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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

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?

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

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.

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

Humanitarian innovation has rapidly emerged to become central to discussions about the future of humanitarianism. Innovation practices are framed as a means by which the humanitarian community can identify the paradigm shift that it needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. However, this framing is based on a misunderstanding of economic theories of innovation and particularly of the nature of humanitarian economics. The lack of both a true market and a profit mechanism in the humanitarian industry means that innovations can be generated but will never be sustained. Unless this obstacle is addressed – perhaps through emerging networked approaches to economic activity – humanitarian innovation will continue to be a dead end.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

Language and its translation are important operational concerns in humanitarian crisis response. Information sharing, coordination, collaboration and relationship-building all revolve around the ability to communicate effectively. However, doing so is hampered in many humanitarian crises by linguistic differences and a lack of access to adequate translation. Various innovative practices and products are being developed and deployed with the goal of addressing these concerns. In this theoretical paper, we critically appraise the ethical terrain of crisis translation and humanitarian innovation. We identify ethical issues related to three broad themes. First, we foreground questions of justice in access to translation and its prioritisation in contexts of widespread and pressing needs. Second, we consider the relationship between humanitarian ethics and the ethics of crisis translation. We argue for the importance of attending to epistemic justice in humanitarian crisis response, and consider how Ricoeur’s conception of linguistic hospitality provides insights into how relationships in humanitarian settings can be understood through the lens of an ethics of exchange while also acknowledging the steep asymmetries that often exist in these contexts. Finally, we identify issues related to how translation innovations intersect with humanitarian values and humanitarians’ ethical commitments.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editors’ Introduction
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Digital Bodies, Data and Gifts

This is an initial exploration of an emergent type of humanitarian goods – wearables for tracking and protecting the health, safety and nutrition of aid recipients. Examining the constitutive process of ‘humanitarian wearables’, the article reflects on the ambiguous position of digital humanitarian goods developed at the interface of emergency response contexts, the digitisation of beneficiary bodies and the rise of data and private-sector involvement in humanitarian aid. The article offers a set of contextual framings: first, it describes the proliferation and capabilities of various tracking devices across societal domains; second, it gives a brief account of the history of wristbands in refugee management and child nutrition; third, an inventory is given of prototype products and their proposed uses in aid. It is argued that what needs to be understood is that, in ‘the making’ of humanitarian wearables, the product is the data produced by digitised beneficiary bodies, not the wearables themselves.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs