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Tag Archives: Syria

Look on…

LOOK ON IN THE ABSENT HALLS OF OUR OWN CONSCIENCE, THE HUNGRY WALLS OF OUR OWN LIVING ROOMS, LOOK ON…

One cannot gloss over what has happened!

We witnessed the brutal cruelty and destruction of Afghanistan and its people at the hands of the Taliban.

We witnessed the brutal wars on neighbouring countries, ethnic minorities and its own people in Iraq at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

We witnessed the total destruction of civil war in Syria and the devastation of its cities and people.

We continue to see the brutality levied by Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in Lebanon and Israel on the Palestinian people.

We have seen the brutal acts of terrorism across the world at the hands of ISIS; and ignored the far greater threat to democracy by our own western governments, which use this as propaganda against human rights, their own people and constitutional freedom and democracy.

And while all this has been going on, we have silently witnessed and ignored our own complicit terrorist acts against Yemen at the hands of the Saudi king and president, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, as the West supply the Saudi- led Arab coalition with military arms to systematically bombard and indiscriminately destroy the men, women and children of Yemen.

We witness Trump rattling his lips and sabre against Turkey, Iran and refugees, and like the fake presidential coward and mercenary he is, he acts only in his own inseparable corporate and political interests, to secure his own moribund electorate and hungry games. We witness Morrison and Dutton in Australia, who in all likelihood are far worse as they tighten their demonic grip on democracy and rattle their delusional snake-strung evangelical tongues.

As a result of our own political navel gazing, we have ignored the catastrophic impact ISIS, successive regimes and dictators have had throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world; and on the eve of the latest campaign, this crusade – withdrawn from Syria’s borders and abandoned the Kurds, who not only fought as allies against ISIS, but now face the brutality of Turkey’s foreign policy at the hands of Tayyip Erdoğan, and more genocide to follow.

The Kurds are a people who are familiar with this cruelty and national obsession, as they continue to be demonised and eradicated not just by ISIS, but Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, they have no homeland and nowhere else to go. By now we should be familiar with this systematic pattern of human abuse across our planet, the repeated history glossed over and our part in it. But are we?

The heinous crime of Western countries is to have allowed extremist groups like ISIS, Taliban, dictators and cruel regimes around the world to flourish, while imposing and justifying our own outlandish empires; and now we do it again. We create the vacuum for their success and look on, worse we install and feed these cruel regimes with sick diplomacy and arms. And when we are done we turn our gaze on refugees fleeing from these rivers of blood and cruel regions, lock their people up in prisons, we turn our propaganda machine on the people who flee the tyranny of their oppressors to be subjugated and demonised within and just off our very own shores and borders.

And when that campaign wears thin, the evil eye of Sauron turns on its own people, lighting up domestic fires, demonising the poor, unemployed, students, the elderly, humanitarians, peaceful protesters, our own social and ethnic minorities, those who are sick of this wretched and cruel neoliberal straight jacket, our commercial bombshell.

As the Kurds defend democracy first against neighbouring countries in the region, ISIS and now Turkey, the West once again abandon their supposed allies. Behrouz Bouchani, a Kurd and journalist fleeing from Iran has been imprisoned on Manus and now PNG for the past 6 years, since 2013. He has become the offshore absent conscience of Australian politics. He is one of Australia’s many political prisoners and yet he has committed no crime, broken no law, there has been no charge, no lawful detention or justice. All he ever wanted was to report the abuse, to tell the truth, to live, to be free. He is one of the many. Morrison and Dutton look on.

We like to watch our TV, we witness, we gloss over and we allow this injustice to continue on all fronts, even in our own country, in the absent halls of our own conscience.

Look on…

GODLESS MOUNTAIN

For sake of the
crusade I learn
to slaughter men,
women and children

For sake of a
godless world
I substitute freedom
for religion

For sake of peace
I keep my mouth
shut, eyes closed
to death and suffering

For sake of
humanity I live
with the knowledge
of shame and doubt

If I could climb a tree
and shake the
mountain, I’d
paint the sky myself

and live without

(AB, 4 July 2019)


Poem first published in Poetry is a Mountain: A Poetry Anthology, 17 September 2019, Kevin Watt (eds), Independently published, San Jose CA, Amazon.
Source: https://allpoetry.com/poem/14593002–Godless-Mountain-by-Barddylbach

Reference: Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani warns of ‘genocide’ in northern Syria, Nick Baker, 15 October 2019, SBS Australia.

 

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Send a peace-keeping team where it’s needed most, ScoMo

Em şîv in hûn jî paşîv in,or, if we are dinner you are supper, Armenians warn Kurds before Turkish massacres – a recurrent motif in Kurdish oral history.

 

As Donald Trump abruptly withdraws US air support and a trip-wire of US troops from North-East Syria, in the vast Kurdish-controlled triangle, locals call Rojava or “The West”, Sunday, he clears the way for Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to begin Operation Peace Spring, a long-planned, long-threatened military offensive to purge the Kurds. Erdoğan’s blitzkrieg starts Wednesday 9 October.

Turkey is pressing on with its alternative buffer zone concept, trashing the neutral corridor plan the US and Turkey say they’ve been working on for a year – at least. Erdoğan’s plan is to invade Syria and fill the illegally occupied territory along Turkey’s southern border with 2 million Syrian refugees – or “up to half the 3.6 million people”, the UN registers as currently taking refuge in Turkey. The EU can pick up the tab. Ankara’s pitch is far-fetched, impracticable and threatens to re-ignite ISIS but Trump buys it.

ISIS is more acceptable to an anti-Ataturk Erdoğan than Rojava, a Kurdish radically decentralised and democratic social revolution which embraced gender equality and inspired activists worldwide. Rojava’s the antithesis of the more common Middle Eastern patriarchal despotism. It’s easy to see why its radical egalitarian political and social structure is ideologically repugnant to the conservative autocrat Erdoğan.

On top of ancient hatreds are grafted newer layers of distrust. And on top of these are military realities. Former legionnaire and YPG (Peoples’ Protection Unit) volunteer, Jamie Williams successfully volunteered to fight with the Kurds against Daesh in 2017, he writes in The Saturday Paper. He soon realised that the Kurds were as much at risk from Turkey as from Daesh or ISIS as it prefers to be known.

Kurdish force YPG has its women-only counterpart the YPJ. Our government has provided air support to the group – yet it is linked with PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, whom Erdoğan regards as terrorists, responsible for acts of terror in Turkey. To many commentators they are one and the same group.

Propaganda from Turkey is all about fighting terrorists, spin which our own PM repeats even as civilians are indiscriminately killed in the first few days of the Turkish onslaught. Trump sets off a powder keg.

“All hell breaks loose” says The Washington Post after a Sunday phone call between the two populist presidents. Talk turns to trade and help with defence in the exhausted superlatives Trump favours. Only late in the call, does the topic turn to Erdoğan’s impending invasion and grander aims.

Trump offers a “really good package”, of F35 jets, lemons at $100m a pop, from Lockheed’s $1.5 trillion defence boondoggle, the most expensive in the world, even though Turkey will still buy a missile defence system from Russia, and keep a multi-billion dollar plan to dodge US sanctions on Iran. A presidential visit is thrown into the deal. Trump tells Erdoğan not to invade, he insists. Turkey’s actions attest otherwise.

A White House statement issued after the phone call certainly appears to confirm the withdrawal.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The US Armed Forces . . . having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Turkish officials maintain Trump privately gave Erdoğan the go-ahead. Trump ups his bluster.

Congressional Republicans erupt in protest. Trump denies all report of any such undertaking. Hapless administration officials are scrambled to explain, ineffectually, that Trump’s yes means no; the US does not consent to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria nor collude in Erdoğan’s fantasy of an Ottoman Empire 2.0.

A bipartisan group forms to devise sanctions; put Turkey’s war machine genie back in its bottle. As if.

By Monday, having provoked outrage from even the typically recumbent if not supine Republicans in the House and the Senate, Trump threatens to “obliterate” his NATO ally’s economy, if Erdoğan doesn’t stop invading Syria; rhetoric he quickly tones down. Turkey is now warned not to do “anything outside what we think is humane” – or the country will “suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy.”

What we think is humane? Pressed for time to interpret Trump’s double-speak, Ankara could do worse than glance at Amnesty International’s summary of the Trump administration’s human rights abuses in its immigration policy alone. Amnesty says the Trump administration’s policy and practices have caused,

“..catastrophic irreparable harm to thousands of people, have spurned and manifestly violated both US and international law, and appeared to be aimed at the full dismantling of the US asylum system.”

Meanwhile, a new wave of 2000 US troops is deployed in Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announces, topping up a thousand recently deployed there to pot-shot the odd drone, all part of the US bogus war on Iran which Trump & Co are trying to gin up, purely to help his 2020 re-election prospects. The troops will be on hand to “assure and enhance” Saudi Arabia’s defence and no doubt help its women learn to drive.

It’s a low blow to Canberra’s attempts to paint Trump’s capitulation to Erdoğan as consistent with The Donald’s avowed isolationism; his public wish to “get out of these ridiculous endless wars”. Someone needs to tell ScoMo and Co not to confuse Trump’s performance shtick with any deeper conviction.

ScoMo tells Nine Newspapers and others that there’s nothing to see here. The most erratic president in US history is just acting consistently. It’s all going to plan. A po-faced ScoMo claims Trump outlined his aim to withdraw troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq a year ago and is now acting on that message.

“I think it would be wrong to not draw an element of consistency between those statements almost a year ago and the action the United States has been taking since, including most recently,” ScoMo bloviates.

“As is the nature of alliances and friendships, you work through these issues together and you understand them together and you speak frankly to one another and you do that in the spirit of that relationship.”

Bunkum. Part of the outrage amongst even his own party, is Trump’s total lack of consultation. Left out of the loop, say Politico and others, were foreign allies, Congress even some in his own administration.

Trump is working nothing through together, ScoMo. Nor is there any element of consistency. Trump’s administration has, in fact, increased US involvement in what he calls their “ridiculous endless wars”.

US Air Forces central command reports late last month, it launched the most airstrikes in Afghanistan over a single month in roughly a decade. American troops have ramped up airstrikes in Libya targeting ISIS fighters there. And the US continues its shadow war in Somalia to repel terrorists there. The new wave in Saudi Arabia means a total net increase of 17000 US troops in the region since May.

Stung by accusations of incompetence, Saturday, Trump appears on Fox’s Justice with Janine to utter his most pathetic self-justification yet, “He (Erdoğan) was going to go in anyway. They’ve been fighting the Kurds for 200 years. He was going in anyway,” Trump professes US impotence to host Jeanine Pirro.

In doing so, Trump unwittingly confirms that he’s given in to Erdoğan’s demands. It is unlikely to boost his party’s trust or Trump’s self-appointed role as super-patriot and nationalist. His wimpy surrender to Turkey’s territorial ambitions makes America great again? Like his protégé, Scott Morrison, when the chips are down he doesn’t give a toss about principle or consistency or even plausible deniability.

As with any of our current crop of political monsters, the winner-take-all strong men thrown up by neoliberalism’s decline, sky-rocketing inequality and the rise and rise of hyper-nationalism, it’s all about political survival – at any price.

Trump needs a diversion from his impeachment narrative and Rudy Giuliani’s erratic stunts are not helping. He puts on his isolationist mask when it suits. Only Murdoch hacks and ScoMo take it seriously.

Isolationist Trump is stymied because continuous war is vital to the United States military industrial complex if not the economy, a neoliberal supreme being second only to the free market in the cult’s articles of faith. Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul – even more of an embarrassing Trump fanboy than our own PM, rushes to defend his president’s isolationism but, as with toady ScoMo, his credibility is low.

As Republicans and Democrats alike bag Trump for enabling Turkish attacks on U.S. Kurdish allies which could enable ISIS prisoners of war to escape and reform, Paul declares that most Americans would actually agree with President Trump that this is not a war that has our national interest at stake.”

Even if national interest can mean whatever you choose it to mean, it’s difficult to agree with Paul that America’s national interest will emerge unscathed as its reputation as an ally is trashed – and as the Kurdish body count mounts – so far, Turkish authorities claim to have killed 277 terrorists.

Kurdish sources claim that most of those killed or maimed by bombs and air strikes are civilians.

Does Trump give “a green light” or “a trigger” to Turkey’s military ambitions? Experts differ. Trump, himself, is increasingly incoherent and – like his disciple, Scott Morrison -consistently fast and loose and with the truth. What is certain is that the US betrays its military allies, the Kurds who have lost eleven thousand men and women fighting America’s Syrian military intervention in the last five years at least.

What is also clear is that Trump crafts a week of utter confusion over US Middle-East policy in a desperate bid to stem the growing movement to impeach him for enlisting Ukraine’s sad clown, former comic turned President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to help him smear Joe Biden and the whole Mueller inquiry.

Zelensky is now rapidly running up a trust deficit in polls reported this week. His dealings with Trump; his proposals to end the Kremlin-backed war in Ukraine’s East – don’t help. Ukrainians see him less as a running gag on Ukraine’s hopelessly corrupt political system and more like a puppet of a local billionaire.

“Never get into a well with an American rope,” goes a saying, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn reports, is spreading across the Middle East. Will Trump’s treachery also be an object lesson to Canberra?

It’s unlikely given the obsequious fawning of ScoMo’s recent Washington junket, to say nothing of Titanium Man’s subsequent mimicry of Trump on how China is a developed nation and expect no favours over Kyoto targets such as Australia enjoys. But ScoMo knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this week sees him morph even further into a Trump even without fake tan or combover.

On song with Donald, ScoMo also rails against “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracies” which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reminds our PM, Australia helped set up. The scrutiny Morrison’s government rejects is based on international standards it helped create.

We’re also backing out of the UN Climate fund, Morrison decrees, following Trump’s inspiring example. Money saved can go to the Pacific, (it would, anyway, under the fund), especially our fruit-picking Fijians who will love their rugby until Fiji’s playing fields are underwater courtesy of our heroic contribution to global warming as we squib our commitment to our Paris Agreement target with carry-over credits.

Heroic? When we take into account our exports’ carbon dioxide emission potential, Australia ranks as the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia reports The Australia Institute. Wherever our exported fossil fuels may be burnt, they emit more carbon dioxide than the exported emissions of all but two of the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations.

Helping galloping Trumpism sweep the nation in their own self-righteous, dismissive way on Sunday’s ABC Insiders are Murdoch’s Michael Stuchbury and mining lobby tool, The Sydney Institute’s, merry Gerry Henderson who talk up ScoMo’s climate leadership and still find time to defend Peter Dutton for just stating the obvious about how China does not share our “Australian values”.

Gerry scotches all notion of ScoMo criticising his mentor and BFF Donald Trump.

“There is no reason why the Australian government should criticise the American President” says Henderson, airily, ignoring years of utter chaos, corruption and racist violence since January 2017.

Certainly no criticism of Trump appears in ScoMo&Co’s fabulous Dr Doolittle routine, the Payne-Morrison Foreign Policy Pushmi-pullyu duo who sing from the same ponderous song-sheet, in eerie fidelity.

“The Australian Government is deeply troubled by Turkey’s unilateral military operation into North-Eastern Syria. It will cause additional civilian suffering, lead to greater population displacement, and further inhibit humanitarian access. While Turkey has legitimate domestic security concerns, unilateral cross-border military action will not solve these concerns.”

Take that, Erdogan and your domestic security concerns. Neville Chamberlain couldn’t have put it better.

Or as Orwell warns, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details…. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

Weasel words and the vexed question of his aiding and abetting mad elected-King Donald aside, ScoMo and Co are “deeply troubled” only by having to fake moral outrage at Turkey’s turpitude. It’s a tough gig.

Causing “additional human suffering” bothers a PM who plans to revoke Medevac legislation in November? Hardly. “Humanitarian access” worries the gate-keeper of our asylum-seeker gulags both on and off-shore where mandatory, indefinite, detention is denounced by the UN as be a form of torture?

Greater population displacement worries the architect of the Cambodian Solution? A government which opens Christmas Island for one family is averse to additional civilian suffering? A key aim of our mandatory detention of asylum seekers is to punish those on Manus and Nauru or those locked up on the mainland and deprived of any social welfare payments -as a deterrent to other aspiring boat people.

Shunning the UN and similar international bodies is a retreat from co-operative globalism into barbarism. It is also, as the UN makes clear, a denial of our own humanity, a futile attempt to evade our own conscience; our sense of accountability and social responsibility.

Trump’s sudden withdrawal is a triple betrayal. The Kurds are now at risk not only from Turkey but from ISIS fighters they have captured, five of whom already liberate themselves after Turkish shelling from nearby. Kurdish fighters also face hostility from Assad’s regime – and will lose their homes to strangers.

Many of Syria’s Kurdish people live in cities and towns such as Qamishli, Kobani and Tal Abyad just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. By Sunday, hundreds of thousands are fleeing south, terrified by the prospect of a Turkish occupation, backed by bands of Syrian Arab paramilitaries with links to al-Qaeda type groups. CNN reports that the bombardment could displace 300,000 people. Some say more.

Operation Peace Spring is Ankara’s Orwellian title for Turkey, and its Syrian proxies’ air strikes, heavy artillery, rocket fire and land assault; a campaign to illegally annex a “peace corridor” of Northern Syria thirty kilometres deep and some say 480 kilometres along Turkey’s entire Southern border with Syria.

Some sources suggest a more modest but no less illegal 120 kilometres of lebensraum is Turkey’s aim. But how can anyone be sure? In a Rafferty’s Rules-based world of disorder only might is right.

Is this what we’ve become?

Ankara has plans to relocate two million Syrian Arab refugees from other parts of Syria it currently has within its borders immediate aim is to seize Rojava; embark upon further Kurdish ethnic cleansing. As it happens, President Erdoğan announces, he’s just discovered that the land doesn’t belong to the Kurds.

It’s not his first invasion. On 20 January 2018, Turkey attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin in Operation Olive Branch, an offensive which displaced 300,000 Kurds who lost family homes to strangers resettled from eastern Ghouta, an urban suburb of Damascus. Human Rights Watch reports that armed Syrian paramilitary groups were permitted to detain and “forcibly disappear civilians.

Nothing to fear from a “mafia, murderer and serial killer” Turkish state mobilising its armed forces to massacre more Kurds? Hurriedly, publicly walking back any commitment he has made privately to Erdoğan, Trump says he’ll keep the Turks in check; “obliterate” their economy if they try any funny stuff.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” the USA’s Tweeter-in-Chief warns Ankara via Twitter.

His Stable Genius has it all under control.

Erdogan gets a hand, meanwhile. Prior to withdrawal, CNN reports, the US persuades Kurds to dismantle fortifications and to move troops away from the border whilst helpfully giving Turkey airspace access and intelligence on the area to improve its aim – or in military newspeak, formulate its target lists”.

Our own Trumpista, Scott Morrison has only recently returned from a brief but sell-out US tour where he did a star turn as Trump’s muppet. It’s a stunt, as Bernard Keane puts it, in which all of Australia’s foreign policy is outsourced to The White House. Now ScoMo must come up with something. He fails.

He rushes to urge “restraint of all those who are involved” – lest Kurds throw themselves rashly under Turkish tanks, or rush to put themselves or their families in line of fire of bullets or mortar attacks.

It’s all in a good cause. More grandiose plans and delusions aside, Erdogan and Trump are both down in the polls. Trump happily abandons US allies, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, (SDF) and Kurdish civilians to Turkish genocide. It’s certainly diverting attention from moves to impeach him for seeking Ukraine’s help, for his own political advantage; to dig dirt on Joe Biden’s son. He has to be prepared. What if Joe Biden should win the Democratic nomination and not Elizabeth Warren?

Trump’s dumping of former US allies ought to be a wake-up call to those who fetishise the ANZUS alliance- merely an agreement to consult in times of crisis, despite the reverence our MPs bestow upon it.

The world sees clearly both the limits of US authority and how Trump treats US allies, an object lesson unlikely to be missed by Asian nations. Yet the warning is unlikely to be heeded by ScoMo and Co. Morrison’s government and its Murdoch mouthpiece is now so much part of the Trump cult that not only does our PM’s speeches on foreign policy now mimic the US President’s pre-occupations; lecturing China on trade and climate, he reneges on Australia’s commitment to the UN Green Climate Fund.

“I’m not writing a $500 million cheque to the UN, I won’t be doing that. There’s no way I’m going to do that to Australian taxpayers,” ScoMo tells reporters, an antipodean Zelig aping Trump’s 2017 decision.

In other words, ScoMo, you’ll sell us short. Don’t copy Trump. The UN Green Climate Fund -decades in the making – was inspired by the urgent need to support developing nations in responding to the challenge of climate change. It helps developing nations curb their emissions and adapt. It provides for our children and grandchildren – and their children and grandchildren.

Above all, aping your mentor Trump in attacking the UN and other international bodies designed to promote global citizenship and co-operation, you are betraying all Australians and especially those who helped create internationalism; a set of rules and responsibilities, which might help us to act according to our higher instincts. These include resolving conflict, offering refuge, respecting human rights and applying the rule of law so that we might all benefit from a civilised international society.

The least Australia can do, for starters, is to censure Trump for colluding in Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria; giving the green light to his genocidal plans towards the Kurds. Other nations are already applying sanctions on Turkey. It is imperative we also take a stand against Erdoğan’s invasion before it is too late.

Prevailing on your BFF Donald Trump to resume control of the skies over North-East Syria would be a start while an international peace-keeping team could follow. You can send a team to the Golan Heights on Israel’s border. Surely you can also send a team where it’s needed most.

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They are not economic refugees, Mr Abbott

Liberated from his stand-in job as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is now free to impart his wisdom on the world stage.

Last night his ‘wisdom’ was on display as he embarrassed both himself and this nation in delivering the annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London to an audience of ‘British Conservative Party leaders and members’.

His speech left me cold.

The crux of his speech was to tell the European leaders how they should be dealing with the influx of Middle Eastern refugees. Naturally, his own views are the polar opposite to what is happening in the real world and how the Europeans are actually dealing with the human misery.

I only want to focus on one aspect of his speech, where he classed most of the millions of people fleeing the Middle East as ‘economic migrants’.

He said most of the millions pouring into Europe were not “genuine refugees”, rather “economic migrants.”

I can’t believe he said that. I can’t believe he believes it, either. If he does, then one must wonder how disconnected from reality he is.

For two years we have listened to him talk about death cults.

I’d say that most of these people are fleeing these death cults.

We know that most of these refugees are fleeing from Syria.

Shortly before his prime ministership came to an abrupt (and thankfull) end he had made the decision to bomb Syria. This is the country where families are being dragged from their homes and butchered in the streets. This is the country where you’re lucky to still even have a home. This is the country where people are randomly plucked off the streets and beheaded (before the video of their mindless murder is humiliatingly posted on YouTube).

This is the country where young girls are being raped before their lifeless bodies are dumped in some alley.

The young, the old, men and women are being mutilated.

This is the country that has turned into both rubble and a rabble.

This is the country where the super powers are possibly to soon engage in some seriously frightening engagements.

And some idiot who used to be our Prime Minister hops onto the world stage to implore the leaders of Europe to treat these miserable souls as economic refugees.

Maybe Syria is an economic mess. But there are other problems that Tony Abbott seems to forget about.

When you’re fleeing bombs and ‘death cults’ the economic stability of the country you are fleeing would be the least of your concerns.

Someone please take the microphone away from Tony Abbott.

 

Against radicalisation

By Barry Hindess

My title might seem to suggest an hostility to radicalisation, that is, to the thing itself – and thus as endorsing the general thrust, if not the actual detail, of Australian public policy towards what is widely seen as the threat of radicalisation. ‘Radicalisation’ is too often presented as something that happens to young people, often turning them into potentially violent extremists. Rather, it should be seen as an ugly figment of the security imagination unfettered, as this imagination so often seems to be, by serious thought. Accordingly, my title reflects an objection to the term ‘radicalisation’ and the ideas it represents.

While it might seem that ‘radicalisation’ could happen to any of us, that whatever views we might presently hold – green, liberal, socialist or conservative, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim or atheist – could become more ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’, when these terms are used without qualification they almost invariably target Islam. This is a problem that Malcolm Turnbull’s inclusive response to the recent Parramatta shooting shares with his predecessor Tony Abbott’s more confrontational stance. In a recent interview with ABC Radio National (PM, October 5 at 18.10), Turnbull insisted on the ‘need to counter radicalisation’ before going on to say that ‘We have to work with the Muslim community in particular very collaboratively … They are our absolutely necessary partners in combating this type of extremist violence.’ Here radicalisation and extremist violence are clearly viewed as issues that arise within the Muslim community, which is why they are ‘our absolutely necessary partners in combating’ them.

However, there are familiar varieties of extremism and of radicalism that are in no sense Islamic. Those of us who watched the recent Bendigo Mosque protests, whether in the flesh or, as in my case, through the security of our television screens, will have observed a truly frightening level of hatred and aggression on the part of some of the protestors. We have yet to see our leaders take a stand against the radicalisation of such people. There are Bhuddist extremists in Myanmar who terrorise the Rohingya Muslim minority. And again, there are militant evangelical Christian extremists in parts of Africa and in North and South America who are not often seen as posing a threat to the Western way of life. There are small groups of these Christian extremists in Australia but, whatever they may do to each other, they generally leave the rest of us in peace.

Leaving religion to one side, we often see radicalism and extremism in political life. At one time, political radicalism was expected of young people – at least, among those of a certain class, a class that allowed its members the luxury of experimenting with political allegiances. The French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau is reputed to have said ‘My son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then’. Clemenceau’s comments suggest both an awareness that radicalisation might happen among the young and what now seems a remarkably optimistic response: give it time and it will likely pass.

More immediate examples of political extremism are neo-liberalism and the anti-refugee practices promoted by our two major political parties. The former is a doctrine that promotes radical economic change throughout the world – the privatisation of public assets and deregulation and marketisation of anything that moves. Margaret Thatcher did not come into the world as a neo-liberal extremist but, grew into it in her years as a politician. In other words, she was radicalised. Similarly for the IPA ‘s benighted publicists. Neo-liberal extremism poses a real threat to most people in the West, and to the rest of the world too. It is alive and kicking in the Coalition and, despite Kevin Rudd’s essays in The Monthly, still has disturbing levels of support within the Labor Party.

Australia’s refugee regime is a threat, whose brutality has been well-documented, to the well-being of anyone in its clutches. It is a clear case of irreligious Western extremism, suggesting that both those who run the regime’s camps and those who established them must have been radicalised, perhaps by the thought that being seen to be tough on refugees was a prerequisite of career advancement and/or political success. It is tempting to say something similar about Western military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, ostensibly to counter the threat of terrorism at its source. The manifest failure of these interventions and their counter-productive effects have lead, with the partial exception of Afghanistan, not to serious withdrawal from the interventions themselves but rather to their intensification (or radicalisation).

Another problem is that the term is not well-defined. Both here and in North America where it seems to have originated, it is little more than a reflection of the political concerns of those who use it. It refers to a process identified by its alleged results. Leaving aside the well publicised actions of Western powers in the Middle East, whatever else results in radicalism among Muslims is denounced as radicalisation. As often happens with public policy fads, far too many academics have identified themselves as ‘radicalisation’ specialists, thereby overlooking their responsibility to promote intellectual rigour in public life.

My point is not to deny that talk of radicalisation gestures towards a real problem or problems but it is to suggest that we should examine these problems more carefully before seeking actively to address them. We know that young people and more than a few of their elders, finding themselves alienated from the societies in which they live, sometimes seek support elsewhere and it is hardly surprising that this happens within the Muslim community. The reasons for this alienation and responses to it may be many and various, sometimes including ill-informed talk of ‘radicalism’, ‘extremism’ or ‘fundamentalism’ and the intemperate actions of our governments. The politically-charged notion of radicalisation has little to offer our understanding of these issues.

Barry Hindess
School of Politics and International Relations,
Australian National University, Canberra

 

Talking up Australia’s Middle Power Diplomacy

Denis Bright invites feedback on the merits of a more independent Australian foreign policy. The author claims that the Australia United States (US) Alliance in The Post 9/11 Era has become embedded in stronger security, economic and cultural ties within a template model of Australian politics. This is a national sovereignty issue which Prime Minister Turnbull must address as he flags commitment to an Australian republic.

What are the implications for Australian sovereignty of the broadening and strengthening of commitment to the Australia US military alliance in The Post 9/11 Era?

From a security oriented arrangement between sovereign states under the ANZUS Treaty of 1951, the Alliance has evolved into complex whole of government accords which extend from traditional defence links to incorporate stronger security, economic and cultural ties.

Both countries share a commitment to market-based development, a low taxation base for the delivery of non-military government services as well as the expected long-standing commitments to mutual defence within an increasingly predictable template model of Australian politics.

Application of this wider template model in both Australia and the US has already brought widespread disenchantment with mainstream politics.

After five Prime Ministers since 2007, many Australians are not really comfortable with a society that is being restructured on Anglo-American lines.

Even in the US itself, this style of neo-conservatism has imposed an appalling income divide, falling real wages and real sectors of disadvantage.

This is hardly exportable as a model political system.

Australian lobbyists now talk up the profile of business corporations, the enduring role for the armed forces or the need for more law enforcement and domestic security. These establishment voices are echoed in most of the print media and eyewitness news reporting.

Welcome to the template world of Australian politics with its financial limits on the delivery of essential infrastructure and services despite ongoing commitments to overseas military deployments.

In reconstructions of Australian history in the mainstream media, images of military deployments have long triumphed over attention to the domestic political struggles for social justice in a more inclusive social market economy. Indeed by 1915, Australians had twice elected a national social democratic government with a majority in both houses of parliament.

The Australian electorate also voted on two occasions to reject the need for conscription to the Western Front in Europe in 1916-17.

The template of public sector austerity does not of course extend to the outreach of the US Global Alliance.

Protecting Australia from the unknown? ((www.globalresearch.ca)

Protecting Australia from the unknown? ((www.globalresearch.ca)

Joint and US Base facilities in Australia are now well entrenched.

Australia’s current involvement in joint military exercises means that our military commanders must decide spontaneously when an exercise becomes fully operational.

SBS news updates warn of possible offensive involvement of the Pine Gap Joint Communication Base in the targeting of US drone strikes from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa.

Australia’s proactive involvement within the US Alliance also includes commitment to the political stabilization of the adjacent Asia Pacific Region.

The greatest local regional challenge for Australia is steering Indonesia away from its long-term non-aligned status towards a greater association with allied countries in domestic counter-terrorism and towards a more critical stance on the rise of China as a military power in the South China Sea.

The military profile of the US in Indonesia has risen under President Obama. While Indonesia maintains its military ties with major international arms suppliers, the US Defense News applauds the increasing focus on US suppliers as well as military training programmes from Australia and the US.

During a sensitive phase in Australian Indonesian relations over the fate of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, called for closer military co-operation between the armed forces of Australia and Indonesia.

Such poorly-timed strategic advice accompanied by lobbying for the purchase of Reaper drones by Australia would not have been welcome in earlier stages of the ANZUS Treaty of 1951 with its insistence on constitutional processes to protect Australian sovereignty.

Historical background: Australia as a stable democratic frontier within the US Alliance

The suffocating conformity to the demands of the US Alliance was not just imposed upon Australia by successive US administrations. This has always been a trump card in the LNP’s domestic political arsenal.

Prime Minister Harold Holt won a sweeping victory at the national election on 26 November 1966 after a pre-arranged tour by President Johnson was conveniently slotted into the last days of the national election campaign.

The election was largely a referendum on the merits of Australia’s support for the US Alliance in South Vietnam. The LNP received its best primary vote since 1934 to that date.

Under the leadership of Gough Whitlam as both Opposition Leader and Prime Minister, the electorate was able to become more critical of The All the Way with LBJ Mantra of 1966.

With the election of Prime Minister Fraser in 1975, Australia returned to its old dependent status within the Alliance.

Our shared secret, Malcolm: Our new Peacekeeper is on its way (image from news.com.au)

Our shared secret, Malcolm: Our new Peacekeeper is on its way (image from news.com.au)

During a spike in the Cold War, Malcolm Fraser and Ronald Reagan negotiated the symbolic involvement of Australia in testing the accuracy of MX Missiles fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Labor’s return under Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1983 brought a government with power sharing between the dominant right groups and various left factions. At the grassroots level, peace and disarmament groups had a big following. There was strong sympathy in both the Labor caucus and the wider community for the bans on US nuclear powered or nuclear armed naval vessels by the New Zealand Government.

Prime Minister Hawke faced a potential revolt within the Labor caucus over the continuation of the Fraser Government’s MX missile test protocols as arranged by the previous government. Bob Hawke was able to defuse the caucus problems with a complex series of brilliant Win Win manoeuvres.

Australia withdrew from a non-essential direct involvement in the MX Missile tests. This permitted Prime Minister Hawke to talk up opposition to New Zealand’s embargo on either nuclear powered or nuclear armed vessels.

With New Zealand excluded from active participation in the ANZUS Treaty, Australia proceeded to professionalise security consultations with the US through the formation of the Australia-US Ministerial Council (AUSMIN) in 1985.

The US Embassy in Canberra still maintains an eloquent interpretation of AUSMIN arrangements.

Held regularly since 1985, the AUSMIN talks provide a valuable opportunity for Australian and U.S. officials to discuss a wide range of global, regional and bilateral issues.

Embassy of the US, Canberra 2015 (http://canberra.usembassy.gov/irc/us-oz/ausmin.html)

The new arrangements were a big win for the US in widening the scope of visits by US nuclear powered ships and the transportation of nuclear weapons through Australian ports.

After a senate inquiry in 1988, the prevailing centre-right majority within the Hawke Government was prepared to live with the consequences of nuclear incidents in Australian ports:

The US has confirmed to us that in all routine peacetime circumstances, US naval weapons are securely and safely stowed in an unarmed condition where they are protected from fire and electrical activity. The US Navy’s safety procedures take full account of the risks arising from sources of electromagnetic radiation as well as unauthorised access being gained to the nuclear weapons…The nuclear material in modern nuclear weapons is kept together with the other components of the weapon at all times. This does not however affect the possibility that a nuclear weapon accident might occur or that accidental nuclear detonation might eventuate.

Letter from the Minister for Defence, the Hon. Kim Beazley (1988) as tabled at the Senate Inquiry into Visits to Australia by nuclear powered or armed vessels

Even during the Republican Presidencies of Ronald Reagan (1980-88) and George H. W. Bush (1988-92), there seemed to be few objections to specific assertions of Australian independence in defence and foreign policy issues.

However, the events of 9/11 rekindled the old spirit of Australian dependence within the US Alliance. Prime Minister Howard had debts to repay to the US for its diplomatic support for Australia’s intervention in East Timor in 1999. The electorate was also ready to accept the threat of Jihadi terrorism as a viable substitute for the perils of perceived communist threats in the Cold War Era.

The Australia US Alliance in the Post 9/11 Era

This rekindled Australia US Alliance in The Post 9/11 Era was qualitatively different from the Cold War ANZUS treaty of 1951. It is now more deeply embedded in US economic diplomacy to consolidate the more strident financial leadership roles of the US and its key allies in the management of global capitalism.

Latest corporate data from the McKinsey Global Institute, shows the relative success of US economic diplomacy in recovering from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

With a mere 14% of corporate profits, Chinese firms were hardly a threat to the dominant western multinational brands.

Associate Professor Ho-Fung Hung at John Hopkins University made an appropriate interpretation of the still dependent status of China in the global economy. His article entitled America’s Head Servant: The PRC in the Global Crisis is readily available.

There is of course a longer term strategic risk for the US if China develops a more effective global financial outreach within an alternative brand of social market capitalism with obvious appeal to the developing world as a more altruistic form of capitalism.

US strategists must be comforted by the positive drift in corporate profits to industries associated with research and development, corporate communication, software and algorithms. These are in the economic sectors of pharmaceuticals, media, finance and information technology. All these commercial achievements are reinforced by the close co-operation between the business sectors of the US and those of its key allies.

New financial hubs are crucial in maintaining the financial supremacy of the western model of global capitalism. The Australia US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and European Union (EU) countries are all crucial milestones in the consolidation of US economic diplomacy.

Prime Minister Turnbull is still committed to the neo-conservative policy template of market based economic development, less commitment to direct government intervention, a low taxation base and unswerving loyalty to the US in defence and foreign policy commitments.

President Obama’s current charismatic style has made it somewhat easier to promote the template model of market-based politics since 2008. Australians must also anticipate less predictable changes in US Global Alliance Systems in the event of another neo-conservative Republican administration with more assertive foreign and defence policies.

Australia’s successful record in Middle Power Diplomacy

Earlier generations of Australian leaders could afford to be more even-handed about the direction of the US Alliance.

The Hawke Government was factionally broad enough to accommodate some token changes in Australia’s relationship with the US.

US control over the renamed Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap became slightly more accountable after 1988.

Even some meetings of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security were hosted at Pine Gap Base during the Rudd-Gillard years. No minutes of the deliberations were published on the Australian parliamentary site.

Senator Gareth Evans as foreign minister (1988-96) became the outstanding architect of the Cambodian Peace Plan of 1989.

The plan was a UN sponsored initiative. It brought together all four Cambodian factions, the six ASEAN countries, the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Vietnam, Laos, Australia, Canada and India as well as Zimbabwe (representing the Non-Aligned Movement) and a representative of the UN Secretary-General.

This moved Cambodia from an ongoing security and humanitarian crisis to a broader peace initiative under UN auspices.

Andrew Peacock as Foreign Affairs Minister in the Fraser Government broke with the US in withdrawing diplomatic recognition from the remnants of the Pol Pot Regime which soon lost all its significant territorial controls after the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from late 1978.

Some parallels with the current Syrian crisis must be noted.

President Obama has now incorporated the positive achievements of German diplomacy from an innovative Middle Power within NATO.

A generation ago, Gareth Evans also proposed that Middle Powers like Australia could make a substantial contribution to peace and disarmament which is largely off the radar in Australian politics.

All these commitments have been overshadowed by the international politics of The Post 9/11 Era.

Instead of confronting Israel for its failure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or international protocols against the use of chemical and biological weapons, Australia under the LNP could not even support the highly symbolic gesture of allowing the Palestinian flag to be raised at the UN Building in New York.

Australia voted with the Israel, Canada, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau and Tuvalu to support the US in opposing this symbolic resolution in the General Assembly on 10 September 2015.

This isolation of Australia from mainstream world opinion extended to a reflexive commitment to support a minority of NATO in the bombing of Daesh installations in Syria while the current round of international diplomacy was in its initial stages.

With the support of other responsible middle powers like Germany, Australia could have gained traction for some alternatives to the current misery in Syria as early as 2012.

Writing in The Guardian Online on 15 September 2015, Julian Borger and Bastien Inzaurralde welcomed the new US approach to the Syrian crisis. It was interpreted as a return to the recommended negotiating stance of the UN Syrian Group of February 2012. The Elders in the group had included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The civil war in Syria had taken 7,500 lives by February 2012. Now the toll has already reached 250,000 with 11.5 million Syrians homeless. Four million Syrians have sought sanctuary in adjacent Middle Eastern and European countries.

Revisiting Australia’s involvement in the bombing of Daesh installations in Syria

Australia’s recent decision to follow a request from the US to become involved in the bombing of Daesh installations overlooked the complex nature of the civil war in Syria.

The conflict map shows a mosaic of misery across Syria with the government of President Assad in charge of much less than half the country.

Syrian conflict map 16 September 2015 (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 2015 authorized by Pieter Van Ostaeyen (https://pietervanostaeyen.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/2000px-syria15.png?w=640)

Syrian conflict map 16 September 2015 (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 2015 authorized by Pieter Van Ostaeyen (https://pietervanostaeyen.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/2000px-syria15.png?w=640)

Even Syria’s capital, Damascus, is besieged by a network of rebel forces with no direct links to Daesh forces. On the nearby Golan Heights, illegally placed Israeli forces stand ready to intervene in the conflict should Damascus fall to Jihadi rebel forces.

While Germany was one of the 45 countries which abstained from voting on the symbolic Palestinian flag issue in the UN General Assembly, it was not prepared to participate in the US inspired bombing of Daesh installations in Syria at this stage in the conflict.

In the interests of a pragmatic peace in Syria, Chancellor Merkel knows that there is no advantage to NATO if the Syrian capital should fall to Jihadi rebels in an absolutely failed state which may only advantage Daesh forces in the longer-term.

Besieged by refugees from war-torn Syria, the German Government supports peace initiatives to avoid the continuing conflict between the Assad Government and an array of rebel forces.

As one of the ministers in Germany’s Grand Coalition, foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) has raised the prospects of a peace initiative with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In holding off from involvement in bombing operations in Syria, Chancellor Merkel mentioned to Germany’s DW News Network that “We have to speak with many actors, this includes Assad, but others as well.” This would include “Not only with the United States of America, Russia, but with important regional partners, Iran, and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia.”

These German initiatives for peace in Syria are very similar to proposals from the Syrian Group which was rejected by both the US and the UK in 2012. Details are available in The Guardian Online.

It is appropriate that US Secretary of State, John Kerry and Australian Foreign Minister Julia Bishop now endorse these proposals.

Meanwhile, the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus is often hit in the cross fire between forces loyal to President Assad and a myriad of rebel groups.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s welcome change of heart on Syria is perhaps a sign of greater independence within the Australia US Alliance under the new Prime Minister.

Let’s hope that Malcolm Turnbull’s uses his understanding of contemporary globalization to review all aspects of the current template model of market-based politics which is causing so much distress in both societies. .

denis bright Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). He has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing progressive public policies that are compatible with commitments to a social market model within contemporary globalization.

 

Hypothetical: What would you do if . . . ? (Part One)

Geoffrey Robertson’s recent appearance on Q and A reminded me of the value of considering a situation through the eyes of another via a hypothetical situation…

Here’s one to have a go at by:

  1. Reading the Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story.
  2. Considering the three options.
  3. Checking out the ‘Things to consider’ section. And then….
  4. Voting for the option you would choose if you were walking in this person’s shoes.
    (And of course, if you are so inclined – post a comment below the article with the
    reasons you selected a particular option.)

Let’s get the conversation started….

1. Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story:

It’s early 2016. Sticking with his promise to continue with Abbott’s policies on climate change, Malcolm Turnbull and his new Immigration Minister share a ‘private’ Joke about our Pacific Island neighbours soon being underwater. In keeping with tradition, they do this in front of a microphone while waiting for a press conference to start and their joke is broadcast to the world.

Once they realise they’ve been heard, they immediately apologise PDuddy-style, saying “We’re sorry some of you didn’t find our joke funny.”

When the President of Kiribati hears about this, he is furious. “Let’s see how Australians like losing their country” he shouts and storms out to Kiribati’s little known [because it’s fictional] nuclear missile launch base. With the press of a few large red buttons marked ‘Danger’ and ‘Are you really sure?”, he launches a nuclear strike on all Australia’s major cities.

Within an hour, just over 80% of Australia’s population is wiped out, and nuclear fallout threatens the remaining 20% by turning Australia into a nuclear wasteland.

The only Australian Territory not impacted by the attack is Christmas Island. Luckily the ABC regional radio network withstood the blast, and regional broadcasters advise that all surviving Australians should make their way to a specific list of small ports around the Australian coastline where Australian naval vessels will collect survivors and transport you to Christmas Island. The UNHCR is on there way to Christmas Island and will be setting up tents for survivors to live in.

You, your partner and kids were holidaying at a coastal resort up north when the missiles hit. The resort is a long way from any major cities, so you survived the blast and haven’t yet felt any effects. But you know that your home in Perth is gone – blown to pieces. And with nuclear fallout spreading across the country, you need to start working out what you and your family are going to do next.

Then you learn that the US is sending in planes to pick up American survivors who are also staying at the same resort as you. Some of them suggest that you and your family should go back to the USA with them. But having left your passports at home, you’d have to go without the proper travel documents and claim asylum once you reached America. You have no idea whether they would accept you since they, like Australia, are not all that keen on people seeking refuge in their country. And as all Australian banks have been wiped out, and Australian currency now has no value, you would head there with no money and no way to support yourself and your family.

2. Your options

Option one : Stay where you are – in the coastal resort, and try and make a living there. But if nuclear fallout doesn’t get you, it’s possible that further attacks from the irritated Kiribati President will.

Option two: Make your way to one of the designated departure ports and go to Christmas island. But you’ve already been warned that there may be as many as four million people there – all trying to fit into 135 square kilometers. Plus, there’s no guarantee Kiribati won’t try to finish the job and attack Christmas Island at a later date.

Option three: Try and sneak onto one of the US planes sent to rescue American citizens, and hope you can get to America and seek asylum there, knowing that they may very well turn you around and send you back. Or lock you up in a Detention Centre.

3. Things to consider – stories from the real world

In the real world, being forced to flee your home due to war or conflict is not hypothetical for many people – it is very real. In fact, in 2014 some 42,500 people per day were forced to flee their homes in order to seek safety elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, just as most Australians love Australia, and would be reluctant to leave here – many people who are forced by conflict to flee their homes stay in their national country and try to find somewhere safer, hoping that one day they can return to their home town/city.

At the end of 2014, according to the UNHCR there were 38.2 million people who had fled their homes but stayed in their home country. They are classified by the UN as Internally Displaced People or ‘IDP’s.

TOPSHOTS A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 25, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

A Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of her home town of Kobane in March 2015. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

The most common reason for IDPs having to flee their home currently is attack by non-state armed (or terrorist) groups such as ISIS or the Lord’s Resistance Army (a Christian extremist group in Uganda seeking to rule Uganda according to Old Testament law).

Where they can, IDPs stay with family in other locations within their home country. Others stay in camps – some run by their governments and some by the UN. But often they are forced to flee from location to location as local conflicts escalate.

A relatively small number of people who flee their homes subsequently seek asylum elsewhere. In 2014, according to the UNHCR, 1.7 million people left their home country to seek asylum elsewhere – although this number is likely to be much larger in 2015 due to increased warfare in Syria alone.

By way of example, at the end of 2014 there were 7.6 million IDPs in Syria. Unfortunately fewer than 3% of them were in official camps. The rest were staying with family, host families or renting accommodation for as long as they could afford to do so. But as the conflict escalates, more and more of them have no choice but to cross the borders of Syria and seek asylum or refuge in another country – which is why we’re seeing the scenes of Syrian refugees in Europe right now, desperately trying to find a country to take them in.

(You can read more about the plight of Internally Displaced Persons around the globe here.)
4. What option would you choose and why?

So what would you do if you were in the hypothetical person’s shoes above? Would you stay on the Australian mainland, and take your chances avoiding radiation poisoning and further attacks? Would you head up to Christmas Island – the last remaining non-nuked part of Australia, and hope that all 4 million surviving Aussies can fit there. Or would you and your family try to sneak onto the plane to America and seek refuge there?

Lodge your vote below:

[polldaddy poll=9085462]

And don’t forget to add any comments or thoughts you have about why you chose a particular option below.

A quick note on my choice of hypothetical story…In case you’ve had better things to do than think about hypothetical situations before, the purpose is to try to imagine what you would do in a completely different set of circumstances to those that you are normally faced with. In this instance, I have deliberately picked a highly unlikely and somewhat ridiculous situation, because I want the focus to be on the options, rather than the story itself. So try to see past the fact that it is pretty much impossible that Kiribati would nuke Australia, and consider what it would be like if something did happen to your home and your city more broadly which meant you had no choice but to leave and seek refuge elsewhere.

 

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Has Abbott found his 9/11?

syria

 

The Syrian refugee crisis has become the story of the week. The images of hundreds of refugees streaming off ferries, dozens in unseaworthy vessels, and endless lines walking along rail-line tracks toward Germany in search of a new life, have flooded our television news services.

In Australia, particularly on social media, the debate is in full swing. Will we accept our responsibilities and take some of these people? How many? How quickly? How soon?

Germany has lead the world in showing its concern for these unfortunate people caught up in a bloody conflict not of their doing. Now France and the UK have announced their intentions to follow Germany’s lead.

On Tuesday, a Newspoll peaked at 44% of Australians not wanting to take any refugees at all. They would sooner see these people starve to death or whatever, than let them come here.

That live poll result began to decline, however, once a call went out over social media sites encouraging fair-minded people to visit the website and vote.

A Channel 9 news poll showed 63% not wanting any Syrian refugees taken in here. As at this morning, Wednesday, the Channel 9 poll had risen to 66% preferring we took none.

I suspect Liberal party strategists were paying close attention to these polls with a third eye on the upcoming Canning bi-election.

abb Tony Abbott has already tried to make it a political issue. He said, “In the first full year we took 1000 and in the second full year, the last financial year, we took 2200 from the Syrian conflict,” noting that in Labor’s last year of office they only took 98.

Even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, politics is never far away. Labor has moved for an immediate intake of 10,000. They have played their hand without worrying about public opinion.

It remains to be seen what assistance the government will extend but only the naïve could think it would be on the basis of true compassion first and politics second.

Over the next 10 days until the people of Canning vote, I suspect there will be a good deal of internal polling in Canning to determine what the “right decision” is and I suspect the government’s final decision will be delayed as long as it takes to get a firm grasp of the feelings inside that electorate.

Based on the government’s performance thus far, one can rightly expect they are looking for a wedge. Shorten has given them one. They can go higher or lower than 10,000. How much of their decision will be based on the results of their internal polling we will probably never know.

bern But if we are to take the likes of Cory Bernardi’s insensitivity as a guide, it could well be lower. Time will tell. A decision is expected today but whatever the decision is, I expect that much of the government script from here on in, will need to be interpreted with Canning in mind.

Call me cynical. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of “House of Cards” and distrust Tony Abbott as much as I distrust Frank Underwood, but following politics does that to you.

 

Staring into the Syrian Abyss

By Allan Patience

The insanity of the proposal that Australia should commence bombing raids inside Syrian territory is beyond belief. Our belligerent prime minister insists that the initiative for this development came from none other than President Obama himself. Other reports suggest that Australia has actually put pressure on America, obliging it to issue an official request to join in the US military’s air strikes against the Islamic State’s (IS) bases across the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Whether it was President Obama or Tony Abbott who is responsible for the Australian government’s sudden interest in staring into the Syrian abyss, the hope is that wiser heads will prevail. Australia has much to lose and nothing of strategic significance to win by expanding its already dubious role in this appalling conflict.

There are four immediately obvious reasons why the Abbott government should resist the American “request.”

First, the current crisis in Iraq and Syria (and it’s spreading to other parts of the Middle East), ghastly as it is in every respect, is overwhelmingly the result of America and its allies’ strategic interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the dark days of George W. Bush’s presidency. For all the allied blood and treasure that has been so recklessly thrown into those conflicts, no end to them is in sight and on any measure their objectives have been routinely ending in failure.

Iraq is now in the grip of several murderous civil conflicts, largely between Sunni and Shiite forces. Afghanistan is an ugly confusion of Taliban and tribal conflicts and increasingly corrupt and malevolent politicians intent on feathering their own nests before the inevitable collapse of their puny government. These have provided IS with myriad opportunities to inject its merciless jihadists across the region, to its enormous strategic advantage.

This is a mess entirely of the West’s making and its only solution is for the West to butt out and leave it to the locals to sort themselves out. Of course this will result in horrendous bloodshed and brutality; but this is already happening and no matter what the West does, it is clearly incapable of stopping it.

Second, by placing itself at the side of the Americans in Iraq and Syria, the Australians are inviting and inflaming the absolutely visceral hatred of actual and would-be jihadists, both domestically and in Southeast Asia (especially in Indonesia and Malaysia). Far from minimizing potential “home grown” attacks from extremists, and from terrorist groups outside the country, our involvement with the United States in what is a doomed strategy against IS will only make things worse for us at home and abroad.

Third, the craven Australian desire to always be seen as a “loyal” ally dependent on the United States reached its use-by date long ago. The ANZUS treaty remains an instrument whose efficacy has always been determined, first and foremost, by what is in America’s interests, not Australia’s. As Malcolm Fraser argued so well last year, it is time for Australia to extricate itself from its “dangerous ally.” Just as Canada has been able to quietly avoid US pressure to join it in most of its numerous military adventures since the end of World War II and the Cold War (e.g., the Vietnam War and the Iraq War), so Australia should be now be aware that its security is not guaranteed by the treaty.

Indeed, increasingly, Australia’s national interests are at odds with the alliance with the US. Given that our security is totally bound up with what occurs in our geo-political region (East and Southeast Asia), our misplaced loyalty to the US (as opposed to being a mature and independent friend) results in our being an awkward partner in our region, not a trusted regional player.

Fourth, the actual cost of the deployment of Australian troops and materiel in the Middle East is an utterly perverse squandering of taxpayers’ funds. The monies should in fact be used for large-scale aid projects in places like Indonesia to counter the appeal of jihadist recruiters while improving Australia’s diplomacy with its neighbouring states to advance moves for finding regional solutions to problems like people smugglers and terrorists.

Australia must not expand its military deployment from Iraq into Syria. It is time to pull back from the abyss. Abbott and his defence and foreign ministers must eschew further involvement in a conflict that has no reasonable end in sight. Indeed diplomatic talks should now be under way to advise the Americans that Australia is withdrawing all of its soldiers and materiel from the Middle East completely.

Who knows, this might even lead to the Americans realizing that its strategies have been, and remain, futile, and that it too should withdraw from the conflict.

Allan Patience is a principal fellow in the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne. He has held chairs in politics and Asian studies in universities in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Japan.

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat

If there was ever any doubt, it has now been undeniably shown. The ultimate aim of conservative government is to acquire ultimate power unrestricted by considerations of proof or evidence.

The Daily Telegraph reports today that Attorney-General Senator George Brandis will be bringing a new batch of laws to Cabinet next week dealing with the subject of terrorism. Amongst the mooted provisions is the idea that Australian travellers to Syria, Iraq or other declared zones must be “presumed” to be involved in terrorism. More importantly, the onus will be on the returnee to prove that they were not involved in terrorist activities.

The new legislation appears to be in response to the recent media reports of two Australians, Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, assumed to be fighting with jihadis in Syria. Nobody can deny that the apparent actions of these men – their alleged crimes – are heinous and deserving of punishment. With that in mind, it is important to remember that an Australian committing a crime in an overseas jurisdiction cannot be charged and punished for that crime when they return to this country. That is why we have extradition laws. If these men have committed war crimes, or if the “war” in Syria is illegal and their actions constitute murder, they were carried out in a foreign jurisdiction; the killing of foreign nationals in a foreign nation does not make them guilty of any crime in Australia.

But not if Senator Brandis has his way. With the new provisions in law, if Sharrouf and Elomar were to return to Australia they are automatically guilty. They could be arrested at the airport and brought to court on the presumption of involvement with terrorist groups, something for which there does exist Australian law. Currently Australia does not apply mandatory minimum sentences for terrorism offenses, but conservative governments continually seek to impose these.

Some might not seek to protest about this outcome for Sharrouf and Elomar. It seems beyond serious dispute that these men have contravened our understanding of civilised society, have been involved in activities that should be punished, and would be extradited for foreign justice if Syria had such a thing as a functioning legal system. But laws drafted to apply to one or two people may still have wrenching outcomes for others.

It’s not a long time since the Campbell Newman government in Queensland implemented their highly controversial “illegal bikie gangs” laws, which coincidentally also include provisions to reverse the onus of proof. Some protested about this at the time, but protests fell on deaf ears and the laws still exist and are still being applied. It would be salutary not to forget them. Under these laws, belonging to a motorcycle gang and simply being in the same place as two others from the same club is sufficient to make you automatically guilty of illegal association. Immediately and without appeal you can then be arrested, held for thirty days in solitary confinement and confined for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four. That automatically then becomes a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 100 days imprisonment, unless you can prove that the organisation you belong to (not you personally) is not engaged in criminal activity. In other words, you would need to be able to prove that your bikie gang did not exist for the purposes of bar fights. Whilst it seems logical that bar fights might be an unintended outcome of any gathering of people, rather than any specific gang, proving that the group does not support or promote that activity is nearly impossible. Additionally, if one defendant can prove that, it must automatically apply to all others defendants from the same gang. If you can prove that, you are effectively negating the State’s classification of the gang as a lawless association. There are so many flaws and ethical conundrums inherent in this set of laws that we can barely scratch the surface here.

Presumption of innocence

Presumption of innocence is fundamental to our system of law. I don’t normally quote from Wikipedia, but in this case the principle is so basic and universal that I will use its definition: “the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty. In many nations, presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial. The burden of proof is thus on the prosecution, which has to collect and present enough compelling evidence to convince the trier of fact, who is restrained and ordered by law to consider only actual evidence and testimony that is legally admissible, and in most cases lawfully obtained, that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.” Guilty beyond reasonable doubt. We accept this condition. We rely on it, should we ever have the misfortune to be caught up in the legal system. Innocent until proven guilty has been the cornerstone of Australian legal practice since its foundation.

“Tony Abbott declined to rule out a reversed onus of proof, but said any changes would be “consistent with our traditional principles of justice and freedom”. This is a pure oxymoron; it is impossible to remain consistency with our traditional principles when you’re talking about reversing the cornerstone.

How do you prove innocence? Even our courts don’t currently try to do that. As others have pointed out, the best you can hope for in a modern trial is a verdict of “Not Guilty”. This does not equate to innocence. If you cannot be proved to have committed the crime, you are not guilty; you may still have committed the crime, but our system deliberately errs on the side of caution. The presumption of innocence exists because it is better to let guilty parties go free than to lock up innocents. This is a fundamental component of our understanding of jurisprudence and to reverse it means that people will be caught up in and eaten by the system. Of course, the Coalition has form in this – look no further than the case of Mohamed Haneef.

If you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about

Oh yes you do. Let’s consider for a moment the kinds of people who might visit a “declared zones”. Certainly, there will be a small number – an exceedingly small number – who travel to conflict areas for the purposes of violent jihad, or just for kicks. There are mercenaries, even from Australia, who fight for the highest bidder, not being beholden to Allah but simply seeking to parlay their skills into profit. Putting aside the ethics of the equation, if jihadis and violent thrillseekers and mercenaries are caught up in these laws, that’s probably the intended outcome.

The Greens and Labor suggest that these changes may also apply to aid workers and journalists. Of course, the Coalition doesn’t actually believe in the work that aid workers (reduction in Australia’s aid budget) or journalists (culture of secrecy) do, so they possibly think these are acceptable outcomes.

But what about family members? There are people living in Australia who originate from conflict areas. Some of these happen to be Muslim, and have relatives living in peaceful cities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries otherwise beset by war and unrest. People do travel, and people do visit these countries for reasons other than violent jihad. It’s not a stretch at all to think that a Muslim man, visiting his family in Baghdad, might return to find himself forced to prove that he did not, while he was there, consort with militants. That can be very hard to prove. Read: impossible.

How about tourists? Iraq and Syria, Turkey and Egypt, India and Pakistan – there are wondrous works of nature and of man in these places, and Australians travel there every year to visit them. Are all of these tourists, young and old, single and married, Christian and Muslim and Buddhist, to be automatically assumed guilty of terrorism offences?

If the answer is no, the question becomes How do you tell which ones? Only the Muslims? Perhaps any Muslims between certain ages? If you need to prove that somebody is appropriate to have laws applied against them, then you should have to prove it. There are no circumstances under which a blanket rule like this can be applied without it either applying to everyone, or basically giving carte blanche to bureaucrats to ignore otherwise necessary burdens of proof. Relying on instinct and gut feeling have been shown, time and again, to be insufficiently rigorous methods of jailing people.

Finally, how do you identify a “declared zone”? Iraq and Syria are currently topical. In recent years we have seen unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen. There have been protests in Algeria, Morocco and Israel. There were minor protests in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Mauritania. How about Thailand? Burma? Indonesia? Bali? There is conflict and terrorist activity across the breadth of the world, including in any number of places to which Australians love to travel. Not every Australian who travels to Sri Lanka wants to be a Tamil Tiger. Not everyone who goes to Bali intends to bomb cafes. If you can accuse one such traveller of such crimes – indeed, assume their guilt unless they can prove otherwise – you have to apply it to all.

Of course, this legislation has not yet gone to Cabinet, let alone to the Parliament. There’s still plenty of time to see it changed or dropped. We can only hope that the Coalition will have the sense to take a more moderate approach; and when the current government’s intransigent lack of moderation brings these laws to the Parliament, we can only hope that the crossbench senators will see these laws for what they are – another step down the road towards a police state.

A Perfect Storm

Image by climate-change-guide.com

Image by climate-change-guide.com

The implications of peak oil and global warming for world security

“The modern global economy has been built on cheap oil and its abundant availability.” –

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/02/11/opinion/Peak-oil-will-have-an-adverse-effect-on-all-econom-30148420.html

The security agencies and defense departments of the world’s strongest superpowers do not have the luxury of pretending that climate change is not happening. They’re not able to blithely deny that resource shortages, burgeoning world populations and runaway global warming will have ramifications for their regions and their countries. While their governments and politicians might outwardly deny that climate change is real or that society has any real limits, their militaries and their policy hardheads are quietly planning for the worst.

The reality is that our world economy, the political structures that shape it and the peoples that make up her nations are fragile, susceptible to any number of crises that could bring the system down. The 21st century sees a number of separate but related crises arriving more or less at once, and these crises will undeniably reshape the world around us.

At the root of these crises is oil, and our planet’s industrialisation borne on the back of cheap, plentiful energy. This boon has led to top-heavy societies that are too globalised to survive on their own. The abundance of oil has led to unparalleled prosperity, booming populations and mind-boggling technology, all entirely reliant on the continued availability of the resources that sustained their growth. And it has led inexorably to climate change and the host of disasters that this presents.

Governments and academics around the world are waking up to the geopolitical ramifications of climate change. Indeed, in the past few years we’ve seen the first upheavals whose roots can be attributed to changing climate. If unchecked, climate change will lead to a bleak future of climate refugees and interminable, bloody war. This is not histrionics. This is the considered view of very senior academics and powerful military strategists. The only questions are whether we might be in time to slow climate change through global action, and how first-world countries with resources available will respond as the world sinks into deprivation and conflict. The signs on both fronts, unfortunately, are not good.

By itself, climate change does not have to lead to war and tyranny. Climate change and its effects are, like any other political force, a challenge for governments to overcome. The real danger is in how governments respond to climate change. But the challenges of the future are likely to be too great to ameliorate.

The 21st Century will see a perfect storm of crises upon us. They are already in view.

Climate change – driven by the industrialised world’s dependence on oil for energy – is striking us hardest just when oil is becoming harder to supply. The world depends on cheap oil for energy as well as for agriculture, but we are reaching the limits of our ability to provide this essential resource before we’ve gotten serious about finding alternatives. And the intensive and growing use of oil is leading to global climate change that will have the effect of accelerating collapse and disorder.

So what are some of the national security implications of climate change allied to resource shortages? In terms of security, the outcomes are unrest and revolution, climate refugees and conflict and war.

Instability, unrest and revolution

In just the last few years we have watched from afar as nations across the globe have struggled with upheaval, revolution and internal strife. Many in the comfortable west probably put these conflicts down to tribal politics, racial hatreds or religious intolerance. Whilst these elements are undoubtedly present, religious ideals rarely lead to revolutions in the real world. From the Crusades onwards, people with extreme views on religion and race have taken advantage of conflicts already begun for other purposes. In the modern day we have seen this in Iraq, in Syria, and in Afghanistan, conflicts that began for other reasons but are now entrenched in the narrative of “sectarian warfare”.

At core, however, most or all of these conflicts can be attributed to the perfect storm of resource shortages and climate change. Let’s look at a few of the most current examples.

SYRIA

The core of the conflict in Syria is not, as some would have you believe, islamic militants trying to overthrow a democracy, nor a tyrant attempting to mercilessly crush freedom-fighters. The core of the issue is drought and food shortages.

Drought and agricultural collapse have forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the cities where they become dependent upon the government’s support. However, the government’s ability to support these climate refugees has collapsed along with the country’s economy. It doesn’t help that the regime is not sympathetic to the peoples’ needs. This combination of factors has led to a situation where, for many people, simple survival becomes a higher priority than good social behaviour.

If Syria had plentiful monetary resources and the willingness to spend, it could provide food and water for its people. Through purchasing food, desalinating water, irrigating and artificially managing its agriculture, it could deal with the challenges. But it is neither able nor willing to go down this path. The result, as we have seen, is civil war and a country in miserable turmoil. But they’re not alone.

THE ARAB SPRING

The Arab Spring had its roots in a water and food crisis. The series of uprisings across the middle east is held up as a shining example of populations attempting to throw off the shackles of oppressive masters, and to some extent there is some validity to this interpretation. But people will tolerate a lot of tyranny so long as they are comfortable. Freedom is not the panacea the US would have people believe. (This is why the Chinese people, on the whole, are very happy with their situation despite their lack of freedom: they have the comforts they require for daily living.) At the core of the Arab Spring was not a hunger for freedom, but simply hunger. The regimes were not living up to their side of the bargain.

THAILAND

In Thailand, drought and floods combined to hit domestic food supplies and food exports. Recovery from the floods, plus the hit to export revenue caused by the decimation of their food exports, combined with the country’s dependence on foreign oil to eat into the government’s ability to afford to meet the needs of its people now, let alone plan into the future for energy diversification and economic renewal.

This combination of factors has led to high levels of debt for the low-paid workers, high living costs and high unemployment. The eventual and inevitable result has been social unrest. In Thailand’s case this had led to martial law and, currently, to yet another military coup. But the people continue to suffer and while guns on the street may enforce order, they can’t address poverty and starvation.

EGYPT

For a final example, consider Egypt. Egypt also suffers water and food shortages. For decades it has been a net importer of food. When the price of wheat effectively doubled in 2010 and 2011, the result was swift and fateful. Mubarak fell in early 2011. That revolution, so full of hope at the time, has not led to the utopian society Egyptians hoped for, as it does nothing to address the core issues. In truth, the core issues are largely outside the scope of Egypt’s government to contend with.

“As energy accounts for over a third of the costs of grain production, high food prices are generally underpinned by high oil prices. Since 2005, world oil production has remained on an undulating plateau that has kept prices high, contributing to surging global food prices.
According to the New England Complex Systems Institute, if food prices go over a threshold of 210 on the FAO Food Price Index, the probability of civil unrest is greatly magnified.”

http://qz.com/116276/at-the-root-of-egyptian-rage-is-a-deepening-resource-crisis/

The FAO has been hovering at or above 210 since at least 2010. If climate change reduces global food output, inevitably the price of food will increase. If oil becomes scarcer or more expensive, the price of food will increase. To these issues, under the current system, there is no clear or easy resolution.

Conflict and war

Internal conflict is not the only outcome of resource shortages and climate change. As nations across the world find it harder to keep their populations supplied with the food, water, energy and goods that keep them happy, the pressures will increase to find and secure new sources. Despite the comforting narratives that keep western civilians believing that conflicts in far-flung and uncivilised nations are due to local religious squabbles, modern nations are very aware of the precarious nature of their power, and will be willing to go to great lengths to avoid travelling down the same path.

CONFLICTS OVER OIL

As a result, in the past decades we have seen conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq explode into worldwide wars with the involvement of great powers. It is hardly a secret that America was not in Iraq primarily because of the sufferings of a few Iraqis, but because Saddam was not friendly to the oil needs of the US. Much of the current situation in Ukraine can also be attributed to Russia’s intent to secure oil reserves.

At the current moment there are territorial disputes across the South China sea: primarily, conflicts between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands, and between China and the Philippines over the Reed Bank. Even Australia is not immune from territorial disputes over oil: witness the dispute between Australia and Timor over the Timor Sea maritime boundary. Whilst all of these disputes are currently diplomatic, there have already been military incidents in some of them, and any of them could blow up into serious conflict. They will not be the last such disputes of this century.

CONFLICTS OVER FOOD AND WATER

Water shortages are arguably the greatest challenge facing the world of the immediate future. According to the UN, “…by 2025, two-thirds of us will experience water shortages, with nearly two billion suffering severe shortfalls.”

China is in perilous state with drought affecting its farmlands: it’s the world’s biggest user of imported water. “Land grabs” in Africa – and Australia – are intended not as assaults on those continents but are an attempt to secure productive land to grow food and ship it back home.

Attempts by China to procure land in Australia may be a false economy; there is a decent chance that Australia may soon be joining China in a need for fresh sources of fresh water and arable land. The oncoming El Nino may be salutary.

Desalination can play a part in providing for the water needs of cities and of agriculture. But desalination is energy-intensive and expensive, and requires a large amount of political capital. Things will need to get worse before the people will realise the need for things to get better.

CONFLICTS OVER TERRITORY

We live in a post-Empire world. In the modern era, nations do not generally invade or annex other nations for the sake of world domination; the world has reached a form of equilibrium and any such attempts would be roundly resisted. International conflicts now are driven by more prosaic concerns, such as the desire to secure energy and mineral resources.

In such a world, any unclaimed or untapped resources take on a greater level of significance. Currently, there are three major fields which may help nations address their ongoing needs, and it is in these fields that we are likely to see expansionist movements and potential conflicts over the next decades. These fields are the open ocean, Antarctica and space.

We are already seeing conflicts over claimed areas of ocean. We can expect to see ongoing exploration in international waters for new resource fields. However, in general, resources are both rarer and harder to extract when they are in international waters. Deep sea trenches were never landmasses, never supported forests and ecosystems, and thus hold little or no oil. Combine this with the fact that at present we find it difficult even to reach the ocean floor across much of the world – witness the fruitless search for MH370 – and drilling for oil or minerals across the ocean becomes a prohibitive challenge.

Similar challenges exist for space. Enormous resources and energy are required just to get there, let alone manage any attempts at extraction. However, even within our own solar system there are greater reserves of resources than our planet contains in its entirety. Space is the battleground of the future. It will not, however, be practically useful to nations in the first half of the 21st century.

Antarctica is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits any change in territorial claims. The Madrid Protocol, an addendum to the Treaty, prevents mining within Antarctica. Treaties, as history has shown us, are made to be broken. Many nations have significant interest in the untapped resources of Antarctica and some are already beginning to explore and plan their exploitation of this continent on Australia’s doorstep. It seems likely, if not inevitable, that the next major battleground of the 21st century might be this southernmost continent – particularly as global warming potentially makes the continent more accessible and, eventually, suitable for habitation and agriculture.

Peak oil by any definition

Global social unrest and international warfare might be avoided if the world can continue to provide fresh reserves of oil to support our insatiable need for growth and industry. Unfortunately this is not going to be possible. Many commentators have discussed the concepts of peak oil; for decades the idea has been a looming threat. Official estimates have consistently denied that crisis is imminent, but it now appears that peak oil may be closer than anyone had hoped. The US seems to think so.

That we are at or near ‘peak oil’ is demonstrated by the industry’s continual push to open new resource fields and extraction methods, regardless of the expense and complexity. The end of the world’s access to cheap fossil fuel energy is a threat worthy of an article of its own – or perhaps even its own blog. Suffice it to say here that the price of oil, and the price of food, is not going to stop increasing any time soon.

With resource crises, food shortages, water shortages and increasing climatic disruption
caused by hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods, not to mention sea level rise over the
coming decades which will flood and permanently destroy huge swathes of the world’s low-lying agricultural lands, the 21st century is in the grip of a perfect storm of crises that have the potential to reshape the face of humanity on this planet far more quickly than most Australians realise.

What can Australia learn?

Both Syria and Egypt are finding that their economies are suffering due to a downturn in
fossil fuel exports – both due to depletion. Without the revenue from oil exports, these governments have found themselves less able to provide for the needs of their people. Australia needs to heed this example. We are not a heavy exporter of oil; however, our economy is heavily reliant on the export of coal and mineral resources. If these markets collapse, we will find ourselves in a parlous economic situation. The Abbott government is effectively pursuing an austerity budget even whilst the nation is not in economic crisis. As climate change and El Nino drive our farmers off the land and our food production inevitably declines over the rest of this decade, we will see increased demands on government resources. Diversifying our economy is absolutely vital.

The uprisings in the middle east may have been driven by economic and resource woes, but they were enabled by despotic regimes that did not do enough to support the needs of the people. Uprising became the only way out for populations on the edge of starvation.

Australia does not have an autocratic dictatorship in command – although it pains me to have to add the word “arguably”. Despite our inclusive system of politics, already we have seen social unrest with government policies and with the democratic process in general. Already we see protests against governments of both breeds. We’re a long way short of the critical mass of the people who would rebel against their government but the seeds are there. It is hubris to think that Australia could never suffer the kind of uprising that has been witnessed in Thailand or Egypt. It won’t happen in the next ten years; we’re still a prosperous nation. But the decisions made now will have impacts on the society and governance of the 2050s and beyond.

It is more likely, in the immediate term, that we will face the ramifications of unrest from neighboring regions than experience it ourselves. This will manifest as growing pressure to accept climate refugees, combined with an increasing range of domestic crises.

How will we respond?

Most of the current areas of unrest are in the middle east, for a reason. These regions suffer a combination of resource dependence, early effects of disruptive climate change, and despotic or immature regimes with too great a reliance on resources that are now declining.

Australia, for the moment, is buffered by our remote location, delaying the worst impacts of climate change; by our system of government and our existing social contract and social support structures; and by our relatively high standard of living. This gives us time to consider the future and our response to the oncoming challenges – if we choose to recognise them.

We have seen the trajectories of nations where these crises come together. With a little forethought, we can see our own nation’s weaknesses and start to plan wisely for the future.

An obvious and critical answer to all of these challenges is to divest from oil. Renewable energy is not just an answer to climate change; it’s a solution to the energy crisis that will affect us all. With efficient renewable energy, we can manage our water resources better, and this will allow us to secure our domestic food production. If we act now, we may be able to retain our standard of living.

Alternatively, we could dismantle our climate change bodies and our renewable energy institutions. We could defund solar and wind power, while funnelling ever greater subsidies into fossil fuels in an attempt to shore up our revenues for a few more years. We could leave the challenges of the oncoming food, fuel and water crises to future governments and future generations.

Yes, I guess we could do that.