International Relations

Bruce Cumings

President Barack Obama’s historic Pivot to Asia had little appreciable effect on US North Korea policy, other than a dramatic uptick in Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons development programme. Obama’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ failed to halt or even slow North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction but did achieve greater levels of Sino-US cooperation over sanctions towards the regime. It also brought more US weapons and resources to the region – developments of which Beijing disapproved – and closer security ties between South Korea and Japan. Frustrations over North Korea intensified towards the end of Obama’s second term, as bipartisan support for a more assertive policy grew. Obama therefore set the stage for a more aggressive American stance for his successor to the White House, although no one anticipated President Trump’s hostile and violent rhetoric towards the tiny Asian state, only to reverse course and hold two historic summits with Kim Jong-un in mid-2018 and early 2019.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Robert Sutter

Throughout his administration’s first two years in office to early 2019, President Donald Trump, in his foreign policy approach towards Asia and the Indo-Pacific, appeared avowedly unpredictable. In many important respects, Trump pursued strategies which were oppositional to those of former President Barack Obama. Obama had stressed careful deliberation and a measured application of American power; transparency; predictability; and avoiding linkage, i.e. using pressure on one issue to pressure a target government to change its practices on another issue. On the one hand, Trump’s approach has had the advantage of keeping opponents (like China), as well as allies and partners, on the defensive in their affairs with Washington. On the other hand, American engagement in the region has been erratic and episodic. This has involved intense pressure from 2017 to prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, followed by high-level summits yielding few positive results, as well as punitive tariffs against Chinese economic practices that widely impacted other states. Drift has so far characterised Trump’s policies on most other issues.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Autopilot, neglect or worse?
Nick Bisley

This chapter argues that US security policy in Asia is stuck somewhere between inertia and neglect. The United States lacks a coherent grand strategic vision for regional security. Rather, it views things through the narrow prism of bilateral relationships. This has strengthened China’s relative position and is prompting partners to plan for a more diminished US presence in Asia. The chapter first considers the Asia policy Trump inherited from Obama and then sketches out the range of possibilities that Trump’s Asia policy promised and what has transpired. Then it explains why US security policy can be described as continuity by neglect. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the consequences of this policy and how it is accelerating a significant transformation of Asia’s regional order.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Deepening ties and securitising cyberspace
Maryanne Kelton and Zac Rogers

During his two presidential terms, Barack Obama’s core political allegiance to liberal internationalism worked towards the promotion of rule of law, free trade, and democratic values at the centre of US foreign policy throughout the Asia Pacific. At the same time, his pragmatic realism aimed at securing the United States’ hard power position in the region. This approach extended to deepening ties with regional allies and fostering the growth and corporatisation of US cyber capability. On both counts, he found a willing ally in Australia. Obama’s specific legacy, then, was to consolidate US–Australia political and economic relations while simultaneously strengthening security ties across all strategic domains, with cyber security, space and maritime collaboration key features. The Trump administration’s derision for international norms, regimes, organisations and across related areas generated concerns in its first two years for Australia, especially regarding the sustainability of the liberal international order. Australia remains a willing US partner, but feels discomfort with the unpredictability of some of Trump’s policy choices.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Obama’s Legacy and the Trump Transition

This edited volume explores the political, economic and security legacies former US President Barack Obama leaves across Asia and the Pacific, following two terms in office between 2009 and 2017. The aim is to advance our understanding of Obama’s style, influence and impact by interrogating the nature and contours of US engagement throughout the region, and the footprint he leaves behind. Moreover, it is to inform upon the endurance of, and prospects for, the legacies Obama leaves in a region increasingly reimaged in Washington as the Indo-Pacific. Contributors to the volume examine these questions in early 2019, at around the halfway point of the 2017–2021 Presidency of Donald Trump, as his administration opens a new and potentially divergent chapter of American internationalism. The volume uniquely explores the contours and dimensions of US relations and interactions with key Indo-Pacific states including China, India, Japan, North Korea and Australia; multilateral institutions and organisations such the East Asia Summit and ASEAN; and salient issue areas such as regional security, politics and diplomacy, and the economy. It does so with contributions from high-profile scholars and policy practitioners, including Michael Mastanduno, Bruce Cumings, Maryanne Kelton, Robert Sutter and Sumit Ganguly. The volume will be of interest to students and scholars of the international relations of Asia and the Pacific, broadly defined; US foreign policy and global engagement; the record and legacies of former President Barack Obama; and the foreign policies of the administration of President Donald Trump.

Oliver Turner

This chapter begins by exploring the ideational and material foundations of the United States’ modern-day presence across the Asia Pacific. Since the early to mid- nineteenth century the United States has pursued a position of imperial hegemony throughout the region, to secure an American Pacific framed by the perceived civilisational values and physical authority of the American self. As a result, the Asia Pacific has long been understood in Washington to constitute an extension of US territory and identity. The chapter then turns to the presidency of Barack Obama, to demonstrate how his policies and worldviews were heavily informed by centuries of embedded logics about the United States and its role in the Asia Pacific. It then assesses what the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency reveal about the historical legacies of the United States’ enduring regional presence in the post-Obama era. Key legacies of the American Pacific for US administrations remain manifest as routinely unquestioned truths about the United States as a local actor throughout a distant region. An ever-expanding reach of US influence and authority has led to an ever-expanding sense of responsibility to sustain and defend itself there.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
German Responses to the June 2019 Mission of the Sea-Watch 3
Klaus Neumann

The European responses to irregularised migrants in the second decade of the twenty-first century have been qualitatively new not so much because of the often-celebrated cultures of hospitality in countries such as Germany and Sweden, but because of acts of solidarity that have challenged the prerogative of nation-states to control access to their territory. I discuss elements of the public response in Germany to the criminalisation of one such act, the search and rescue (SAR) operation of the Sea-Watch 3 in the Central Mediterranean in June 2019, which led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, by Italian authorities. I argue that while the response to Rackete’s arrest was unprecedented, it built upon a year-long campaign in support of private SAR missions in the Mediterranean, which drew on the discourse of rights and was therefore not reliant on a short-term outpouring of compassion. Rackete’s supporters have also been energised by alternative visions of Europe, and by the vitriol reserved for her by followers of the populist far right.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Framework for Measuring Effectiveness in Humanitarian Response
Vincenzo Bollettino and Birthe Anders

In most of today’s crises, humanitarian organisations operate in the same environment as a range of military and non-state armed actors. The effective engagement between militaries and humanitarian aid agencies can be beneficial for the timely delivery of aid and is also often unavoidable when trying to gain access to areas controlled by military or non-state armed actors. However, such engagement also comes with risks. Previous literature on the subject has described some of the benefits and potential risks of different types of engagement between military and humanitarian actors. To date, however, quantifiable data on how civil–military engagement unfolds and which factors influence the effectiveness of coordination is lacking. This paper proposes an indicator framework for measuring the effectiveness of civil–military coordination in humanitarian response. It provides nineteen descriptive level and twenty perception and effectiveness indicators that may be used at any stage of a response to a humanitarian emergency, from mission planning and assessment through the various stages of a response and post-response assessment. The full set of questions, or a more targeted subset of these questions, may also be used as periodic polls to actively monitor developments in theatre.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
The Law and Politics of Responding to Attacks against Aid Workers
Julia Brooks and Rob Grace

Violence against aid workers seeking to bring assistance and protection to vulnerable people amid ongoing armed conflicts, disasters or other crises has fuelled growing concern over how to protect the humanitarian mission. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted with 118 practitioners involved in humanitarian operations and security management, this article considers three under-analysed prongs of grappling with humanitarian insecurity. The first three sections, in turn, examine the pursuit of accountability at both the domestic and international levels, public advocacy efforts and confidential negotiation. The fourth section links the article’s assessment of these three modes of responding to humanitarian insecurity to the broader discourse on security management in the humanitarian sector. Specifically, this section revisits and reimagines the security triangle, a framework that has played an influential role in shaping discourse on security management in humanitarian operations. The final section offers concluding remarks.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Why Building Back Better Means More than Structural Safety
Bill Flinn

This paper explores the importance of house and home for survivors of natural disaster: it protects from hazards and contributes to health, well-being and economic security. It examines the reconstruction of homes after a disaster as an opportunity to Build Back Better, re-defining ‘better’ as an holistic and people-centred improvement in housing. It questions the humanitarian shelter sector’s emphasis on structural safety while poor sanitation, inadequate vector control and smoke inhalation are responsible for many more deaths worldwide than earthquakes and storms. The paper extends this discussion by arguing that promoting ‘safer’ for a substantial number of families is better than insisting on ‘safe’ for fewer. The overall benefit in terms of lives saved, injuries avoided and reduced economic loss is greater when safer is prioritised over safe, and it frees resources for wider consideration of a ‘good home’ and the pursuance of ‘self-recovery’. The paper is informed by field research conducted in 2017 and 2018. Finally, implications for humanitarian shelter practice are outlined, with particular reference to self-recovery. It highlights a need for adaptive programming, knowledge exchange and close accompaniment so that families and communities can make informed choices with respect to their own recovery pathways.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs