: peacekeeping contributions, financial donations, aid programs, compliance with international law, human rights treaty ratifications (including of the International Criminal Court), and information about conduct that is consistent with extant Security Council resolutions.

Even with more and better quality information about where different countries stand with respect to a basket of UN policies and rules, elections to the Council and to other UN organs and committees are still likely to result in anomalies. But at least those voting in the General Assembly would be making an informed decision about a candidate country’s past record; and let us not forget that knowledge is power.

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by Tim Dunne & Sarah Teitt – 11.07.2012

There are many reasons why the application of coercive Western military power against Syria is a bad idea. Professor Hugh White is right about that in his recent contribution to the debate.

Those associated with the principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) have argued for a range of coercive and non-coercive measures against the Assad regime to prevent further atrocities. What the R2P movement has not done is advocate a military solution to the humanitarian problem. White is wrong to imply this has been the case.

Posts on this site and elsewhere on the Syrian crisis have lent strong support to coercive diplomacy and other measures short of military force. This is not because the R2P movement opposes force in all cases but because the R2P framework is a great deal more granulated than the simplistic intervention/non-intervention polarity often constructed by its critics.

In this light, many of the inferences White makes in relation to the lessons learned from Libya for the future of R2P are open to question.

First, White derides the idea of ‘impartial intervention’ as an ‘illusion’ and asks us to face the reality that ‘the only way we can help stop civilians being killed is to help one side win the war’. The arrow of White’s critique is surely aimed at traditional peacekeeping operations – guided by impartiality, neutrality and the non-use of force – rather than R2P operations. The failure of the orthodox peacekeeping doctrine during the Balkan wars was one of the drivers of the R2P framework. It was clear to R2P advocates that the international community had to take sides when the crime of genocide or ethnic cleansing was being committed. And as Alex Bellamy reminds us, taking sides can mean regime change, as the overthrow of Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Charles Taylor showed.

Second, the R2P framework recognises that while coercive military action may be necessary, it can never by free from bad moral consequences.

To assume, as White does, that R2P advocates are too ready to send in the cavalry ignores a core facet of the R2P framework in relation to decision-making on the use of force. Interventions consistent with R2P must not only have the authority of the UN Security Council, they should also exhaust all non-coercive possibilities and pass the test of proportionality. Even if these conditions are satisfied, it is perfectly consistent with the R2P framework to argue that military action should be averted if there is a reasonable chance it could do more harm than good.

Third, White questions whether the intervention in Libya has pointed to an ‘open-ended responsibility to reconstruct’ as part of the R2P framework. This is not an obligation that has received widespread diplomatic assent, and certainly not among Western capitals. Too often the international community has considered its mission accomplished when the spike in mass killings has diminished, yet chronic long-run atrocities keep occurring due mainly to economic and social deprivation and failing political institutions.

These structural conditions cannot be addressed through short-term military interventions. The limited attention span of Western capitals is perhaps the most significant challenge for R2P after Libya. For the cycle of violence to end, those states that are ‘friends of R2P’ must take the responsibility to rebuild more seriously.

As for Professor White’s concern for a Syrian future after Assad, we seem to be inching closer to that day not through the overt threat or use of force but through tireless diplomacy on the part of the UN and through unrelenting scrutiny by humanitarian NGOs.

Western leaders may not have a choice but to plan for this eventuality. How we conceive of the problems of governance after this traumatic societal experience, how weapons are put beyond use, how ordinary people are put back to use and how civilian protection can be part of the international and domestic policy priorities in post-Assad Syria; these are the pressing political questions. Firing blanks at R2P is not the place to find answers.

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Authoritarian capitalism presents a riddle worth solving. Let’s bring China in from the cold and wrestle with it together

1.10.2009 Available at

Today, 1 October, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) celebrates its 60th birthday. This is a good moment to evaluate what kind of country China has become. One might argue, as Churchill did of Russia, that it is “a riddle wrapped up in mystery, inside an enigma”. The enigma is the Communist party and its grip on power, and the mystery is whether an authoritarian power can embrace capitalism without sowing the seeds of its own demise.

If there are many unknowns about China, perhaps the place to start is with what we do know. The PRC is a global power. It is a permanent member of the UN security council and plays an increasingly important role in the determination of international security concerns. From North Korea to Iran, China is a pivotal power in terms of multilateral measures to limit nuclear proliferation.

To be a global power requires more than military might. In an age of globalisation, global powers have to be economic titans. China is certainly one of these. It has become the world’s second biggest economy (or third if we are to count the EU as a single power rather than a union of 25 different countries). Its growth rate over the last three decades has averaged an annual rise in GDP of in excess of 10%.

What, then, is the mystery? It might seem ironic to invoke Marx’s analysis of capitalism to answer this question. Marx believed that capitalism’s advance would not be halted by “Asiatic” modes of economic activity that he regarded as backward. Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, agreed with Marx and embarked on a course of modernisation that would have been heretical to the architects of the Cultural Revolution.

Marx’s other insight into economic development raises an altogether more haunting spectre for Chinese elites. He believed that social relations inevitably followed the path of economic progress. The more open and competitive an economy becomes, the greater the pressure to liberalise political institutions and democratise civil society. China wants the former while resisting the latter; the party, we are told by Chinese leaders, must retain a monopoly over ideas and institutions.

The history of development in the west suggests economic and political liberalisation are inseparable. For capitalism to work efficiently, so the argument runs, political power must be ceded to political parties and organisations that represent the interests of the working class. In other words, far from being a threat to capitalism, social democracy is in fact essential to its durability.

Ideologies of modernisation, whether they spring from the left or the right, imply that there is only one path to development. Asian economies have so far resisted this trend. Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, are all examples of successful authoritarian capitalist countries. The question is whether such a model could apply to a country as large and complex as China.

The scale of the modernisation challenge facing the PRC should not be underestimated. It may be the second largest economy in the world, but remember also that it is not in the top 100 in terms of its level of income per head of population. What this suggests is that capitalism has so far only benefited a narrow segment of the urban middle class. That leaves hundreds of millions on the periphery, condemned to the informal economy and vulnerable to the ups and downs of the business cycle. The PRC government estimates that the global financial crisis has resulted in 20 million migrant workers losing their jobs.

While economists probe the relationship between economic and political liberalisation, experts on international relations weigh up the relationship between economic and military power. Will a rising China become a threat to western interests? Leading US-based scholars answer this question with a straight “yes”. As John Mearsheimer argued in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, all previous global powers have first sought to dominate their region before pursuing competitors further afield. Why, he asks, should we expect China to be any different?

The policy advice given by these so-called realists is that the United States should contain China’s rise in order to maintain America’s technological and strategic superiority. This may seem superficially sensible but in truth it is flawed. The flaw stems from believing that China is only interested in pursuing strategies that further its own national interest at the expense of the greater good.

It is correct to argue that great powers have historically demanded that the regional leadership be respected; the United States has insisted this be the case in Latin America, and the EU has arguably played the same game, only through enlargement rather than the more overt method of threatening or using force. China believes it too can exert regional dominance by peaceful means – its neighbours; however, do not always see it this way.

History suggests another dynamic associated with great power politics, and that is the importance of status. China’s relationship with western countries can be fruitfully understood in terms of a struggle for acceptance. In the 1800s, China was denied the usual rights associated with sovereign statehood, including the right of non-intervention which was traduced during the opium wars and the diplomatic treaties associated with their aftermath, not least the annexation of Hong Kong for the British crown.

One way of responding to China’s rise is to recognise the importance of status. By and large this is happening: the US is no longer seeking to cajole China into democratisation. Instead of beating the drum of containment, as realists do, or insisting on compliance to western ideas, as liberals propose, a better policy is to enmesh China in the multilateral order such that it binds itself to the institutions and purposes of the system overall.

Churchill’s famous quotation about Russia implied that understanding the national interest was more predictable than trying to understand the particular traits and habits of a foreign culture. On this he was wrong. Getting to grips with the mystery of authoritarian capitalism, and the enigma of the struggle for status, is more likely to yield results in the case of China than relying on the riddle of the national interest.

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Bilateralism made sense four centuries ago – strange then for William Hague to make it a strategy for a networked world

6.07.2010 Available at

Since the election of Britain’s Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, the focus of attention has been on the measures deemed necessary to bring down the government’s debt. By comparison, little has been written about their foreign policy priorities.

An exception to this relative neglect is Afghanistan. Senior ministers, and the prime minister himself, have signalled their support – with high-profile visits – for British forces who continue to suffer terrible losses in the war against the Taliban.

These two factors – government cuts and an unwinnable war – would logically suggest that the UK government will adopt a cautious role for Britain in world politics. Many would think such a new realism would be welcome relief from the overblown sense of grandeur that inflicted the internationalism of the Blair era.

A government that portends a return to a less interventionist state in economic policy might be expected to be less interventionist on the global stage. Britain’s relative power has been in decline for well over a century: our share of the world economy was around 25% prior to the first world war and has fallen to about 10% today. Ought we to accept that the game of great power politics is over, and that Britain should apply for membership of the club of middle powers? It is likely that countries such as Turkey, Nigeria, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Australia would accept such an application.

The first major foreign policy address given by the foreign secretary, William Hague, does not signal any such retreat. He boldly talked about extending “our global reach and influence”. His speech accurately captured the changing dynamics of international relations and how these impinge on foreign-policy making. The centre of gravity of the global economy is shifting to east and south Asia; the G20 and other informal coalitions are gaining in influence over formal international organisations; security is harder to achieve in our globalised world in which threats are multiple and our means to combat them are diminished.

Accepting this new context was, he argued, a critical starting point if Britain is to avoid a decline in its influence. What is far less persuasive is how we should respond to these challenges. The essence of Hague’s strategic plan is for the UK to become more active in promoting its bilateral relations with key states.

Bilateralism appears in the introduction and conclusion of the speech, and is repeated many times throughout. It is a curious choice of words since the foreign policy of any one state has traditionally been regarded as the aggregate of all bilateral relationships. To put bilateralism at the heart of foreign policy would have been very unremarkable to the great exponents of raison d’état writing in the period after the formation of the European states system in the late 17th century.

One alternative way of conceiving the relationship between a state and the wider international order is multilateralism. Leading US-based liberal thinkers in international relations have defined multilateralism as the practice of coordinating national policies in accordance with principles of inclusivity and fairness. In a multilateral international order, the benefits of co-operation are not always immediate; it is, however, understood that all benefit from the multilateral order in the long run.

The other alternative to bi- and multilateralism is unilateralism. This latter term came to prominence in the 1990s with the rise of neoconservative thinking. At its root, unilateralism is “going it alone”. Or, as George Bush put it in relation to the Iraq war, “we really don’t need anyone’s permission” to declare war. The characteristics of a unilateral approach to foreign policy include indifference to international institutions and a concomitant recognition that the pursuit of the national interest often demands that international rules must be broken.

To date, no serious thinkers on foreign policy have sought to imbue bilateralism with any significance. On the spectrum of strategic logics, it does not imply indifference to international institutions, although it does imply that certain state-to-state relationships are of greater value. Neither does bilateralism endorse rule-breaking per se, unless the partnership is with a state that is pursuing a unilateralist foreign policy, as was the case with Britain and the US during the Iraq war.

The absence of a persuasive intellectual rationale for the concept of bilateralism is no barrier to a new foreign secretary who is in search of a mission statement. In practice, the concept quickly becomes fairly predictable. It starts, rather unsurprisingly, with “our unbreakable alliance with the United States”.

Unbreakable for whom? Britain, and Europe for that matter, barely feature in Obama’s new national security strategy. Not because his administration doesn’t like us, but for the plain fact that the economic and security challenges to the United States lie outside the west. And in sharp contrast to the cold war, the transatlantic alliance is no longer a means to resolve the main security problems of the United States. Loyalty for influence, that old bargain at the heart of the special relationship, has never sounded less hollow that it does today.

An activist bilateralism is advocated in relation to Britain’s relations with emerging (or more accurately re-emerging) powers. Again, it is not evident from his speech how an invigorated bilateral relationship with China is going to differ from what is currently the UK/EU position. Would it mean forgiving possible breaches of agreed standards of behaviour on the part of China in the interests of the bilateral relationship? At what costs to the multilateral order?

Does this add up to a “distinctive” approach to foreign policy, as the new foreign secretary claims? The emphasis upon renewed bilateralism is distinctive but insufficiently well thought out to count as a serious shift in thinking about Britain’s role in the world.

The second distinctive part relates to the idea of a “networked world” that Hague believes is a critical dimension of the new global context. In a networked world, political authority is disaggregated; it is where international public opinion has to be understood – and shaped. It is potentially radical at least in so far as many would argue that sovereign governments lack agility and sometimes legitimacy in the eyes of the wider world society.

Unfortunately, the new foreign secretary and his research staff have managed to empty the concept of the networked world of all its radical potential. The Commonwealth, for example, is cited as an underutilised “global network” when it is a coalition of former colonised countries that, in general, privilege their sovereign prerogatives over the welfare of common humanity.

We will probably not know how far Hague and the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition have set a different course for UK foreign policy until they face their first real crisis where there is no right answer. Blair faced many, and he made some good judgments; but he is only ever remembered for one wrong decision.

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GREATER autonomy and research opportunities are tempting disillusioned British dons to these shores.

15.12.2010 Available at

SECOND-RATE British celebrities may be desperate to leave the Australia popularised in the television series I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here but British-based academics, on the other hand, are keen to travel in the opposite direction. Why?

The deep cuts to university funding amount to a significant reason academics are on the move. The proposal passed by the House of Commons last week means that no public money will be available to support students taking degrees in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Students in these programs will think of themselves as customers and will demand more contact with academic staff and better quality feedback for their assignments.

We all knew the boom years would come to an end. In Britain, in the period since 1997, student enrolments increased to 43 per cent of the 18 to 30 age cohort; public spending on universities rose by 25 per cent and academic salaries became respectable in relation to other professions. As the storm clouds gathered at the end of the Labour years, then deputy prime minister Peter Mandelson told universities they had never had it so good. He was right, although good news never felt quite so good when it passed through the lips of the prince of darkness.

In place of a growing and vibrant sector, the mood music in British higher education is one of redundancies, departmental closures, pay freezes, further restructuring and possibly institutional insolvency. The October comprehensive spending review proposed a 40 per cent cut in the teaching grant; with a hike in fees (up to pound stg. 9000 or $14,000 a year) as the only way to close the funding gap. Small wonder one academic on the move cited a climate of fear as a key push factor.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising British academics in my discipline of international relations are taking up opportunities in Australia. The University of Western Australia has hired three senior politics and international relations chairs: Diane Stone and Richard Higgott from the University of Warwick, and Mark Beeson from Birmingham University. Birmingham also lost Stephanie Lawson to Macquarie and Laura Shepherd, who takes up a post at the University of NSW in January.

Colin Wight, a former colleague of mine at the University of Exeter, is going to the University of Sydney, an institution that only recently hired political theorist John Keane from Westminster University.

News about my move to the University of Queensland broke at Exeter in the same week Queensland came top in a Times Higher Education survey for staff satisfaction.

Career decisions are complex and the motivations for moving are personal and contingent. Or are they?

As Emile Durkheim pointed out more than a century ago, what at first blush appears to be an individual decision is often better accounted for by following a pattern.

Recurring themes noted by the movers include, first and foremost, the attraction of working in a sector where universities have greater autonomy. A feature of higher education in Britain during the boom period, that will only intensify, is the tendency for all aspects of academic work to be subjected to regulation and scrutiny. Having adjusted to regular rounds of assessment to judge the quality of research outputs, academics are being evaluated for the impact of the research on various user communities. While it is apparent a research assessment culture is taking a foothold in Australia, it is not a dominant driver of research funding at present.

If we are, as commentator Fareed Zakaria claims, entering a post-American world, then Australian universities are well placed to benefit from the rise of the rest, particularly India, Indonesia, and China. Such favourable geopolitical circumstances will not only bring financial security, they will open up research networks that are regionally focused.

Building regional networks was a factor in Stone’s decision to take a three-year leave of absence from her professorial posts at Warwick and the Central European University. Likewise, the post of director of research in the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland provides an opening to critical questions about wide and deep norms of humanitarianism embedded outside of the liberal heartland.

What makes relocating to a new academic community easier is that it does not entail breaking links with previous networks. After Higgott finishes as pro vice-chancellor (research) at Warwick, he will be directing a multi-million-dollar research project on Europe’s power and moral purpose from UWA, which will be his main academic home for the next few years.

The non-academic pull factors noted by the international relations movers were about lifestyle. Oh, and not having to endure drizzle.

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The UK’s new national security strategy covers a lot of ground, but leaves some important questions unanswered.

25.03.2008 Available at

Shortly after 9/11, George Bush outlined a new “national security strategy”. It was the founding statement of what came to be known as the Bush doctrine. At its core, the doctrine of pre-emption is about dealing with threats at their source rather than waiting “for the mushroom cloud to appear”.

America’s national security strategy has many flaws, principal among them the fact that military action is triggered at a much lower level of threat than is usually required for forcible action to be lawful. The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, went as far as to argue that military action was justifiable if there was only a 1% risk of an attack on the homeland.

Set against this, the main virtue of the America’s strategy is a relatively brisk and bold statement of what the country stands for, how it sees the new threats to its security, and what instruments it is able to wield in order to deter or defeat its enemies.

The publication by the Cabinet Office of a national security strategy (pdf) for the UK is strikingly different. It is a far longer and more nuanced document. Much of it is devoted to fostering greater inter-agency cooperation designed to meet the challenges thrown up by “the new security landscape”. On these points and others, the security strategy is a welcome advance on the incoherent list of strategic priorities that had informed previous documents.

The document, however, contains many weaknesses and notable omissions. It is helpful to think about these in light of what strategy means. In the classical writings on strategy, penned by post-1945 American security practitioners, strategy must address three issues: the identification of goals; the determination of threats; and the design of intelligent responses to those threats.

What does the newly published UK national security strategy tell us about the identification of goals? At first sight, this seems relatively straightforward. In the opening paragraph, repeated in the prime minister’s speech in the Commons on March 19, it clearly states that the primary responsibility for the government is “to provide security for the nation and its people”. Secondary goals include the following: spreading our values such as human rights; acting multilaterally; and ensuring an integrated response to security problems.

The strategy is deafeningly silent about the fact that the Iraq war contradicts all of these goals. In terms of human rights, the respected International Crisis Group argue persuasively that there was no just cause for intervention on humanitarian grounds five years ago but there is now. The goal of multilateralism was dealt a terrible blow by the circumvention of the security council by the US and Britain. To say, as the document does, that the UK “prefers a multilateral approach” is at best question-begging and at worst hypocritical.

What does the UK national security strategy tell us about the second side of the strategic triangle, namely, the sources and levels of threats? Traditional thinking on strategy relies on an existential understanding of security. In other words, the nation or people must be protected from threats to their territory and way of life. This document shows that the government’s view of security encompasses any threat “to the integrity and interests of the state”.

The framers of the security strategy frequently refer to the “new landscape” of the international system in which threats are diverse and interconnected. International terrorism is foregrounded, though interestingly, it is not thought to constitute a clear and present danger. This is consistent with the attempt by the Brown-led government to distance itself from the escalatory rhetoric associated with the war on terror.

In terms of the threat of nuclear weapons, there is no clear and present danger. None of the nuclear powers has the capability and intention to strike at the UK. The document recognises that this status quo can only be maintained if we work effectively do prevent proliferation – except of course when Trident is upgraded using US technology. There is no recognition in this security strategy document that the ongoing division between the nuclear haves and the have-nots is both unjust and potentially unstable in the long term.

Failed states remain a security problem because they generate “humanitarian catastrophes” and often destabilise important geostrategic regions. The new strategy reaffirms that the UK has a duty to try and prevent or contain conflicts overseas. Such an enlarged conception of security is welcome. What is unclear is how it can be squared with the view that the security and integrity of the UK must be paramount.

At the time of the Kosovo war, Tony Blair delivered his “doctrine of international community” speech. His point of departure was the question of when it might be appropriate to get involved in other peoples’ conflicts. The current security strategy document has not taken us any further in answering this question.

After almost two decades of western interventionism, it simply cannot be assumed that actions animated in whole or in part by moral purposes directly enhance UK security. The 7/7 bombings suggest the opposite: a foreign policy driven by liberal internationalist goals can generate negative security realities.

A parallel problem is evident in the treatment of the environment. We read that climate change “is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security, and therefore to national security”. This linkage between global and national security needs spelling out. Rising sea levels may be devastating to Polynesia but in what way can this meaningfully be a security risk to the UK?

The weakness in the national security strategy document is not the aspiration to assist faraway peoples and places who are confronted by danger and who live in fear. To the contrary, the weakness lies in the prior claim that security is primarily a property that belongs to the nation state. Once freed from this assumption, the purpose of a security strategy can then become a tool to enhance regional and global security.

Such a shift is unlikely to happen in the near future for the principal reason that security and identity remain bound up with an interpretation of sovereignty as being national and indivisible. The Bush doctrine embodies sovereignty-based forms of exclusion – it is premised on the fact that one particular community has the power and the moral authority to shape world order in a manner convenient to itself.

Yet when it comes to the third side of the strategic triangle, it is clear that UK decision-makers regard unilateralism as being an inadequate response to the new security challenges. Internationally, multilateralism is the response of choice. Domestically, the emphasis is on inter-agency security cooperation. What is also noteworthy is the recognition that different security threats demand a flexible response in terms of the application of hard power (force) and soft power (diplomacy and persuasion).

While intuitively sensible, the government’s mapping of responses to threats leaves untouched the problem that there are often hard choices to be made. There is nothing in the document about how the UK intends to continue to be both the “first ally” of the US as well as one of the “big three” in the EU. Post-Iraq, the fiction of bridging this divide cannot be sustained.

This latter point reveals yet one more elephant in the room. In 2003, the European Council approved a European security strategy (pdf). Despite the absence of an engagement with the European version, there are clear parallels in terms of goals and threats. Unsurprisingly, the European strategy puts a greater emphasis upon European solutions to the security problems.

One of the best examples of an international strategy was written by George Kennan in 1948. In his role as US ambassador to Moscow, Kennan recognised that this bilateral relationship was pivotal to the post-1945 order. American had no choice but to be a rival. At the same time, it was not powerless to alter the strategic environment. Kennan argued that if America chose to moderate Soviet ambitions and plays a waiting game, its rival would mellow and eventually break-up. We no longer have the luxury to think about security in such singular ways.

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A blog on Australia’s case to be on the UNSC. 18.10.12 

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If the editorials in the global media are our guide, then satire took a blow when it was announced that the European Union had won the Nobel Peace Prize. If Luxembourg triumphs over Australia in the ballot for UN Security Council non-permanent membership, satire may need to be abolished.

As Graeme Dobell has pointed out, Australia falls into the quasi-regional, quasi-historical grouping of Western European and Others Group, which is why it is up against two European countries; Finland is the other contender. The vote is only hours away. Will Australia triumph?

Perhaps a more obvious starter question is: Why bother? The conventional view is that this is little more than a diplomatic pageant, where the returns in real money are far outstripped by the costs of the promissory notes that are issued during the course of a campaign.

There is no doubt that the power in the Security Council rests with the ‘permanent five’ whose special status is reinforced in Article 23 of the UN Charter. As all students of international relations and most interested citizens know, the P5 are America, China, France, Russia and the UK. And despite the well-founded call to modify Security Council membership to take into account the rise of new great powers such as India and Brazil, it is the original P5 who are clinging to the double privilege of a permanent place at the table and the power that is given to them by their right of veto.

Non-permanent members are hardly ever noticed outside of the small world of diplomacy. They don’t even have a collective name, which is a significant limitation in terms of enhancing the pubic understanding of this important grouping of countries, so let us name this grouping the non-permanent 10, or NP10.

As to the three-cornered contest for the West European and Others grouping, how should this be decided? It is useful to remind ourselves of the brief but significant description of the responsibilities of the NP10 in the Charter, where members are instructed to give ‘due regard’ to the contribution of candidate states to ‘the maintenance of international peace and security’ and also ‘to equitable geographical distribution‘.

Against this benchmark, all three candidate countries score well. Finland’s record as an internationalist power reaches back at least as far as the Helsinki Accords agreed between the two superpowers and their respective allies in 1975. If international human rights have a place of birth, it is Helsinki. Since then, Finland has been active in contributing to UN peacekeeping and peace building projects. It is not surprising that, given its record, most UN watchers regard Finland as the favorite to win.

Australia’s case has been well trumpeted by the government in recent years and has featured prominently in The Interpreter. On all the three major power indicators – hard power, soft power, normative power – Australia is a player in the international system. Throw into the mix the importance of a stable transition to a world order no longer shaped by Anglo-American power and purpose, and the case for Australia becoming one of the NP10 looks unanswerable.

Yet Luxembourg’s candidature is more serious than it appears at first sight. It is a founder member of the UN and scores very well in terms of its financial contribution; for example, it is one of only five countries that meets the 0.7% target for net aid as a proportion of GDP. And when it comes to coalition building, it ought to be able to count on the votes of fellow EU members.

Its main limitation is that its size is little more than an average modern city with a population of 524,853 (just less than Newcastle, NSW), and of those, 43% are foreign nationals. Though in case one needs reminding, the right to be a sovereign state is not a matter of scale or capacity; in this respect, in formal legal terms, sovereignty is a great leveller.

However worthy, Luxembourg is a small state and there must be doubts about how much diplomatic power it will be able to mobilise on the Security Council. Its network is largely restricted to Europe: it has only seven missions in the Asian region. Europe has two permanent members on the Security Council already and is guaranteed at least one non-permanent seat.

It logically follows, therefore, that what should deliver the right result for Australia – assuming Finland gets one of the two seats – is that the 193 members of the General Assembly give ‘due regard’ to geographical representation.

Sadly, rational derived preferences do not always determine outcomes. Qatar, after all, beat both Australia and the United States to the prize of hosting the 2022 World Cup. Here the parallel ends: the world governing body for football is notorious for corruption and ineptitude. Satire lives! Which portends well for Australia.

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