28th October 2012: Australia In The Asian Century White Paper

Australia’s Gillard Government has released its Australia In The Asian Century white paper.


You can read Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comments here. The Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen has some ‘initial’ analysis here.


Ben Eltham has some comments on the white paper for New Matilda here. We’ll mention it in an academic paper planned for the Australian Journal of Political Science.

22nd February 2012: Independent Review of Australian Intelligence Community

In December 2011, Gillard Government announced the Cornall-Black independent review of the Australian intelligence community.


Australian National University professor Hugh White and the Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen have each reflected on Cornall-Black; Australia’s understanding of Asia;  diplomacy versus intelligence; and the value of open source intelligence (in deference to US grand strategist George Kennan). Kate Grayson and I responded separately to White and Roggeveen. White also responded to Roggeveen. I will probably respond to White tomorrow. This is an unfolding, interesting debate.

16th February 2012: Academic Blogging

fred and academic blogging


The Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen contends that Australian academics would benefit from blogging their research (in response to The Australian‘s Stephen Matchett on public policy academics).


I see this debate from several perspectives. In a former life I edited the US-based alternative news site Disinformation (see the 1998-2002 archives). I also work at Victoria University as a research administrator. I’ve blogged in various forums since 2003 (such as an old LiveJournal blog). In contrast, my PhD committee in Monash’s School of Political and Social Inquiry are more likely to talk about book projects, journal articles, and media interviews.


As Roggeveen notes, a major uptake barrier is the structure of institutional research incentives. The Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) initiative emphasises blind peer reviewed journal articles over other forms. Online blogging is not included as an assessable category of research outputs although it might fit under ‘original creative works’. Nor is blogging included in a university’s annual Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) outputs. University incentives for research closely follow ERA and HERDC guidelines. The ARC’s approach is conservative (in my view) and focuses on bibliometrics.


I know very few academics who blog. Many academics are not ‘intrinsic’ writers and are unused to dealing with developmental editors and journals. University websites often do not have blog publishing systems and I’ve seen several failed attempts to do so. Younger academics who might blog or who do use social media are often on casual or short-term contracts. The ones who do blog like Ben Eltham have a journalism background, are policy-focused, and are self-branded academic entrepreneurs.


Roggeveen is correct that blogging can potentially benefit academics — if approached in a mindful way. I met people like Richard Metzger and Howard Bloom during my publishing stint. I am regularly confused with QUT social media maven Axel Bruns — and we can now easily clarify potential queries. Blogging has helped me to keep abreast of sub-field developments; to build networks; to draft ideas for potential journal articles and my PhD on strategic culture; and has influenced the academic citations of my work and downloads from institutional repositories.


Problem is, HERDC or ERA have no scope for soft measures or ‘tacit’ knowledge creation — so blogging won’t count to many universities.


That Roggeveen needs to make this point at all highlights how much the internet has shifted from its original purpose to become an online marketing environment. Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal HyperText and CERN (1989) envisioned the nascent internet as a space for collaborative academic research. The internet I first encountered in 1993-94 had Gopher and .alt newsgroups, and later, web-pages by individual academics. Regularly visited example for PhD research: University of Notre Dame’s political scientist Michael C. Desch and his collection of easily accessible publications.  It’s a long way from that free environment to today’s “unlocking academic expertise” with The Conversation.


Photo: davidsilver/Flickr.

11th January 2012: Constructivism and the Scholar-Policymaker Disconnect

Andrew Carr blogged at The Interpreter on a new survey of international relations scholars:

While a colleague has noted that you’ll never hear the word ‘constructivism‘ inside the walls of DFAT*, it is the most popular IR discipline. In some ways this isn’t too surprising, as constructivism is a new field with high research energy. But given the traditional dominance of realism, and the return to great power studies that has accompanied China’s rise this century, I would have expected many more realists.

From my email reply to Carr:

There are several possible reasons for the high response rate of self-identified constructivists in the survey of US international relations scholars. A younger generation of IR scholars have been influenced by Alexander Wendt, Peter Katzenstein, John Ruggie, Martha Finnemore, Friedrich Kratochwil, and other constructivists. Professional associations have changed: the Perestroika Movement created a debate in the American Political Science Association about epistemic assumptions and research methodology, whilst the International Studies Association now hosts conference sessions on critical security studies and similar topics. However, realism still remains influential, through the enduring influence of Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and Stephen Walt. The survey response to ‘I do not use paradigmatic analysis’ might include diplomatic historians and scholars who use inter-paradigmatic and multi-perspectival approaches.

Gyngell and Wesley’s observation about DFAT staff who are self-identified realists follows an historical trend in Australian policymaking. Several contributors to Graeme Cheeseman and Bruce Roberts’ critical anthology Discourses of Danger and Dread Frontiers (Allen & Unwin, 1996) complained that Australian defence and security policymaking was realist-dominated and that scholars from other traditions had few opportunities to influence or shape policymaking. The Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University was usually singled out as the institutional villain. This past debate suggests a disconnect between Australian scholars and policymakers.

This scholar-policymaker disconnect plays out in the media, academia and in formulating specific strategies. Consider counter-terrorism. The 2006-08 campaign by James Cook University’s Mervyn F. Bendle in Quadrant and The Australian about ‘terrorism studies’ was essentially a disagreement between a realist and critical theory-influenced academics. There was little discussion of what was actually being taught in ‘terrorism studies’ courses. Australia’s Counter-Terrorism White Paper (2010) conceptualised terrorism in a similar fashion to debats within the Bush Administration in 2003-05 — but didn’t appear to include ‘lessons learned’ from researchers in Monash University’s Global Terrorism Centre, the Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, and similar academic groups. Over the past decade, Australian Research Council grants awarded in defence, counter-terrorism and security have reflected the visibility and perceived urgency of topics — there are more opportunities for collaborative research teams.

What insights can constructivists share with DFAT and the Defence Department? Ideas matter. Institutions and non-state actors are important. Diplomacy and intelligence are crucial for dealing with ideational factors like culture, history, identity, and threat perception. These insights are echoed in recent non-constructivist work on perceiving enemies and strategic culture (Patrick Porter’s Military Orientalism); how the US Army and Marines developed new counter-insurgency doctrines (David Ucko’s The New Counterinsurgency Era); effective psychological operations (Ron Schleifer’s Psychological Warfare in the Intifada); decisions about nuclear weapons development (Jacques E.C. Hymans’ The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation), and diffusion of military innovations (Michael Horowitz’s The Diffusion of Military Power). Constructivist insights can be seen in how the US State Department dealt with the Arab Spring and in the Obama administration’s Sustaining US Global Leadership (2012) which echoes John F. Kennedy’s ‘flexible response’ period. Theory can inform more robust and resilient policy formulation. But academics need to heed US Secretary of State George Marshall’s advice to grand strategist George Kennan: “Avoid trivia.”