Australia-U.S. Relations, Russia’s technological crackdown and more

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The replicas of last week’s explosive announcement by the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom that they would form a new security partnership whose pilot project would be to help Australia build a fleet of Nuclear-powered submarines continued to be felt this week. The agreement marked a major change in the strategic landscape of the Indo-Pacific. Although China was not mentioned in the announcement of the so-called AUKUS deal, it was clearly the main driver of what has been interpreted as an effort to add weight to the US pivot to Asia by strengthening the naval forces of a key regional center. ally.

But the deal also created a storm in France, which saw Australia cancel its pre-existing contract with a French shipbuilder to build a fleet of diesel-electric submarines. The French were furious at losing this contract, dubbed the “deal of the century” when it was signed in 2019. But they also attacked the United States and Australians in surprisingly harsh terms for secretly negotiating the deal. of substitution. Paris has recalled its ambassadors in the two countries for consultations, although it has agreed to return its ambassador to Washington next week, following a conciliatory phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden .

But the episode considerably undermined confidence in bilateral relations with France, as well as with Washington’s other transatlantic partners. Many European observers have criticized Biden for conducting U.S. foreign policy in a manner reminiscent of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who made no effort to hide his contempt for U.S. European allies. Since taking office, Biden has spoken at length about his desire to repair Trump’s damage to transatlantic relations. Today, just weeks after the debacle of the Afghan withdrawal, he finds himself once again in a position to repair the damage, he alone responsible for having caused it.

WPR covered the AUKUS deal, its repercussions and implications in detail this week:

  • In a briefing Tuesday, John Blaxland looked at the strengths of the submarine deal from Australia’s perspective, but also explained why to focus only on the military hardware component of competing with the China would be a strategic mistake.
  • In his Wednesday column, Howard French argued that at its core, the US sub-deal and the Indo-Pacific pivot it underpins is part of a dangerous confrontation with China that includes the risk of war, something public in the United States and Europe has not yet fully recognized.
  • In her China Note newsletter on Wednesday, Rachel Cheung explained the implications of the sub-deal for China, including the benefits offered by tensions between the United States and its European allies.
  • And in his Europe Decoder newsletter on Thursday, Dave Keating examined the fallout from the deal in Europe, where it is seen as the latest mismanagement of transatlantic relations by the Biden team.

Highlights of this week

Russia is stepping up the pressure on big tech

During a briefing Monday, Justin Sherman looked at the latest country to start cracking down on Big Tech: Russia. But unlike efforts to regulate social media and other tech platforms in the European Union and the United States, growing pressure from Russia on Western and domestic tech companies over content and data restrictions is not being offset. by no concerns about freedom of expression.

  • In recent months, Russia has started to increase the frequency and severity of its punitive actions against Western tech companies, including a fine imposed on WhatsApp in August for failing to store the data of its Russian users locally in the country.
  • More recently, Google and Apple bowed to government pressure and removed an app designed to support candidates associated with Alexei Navalny in the run-up to the recent parliamentary elections, after the government threatened Google employees with arrest.
  • These measures “highlight the Kremlin’s continued crackdown on the very concept of an open Internet in Russia.” But they also put Western tech companies at a standstill, as cooperating with the Russian government could put their users at risk of being targeted.
  • All of this means that Western tech companies may soon face the same “moment of truth” as in China, Justin says, “when they decide the restrictions are just too onerous to continue operating.”

Feel-Good Story Wikipedia has a darker side

In her weekly column on Tuesday, Emily Taylor reviewed a recent announcement from Wikipedia’s parent organization that she had banned seven Chinese nationals, after particularly heated “publishing wars” on the platform over articles relating to Hong Kong and Taiwan have drawn individuals from Wikipedia. community facing the risk of physical damage and other threats to their security. Emily explains that the episode highlights two issues with Wikipedia’s editing processes that make it unfit for several challenges that the platform faces today.

  • Wikipedia’s editing process is participatory and transparent. But it has also historically been dominated by men, who make up 90 percent of editors. Women who try to edit articles have learned to avoid controversial topics, due to the hostile and sometimes threatening environment that is part of the platform’s culture.
  • This translates into the incorporation of gender bias into Wikipedia, both in terms of the types of articles included in the participatory online encyclopedia (only 19% of its 1.5 million biographies are female) as well as the content of these articles. .
  • Because of the links between Wikipedia content and search engines, as well as artificial intelligence applications that use Wikipedia content as training data, the societal imbalances and gender biases it contains “will be reflected and may – to be accentuated in the next generations of technology ”.
  • Meanwhile, the events that led to the banning of the seven Chinese nationals, which included “credible threats of physical harm, extortion and doxxing from publishers, as well as the flooding of some controversial pages with thousands of updates, “point out Wikipedia’s vulnerability to infiltration. by malicious users, at a time when disinformation has become a major threat to liberal democracies.

Most read article of the week

Our best story by number of pageviews this week was my own briefing on what the AUKUS deal reveals about the conduct of American foreign policy by Joe Biden. To complete part of the granular analysis of the impact and fallout of the deal, I looked at three overall takeaways that he clarified. First, Biden won’t let rhetoric restrict his actions. Second, the exclusive clubs are the new alliances. And third, the American pivot to Asia now has teeth:

So far, the main criticism of [the pivot] was that it’s all words and no action. That started to change with the relaunch under the Trump administration – since accelerated by Biden – of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising the United States, Australia, Japan and India. But for various reasons, Quad policy requires avoiding or minimizing the military component and emphasizing the diplomatic aspects of the club. The sub-deal and the AUKUS deal, while dressed alike in the language of tech cooperation, do away with such pretexts and strengthen the United States’ shift to Asia.

What is the Tap

And coming next week we have:

  • A presentation by Kristen Cordell on why China’s efforts to engage with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals might bode well for the international aid architecture.
  • A briefing by Marcel Plichta on why the Biden administration’s approach to Africa does not portend a fundamental shift in US policy, and why it will not be enough.
  • And a feature article by Karine Duhamel on Canada’s long-awaited record with its treatment of Indigenous peoples, both historically and today.

Judah Grunstein is the editor of World Politics Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @Judah_Grunstein.

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