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Cameron's 'a la carte' EU idea just national chauvinism?

The English have always been ambiguous towards "the continent". It is, as any self-respecting English person will tell you, full of foreigners. And England's Conservatives, particularly their more reactionary, chauvinistic rump, have always been anti-European Union.

So, as the EU contemplates moving towards greater integration, it was not entirely surprising UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced overnight he would hold a referendum on whether the UK would remain within the EU and, if so, on what terms. There was some ambiguity in Cameron’s speech, with some viewing it as a bet each way on the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The Conservatives had already introduced a "referendum lock" on acceding further powers to the EU, which means further pro-EU changes have to go to a ballot. But Cameron is now looking to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU on those areas previously agreed to.

Is Hillary really going?

It may be that the process is so unruffled that many people won’t notice, but the woman who has presided over a major shift in US foreign policy – Hillary Clinton – has left her job. Not only has she left her position as US Secretary of State, she has also left with a stunning personal approval rating of 69 per cent.

Such a remarkable personal approval rating begs what will be her next career move. Having had one tilt at the US presidency and been beaten by the incumbent, Ms Clinton says she is no longer interested in that job. That, however, may be a ploy to have her drafted into the candidacy, seemingly acceding to the demands of the thronging crowd.

Kevin Rudd's plan for Syria: moral high ground or political grand-standing

When Kevin Rudd started his run in foreign affairs, when Labor was still in opposition and Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman was Laurie Brereton, he did so by being a back-bencher all over the media on international issues. Rudd’s new statement on Syria, war crimes and support of the anti-Assad forces recalls his pre-power prognostications, as well as raising a big question about how the international community should engage on Syria.

Rudd’s plan is to support Syria’s rebels to speed up the overthrow of the Assad regime. His grounds for wanting to do so are that the Assad regime has been committing crimes against humanity. This, Rudd says, invokes the morally imperative doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P).

India-Pakistan tensions escalate over Kashmir

Tensions between India and Pakistan are escalating as troops from each country have again clashed across the Kashmir Line of Control, with two Indian soldiers being killed. India claims Pakistani soldiers took advantage of misty conditions yesterday to cross the 1949 Line of Control dividing Kashmir into Indian and Pakistan controlled areas about 220 kilometres north of the city of Jammu.

The clash was the sixth in the past week and followed 75 incidents along the Line of Control in 2012. Pakistan lodged a protest against India just days ago, after one of its own soldiers was killed in what it claimed was an Indian incursion across the Line of Control.

Relations between India and Pakistan had been slowly improving following attacks by Pakistani militants against the Indian parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008. The Pakistani cricket team is currently touring in India, indicating a degree of bilateral normalisation.

Australia's strategic reorientation

Australia enters 2013 reconsidering its place in a strategically shifting world. Issues close to home have stabilised and, increasingly, considerations further from Australia are being written off as a lost cause.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to East Timor has ended, with that country now charting an independent and, for the medium future at least, stable course. East Timor’s relations with its giant and once problematic neighbour, Indonesia, are now so positive that it has been mooted that East Timor’s defence forces might start training with Indonesia’s army.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to the Solomon Islands will also end this year, bringing to a close engagement in what was once referred to as the ‘arc of instability’.

Japan’s elections signal disillusionment, change.

The crushing victory by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party in the weekend’s elections has signalled that Japanese voters are worried, disillusioned and impatient for change. With Japan’s economy still in the doldrums, China’s influence growing and the country still reeling from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many Japanese want a return to when the country was an economic powerhouse and its regional and domestic security was assured.

Although ignominiously defeated just three years ago, the recycled former prime minister Shinzo Abe has led the LDP back to power on a platform of getting the economy moving, standing up to China and re-starting the country’s nuclear power program. Despite around 80 per cent of Japanese voters wanting to see a phase-out of nuclear power following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, Abe’s pro-nuclear LDP sees nuclear power as central to the economy’s revival.

With Assad’s days numbered, Australia follows the international pack.

In an uninspired but necessary act of ‘me too-ism’, Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s announcement that Australia now formally recognises the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian state follows the US and around 100 other countries which also understand that the Assad regime’s days are numbered. The question now is not if, but when, how, whether Bashir al-Assad senior team will be granted asylum and, if so, where.

 A regime bombing its own people, in Assad’s case with Scud missiles, phosphorous bombs, is a clear sign that it is on the edge of collapse. Anti-Assad forces control or hold significant sway over the north and east of the country, increasingly isolating Assad’s Alawite support base on the Mediterranean coast.

Why Egyptian power grab may not be what it seems

The recent news reporting about Egypt's political crisis creates the impression the country has fallen into the hands of a band of ultra-conservative mullahs intent on forcing women into niqab (full covering) and chopping off light-fingered hands. Egypt is clearly in turmoil -- but the current troubles are more complex than opposition to a supposed radical religious takeover.

The protests have been centred on opposition to the country’s proposed new constitution, planned to go to referendum this Saturday. But much of the protest is now also explicitly opposed to the continuing presidency of Mohammad Morsi. Given his election in June in what was widely regarded as a free and fair process, this begs the question of the Egyptian opposition’s commitment to democratic processes.

Celebrating Human Rights Day in Timor-Leste

As the world celebrates Human Rights Day on 10 December, it is a good time to pause to reflect on the status of human rights in Timor-Leste. 13 years after the end of Indonesian rule and after ten years of independence, the question arises as to whether Timor-Leste’s aspirations to respecting notions of human rights, as outlined in its Constitution, have been successful.

Notions of human rights are broadly located in two categories; civil and political rights and social, economic and cultural rights. It is conventional to regard these respective categories of rights as being equal in value and mutually dependent.

A tectonic shift on the two-state solution?

It is starting to look like Israel’s apparent reaction to the Palestinian Authority (PA) being granted ‘observer state’ status at the UN last Friday is about to backfire. In a rapidly changing world, Israel’s heavy handed response is seen as less and less seen as an appropriate way forward.

Last Friday, the UN General Assembly voted 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions, to grant Palestine observer state status. While not recognising Palestine as a full state, which requires nine of the 15 UN Security Council members to also vote in favour, including all veto-power members, the vote was a significant step towards Palestine’s eventual statehood recognition.

Contrary to claims by Israel’s spokesman, Mark Regev, the vote gave the PA overwhelming international endorsement for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

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