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2016 Has Been a Good (or Bad) Year for...

29 Dec 2016

Expert Panel-Fellows of the AIIA

HilaryCharlesworthHilary Charlesworth FAIIA-Professor, ANU; Director of Centre for International Governance and JusticeProfessorJocelynCheyAMJocelyn Chey AM FAIIA-Visiting Professor, University of Sydney; former Consul-General in Hong KongJamesCottonJames Cotton FAIIA-Emeritus Professor at the University of NSWRawdonDalrympleRawdon Dalrymple AO FAIIA-Former Visiting Professor, University of Sydney; Chairman of ASEAN Focus Group LtdGraemeDobellGraeme Dobell FAIIA-Journalist Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy InstituteErikaFellerErika Feller FAIIA-Former UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for ProtectionJanet_HuntJanet Hunt FAIIA-Former Head of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid
JamesIngramAOJames Ingram AO FAIIA-Former Diplomat and Head of the UN World Food ProgramJohnMcCarthyAOJohn McCarthy AO FAIIA-Former Ambassador to Japan, Indonesia, the United States, Thailand, Mexico and VietnamJohnMcCarthyAOGeoffrey Miller AO FAIIA-Former Australian Ambassador to Japan; former Director-General of the Office of National AssessmentsRobertO’NeillRobert O’Neill FAIIA– Former Chichele Professor of the History of War, Oxford UniversityGarryWoodardGarry Woodard FAIIA-Former Diplomat and Senior Fellow, University of MelbourneRichardWoolcottACRichard Woolcott AC FAIIA-Former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and TradeRichardWoolcottACSamina Yasmeen AM FAIIA-Professor of Political Science and International Relations, University of Western Australia

Question: In the international arena 2016 has been a good year for some and a bad year for others. Which countries or organisations do you think have particularly suffered or benefitted during 2016 and why?

James Ingram AO FAIIA

Clearly the most momentous event of 2016 was the election of Donald Trump.  Already his disappointing, controversial appointments, his continued irresponsible ‘tweetings’ on serious matters of state, his post-election ‘victory’ rallies’, his clear unwillingness to disassociate from his business empire and his continued repetition of falsehoods justify the pessimism that greeted his election, especially in Europe and in the United States itself. Coming on top of Brexit, 2016 may come to be seen as an historical turning point, revealing serious unresolved tensions that had built up, to varying degrees, in the rich democracies, at least in part as an unintended consequence of the global, liberal, capitalist order dominated by the United States.

Russia was the principal ‘winner’ in 2016. It established itself as the decisive player in the Syrian imbroglio while restoring relations with Turkey and strengthening its relationship with Iran. No country has a greater stake than Russia in defeating Islamic terrorism given its extensive common borders with Moslem majority states and a Sunni minority in excess of ten per cent of its  population.

If as seems to be the case Trump and Putin agree that Islamic terrorism is the most serious threat facing their countries, arguably the best course for the United States would be to join unequivocally with Russia in its defeat. That appears to be the preferred Trump policy. However, the multiple, conflicting strands in current US Middle East policy will be difficult for Trump to resolve. For example his  nomination of David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel and his seeming intention to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem will contribute to further regional instability and diminish  the declining regional influence of the United States. Any going back on the Iran nuclear agreement will compound Trump’s problems.

Trump’s positive attitude to Russia seems unlikely to extend to China , as shown for example by his phone conversation with Taiwan’s president and subsequent utterances. Since China, not Russia, is the real long-term threat to American global hegemony, that could make strategic sense.

Australia is a clear loser from the Trump victory. The death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trump’s seeming attachment to a retreat from free trade could set back the further economic development of the nations of south-east Asia. It is easy to overlook that it was  ‘trade not aid’ which largely brought about the phenomenal rise from poverty of developing countries in Asia. Certainly, a protracted set-back to Indonesia’s economic progress could have serious adverse impacts on Australia’s long-term security.

The most disturbing ultimate consequence for Australia (and the world) of a Trump presidency could turn out to be a reversal of the momentum for dealing seriously with climate change established by the Paris accord and the recent Marrakech conference. His relevant appointments are deeply disturbing on this score. The accord reached between Obama and Xi Jinping over reining in carbon emissions was among the most encouraging recent development in international relations. If the policies pursued by Trump’s relevant key appointments are as reactionary as their records suggest China may see the wisdom of establishing global leadership in this area. Australia and its neighbours are among those countries with the biggest stake in controlling global warming. They should join together to persuade China to give leadership, if that becomes necessary.

Rawdon Dalrymple AO FAIIA

It has been a dreadful year for the people of Syria with no improvement in sight.

We may not realise it but it has been a good year for Australians.

James Cotton FAIIA
2016 has been a bad year for many countries—Syria (with the punishing civil war still raging), Turkey (with Erdogan capturing and diverting the Kemalist narrative), South Korea (with the implosion of the post-1987 political order) and the Philippines (now under erratic and incapable leadership).2016 has been a watershed year for Britain. Brexit, quite apart from the immense financial burden that it will impose upon the United Kingdom, may result in the most ironic of outcomes, with the incorporation longer term of Northern Ireland in the union now in serious question. For a century Irish patriots sought to find a method of leverage to unravel the union but none imagined that the instrument would be handed to them one day by British voters.The most damage inflicted upon a political system has undoubtedly occurred in the United States where the events culminating in the presidential election have undermined American soft power to an extent not seen since the Vietnam war. Quite apart from the fact that in American democracy the candidate with the largest number of votes can lose (and for ordinary people even getting to a polling station on a work day—presuming they are enrolled—can be difficult), the standard of the presidential debates hit lows never before anticipated. So far Trump’s appointments to his emerging administration are every bit as bad as his most vociferous critics were forecasting, and the prospects for any positive contribution by the United States to global governance in the next four years are poor.The only country with real runs on the board in 2016 is New Zealand where a successful leader has stood down in his own time, leaving a budget in surplus and a political environment remarkable (in world terms) for the civility and intelligence of its debate.