If pictures could speak…

I couldn’t not share. If a picture is worth a thousand words what are just a few going through these guys heads?


Dude on the left, “Please don’t kill me and my family.” Kim, “Weee, it’s poo’ing!”



Sport diplomacy – p’sha – i prefer piano diplomacy



Last month American’s remembered a Cold War diplomatic super star, though he wasn’t an ambassador, general, president, or even sport icon like we talked about many moons ago. He was a piano player – the only one i’ve ever heard of to get a ticker-tape parade.

British Islamists protest outside the French Embassy in London

As an American i’m used to hearing jihadists issuing general threats to my countrymen, and to be frank i don’t take it too seriously or personally. Maybe i’m naive or maybe i’m jaded, either way i don’t think it has the desired effect of striking fear into my heart.
That said, it struck me as a horse of another color this morning when i read the what a rebel commander told the Associated Press recently after French attack aircraft bombed military sites in Mali to halt the advance of rebels in the former colony.

“France is going to reap the worst consequences possible from this. Now no French person can feel safe anywhere in the world. Every French national is a target,” he is quoted as saying.

Inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new, nor are threats from abroad, yet I felt a momentary pang of panic I’m not used to feeling when reading Islamist hate speech directed at Western nations and their citizens. As I write this I’m trying to understand why Oumar Ould Hamaha’s comments felt different to my sensibilities this time. Is it because they are directed at a friend and ally nation to the US and not my home country? Is it the specific threat to “[e]very French national”, innocents and not just the military? Is it because I’m suffering from violence fatigue and cavalier gross misappropriation of anger exhaustion? I think it’s probably a little from column A and a little from column B combined. I’m overeating on a diet of Western bombs falling on angry men with guns.

It doesn’t do me or anyone else much good to wax nostalgic about the past, but Western culture hasn’t always been at odds with Islam, and i think it would do everyone a bit of good to remember that. Generally speaking I believe the West has much more to gain than to lose by engaging rebel groups, extremists, even terrorists directly, on their territory, and on their terms. Far too often we create our own worst enemies.

Gulliver’s Travels

As some of you may know as the lone American representing the empire here in the MIR program this year i’ve felt obliged to fulfill my patriotic duties to write about my mother/father/homeland and the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific for my 586 essay. My research can be fun to do at times in part because it’s sexy (like a pant suit), topical, current, relevant to New Zealand and this part of the world, and not least of which because people love to wax poetic on the subject. My current favorite comes from Donald Weatherbee and the annual Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia[1] when he describes China and the US as two giant Gullivers, one ensnared by the Lilliputians of ASEAN, the other poked and prodded by the same small actors.

ASEAN’s regionalist strategy to meet the challenge has been two pronged. The first is that of the Lilliputians: to bind the giant Gulliver that is China in a web of ties. Although no thread is alone sufficient to restrict the giant, all the threads together hopefully serve to constrain Gulliver’s freedom of movement. (Weatherbee pg. 3-4)

And on the other hand:

From ASEAN’s perspective, the American Gulliver has been distracted for most of the last decade by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the so-called war on terror. According to most Southeast Asian political analyses, this inattention has led the United States to neglect its broader interests in the region and to fail to defend its great-power turf in the face of a rising China. Rather than tie the American Gulliver down, there has been an uncoordinated but consistent effort to stir it up. (Weatherbee pg. 4-5)

Metaphors are fun, but quips aside Weatherspoon has hit the nail on the head (i guess figures of speech haven’t been set aside), at least from a regional perspective. From the Malacca Strait to the Senkaku’s, China sets the agenda, not the US. The Sleeping Giant (ok, i guess metaphors are back) wasn’t really sleeping, it was busy picking on the neighborhood kids down the street in the Middle East. The slow boat to China loaded with American dollars which set sail at the end of the 1970s finally arrived in port and pivot or no the US must face reality.

The question now becomes what happens when two giants collide? It need not be a clash of titans as traditional power politics would predict.

Better for all involved if they do as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi described the situation when he said “our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”[2]

My answer – why not redefine the problem as two regional powers meeting in international space (no Aidan, there will be no Moon Summit hosted by a shirtless Vlad with Laika by his side) to frolic in the economic waters of prosperity and friendship.

*I know this doesn’t get graded David, just posting for fun.

**Weatherbee bio – this guy calls it like it is.

***Procrastinators rejoice – a fun little Easter Egg awaits the curious.

[1] Donald E. Weatherbee, “Southeast Asia’s Security and Political Outlook,” in Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia 2011-2012 (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 3–9.

[2] “Remarks With Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi” (Remarks, Beijing, September 5, 2012), http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/09/197343.htm.

The meaning of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Asia*

Asia-Pacific is big enough to hold only China and the United States

Asia-Pacific is big enough to hold only China and the United States

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her Asian tour earlier this month. Her discussions touched on many issues, from the South China Sea (SCS) territorial dispute to the crisis in Syria.

In Timor Leste, she sought to advance economic development in the region and issued US$6.5 million in scholarship grants.

While in Jakarta, Clinton urged ASEAN countries to unite in solving territorial issues with China.

She also reiterated strong US support for the regional initiative to ease rising tensions over the disputed island in the SCS.

In China, she was assertive in conveying possible resolutions to the SCS territorial dispute. She also spoke about the Syrian situation, with Clinton asking China, which keeps on blocking the UN Security Council’s move to sanction Syria, to stop backing the regime of President Bashar Assad.

It seems that Clinton’s visit has failed to persuade the Chinese as Beijing remains a staunch supporter of the Assad regime. Beijing also reiterated that the SCC territorial dispute is an issue of Chinese sovereignty and integrity, and isonly willing to discuss it through bilateral talks.

Her tour ended in Brunei in a move to buttress escalating SCS conflict and to coax Brunei in preparation for its ASEAN chairmanship in 2013.

But what is the meaning of her visit to Asia?

First, she is reaffirming the US’s “pivotal” role in the Asia Pacific; the US wants to revive its economic weight in the region.

There is no doubt that the center of economic gravity has now shifted to Asia, and Southeast Asia has a strategic role to play concerning this trend.

Second, it is a way for the US to critically evaluate its choices for crafting a strategy for Asia Pacific in the midst of a rising China.

In my view, there are only three courses; whether the US recapitalizes its forces in the region, encourages its allies to take on larger security responsibilities or limits its commitments.

Third, this may have been seen as a “divide-and-rule” strategy used by the US to weaken China’s political, economic and security influences in the region. As for that case, ASEAN countries have the dilemma of presenting themselves equally to the US and China.

Fourth, encircling China in preparation for a US centered hegemonic order. The US envisages itself as a “pivot” to Asia Pacific, where it can use its leadership in the shaping of the region and its future.

In the new US Defense Strategic Review (January 2012), it is mentioned that the challenge posed by a rising China is at the very heart of America’s new defense strategy in the region.

Fifth, to view the importance of Chinese shipping lanes and Sea Lines of Communication from the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Malacca Strait. With the visit to Timor Leste, it also highlights the geostrategic importance of the eastern flank of Indonesia.

Eighty percent of China’s oil imports still pass through the Malacca Strait and this is why it is a vital choke point. However, the US seems to have a contingency plan in the eastern part of Indonesia if the crisis erupts.

Sixth, the US wants its traditional alliances in the region to relax and feel secure with its growing military capabilities in Asia, and to not appear to be at odds with China.

The US does not want any rivalry within the region as the guarantor of peace and stability. The US’ plans to deploy new missile defenses can be seen from this context.

Last but not least, the US wants to reaffirm its presence and influence in the region, or at least to neutralize China in order to sustain the status-quo.

China’s desire to reduce US influence is an uneasy fact for the US. The “battle” of ensuring order in Asia Pacific then rests on how the US continues and consolidates its current pattern of hegemonic order.

ASEAN countries are at risk of division if they cannot, internally, find solutions to break the “battle” of this regional leadership between US and China.

Outside of intra-ASEAN and the EU; China, Japan and the US continue to be ASEAN’s major trade partners. China is the fastest growing partner with its growth tipping more than 10-fold since the Asian financial crisis in 1998.

While the US and Japan remained to be the top providers of ASEAN inflows for 2010, outside the EU and intra-ASEAN.

It is likely that the visit of the secretary of state will yield a closer relationship with the Asia Pacific

and greater commitment from the US toward the territorial dispute in the SCS.

This can be seen as an extended deterrence of China for the sake of US interest. The structure of competition and cooperation coexist in Asia.

ASEAN has a strategic balancing role within the region to maintain its independent voice and constructive role in the international community. It employs three general strategies, which are bridge building, engagement and hedging to maintain strategic stability and minimize risk.

Indonesia therefore plays a vital role as it must become the glue for the cohesiveness of ASEAN and because of her free and active foreign policy she can give structure and be the bridge between the US and China.

*A published version of this article has appeared under the same title in the Jakarta Post, Tuesday, September 18, 2012. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/09/18/the-meaning-hillary-clinton-s-visit-asia.html

Game of Thrones and IR Theory

Described as the ‘cult IR series of 2011’, the second season of HBO’s medieval fantasy epic Game of Thrones is now in full swing. GoT, adapted from George R.R Martin’s series of novels, depicts the conflict-riven fictional worlds of Westeros and Essos where power-hungry rivals manoeuvre for control of the Iron Throne set against a gritty backdrop of feudalism and magic.

Time’s James Poniewozick says, “Thrones is a complex narrative with a simple theme: power — scheming for it, keeping it and suffering from it or the lack of it”.

In addition to being influenced by fantasy writers like Tolkien, Martin loosely based his narrative on the Wars of the Roses and other bloody dynastic struggles for power but does it have any relevance to contemporary international politics? Or is ‘the Sopranos in Middle-Earth’ just pure entertainment?

The IR blogosphere was quick to apply an IR lens to GoT’s power dynamics and murky morals.


Drezner sees season one’s protagonist, Ned Stark, as a casualty of ruthless realpolitik. Ned may be honourable and brave but he is a guileless politician. This proves to be a fatal combination in a Hobbesian universe which produces zero-sum outcomes as Cersei Lannister (one of the female leads) bluntly affirms, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die”.

Power in GoT doesn’t necessarily equate to physical strength on the battlefield. To succeed and survive requires a Machiavellian streak and a Carr-like fixation on power best exemplified by the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (season 2’s antihero). Tyrion is well-versed in political intrigue which exponentially increases his chances of outlasting the competition and he pragmatically states, “I’m not Ned Stark, I understand the way this game is played.”

Although realists will find plenty to agree with in terms of GoT’s ‘might is right’ power politics, the powerful are frequently disempowered through shifting alliances and changing fortunes. And often when power is wielded, it can reside in unexpected places for a medieval setting, with women, children, ‘cripples’, ‘bastards’ and eunuchs all important players (not just kings and warriors).

Carpenter takes a nuanced stance encompassing cultural norms, gender relations and even environmental disaster in rejecting a realist reading of GoT. She regards Martin’s use of multiple points-of-view as a humanising technique, which lends readers/viewers insight into the perspectives of characters in different social strata:

“Martin shows how gender, race, class, age, and disability combine to produce multiple gradients and forms of power in Westerosi society, just as much as differences in material capabilities”.

According to Carpenter, GoT is, “a parable about the consequences of unchecked realpolitik, it does not celebrate power and the powerful but challenges and interrogates them. Society is complex, roles and identities are varied and contingent, and division risks disaster”.

Martin’s own view of power is maybe symbolised by the game’s ultimate prize, the Iron Throne, which is made of wrought sword blades. It is literally a double-edged seat of authority that both empowers and endangers its incumbent.

Does anyone else watch GoT? Can it be properly debated in terms of IR theory? Or is this just a case of academics over-theorising in order to hop on the pop-culture bandwagon?