Last Wednesday, Vietnam feted the 60th anniversary of its victory over French forces at Dien Bien Phu. But earlier that week, Hanoi lodged a protest against Beijing for allowing a Chinese offshore oil rig to drill in the waters near the Paracel Islands, which are disputed between China and Vietnam. Hanoi also complained that Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese coast guard vessels which were dispatched to the oil rig site on Sunday. Several Vietnamese sailors suffered minor injuries. Fortunately, the outcome of the incident was far less severe than Vietnam’s March 1988 naval clash with China in which 70 Vietnamese personnel were killed and three ships lost after Chinese forces fired on them near Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands. » More
Imperatives for peace and for justice often seem to collide in many conflict and post-conflict situations. The immediate inspiration for this article was the recent arrest in Northern Ireland of Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Coming right before European and local elections the arrest had immediate political consequences for the stability of Northern Ireland and the success of the ongoing peace process in the province. It also highlighted the continued lack of agreement for how to handle the legacy of past killings despite sixteen years of relative calm.
This problem is especially acute in modern conflicts. Today’s wars tend to be messy civil ones, often with a bewildering kaleidoscope of armed actors. Unlike the interstate wars of the past, there is often no obvious victor to a struggle, and often no clear-cut chain of command. Instead, there is a usually a messy list of atrocities, at the end of which is a patched-together political settlement that sometimes holds, and sometimes does not. To return to the example of Northern Ireland, many sources allege Gerry Adams to have been a senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader responsible for ordering bombings and murders in the 1970s and 80s (Adams denies this). His detention by police investigating the McConville murder could easily have led to widespread rioting in Republican parts of Belfast. It may yet lead to Loyalists withdrawing from the unity government, so toxic is the issue in the Protestant community. » More
Thirty-five year old Jorge is a nurse in a health centre in Madrid. During a demonstration against health cuts in March of last year he was arrested and accused of attempting to assault a politician. Television footage later showed he had been several metres away and protesting peacefully.
Four months earlier he had been convicted of taking part in an “unauthorised assembly” when protesting at an eviction. He was fined €301 for causing serious public disorder in a public place or causing damage. I’ve seen a video of the action and it shows a group of people urging bailiffs not to throw someone out of their home—it doesn’t even seem that voices were raised.
Six months before that he had received a letter saying he would be fined for “disobeying the orders of the police” when told to disperse during another demonstration. The police told the demonstrators that they had not been notified in advance of the demonstration and that that had made it unlawful.
I’ve spent time with Jorge. He is not a professional agitator: it would be hard to find a nicer and gentler man. But he is typical of many Spanish people who believe the response of their authorities to the deepest economic crisis many can remember must be questioned. » More
The debate between Peter Jennings and Robert Ayson over whether DFAT does ‘strategy’ has opened up a rich vein of thinking. In essence, the debate has been less about what DFAT does or doesn’t do, and more about ‘what’s strategy?’ Peter believes strategy is a long-term enterprise, typically codified by some sort of formal document that attempts to define a grand objective for policy and identifies a means for getting there. Rob says that strategy is sequentialism—it’s the art of the next step, there are no final objectives, and who cares if it’s written down? Strategy, he says, is a state of mind, an intellectual climate.
The problem, of course, is that the word ‘strategy’ has many meanings. I don’t want to become trapped in an arid debate about whether one definition is more correct than another. For about the last decade I’ve found the best definition of grand strategy to be Walter Russell Mead’s. Mead described US grand strategy as ‘the US project for the world’, which strikes me as a nice way of freeing the concept of strategy from both its military strait-jacket and its usual academic prison. Mead accepts the ‘project’ isn’t written down. And I’m similarly unaware of anyone writing down the Australian project for the world. No-one writes it down for the simple reason that it isn’t the property of one person. Nor, I suppose, is it ever fulfilled, so there’s no sense of the objective’s being reached. » More
The recent announcement that the Navy Research Lab (NRL) had successfullyconverted seawater into fuel was greeted by hyperbolic claims that this “game changer” was going to allow the Navy to “say goodbye to oil.”As impressive a scientific feat as this was, the Navy has a very long way to go from flying a model plane powered by molecularly restructured seawater around a field to powering a sizeable portion of the non-nuclear fleet. This research was the latest in a series of milestones achieved in pursuance of what the Navy calls the “Great Green Fleet.” The objective is to reduce oil consumption by 50% and utilize alternative energy for 50% of the Navy’s energy requirements by 2020, a goal that even many supporters find aggressive. The aims of the seawater-to-fuel program are to make it possible for the fleet to remain 100% operational by eliminating the need for ships to come into port to fuel, and to avoid logistical nightmares resulting from the fact that a large portion of petroleum comes from unstable areas and must flow through some of the world’s major chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz. » More