I hit a wall a couple of posts in, essentially because I felt guilty spending time blogging about this when I should be doing research. I’m a bit over a month from having a 10,000 word paper due, and while I have done a reasonable amount of reading (perhaps a third of what I need to have done) I have not distilled the precise topic.

The area is regionalism, Australia in the region, and regional responses to security. Yes that’s extremely broad for a field that needs to be turned into a topic. But I’ve found multiple aspects of this interesting.

So much regional theory reflects the EU while attempting to draw ‘objective’ or ‘observable’ traits that apply to regions as some amorphous concept. This is obviously because the EU is the great success story (to date…) of the regional integration project, and more generally has been a welcome alternative model for policy makers and academics uneasy with the US.

I understand and share much of that admiration, but suspect many of the reasons for the EU’s success were quite specific to that grouping and may be a long way off for other prospective regions like ‘Asia’. In particular the generally common acceptance of social democratic principles in Western Europe, the unique security umbrella that was provided by NATO, and the axis of general goodwill between France and Germany that arose in part from the sheer exhaustion both felt after centuries of antagonism resulted in two horrific wars.

Even in Southeast Asia, which arguably has the most successful regional integration architecture in the Asia-Pacific, there is nothing approaching this level of compact. The strongest common philosophies that bind those nations would appear  to be ‘non-interference’ and a general lingering resentment relating to colonialism. From Australia’s point-of-view, neither buttresses our claim to  (or even our interest in) membership of that grouping at a higher level of regionness (a rather ungainly word that has nonetheless gained much traction in the debates on this topic).

That’s not to say we shouldn’t pursue closer relations, just that EU-style aspirations may be beyond even the medium term radar. At least where the focus is on geographical region.


Quantifying Peace

The Global Peace Index, which draws on a wide matrix of ‘violence’ indicia (including for example internal violent crime) puts New Zealand first in the world. Australia came 19th, with the fulcrum of our strategic policy the US at 83rd. An interesting and no-doubt controversial exercise in itself.

Drawing on this, the BBC attempt to quantify aspects of the political economy of peace

At a time when a deep economic recession is causing much turbulence in the civilian world – buffeting both airlines and aerospace companies – defence giants such as Boeing and EADS, or Finmeccanica and Northrop Grumman, are thus enjoying a reliable and growing revenue stream from countries eager to increase their military might. …

Defence spending has a tendency to rise during times of economic hardship. …

But if “violence”, or the threat of such, is economically beneficial, then peace – the “absence of violence” – is even more valuable, according to the Global Peace Index, which has calculated its value in US dollar terms.

“Ideally, living without the threat of instability would mean the violence dollars could be redeployed into areas that would cause other less destructive markets to grow,” the report says.

The economic bonus of peace – or the removal of the cost of “lost peace” – would be $7.2tn a year, based on latest data from 2007, the report has found.

Whether peace should need any additional bells and whistles to make it the attractive default state for policymakers is another question entirely.

North Korea remains an enigma and must be treated as a genuine security threat. We can find possible explanations for this brinkmanship as a logical reaction to what the US did to another spoke on Bush’s axis, a cynical ploy for more funds to prop up the regime, or the irrational conduct of one or more unhinged individuals. These seem to be the dominant explanations in Western debate.

Australia has wheeled out the sanctions riff, as if we are dealing with a regime that would be moved to change by the starving of its people. If that were the case the problem would already be solved.

While the answers are not clear, there is more in the equation, from a North Korean perspective (however paranoid), than is usually parsed in Western discourse. For example it is rarely emphasised that the early years on the Peninsula involved two dictatorships, with the South in a state of war with the North. Nor that the South seriously sought nuclear weapons for much of the Cold War.

Until recently there has been at least some legitimacy to the North’s paranoia. They also hold a strong view of Japan’s imperial phase as an unresolved source of threat. Even in Australia, now a good friend of Japan’s whenever whales aren’t involved, there is residual unease over the different ways Japan and Germany confronted their roles in World War II. In North Korea, paranoid and isolated, and occupied for around 40 years, this would appear to still be raw.

Japan is right to be concerned about the present threat from North Korea, but there seems little national willingness to acknowledge the past’s open sore in reactions such as these sampled by the BBC

The Japanese government is reacting but its voice is not strong. It should give a tough clear message to the world.

Currently, it looks as if we have no control over this issue. We look weak and in this respect the government irritates me and other Japanese.

Everybody in Japan feels hostile towards North Korea. I think most of our population hates that country. Some people say we should start discussing changing our pacifist constitution, but I think it’s too early to go down that route.

While Australia’s role in this crisis is limited, our options might include seeking a constructive role building dialogue between key players, including with our strategic ally Japan.  Someone may have to lift the carpet and sweep the unresolved issue of the imperial legacy back out onto the floor, to be acknowledged so that the wounds can be dressed.

It would be naive to think this would placate the North Korean regime, however dealing with what is a legitimate grievance may be one of many steps needing to bringing them in from the cold.

Why a new blog?

With a few hundred million blogs out there, why start another?

I am studying international relations and developing ideas for one or more theses, so at a basic level this blog will be an online repository for links, excerpts and random thoughts.

I had thought of trying to join up with existing bloggers to start a group site, but had trouble finding other bloggers with a similar focus. While there are many good Australian political bloggers, some of whom also cover this area very well from time to time, there seems to be little specialist work- at least not in a political space I’m comfortable sharing.

I’m still working on my theoretical base, but I know I am not a hawk, and while I am intrigued by some of the recent anti-war realist work I generally accept that the critical approach, as a method of reasoning if not an ideological outcome, cannot be discarded.

Human security comes first for me, yet at the same time if forced to choose I privilege my family, then the country (Australia) they are situated in.  While intrigued by new security theory, regionalism, and other critical ideas, I cannot reject out of hand notions such as biology, instinct, or objectivity. Likewise I do not believe everything is relative, and while I find the sure-footedness of liberalism a little too blinkered I think the enlightenment, democracy, rule of law, and secularism are all genuinely progressive babies that should remain in the proverbial bath.

I want to engage with others interested in this topic, and hope to avoid personal vitriol or falling into predictable locksteps. I hope to add something useful.