Syria, Chemical Weapons and the Security Council

ImageEVENT – 6pm Tuesday 8 Oct 2013: The resolution adopted unanimously by the Security Council to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile has been hailed as a breakthrough. Repeatedly, action on the Security Council has been thwarted by disagreements among the major powers, but on this issue they have been able to set their differences aside. And this new-found amity promises to extend to agreement on relieving the humanitarian crises in Syria over refugees and aid. But we’ve witnessed these “false dawns” on the Security Council before. The marginalization of the Security Council over Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in 2003 – and indeed the failure to act earlier with regards to Syria – is testimony to the fact that the SC remains hostage to great power interests. There is nothing new in this, but arguably, the prospects for agreement are worse now than they were before; principally because of a widening of the Security Council’s responsibilities to include the promotion and prosecution of norms like humanitarian intervention and opposition to the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Despite the seeming breakthrough over Syria and chemical weapons, the prospects for effective action in the Security Council remain bleak. Continue reading


Sichuan group seeks closer ties with New South Wales

PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: A 20-strong delegation from the Chinese province of Sichuan visited the Glover Cottages last week, and said they wanted to form a close relations with New South Wales in general, and AIIA (NSW) in particular.



Headed by Mr Chen Zongde and Ms Fang Fang, both directors of the Foreign Affairs office of Sichuan province, Continue reading

Putin to the USA: God created us equal

ImagePRESIDENT’S COLUMN: It was one of our councillors at AIIA NSW, Professor Jocelyn Chey, who first drew my attention to an astonishing op-ed by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin in the New York Times late last week.  She was particularly taken by the last paragraph:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” Continue reading

Former UN official back in Australia says Security Council “flawed”: Mike Smith interviewed on ABC’s AM

Prime minister-elect’s remarks about baddies fighting with baddies has been supported by one of Australia’s most experienced diplomats who recently retired as Assistant Secretary general of  the United Nations.

Mike Smith, who has spent decades as a diplomat, including posts as ambassador in Egypt and Syria, told a packed meeting of AIIA NSW on September 10 that it was difficult to see a good outcome of the Syrian crisis.

And he suggested that Australia will not get a lot back from its two-year membership of the Security Council, given the grip the P5 countries have on its operations and their ability to use the veto. However he was positive about other aspects of United Nations work, particularly the High Commission for Refugees.

Mr Smith was pessimistic about reform of the Security Council structure because long-established members were reluctant to give up their long established rights.

After the meeting, Mr Smith was interviewed by ABC’s highly rated radio program AM

Syria, Chemical Weapons and the Elusive Goal of a Better World

ImageCOUNCILLOR COLUMN: In the debate about how to respond to what has happened in Syria, let’s not forget one thing: chemical weapons are an abomination and the taboo that attaches to them is worth preserving. There are other terrible weapons of war that we would like to see banned as well, but a rare consensus has developed around chemical weapons. There was agitation against the use of chemical weapons as early as the late nineteenth century, though this did not prevent their use in World War l. It was partly in response to this that use of chemical and bacteriological weapons were formally banned in the Geneva Protocol of 1925. In 1997 the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into force. This bans the use and even possession of chemical weapons and is backed by 188 states around the world. The ban on chemical weapons remains one of the most widely respected constraints on the conduct of war and evidence suggests that the reluctance to use chemical weapons is not because they are regarded as ineffective, or out of concern that they might be used in retaliation, but rather, because they have come to be regarded as uniquely intolerable. The reasons for this are difficult to fathom, but regardless of why, we should be thankful that the taboo exists. The world would be a much more dangerous place if chemical weapons came to be regarded as “conventional”. Continue reading

Welcome to the real Julie Bishop seeks wider ties with China and Indonesia

ImageNOTES ON THE NEWS: There was good news on Sunday for those who believe that Australia’s foreign relations should be conducted in a businesslike and diplomatic favour without rushing to judgement.

Julie Bishop was confirmed as Australia’s foreign minister. Working with Peter Varghese, the (relatively) new, clear-thinking secretary of DFAT, she will bring a new drive and philosophy to Australia’s foreign policy, with a strengthened focus on economics and trade. Even those who do not come from Ms Bishop’s side of politics have been impressed by her mastery of her foreign policy brief, and her attention to detail, as befits someone with a legal background. Continue reading

High Noon at the United Nations: What has Australia achieved and how will it handle its top seat?

EVENT – 6pm Tues 10 Sept: Australia has assumed its one-month presidency of the highest security body in the world at a volatile time. Syria is imploding and the world is calling for action, the US is threatening punitive strikes, and the United Nations Security Council is frozen in deadlock.

The use of chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus has proved to be a tipping point for the international community, with the Arab League adding its voice to the international chorus calling for a UN intervention. However, Russia and China have made it clear that they will use their Security Council veto to block any unjustifiable UN interference in Syria’s sovereign territory. Coincidentally, President Barack Obama is asking the US Congress to support an American attack on Syrian targets without UN approval. Continue reading

The Asylum Seeker Dividend: The role of foreign corporations in Australia’s security industry

ImageEVENT – 6pm Tuesday 3 Sept: The reassuring sight of Australian military personnel protecting our embassies abroad is – in most cases – long gone. Even in trouble spots, DFAT has contracted out security to private firms; in Kabul it is undertaken by a former special forces soldier turned British lord.

Australia’s defence forces themselves in Afghanistan rely on civilian support for their wellbeing, as, of course, do those at home. The days of the Army cook and bottle-washer are over.  Continue reading

Iran’s new Cabinet offers hope of conciliation: What future for Tehran’s electoral theocracy?

EVENT: 6pm Tues 27 Aug – The good news from Tehran is that Hassan Rouhani, the recently elected new president of Iran, has opted for a cabinet of experienced technocrats. Many of those confirmed last week were people who were purged or isolated during Mahmoud Armadi-Nejad’s confrontational regime.

His ministers, now gone, failed to address the economic turmoil created by United Nations sanctions, and the hardships these caused have led to growing public dissent. Iran, increasingly isolated because of global opposition to its nuclear program, is also unpopular in Europe because of its support for Hezbollah and for Syria’s president, Bashir Al Assad, although it is supported by Russia in the latter cause. Continue reading

Foreign Policy Needs a Shake up

ImageNOTES ON THE NEWS: For those of us who take an interest in world affairs, the current election campaign is even more of a washout than usual. Even The Australian’s foreign editor is now devoting his columns to domestic politics.

Apart from a desultory debate on the treatment of the boat people – with both sides seemingly drawing closer together on policy but often being disingenuous with their arguments – there has been scant mention of our role in the world and the world about us, even though our livelihoods depend on this. Continue reading