US Politics in an Election Year






Griffith University Centre for Governance and Public Policy Seminar Series Roundtable

4 May 2012

Panel Experts: John Kane, Zim Nwokora, Wesley Widmaier

Moderator: Dennis Grube

Below is a brief summary of the very entertaining debate on the US Presdiential Race 2012 between President Barack Obama (Democrat candidate) and Mitt Romney (Republican candidate) presented by the above experts.  For further details kindly contact the experts themselves. Don’t forget to vote in the poll below.  For Griffithstudents reading this – you are always welcome to attend CGPP seminars and GAI seminars.

Dennis Grube (DG): The Republican primary race has seen many varied characters competing for the top ticket, how should we interpret this race and its impact on the Presidential race?

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UNICEF Asks Australia to Keep the Promise

UNICEF Australia is asking the Australian government to maintain its promise to increase its help to the world’s poorest children in the forthcoming budget and to not make these children pawns of Australian politics. The first step of any principled approach to foreign policy must be to keep promises. Other governments facing much more difficult economic times, such as the UK, have quarantined foreign aid from spending cuts. Australia should do the same.

As UNICEF out it: “The Australian Government made a commitment to help the world’s poorest through providing the equivalent to 50 cents from every $100 of our national income (i.e. 0.5% of GNI) by 2015.

This commitment was welcomed by many across Australia as a key step in playing our part in helping lift people out of the devastating cycle of poverty. However, this year Australia is providing 35 cents from every $100 of national income and is only half way to the amount required to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Australia still has a long way to go to meet its commitments to the world’s poorest.

Realising this, both major parties have committed to reaching 50 cents from every $100 of national income to aid and development programs (i.e. 0.5% of GNI) by 2015. This bipartisan commitment is a result of the pressure, you, as advocates of poverty reduction, have put on our leaders through emails, letters and lobbying. But the job isn’t finished yet! We need to keep the Government accountable to reaching this commitment by 2015.

This is your chance to ensure our leaders look to the future and keep our commitment to the world’s poorest in the 2012/13 budget due to be released on May 8th 2012.”

Find out how you can help by visiting UNICEF Australia

The Carr Doctrine? Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed some of the contradictions of Australia’s recent foreign policy agenda.  At the end of the blog, I argued that under new Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, there is an exciting opportunity to articulate a vision of Australia in the world that could expand upon the vision that Carr presented in his maiden speech to Parliament:

Running foreign policy is not just about protecting our national interest although by every tenet of diplomatic doctrine that comes first.

It is also being an exemplary global citizen when it comes to protecting human rights and the world’s oceans.

Carr’s vision of foreign policy speaks to the constructivist agenda in International Relations – ‘evidence of progressive moral change in world politics lies in the very raising of our ethical expectations which themselves can be demonstrated over time’ (Richard Price 2008: 303).  In short, it speaks to the idea that in the long-run our own national self-interest is best served by endeavouring to support a safe, harmonious environment for everyone else.  If foreign policy is perhaps the only branch of politics that permits the articulation of vision beyond the three-year election cycle, we have some luxury to debate what Carr’s foreign policy vision could entail.

As I argued in the first part of this blog, promoting security and economic foreign policy engagement amongst the great powers has not always been Australia’s forte.  The stakes for powerful countries are simply too high and Australia lacks influence on these issues for very understandable reasons.  But there are many areas of policy where great power interest may be less sharp or well defined and in these areas Australia could make a lasting contribution.  There is some track record. Australia championed the 8 hour working day, was second only to New Zealand in recognising women’s suffrage, the signatory state to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees that brought the instrument into force. It had a relatively generous refugee intake scheme for decades and made an early and enduring commitment to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  Of course, there is a dark side as well: Tampa, Iraq and collusion with rendition spring to mind as recent examples.  But on balance, Australian governments have tried to be a force for good which is why perhaps the time is right to make promoting human protection a theme of Australia’s foreign policy. This could help us maintain, as Price suggests, a strong ethical expectation of ourselves at home and abroad.

Continue reading “The Carr Doctrine? Part 2”

The Carr Doctrine Part 1

In November 2011, Mark Beeson asked ‘Can Australia save the World?’.  He noted that former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s efforts as Prime Minister and then Foreign Minister were devoted to re-establishing Australia as a distinctive and ambitious ‘middle power’.  This ambition harked back to the days of former Foreign Minister Gareth Evan’s leadership and engagement with multilateral diplomacy.  Examining the fields of security, international economy and the environment, Beeson is sympathetic to Rudd’s ambitions but laments their practical applicability.

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Getting Away with Mass Atrocities


Despite the recent focus on the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities and the strengthening of international responses to these crimes, it is still the case that perpetrators are as likely to get away with mass killing and achieve at least some of their goals as they are to fail and end up being punished. As a result, political groups sometimes choose mass atrocities as a strategy for the simple reason that it does help them to achieve what they want at an acceptable price. When they do, perpetrators are often very well aware that that their behaviour violates cherished international norms and runs the risk of attracting international criticism, sanctions and – though only very rarely – military intervention.

As a result, they develop strategies for mitigating the risk of decisive international responses by trying to conceal the reality of what they are doing, creating uncertainty about responsibility for atrocities, establishing their own credentials as legitimate partners, generating legitimacy for the use of force against a foe, and preventing the emergence of an international consensus on action. Any strategy aimed at preventing or stemming the tide of mass atrocities has to recognize these strategies and develop countervailing ones.  As a start, I recently published a piece in the Journal of Genocide Research that identified some of the most common tactics employed by perpetrators and the factors that tend to influence how effective they are.

In the article, I argued that there are three main clusters of tactics that perpetrators of mass atrocities use to literally get away with it.

  1. Shaping perceptions to deny atrocities;
  2. Securing sufficient international sympathy;
  3. Diffusing responsibility.

Let’s look in a little more detail at these tactics

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MAPRO – Good Advice on Mainstreaming Mass Atrocity Prevention

MAPRO: Mass Atrocity Prevention & Response Options, A Policy Planning Handbook

National governments are pivotal to the the prevention of mass atrocities. Besides fulfilling their own, internal responsibility to protect (R2P), ensuring that the United Nations and regional arrangements have the political support and resources they need to implement their atrocity prevention plans, and making resources available to preventive efforts when international action is needed in the face of imminent crises, national governments – especially those that have voiced loud support for the R2P principle —  should also give effect to their international commitments by integrating the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into national policy. 

Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Operations: A Policy Planning Handbook is the latest publication from the Mass Atrocity Response Operations (MARO) project run by Harvard University’s Kennedy School and the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Focusing on the US, the MAPRO Handbook provides guidelines and frameworks for the formulation of options, policies, and plans, and discusses the application of all elements of national influence in order to prevent or respond to mass atrocities.  As such, it is must reading for policy makers – and those interested in influencing policy makers – around the world as they grapple with the challenge of mainstreaming the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities into foreign and defence policy.  The Handbook provides a thorough account of the types of analysis, policy processes and decision-making that are needed to properly incorporate genoicde and mass atrocity prevention into national policy. What is needed now is for other like-minded governments and civil society groups to examine what countries other than the US can do to mainstream mass atrocity prevention – perhaps through a multinational task force charged with drafitng a ‘handbook’ for R2P’s ‘group of friends’?

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American Exceptionalism: Shifting Views of Intervention and Conflict

 Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

– Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Beliefs matter. They tell us who we are and what we should want. While much U.S.foreign policy debate is marked by concerns for shifts in the balance of power and the costs of any intervention, such judgments are always advanced in the context of deeper understandings of how the world works.

However, these understandings are not limited to political or intellectual doctrines. Instead, such beliefs are often derived from deeper attitudes. They reside in a kind of collective unconscious, encompassing archetypal understandings reflecting not so much directly experiences as shared socialization experiences.

Such attitudes are often ambiguous and flexible, subject to a range of interpretations and nuances. Consider notions of American exceptionalism. In broad terms, this view suggests that theU.S.has escaped a European heritage of feudalism, class consciousness, and struggles over the balance of power. Instead, it has developed a liberal tradition of limited government, market individualism, and oft-crusading efforts to replace the balance of power with a more institutional order.

Yet, as the above Whitman quote suggests, American liberalism can take a number of forms. It has led policymakers to believeAmericahas a special responsibility to help others. However, it has also led them to pull back, out of fear that contact with others will dilute what makes them exceptional. Finally, an aversion to ideological disputes has often given rise to a pragmatic desire to reduce political disputes to matters of technique, to abstract away from value-laden disputes and do “what works.”

  Continue reading “American Exceptionalism: Shifting Views of Intervention and Conflict”