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Delhi Disaster

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International sporting events, by rights, ought to be a buoyant occasion for all involved. Not so for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Seven years since the city of 12 million people won the rights to host the Games, an immense torrent of scandal and slur has hit the city, its officials and the event’s organisers. At the time of writing, some ten days from the official commencement of the Games, little has been done to allay fears of disaster and embarrassment. Australia’s Minister for Sport, Mark Arbib, has implied that Australia’s contingent may pull out if the situation deteriorates further.

The chief issue has long been security. Since the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai which targeted Western hotel chains, India has been categorised as vulnerable to this transnational threat. Top-tier sporting events, such as the Indian Premier League (which boasts cricket’s “Twenty-20” format), scheduled to be played in India, were relocated elsewhere. On September 19th, security fears surrounding the Games were again heightened following an attack on a tourist bus. The attack outside Jama Masjid mosque, one of India’s top tourist attractions, left two Taiwanese tourists injured. Despite the incident, Australian Commonwealth Games officials were reportedly content with security arrangements in India.

This attitude is seriously troubling to say the least. With Australia’s own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) citing a ‘high risk of a terrorist attack’ in New Delhi for the duration of the Games, Australian officials ought to be questioning their citizens’ involvement. Sure enough, India has guaranteed 100 000 security personnel in New Delhi for the duration of the event. However, the Indian government has been unable to warrant the safety of tourists during the Games. Roger Henning, from Homeland Security Asia-Pacific, advances that this lack of assurance suggests that the Indian government does not have the situation under control. Indeed, Australia’s chef de mission to the Games, Steve Monghetti, publicly announced he has been advised of a ‘50-50 risk of attack.’ Henning believes the real risks are the transport routes from airport to athlete’s village and from athlete’s village to sporting venues. The exact reason for such a lacklustre response to security concerns is bizarre. Federal Opposition leader, Tony Abbott argued that withdrawals from the Commonwealth Games would ‘appear to give terrorism a win’. If this attitude is shadowed by Australia’s Commonwealth Games officials, or their security advisers, then solemn scrutiny is mandated. Participation in sporting events ought to be divorced from achieving political ends; particularly where such involvement may result in unnecessary loss of life.

Furthermore, there seems to be an acute breakdown in communication between all parties. The machinations of Australia’s CG contingent, including the role of bodies such as DFAT, are makeshift at best. To illustrate:

  • DFAT is responsible for providing tourists with travel safety information.
  • Australian Federal Police (AFP) personnel are charged with supervising the safety of the athletes.  There are between 30 and 40 AFP personnel looking after 500 Australian athletes.
  • Athletes themselves are responsible for individual judgements on their personal security.
  • Australia’s Commonwealth Games officials act as representatives for the athletes, but cannot expressly make common determinations regarding security.
  • The Australian government can make common rulings regarding security, including the withdrawal of the contingent if necessary.

The result is a lack of clear hierarchy, leading to conflicting judgements regarding security, with athletes either making individual decisions (such as discus world champion, Dani Samuels who withdrew on the 21st of September), or waiting for the Australian government to make a determination.

Security is not the end of Delhi’s woes. The Games’ facilities, particularly the athlete’s village, have been heavily scrutinised. Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, has slated the village as ‘seriously compromised’. New Zealand’s contingent, one of the first countries to arrive at the village, moved to a different tower block than the one allocated due to the squalid conditions. New Zealand’s officials complained of excrement in many of the rooms, uncovered wiring, malfunctioning plumbing and a lack of handrails near balconies or stairwells. The response from Indian executives has been abjectly poor. Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy (a name which India’s media has been keen to commandeer as a pun) responded to the complaints of filth in the athlete’s quarters by stating, ‘athletes and guests should not bother about such small matters.’ This comment belies the total lack of accountability which has underwritten the preparations for the Commonwealth Games. The collapse of a 90-metre pedestrian bridge linking a car parking area to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (the main venue) was dismissed as ‘not as big as being made out to be’ by New Delhi’s Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

So what accounts for the lack of adequate infrastructure? Certainly, Indian preparations during 2008-2009 have been identified as virtually non-existent. Yes, workmanship is shoddy and India’s bureaucrats are dreadfully sluggish. But the real Achilles’ heel for the Commonwealth Games organisers has been corruption. Treasurer of the organising committee, Anil Khanna, quit over accusations of fraudulent account-keeping. The Central Vigilance Commission, India’s anti-corruption body, visited fifteen games sites and found problems with inflated pricing. By exaggerating costs, officials and contractors can proceed to line their pockets accordingly. Credible reports have indicated that figures of 4000 rupees ($86) are being recorded for a single toilet roll. Actual construction, therefore, takes a backseat to dodgy account-keeping.

And the real loser of the Delhi Games? Well, there are two contenders. The first is India’s image overseas. The Delhi Games, bringing 7000 athletes from across the Commonwealth, ought to have been a showcase for India’s emerging economic power. Instead, it has illustrated India’s propensity for corruption and a lack of governmental accountability. The second contender is India’s people, specifically those of New Delhi. They were promised better roads and waste disposal facilities. Instead, they ended up with fifteen new sports arenas and a group of officials with fatter pockets. It’s just not cricket.

Image: Sydney Morning Herald


Written by michaeljohnnorris

September 23, 2010 at 6:31 am

The curious case of Kevin Rudd

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What a turnaround for the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.  Eighty-one days since he was removed from the prime ministership, Rudd accepted the role of Foreign Affairs Minister in the Gillard cabinet.  The promotion came at the expense of Stephen Smith, who was sidelined to the vacant defence portfolio.  The Lazarus-like return of “K-Rudd” has staggered political commentators and the general public alike.  Yet the question remains: is Rudd the right person to be Australia’s number one diplomat?

We can only speculate as to Julia Gillard’s motivation for promoting Rudd.  Amidst the scandal surrounding Cabinet leaks (which Rudd was alleged to be behind), it is unlikely that the position was some kind of “reward” for stepping aside without an intra-party fight.  Rather, the appointment should be seen as either (1) Gillard’s method of showing the minority Labour government is unified or (2) a way of alienating Rudd from the domestic political agenda by regularly sending him overseas. 

Others have attempted to justify Rudd’s appointment by reference to his diplomatic experience, particularly his career in DFAT and Mandarin proficiency.  Dr. Michael McKinley, an international relations lecturer at the Australian National University, has described Rudd as ‘the best qualified person for the job.’    

Yet Dr McKinley’s support for Rudd’s elevation to Foreign Minister is a little thin.  After his political execution, critics, including Realpolitik Today, charged the former Prime Minister with damaging relations with China, Japan and India.  Essentially, the pedants claimed that Rudd did little to allay the fear of Japanese and Indian leaders over his closeness to China.  The CCP, on the other hand, were apparently frustrated by Rudd’s erratic shifts between 真友(true friend, zhenyou) and moralistic preacher.  Professor Hugh White, also from ANU, got it right when he summarised Rudd’s foreign affairs performance as Prime Minister as ‘not that impressive.’ 

Whilst Stephen Smith lacked the international profile of someone like Alexander Downer, he handled the role competently.  His departure from the portfolio is regrettable.  Realpolitik Today projects that, without repairing his own past mistakes, our new Foreign Minister will not achieve much for Australian foreign policy.

Written by michaeljohnnorris

September 15, 2010 at 12:05 am

For good or ill: Julie Bishop as the next Foreign Minister of Australia

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If recent opinion polls in marginal seats are anything to go by, Australia could be headed for a Coalition government by the end of the week.  Assuming a Liberal victory, what could Australia expect from its newest Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop?  A recent “debate” on foreign affairs between the incumbent, Stephen Smith and the challenger, Julie Bishop yielded some unsurprising results.  According to the latter, a Liberal government would:

-Continue to use the US-Australia alliance as the backbone of Australian foreign policy;

-Rescind Australia’s bid for a temporary (i.e.: rotational) seat on the United Nations’ Security Council;

-Increase Australia’s military effort in Afghanistan; and

-Pursue bilateral, rather than multilateral diplomacy

The latter three points are all areas of divergence from Labor’s present foreign policy.  More revealing than the announcement themselves were some of Smith’s comments regarding Bishop’s suitability for the position.  These included:

-Noting Bishop’s lack of foreign policy experience (she has been a commercial solicitor for most of her working life);

-Remarking that her position as Shadow Foreign Minister eventuated because she committed a number of gaffes as Shadow Treasurer;

-Asserting that Bishop compromised national security in May 2010 when she claimed that Australia, like Israel, forges passports to perform overseas intelligence operations

While foreign affairs has taken a backseat this election, the suitability of the victor for this portfolio does need further consideration in the public sphere.  After all, Australia’s national interests and place on the international stage are at stake.

Image: en.wikipedia

Written by michaeljohnnorris

August 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Australia’s tough alliance choices, Part II

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This is the second installment of a two-part series focusing on the future direction of US-Australia and Sino-Australian ties.

In Part I of this two-part serial on the future of Australia’s relationship with China and the US, Realpolitik Today posited that accommodating Chinese interests had already embedded itself in the calculus of DFAT’s thinking.  The increase of this trend, especially if strategic competition between the US and China were to intensify, would present Australian policy makers with an unprecedented dilemma.

So what are Australia’s foreign policy options if such a situation was to arise?  Realpolitik Today suggests Australia has three broad streams of action.  These are:

(1)    Alignment with either the US or China, i.e.: “choosing” one over the other; or

(2)    Assumption of a  “mediator” role between the two great powers; or

(3)    Strategic policy independence, i.e.: staying out of the crosshairs

Let’s examine each in turn.  The first option, whereby Australia allies itself with either great power is likely the most unrealistic of the three.  Although Australia explicitly aligned itself with the United States against the Soviet threat (perceived or otherwise), the USSR was not Australia’s top trading partner.  As Chengxin Pan writes in The Pacific Review (2006, Vol. 19), Australia no longer has the ‘easy option of automatically siding with the United States as it did during the Taiwan Strait missile crisis’ because of its dynamic two-way trade with China.  Although any of the aforementioned scenarios is not without cost, the effect of choosing the United States or China is particularly repugnant.  If Australia backs the United States, it loses the region’s largest power as a “great and powerful friend” and sacrifices its economic prosperity.  Conversely, if Australia throws its weight behind Chinese interests, then its ANZUS security blanket is obliterated, shattering an alliance with has underwritten Australian foreign policy for half a century.

The second option is more in keeping with the brand of “middle power diplomacy” played by Australia since Gareth Evans held the post of Foreign Minister.  Canberra, spurred by the fact that intense strategic competition would promote regional (and global) instability, has an important stake in ensuring the region’s great powers do not come to blows.  Consequently, it may wish to act as an interlocutor between China and the US.  Australia, by virtue of its geography and demography, is a veritable intermediary between eastern and western states.  Or is it?  The key consideration Canberra’s policy makers must have is whether Australia has the clout (both diplomatic and economic) to establish a mechanism for the China and America to express their grievances peacefully which would be better than say, APEC or the proposed G2.  Moreover, in establishing a dialogue between China and the United States after strategic competition heats up, is this option a  case of “too little, too late”?

The final option is one which removes the fixtures of Australian foreign policy without changing the building.  That is, a policy of strategic independence through increased military spending and security ties with ASEAN states would reduce Australia’s strategic reliance on the United States, whilst maintaining it as a close ally.  Further, Australia would be free to continue its engagement with China’s buoyant market economy.  Nonetheless, there are still two vital considerations: (1) Canberra’s tolerance of a foreign policy without the United States as a  key strategic partner and (2) the Australian electorate receptiveness to increased defence spending.  The answer, at present, to both those questions is likely in the negative, although change is possible in the coming decades.

All three options provide difficulty.  Intense strategic competition between the United States and China is undoubtedly the nightmare scenario for Canberra.  Australia certainly cannot walk away from North-east Asian markets, and whether or not it can forgo its strategic reliance on the United States is a vexed question.  In the event of the nightmare scenario, Australia must evaluate relative costs and gains and be prepared to suffer loss, whether diplomatic or economic.  If the worst happens, it truly is a country caught between a rock and a hard place.


Written by michaeljohnnorris

August 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Australia’s tough alliance choices, Part I

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This is the first part of a two-part series focusing on the future direction of US-Australia and Sino-Australian ties.

Australia’s former Prime Minister, John Howard, claimed that:

I count it as one of the great successes of this country’s foreign relations that we have simultaneously been able to strengthen our long-standing ties with the United States of America, yet at the same time could continue to build a very close relationship with China. 

However, the picture, from a security dimension, may not be as rosy as Howard suggests.  Australia has arrived at a position whereby its security is guaranteed through its partnership with the United States and its economic prosperity assured through substantial trade ties with Asia.  Of its Asiatic trade linkages, Australia’s economic relationship with China is of paramount importance.  It is critical to note China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and Chinese levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Australia are at record levels. 

This economic linkage, indispensable to Australia’s continued prosperity, provides the context for a shift in Australia’s foreign policy behavior.  Whilst it is unlikely that a Sino-Australian security relationship would displace Australia’s security reliance on the United States, Chinese preferences and policy interests are beginning to embed themselves into the calculus of DFAT’s thinking. 

For instance, consider Alexander Downer’s 2004 comment that Australia’s ANZUS obligations did not include support of the United States in an armed struggle against China in the Taiwan Strait.  This came only eight years after John Howard endorsed then-President Bill Clinton’s deployment of US military materiel during the Taiwan Strait crisis (1996).  In 2008, Kevin Rudd terminated Australia’s involvement in the Quadrilateral Dialogue – involving the United States, Japan, India and Australia – to allay Chinese fears of “containment”.  As such, whilst Australia’s commitment to US strategic imperatives remains strong, there is an increasing trend of accommodating Chinese interests. 

The vision of Australia’s foreign policy-makers is thus: a vibrant economic relationship with China whilst maintaining a close alliance with the US.  Whilst presently enjoying the “best of both worlds”, Australia sets itself up for difficulty if strategic competition between the United States and China becomes more explicit.  In that context, Australia may be forced to “choose” between two great powers: a choice that would present a serious dilemma to Australian policy makers. 


Written by michaeljohnnorris

July 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

Indifference across the Indian Ocean: the state of Australia-India relations

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Australia’s contemporary foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific is sound. We have solid relations with Japan, China and South Korea and strong ties with ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) states. Despite this, Australia’s key foreign policy weakness is in relations with India. Graeme Dobell, an ABC correspondent, describes the relationship as ‘a constant series of rediscoveries, matched by regular disjunctions and disappointments.’ As India grows in wealth and global influence, Australia’s importance increases in India’s energy equation. Both governments should seek to change their long-standing ambivalence to one another. To not do so would produce mutual detriment.


At a cursory glance, Australia and India as nations have fundamental similarities – including democratic governance, a colonial history, linguistic ties and passion for Cricket. The relationship between the Australian and Indian governments, however, has often failed to build on these commonalities. This failure is one grounded in history. The main impediment to warm relations was the conflict between Jawaharlal Nehru and Robert Menzies, the Prime Ministers of India and Australia respectively, through the 1950s and 1960s. Both doubted the other’s leadership ability, yet this was more than a personality clash. The divisions between Menzies and Nehru echoed their differing positions over the Cold War. Menzies threw his support behind the US to contain Communism, whereas Nehru was the champion of the Non-Aligned movement, which neither supported the US or the USSR. As such, strategic relations were off the cards soon after India’s independence.

Since wide-sweeping economic reform in India after 1991, economic engagement has taken off between Australia and India. At present, Australian exports to India are growing at a faster pace than they are to China. However, two contemporary setbacks to cordial diplomatic relations exist. The first is the prohibition on the sale of uranium to India. In 2007, under the Howard government, an agreement (with stringent conditions attached) was constructed to sell uranium to India. Upon Rudd taking power in 2008, the deal was abandoned because India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This decision angered India as Australia sells uranium to China, an alleged nuclear proliferator. The second obstacle to overcome is the fallout from the widely-publicised attacks on Indian students in Australia. India’s tabloid media has branded Australia as racist, which has damaged Australia’s reputation as a destination for foreign students. Indeed, with 543, 898 international students studying in Australia during 2008 (of these, 97 000 were Indian students) and a $17 billion dollar industry at stake, the allegation is particularly destructive. Moreover, senior Indian officials have alluded that Australia-India relations will suffer unless the situation is remedied.

The paradox within Australia-India relations thus: although long indifferent to each other, the long-term prosperity of both India and Australia are linked. India is considered a rising world power, with an expanding economy (India’s GDP has grown at an average of 6.8 per cent since 1994), a large workforce, and increasing international clout. It is projected that India’s economy may outstrip China’s by the middle of the century. To sustain this boom, India needs energy. Australia, with rich mineral deposits, including coal and uranium, is a perfect supplier. As such, India’s energy security and Australia’s long-tem prosperity rest upon the successful resolution of the aforementioned issues.

Although Rudd’s entrance into government resulted in the termination of the uranium deal with India, it need not be the time to close the door on warm relations. Although it is unlikely to be resurrected in its previous incarnation, the uranium deal (or lack thereof) can be used to facilitate dialogue between top Indian and Australian officials. India will apply pressure for a new uranium deal; Australia should apply similar pressure for India to sign the NPT. It is fair to say that Rudd will only consider a uranium deal with India as an NPT signatory, to do otherwise opens him up to political attack from the Opposition. Given India’s nuclear record is excellent, with no evidence of proliferation, the transition from nuclear power to NPT signatory should not prove too difficult. Moreover, the addition of India’s signature to the NPT allows it to score a moral victory over its nuclear-armed neighbour, Pakistan, which is still yet to sign the treaty.

The issue of student attacks is more challenging. The label of racism imparted by the Indian mass media upon the Australian people as a whole is grossly unfair. The Rudd government must promptly endeavour to redress the repercussions of thuggish behaviour. This can be achieved in three ways. Firstly, attention must be drawn to Australia’s successful record in educating thousands of Indian and other international students without incident. Secondly, educational institutions must deepen programs designed to integrate international students into the student body: a simple ‘orientation day’ is not enough, they must be supported throughout their study. Thirdly, the workplaces and educational providers must present all employees and students – international or otherwise – with safe transport options after dark. These solutions are but a few ways we can repair the damage done to Australia’s image, and improve the experience of our international guests.

To derive maximum reward from Australia-India relations, both countries must collaborate together over current issues, while continuing to increase trade and economic ties. Both countries have much to offer in cultural, economic and strategic spheres. By building upon their similarities, India and Australia provide themselves with the best opportunity to facilitate open dialogue and overcome past tensions. Indifference across the Indian Ocean is no longer an option.


Written by michaeljohnnorris

July 20, 2010 at 6:02 am

In retrospect: the Rudd foreign policy

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June 24th marked the end of Kevin Rudd’s tenure as Australian Prime Minister.  In light of his departure, it is apt to examine the hits and misses of Rudd’s foreign policy. 

Rudd burst onto the Australian political scene as an ex-diplomat, a competent Mandarin speaker and certainly capable of promoting Australia’s engagement within Asia.  His initial foreign policy moves, such as the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, were based on the momentum accrued from a comprehensive electoral victory by the Australian Labour Party.  However, the momentum slowed.  The Global Financial Crisis took hold, plunging the international system into uncertainty.  With states preoccupied with repairing their economies, multilateralism, Rudd’s favourite flavour of foreign policy ice-cream, was in limited supply.

Despite the gloomy economic conditions, Rudd accrued victories on the international stage.  Australia’s entry into the G20, domestically reported as a miserly gain, was a significant event in the country’s history.  As time progresses, its place at the G20 table will become more natural.  Further, as the body assumes a greater role in shaping the post-GFC international financial order, Australia’s prestige will subsequently increase.

The centrepiece of Rudd’s foreign policy, ideally, would have been the Asia-Pacific Community.  The 2008 proposition was a means of securing Australia’s future in the Asian Century.  Moreover, the proposal’s inclusion of the United States was designed to entrench the American presence in the regional order.  Rudd, however, did not anticipate the resistance the Asia-Pacific Community would encounter.  Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa remarked, ‘[w]hat benefit would there be in forming a new forum, having more meetings [and] more acronyms?’ The reasons, in retrospect, should have been clear to a diplomat with Rudd’s purported experience.  A ‘Western’ proposal for ‘Eastern’ regionalism was not palatable.  China would not tolerate the presence of the US in a formal regional arrangement.  Most importantly, continued US absenteeism in South-East Asia diminished the attractiveness of the idea to ASEAN states.  The APC was not a total failure, however.  Daniel Flitton, diplomatic editor of The Age, praises Rudd’s vision of an Asia-Pacific Community because it initiates dialogue on how to streamline the plethora of regional summits which Asiatic leaders must attend.

Under Rudd, bilateral relations with our neighbours generally suffered.  Relations with the US remained close-knit, although the Australian contribution to NATO operations in Afghanistan loomed as a point of contention in 2009. Ties with South Korea accelerated in vigour, and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia was positively affirmed despite continuing disputes over asylum seekers.  Nonetheless, it is a fact that under Rudd, relations with China, India and Japan have become strained.  True, some factors, such as the murder of Indian student Nitin Garg and the Chinese detention of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, were out of the former Prime Minister’s control.  However, it is also true that Rudd and his team failed to conscientiously repair with aggrieved bilateral partners; instead preferring to converse with Asia’s ‘Big Three’ at multilateral bodies.

Although foreign policy is often the by-product of the international context, Rudd himself erred.  The decision to terminate an agreement to supply India with uranium made under Howard in 2007 was a domestic political windfall, but a bilateral nightmare.  Inside India, a rising power hungry for energy and mineral resources, Rudd’s decision was met with scorn.  India now looks elsewhere (particularly to Russia) to provide for its energy security, denying Australia a lucrative commercial partner and undermining ties with the ascending power.  The errors were not contained to India-Australia ties.  Domestic pressure forced Rudd’s hand in taking issue with Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, creating unnecessary friction with Australia’s second-largest trading partner.  The abandonment of a coherent policy on climate-change damaged Australia’s multilateral credentials and adversely impacted on the country’s international credibility.  For an ex-diplomat, Rudd’s foreign manoeuvres were more often blunt than nuanced.

Graeme Dobell, an Australian foreign affairs correspondent, boils down Kevin Rudd’s foreign policy to the following paradigm: ‘the gap between ambition and delivery.’  Clearly, Rudd’s ambition and the expectation surrounding the former diplomat were high.  Realpolitik Today would assert that his delivery was often too focussed on East Asia and, as a result, Australia generally failed to cultivate more meaningful relationships with ASEAN and South Asian states.  Yet, there is still hope for the former Prime Minister.  At present, speculation is rife that he will replace Stephen Smith as Australia’s foreign minister.  If he does, then he has an opportunity to continue broadening Australia’s engagement with the region.

Written by michaeljohnnorris

June 26, 2010 at 12:26 am

Posted in Australia

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