Wednesday 19th of June 2024

quietly and softly spoken being stupidly wong.....

The Australian Government has a big problem with its security narrative. Preparing for a putative war with China is the nation’s top security priority, while the government’s knowledge of the growing existential threat of climate disruption and their security consequences remains a closely-guarded secret.

It is embarrassing for the government that it will not share in any meaningful way the assessment of climate–security risks delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office last November by the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), even in a declassified version. As our allies have done. Nor has it outlined any substantial policy responses.


By David Spratt


The ONI report, if it ever sees the light of day, will likely portray climate disruption as the greatest threat to Australia, the region and its peoples, both in terms of likelihood and impact.

So how can the government square the ledger? Elevate China to become an existential threat, too? Preposterous as that may seem, this appears to be the purpose of Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on 23 September.

Take a close look at the words spoken by Wong:

“Even as we face the existential threat of climate change… The world faces another existential threat… And that is the risk of conflict between great powers.

“[T]he modern arms race forever transformed the scale of great power competition, and pushed all of humanity to the brink of Armageddon. In 1962, one of those close calls spurred the construction of conflict prevention infrastructure between the US and the Soviet Union: guardrails that responsibly managed Cold War competition and kept it from careering into conflict.

“The Indo-Pacific is home to unprecedented military build-up, yet transparency and strategic reassurance are lacking. Tension is rising between states with overlapping claims in the South China Sea, and disputed features have been militarised. And North Korea continues to destabilise with its ongoing nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile launches, threatening Japan, the Republic of Korea and the broader region.

“When you add dangerous encounters in the air and at sea, including between nuclear powers, we are faced with a combination of factors that give rise to the most confronting circumstances in decades.”

So her story slides from existential climate risks … to existential nuclear risks … to an unprecedented military build-up due rising tensions “between states with overlapping claims in the South China Sea”.

Note the passive voice, as if Australia were a bystander rather an active participant in this militarisation.

What is being said here? There are three possible interpretations.

The first is that confrontation with China may lead to nuclear war. I am not sure that most Australians understand that the government thinks that AUKUS and the US-led confrontation with China may end up in the use of weapons of mass destruction, nor would they be happy about such a prospect.

The second is that the Foreign Minister is simply saying that nuclear war is an existential threat, which would be a statement of the obvious well recognised for three-quarters of a century.

Or is there a sleight of hand here, a thinly-disguised imputation that any regional conflict involving China is an existential threat — shorthand: “China is an existential threat” — without weapons of mass destruction being involved? If that were the case, wouldn’t China’s primary opponent and provocateur — the United States — then also be an “existential” threat?

If so, that is an Orwellian redefinition of the term “existential”, and a case of false equivalence. Civilisation wrecking climate disruption is now a realistic end-game; nuclear war with China is low odds.

The Stockholm-based Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) produces an annual assessment of catastrophic risk. Their most recent is Global Catastrophic Risks 2022: A year of colliding consequences, in which the risks are divided into three categories.

  • Current risks from human action: Weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical and biological warfare — catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse.
  • Natural catastrophes: Pandemics, asteroid impacts and supervolcanic eruptions are known to have caused massive destruction in the past.
  • Emerging risks, including artificial intelligence (AI). It notes that while AI might not seem like an immediate source of concern, “we should remember that challenges widely recognised as the greatest today — climate change and nuclear weapons — were unknown only 100 years ago, and late response — as in the case of climate change — has increased the risk level considerably”.

“Catastrophic” is a wider term than “existential”. As the report notes, an existential risk strictly defined is one “that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life”, but there is also a “weak” existential risk that may contribute to the “destruction of humanity’s long-term potential”. It is this latter definition that more readily applies to climate disruption and to most of the risks analysed by the GCF.

In Global Catastrophic Risks 2022, China is mentioned (along with other nuclear powers) in the section on weapons of mass destruction, and in sections relating to climate disruption and population and fertility. There is no discussion of a regional war including China or anyone else being existential in and of itself.

Then there is the question of likelihood. The world is this decade charging past 1.5°C degrees of climate warming and on the way to 2°C before 2050 given the continuing global political failure to reduce emissions, which are still rising. Potsdam Institute Director Johan Rockström warns that getting to 2°C means 3°C is likely: “If we go beyond 2°C, it’s very likely that we have caused so many tipping points that you have probably added another degree just through self-reinforcing changes.”

And 3°C is close to existential in that coastal cities and nations will be under metres of water, over one-third of the planet around the equatorial regions will be uninhabitable due to extreme heat, and water availability will decrease sharply in the lower-latitude dry tropics and subtropics, affecting almost two billion people worldwide and making agriculture nonviable in the dry subtropics. US national security think-tanks concluded that 3°C of warming and even a 0.5 metre sea-level rise would likely lead to “outright chaos” and “nuclear war is possible”.

If the Foreign Minister is drawing an equivalence between this scenario — which is probable — and conflict with China, because both are “existential”, that sounds like an amateurish attempt to disguise the dissonance in the government’s security narrative.




the boogeyman....

Class traitors: Western progressives have abandoned the people to fuel NATO’s carnage

Social democrats, the supposed defenders of peace and the working class, have gone all-in cheering for the devastating war in Ukraine

By Denis Rogatyuk, a Russian-Australian journalist and writer based in Latin America, international director of El Ciudadano media platform, one of Chile's largest independent media sources


After the breakout of the First World War, the Second International and the numerous socialist organizations affiliated with it across Western Europe threw their weight behind their governments’ new military adventurism and became completely oblivious to the suffering of their fellow man at the hands of their countries’ economic and political elites.

More than a century later, many of their modern-day counterparts have joined the chorus of Western governments, and their respective military-industrial complexes, in their proxy war hymn against Russia. And some of them have gone as far as giving a standing ovation to a literal member of the Waffen-SS, Yaroslav Hunka, when he was presented as a “veteran who fought for Ukrainian independence against Russia during WWII” in the Canadian parliament. It seems that even praising Nazis has become an acceptable part of the Western progressives’ discourse against all things Russian.

While many of the social democrats of the 1970s and 80s throughout Western Europe strongly opposed NATO’s expansionism and the presence of US military bases, the modern-day progressive and green parties go out of their way to roll out the red carpet for foreign soldiers on their soil. The examples are numerous. There’s Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister from the Greens, who made headlines around the world for admitting that Germany is “fighting a war against Russia,” the former prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, who attended the funeral of a well-known neo-Nazi leader in Ukraine, Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, the first to pledge F-16 jets to Kiev, and Spain's Pedro Sanchez, one of the first to promise Zelensky Leopard tanks. In the United States, the Squad – a group of relatively young members of Congress elected in 2018 and 2022 on a progressive left-wing platform – was once considered something of an alternative to the Democratic Party establishment, but has equally fallen under the spell of the siren war song of President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Except for criticism of the delivery of cluster munitions and depleted uranium shells and supporting Bernie Sanders’ proposal to cut military spending, the Squad has consistently voted in favor of progressively bigger and bigger military aid packages to Kiev, while largely ignoring the threat posed by the various neo-Nazi armed groups in Kiev’s employ.

Even the trade unions, long considered the backbone of the anti-war movement, are not immune to the whims of the mass Russophobia and the warmongering spirit of the progressive and liberal leaders. The British Trade Union Council’s resolution urging Rishi Sunak’s government to commit further arms deliveries and financial assistance to the regime in Kiev is a stab in the back for the Stop the War coalition and millions of British workers who view the cost-of-living crisis as far more important than the delivery of military aid to a government that has thrown the rights of its own workers back to the 19th century with the new law 5371.

 The (not so common) common sense

Before the outbreak of WWI, one sole voice of reason against the coming mass slaughter was heard in the German Bundestag – that of the communist Karl Liebknecht. Today that honor falls to Sahra Wagenknecht, the dissident left-wing deputy of the Die Linke party, who has consistently criticized the sanctions against Russia and the weapons deliveries to Ukraine. In the UK, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has vehemently opposed any military support for the government in Ukraine, while also criticizing Russia’s actions. In Ireland, the Irish Neutrality League has been established as a countermeasure to the attempt by the Fianna Fall-Fine Gael-Green coalition to train Ukrainian army units on Irish soil. Across the Atlantic, the presidential candidate Cornel Westhas made the dissolution of NATO one of his campaign pledges, while blaming the military alliance for instigating the Ukraine conflict in the first place. Thankfully, there are still voices of common sense found among the Western left, although nowhere near enough to stem the tide of anti-Russian hysteria.

The greatest inspiration for the left ought to come from the left-wing governments of Latin America, both new and old. Presidents Lula Da Silva of Brazil, Gustavo Petro of Colombia, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico have rejected the demands of the US to send military assistance to Kiev, have consistently opposed any talk of sanctions against Russia and, in the case of Lula, suggested that Ukraine should end its demands for the return of Crimea in exchange for a peace settlement. The left-wing presidents of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua have been even more supportive of Russia’s position and strongly opposed to the US and NATO’s actions around the world.

 What is to be done?

It is truly distressing to see how the alleged defenders of workers’ rights and supporters of world peace have turned into keyboard warriors engaged in live-action role play where they imagine themselves as heroes in their battle against “evil” Russia, with Ukraine as their vanguard. Never mind that every week, hundreds (if not thousands) of young Ukrainians are snatched from their families, thrown into a quick training course and sent off to the frontlines, fighting and dying seemingly for the wishes of their country’s elite and the moral fulfillment of the Western virtue signalers. Ironically, they have also consistently ignored the catastrophic damage to the environment and the acceleration of climate change as a result of their governments’ military adventurism.

Instead of making grandiose speeches demanding that their countries’ military warehouses be emptied in defense of one of the most corrupt regimes in Europe, there are more pressing causes that Western progressives should pursue. Number one on the list is the escalating cost-of-living crisis, with spiraling energy and fuel prices, which could be mitigated through the nationalization of the biggest energy companies that have profited the most from the carnage in Ukraine. There was once a time when millions of people would have protested at the mere thought of American planes and German tanks on the fields of battle in Europe. It seems that thousands more will have to die before the modern-day social democrats realize the error of their way, just as in the aftermath of WWI.










china surrenders?...


Did unlamented Pezzullo dream of taking the Chinese surrender in Beijing?


   By Jack Waterford


I have never had much regard for Mike Pezzullo, and my regard is lower for the disclosures this week of Nine and Fairfax journalists of his secret email correspondence with politicians he thought he might be able to influence. As any number of people have said, his position is untenable, and he must look forward to, at best, the hope that some private sector consultancy might pick him up.

The irony has been delicious to see him fall significantly short on principles he long publicly maintained, and thus adds hypocrite to the extensive list of negative epithets his character and personality have long attracted. But, on the whole, I would prefer that he had fallen for the poor quality of his policy ideas, particularly on refugee matters, and the cruel and implacable manner with which he carried them out.

There were always ministers, including Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, who were enthusiastic about Pezzullo’s opinions on this subject, and were eager to accept responsibility, even the credit, for them. But Pezzullo “owned” the policy. In his own judgment it was the more excellent for being both appropriate and morally right, as well as, partly through his own manoeuvrings, bipartisan. That others, including minorities in the mainstream parties were far more squeamish was a matter of complete indifference to him. Other than in lobbying relentlessly to ensure that prime ministers appreciated the need for a hard line (or a right winger in charge as it was put this week) on the subject, with the policy of never taking a backward step lest it be read by wicked people smugglers abroad as some sign of softening of policy.

When people like Pezzullo form clandestine and improper channels to prime ministers, an intention to help the government of the day may be only incidental. An intention to help Pezzullo himself may have been more to the fore, given some inevitable doubt about the attitude of successive prime ministers (Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison) to the minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton. And possibly some suspicion that Pezzullo might be more loyal to Dutton and his general views than to Turnbull, and later Morrison.

The backchannel a sign of personal insecurity

A good deal of personal insecurity might have been involved. The discreet channel was a way of reassuring a prime minister that the Pezzullo regarded the interests of the government ahead of the interests of Dutton. His stated preference for a right-wing minister, possibly Dutton himself, was a preference for a minister most likely to get along with Pezzullo’s hard-line views, and most likely to get along with Pezzullo, very much an acquired taste. Pezzullo was a known quantity to almost all senior ministers, and many of them may have preferred a senior adviser who was less controversial, less abrasive, and less likely to be in perpetual conflict with the media.

From at least the ascension of Turnbull to the prime minister’s chair, any new minister had good grounds upon which they could have asked for a fresh broom. For starters, the department was a mess, and Pezzullo had to be considered the more responsible given the way he had purged departmental managers and insisted that everyone sing hymns composed by Pezzullo, as often as not in Hugo Boss style black uniforms in what seemed to have become Pezzullo’s own paramilitary force.

The department was under regular criticism from Auditors-general for massive expenditure blow-outs, for paying far too much, and for avoiding proper process, with contracts for managing concentration camps, and for hopeless mismanagement of a revamp of the department’s computer system. Pezzullo was very slow to accept any responsibility for such mismanagement, often blamed on the department’s haste to meet government expectations and changing needs and circumstances causing changes to contracts in mid-stream. He was known for his combative style in estimates, compulsive secretiveness, resistance to FOI and to tribunal rulings questioning his, or the minister’s, views on refugee matters.

He was a natural centraliser, wanting all power to be exercised out of his office. He was also an empire builder. He saw in the creation of Home Affairs, for which he had lobbied, the bringing together of all domestic security and intelligence matters, even if, in theory at least, both ASIO and the AFP, in Home Affairs, were statutorily independent of him. He formed immediately his own independent and unaccountable intelligence division in his department and sought to “co-ordinate” the work of ASIO and the AFP into, in effect, a joint departmental view of the world.

He also sought extra security powers, including, in conjunction with the signals agency, a national surveillance system that would have done totalitarian China proud. Characteristically, he thought his own musings on his ambitions a top-secret matter, which, once leaked should spur a damaging and unsuccessful AFP leak investigation. Heads of other national security agencies complained privately that most of the extra funds given to intelligence gathering was being wasted in the creation of positions liaising with the apparatuses Pezzullo had established on his own account.

Pezzullo had an intelligence and defence background, but it would be hard to find a senior professional, from either field or both, with much respect for his wisdom, his knowledge, his much-vaunted sense of history, or, particularly, his judgment. Many of his predictions about external danger to the nation were not borne out by events, and not because of the forestalling of plots. On his watch, government seemed to have only a tenuous feel for the rise of right-wing groups and individuals, and the threat they posed.

Like Kathryn Campbell, the other conspicuous casualty of a decade of coalition government, Pezzullo might have been more effective had he worked on his personal relationships with his peers and those who reported to him. His bullying was usually without respect to race, creed or sex. In fact, he held many of his colleagues in deep contempt, something well known even before emails criticising them were published this week. He tended to dominate weekly meetings of departmental secretaries, interrupting more senior officials and proffering many with unwanted advice. These emails also showed him expressing willingness, if called upon, to take over PM&C, or preferably defence. Sadly, for him at least, the call never came.

The pity is that this deeply unsuitable man, one of the few characters in a public service all too short of people with personality or public association with any public policy or practice, might slide out of the public service alone and unlamented, rather as Ms Campbell has. I suspect that he might have imagined taking the Chinese surrender in Beijing. Or had matters turned otherwise, a march to the executioner’s block, with a jolly jest in the manner of Thomas More.







go echidna....




Can a spiny echidna help Australia avoid cold war with China?

A new book by Sam Roggeveen offers a different path for Canberra as it deals with Beijing’s rise.


There are many Australian critics across the political spectrum who question why their government is making such an ambitious and expensive commitment when it doesn’t appear to serve Australian interests. One such critic is Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute, who has written an exceptional new book from a “liberal-conservative” and realist perspective challenging the conventional wisdom about AUKUS and the future of the U.S.-Australian alliance.

In “The Echidna Strategy: Australia’s Search for Power and Peace,” Roggeveen argues that Australia does not need the nuclear-powered submarines or the closer connection with Washington that they represent, and he proposes instead a strategy aimed at discouraging possible future attacks with a focus on maritime denial and strengthening Australia’s relations with Indonesia and the Pacific Island nations. 

Like the porcupine strategy for Taiwan to which he compares it, the echidna strategy (based on the spiny anteater-like creature) is designed to defend without provoking, and as such it has no need for military capabilities that give Australia the ability to strike at the Chinese mainland. Accordingly, he sees AUKUS as not merely wasteful, but also potentially quite dangerous by antagonizing China and putting Australia on the path to unnecessary participation in a future war alongside the United States.

The goal of the echidna strategy, then, is to make Australia like the strategy’s adorable namesake: “spiky, but unthreatening.”

Among other things, “The Echidna Strategy” is a welcome antidote to the hawkish groupthink and threat inflation that dominate the conversation about China. Roggeveen doesn’t discount China’s growing military capabilities, but he doesn’t panic about them, either. Commenting on the push for a much larger military budget, he says, “When we examine the threat coldly, it simply does not demand that kind of effort.”

The same could be said of the threat that China poses to U.S. interests, and he does say that: “America’s core security interests are not threatened by China’s rise.” As Roggeveen explains, the U.S. will not maintain its commitments in Asia over the longer term “because that order, while favorable and valuable to America, is not a sufficiently vital interest to justify the immense scale of competition required to maintain it.”

He acknowledges that this runs against conventional wisdom, but he expects that eventually the U.S. will recognize that the costs of its current role in Asia are unnecessary. That is why he considers a long-term bet on the U.S. in an increasingly tight alliance to be an error.

Roggeveen also invokes Eisenhower’s warning about military spending as theft committed at the expense of other public goods: “Even when managed perfectly, defence spending is a huge weight on a budget that could always be better used to improve the wealth and wellbeing of the Australian people.” 

The high cost of AUKUS over the coming decades would put a massive weight on the budget, and as Roggeveen shows, it is not necessary for Australian security.

The chief problems that he identifies with AUKUS are that it is unnecessary and makes Australia less secure. “Australia is embarking on its largest ever defence contract so that it can take the fight to China, yet there is no obvious reason to do so, and nobody asked us to do so. In the process, we will make Australia less secure because we give China a reason to take a more aggressive position towards us, and because we tie ourselves to a defence partner that is becoming increasingly unreliable.”

The only good news is that it will take so long for the main pillar of AUKUS to be implemented that “there is time for Australia to change course.” Roggeveen makes a compelling case in the rest of the book that changing course is essential.

One of Australia’s key advantages is distance. Roggeveen urges Australia to exploit this advantage as much as possible, which is why he sees the pursuit of capabilities that enable Australia to go on the offensive against China as being so misguided. “Why compress the distance between us when we can exploit it?”

He proposes that Canberra focus on defensive capabilities to counter threats as they approach Australia rather than acquiring the means to go on the attack. This is both less provocative and much less expensive, and in the end it will make Australia more secure. As he sees it, the Australian government’s current course gets things badly wrong because it “incentivises China to pay more military attention to us.” Restrainers in the U.S. would do well to apply the insights from this book to our own policy arguments.

While he is focused squarely on Australian foreign policy, Roggeveen’s book is a valuable resource for Americans as we debate our government’s approach to China and Asia. Many restrainers will agree with his assessment that the current U.S. military presence in Asia isn’t needed to secure vital U.S. interests. Because of that assessment, he questions the long-term reliability of the U.S. commitment to the alliance, and he assumes that Australia needs to prepare for a future in which the U.S. is not going to be there to defend it.

He acknowledges that the current consensus in Washington seems to be committed to an even more ambitious role in Asia, and he allows that the U.S. might go all-in on rivalry with China, but in that case the echidna strategy will be just as valuable by keeping Australia out of a future U.S.-Chinese clash.

One of Roggeveen’s many excellent points in “The Echidna Strategy” is that the alliance with the United States exists to serve Australian interests and there are circumstances in which it may be appropriate to let the alliance go. As he puts it, “If refusing to participate in a war over Taiwan triggers the nullification of the alliance, then Australia would be better off without the alliance.” 

This is a refreshingly clear acknowledgment that Australia has no compelling reason to take part in such a war, and it should force policymakers in both Canberra and Washington to rethink their assumptions about this question. One of the purposes of the alliance with Australia is to help preserve international peace and security in the Pacific. It should not be used to dragoon Australia into a war of choice. If Washington tries to use the alliance in this way, it may end up with one less ally.

Roggeveen admits that the echidna strategy is not “an emotionally satisfying strategy for Australia,” but as he shows throughout the book it is a much smarter and more responsible one. The strategy itself may not be emotionally satisfying, but “The Echidna Strategy” will satisfy its readers.