The announcement of a new trilateral security partnership, AUKUS (Australia, UK and US), is a major event in the history of Australian foreign policy. Australia is planning to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, scrapping a contract with the French to build conventional subs in the process. AUKUS also plans to engage in new forms of security cooperation in other technology domains. This decision is both momentous and controversial.

In this episode, Allan and Darren debate the merits of AUKUS, with Darren attempting to lay out a (theoretical) case in favour, while Allan offers his critique. The conversation is the strongest disagreement they’ve had in the history of the podcast, which makes for a lively debate! Hopefully the first of many in the months ahead as further details emerge and implementation begins.

The logic and consequences of AUKUS speak to the biggest questions of Australian foreign policy, and this discussion helps reveal clear points of disagreement in how Allan and Darren assess Australia’s strategic landscape.

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.     

Relevant links

Joint Leaders Statement on AUKUS, 16 September 2021:

Allan Gyngell, “Australia signs up to the Anglosphere”, Australian Financial Review, 17 September 2021:

Natasha Kassam and Darren Lim, “Successful deterrence: Why AUKUS is good news for Taiwan”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2021:

William Gale and Darrell West, “Is the US headed for another Civil War?”, Brookings Institution, 16 September 2021:

Hugh White, How to defend Australia (La Trobe University Press, 2019):

Oriana Skylar Mastro, “The Taiwan Temptation: Why Beijing Might Resort to Force”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2021:

Rory Medcalf, “Australia crosses a strategic Rubicon”, Australian Financial Review, 16 September 2021:

Editorial Board, “What to make of China’s drive towards ‘common prosperity’”, East Asia Forum, 20 September 2021:

Kevin Rudd, “Xi Jinping’s pivot to the state”, Address to the Asia Society, New York, 8 September 2021:

Sinica Podcast, “What’s the deal with the Red New Deal?”, 16 September 2021:

The Ezra Klein Show, Interview with Annie Murphy Paul, New York Times, 20 July 2021:

The Ezra Klein Show, Interview with L.M. Sacasas, New York Times, 3 August 2021:

Allan and Darren begin this episode reviewing the frenzied two-week evacuation from Afghanistan. A logistical success or further evidence of a terrible failure? Do the events of the evacuation, which included an ISIS-K suicide bombing and a drone strike that killed civilians, in addition to the over 100,000 evacuated, change their assessment of the merits of withdrawal? What are Australia’s obligations into the future? What will China’s role be?

The Australia-US alliance celebrates its 70th anniversary this week. Having recently updated his book on the history Australian foreign policy, Fear of Abandonment, how is Allan thinking about the role the alliance should be playing in Australian foreign policy today? Darren tries to inject some needed (in his view) international relations theory into public debates on the merits of the alliance. Moreover, Darren (along with co-authors Zack Cooper and Ashley Feng) has published a new report for the United States Studies Centre on the topic of geoeconomics and the alliance, and he explains its motivation and previews the argument. Allan wonders whether we need to hear more from the economics discipline in geoeconomic policy discussions, given that the stakes extend well beyond Australia’s current focus—China’s economic coercion. Darren notes that recent speeches from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Defence Minister Peter Dutton highlight how economics and security are more deeply intertwined than ever.

Given a spate of recent bilateral meetings and a big international trip now underway for the Foreign and Defence Ministers, Allan and Darren discuss Australia’s diplomatic objectives for the rest of the year. Finally, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, they each reflect on their personal memories of the event and what its enduring significance is for Australia in the world.

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Ezra Klein, “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem”, New York Times, 26 August 2021:

“Joint Statement on Afghanistan Evacuation Travel Assurances”, 30 August 2021:

Marise Payne, “Transcript Statement to the Senate: Afghanistan”, 23 August 2021:

Simon Jackman, “At 70, most see US alliance as foundation of our security”, United States Studies Centre, 30 August 2021:

UPCOMING EVENT, “Fear of Abandonment: Australia in the World - an update”, Australian Institute of International Affairs, 23 September 2021:

Darren Lim, Zack Cooper and Ashley Feng, “Trust and diversify: A geoeconomic strategy for the Australia-US alliance”, United States Studies Centre, 2 September 2021:

Josh Frydenberg, “Building Resilience and the Return of Strategic Competition”, Keynote Address to the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum, 6 September 2021:

Peter Dutton, “Address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia”, 8 September 2021:

Marise Payne and Peter Dutton, “Joint visit to Indonesia, India, the Republic of Korea, and the United States”, Joint Media Release, 8 September 2021:

Benjamin Herscovitch, “Australia’s growing anti-coercion coalition”, Beijing to Canberra and Bank (Newsletter), 30 August 2021:

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh and Keiran Hardy, “Before 9/11, Australia had no counter-terrorism laws, now we have 92 — but are we safer?”, The Conversation, 8 September 2021:

“The Overstory” by Richard Powers, Penguin Australia:

This second half of the discussion begins with Australia-Indonesia relations. How does Indonesia see Australia? How much do the views expressed by President Widodo in a speech to the Australian Parliament reflect broader opinions among Indonesia’s elite? Darren chimes in with a ‘cheeky’ question about the Australian public’s attitudes towards Indonesia—would it be preferable for the bilateral relationship to be as high profile in the media and public consciousness as that with China or the United States?  And how can Australia increase its engagement with Indonesia? Is a “step up”—our approach in the South Pacific—the correct frame?

The conversation turns outward. Allan asks Gary what he has concluded about ASEAN’s capability “to carry the weight the rest of the world is putting on it”. And specifically, has the regional organisation’s performance during the recent and ongoing Myanmar crisis surprised him? Allan then highlights a recent monograph published by the AIIA and authored by Michael Bliss, and for which Gary wrote the Afterword, about Australia’s most recent term of the UN Security Council and our legacy. What is Gary’s advice to the Australian government about how we can best contribute to the continuation of an effective multilateral system?

Finally, Darren ends by asking Gary to reflect upon his entire career by asking whether there are any distinctively Australian characteristics that cause success or failure in Australian foreign policy.

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for his help with research and audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Joko Widodo, “Address by the President of the Republic of Indonesia”, Parliament of Australia, 10 February 2020:

Michael Bliss (Afterword by Gary Quinlan), An Enduring Contribution? Australia's Term on the United Nations Security Council (2013-2014), Australian Institute of International Affairs, Diplomatic History Series | 2, Canberra, 2021:

In a conversation recorded on Thursday 5 August, Allan and Darren welcome Gary Quinlan to the podcast. Gary’s career in Australian foreign policy can only be described as stellar, having worked at the top of each of its three pillars: the region, the alliance, and the rules-based order. Gary joined DFAT in 1973 and, until his recent retirement, held one of Australia’s most senior diplomatic appointments as Ambassador to Indonesia from 2018 until April 2021. From 2009, as our permanent representative to the UN, Gary presided over Australia’s successful campaign for election to the UN Security Council and our term in office, twice taking his place as president of the Council. He served as Prime Minister Rudd’s senior adviser on foreign affairs, defence and national security. His first head of mission posting was as High Commissioner in Singapore in 2001.

Allan begins the conversation by observing that, for pandemic-related reasons, Gary spent months of his time as Ambassador to Indonesia living in Canberra. How did that work? Did it work? Will diplomacy as a profession change as a result of the world's experience with COVID-19?

The conversation turns to Indonesia. How do Indonesians think about the world and Indonesia’s place in it? Is this question contested or is there a strong consensus? How polarised is Indonesian politics and how are cleavages managed? What can be learned from the fascinating career trajectories of two controversial figures, the former Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok), and Prabowo Subianto, the current Defense Minister? To what extent does Islam, and the politics of Islam, shape Indonesian foreign policy?

Part 1 concludes with a discussion of Indonesia’s views of, and relations with, the two major powers. What are the politics of China inside the country, and what is the trend-line of Indonesia-China relations? How would the Indonesians rate the Biden administration's performance so far, and what do they want from the US?

In Part 2, the conversation will cover Australia-Indonesia relations as well as ASEAN and the future of multilateralism.

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for his help with research and audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Gary Quinlan AO, short biography:

August 18, 2021

Ep. 79: Afghanistan

On Sunday the 15th August the Taliban took control of Kabul, capping an astonishingly rapid takeover of Afghanistan. In this emergency episode, Allan and Darren try to make sense of these events, analytically but also on a more personal level. How could this have happened? Was it true that the United States faced a simple choice between getting out or staying forever? What are the implications for Joe Biden’s legacy, and America’s standing in the world? And what is the Australian angle here?

Many thanks to Dominique Yap for audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Paul Miller, “What really went wrong in Afghanistan”, The Dispatch, 29 January 2020:  

Craig Whitlock, “At war with the truth” (Afghanistan Papers”), Washington Post, 9 December 2019: 

Remarks by President Biden on the Drawdown of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, The White House, 8 July 2021:

Gideon Rachman, “Joe Biden’s credibility has been shredded in Afghanistan”, Financial Times, 13 August 2021:

Daniel Drezner, “Afghanistan’s effect on American foreign policy”, Washington Post, 15 August 2021:

ABC News Sunday (NSW), 15 August 2021:

Scott Morrison, “Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast”, Transcript, 16 August 2021:

Marise Payne, “ABC Radio National – AM with Sabra Lane”, Transcript, 17 August 2021:

List of Afghan charities: (see also this tweet thread from Elsa Kania (@EBKania) )

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a new Secretary, Kathryn Campbell. Darren uses the occasion to build a theoretical model of the position, positing that the ideal candidate would fulfil four roles: administrator, consigliere, strategist and diplomat. Allan points out that the “diplomat” skill-set is unique to DFAT, discussing the history of the position not just in Australia but internationally, and some of the novel challenges every DFAT secretary will face.

The two next turn their attention to a pair of recent cyber stories: the attribution to China by a broad coalition of western governments of the massive and indiscriminate hack of Microsoft’s Exchange server earlier this year, and investigative reporting that surveillance software sold by the Israeli company NSO is being used to monitor thousands of individuals, from political and business leaders to journalists and activists. Is it possible to develop norms in this domain, especially given how extensively the US conducts its own spying? What is different (if anything) about these events, and can a rules-based order that regulates this behaviour be built?

As the podcast wraps up, Allan briefly discusses the recent APEC extraordinary meeting, the first of its kind for the organisation. Can the vigour of hosts New Zealand breathe new life into a troubled organisation? Finally, exclusive reporting by the ABC suggests the Australian government is considering returning a presence to Afghanistan, which would represent a rapid reversal of the decision to close the embassy indefinitely just a few months ago. Why?

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.     

Relevant links

MArise Payne and Zed Seselja, “Kathryn Campbell AO CSC announced as new DFAT Secretary”, Media Release, 9 July 2021:

Dave Sharma, “A diplomatic step-up to match our military step-up”, Lowy Interpreter, 13 July 2020:

Alex Oliver, “A budget of skewed priorities”, Lowy Interpreter, 7 October 2020:

Marise Payne, Karen Andrews and Peter Dutton, “Australia joins international partners in attribution of malicious cyber activity to China”, Media Release, 19 July 2021:

Zolan Kanno-Youngs and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Accuses China of Hacking Microsoft”, The New York Times, 19 July 2021:

“Chinese Embassy Spokesperson's Responding to the Australian Side's Remarks on Cyber Issues”, Media Release, 20 July 2021:

Andy Greenberg, “How China’s Hacking Entered a Reckless New Phase”, Wired, 19 July 2021:

International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Cyber Capabilities and National Power: A Net Assessment”, Researhc Paper, 29 June 2021:

Dana Priest, Craig Timberg and Souad Mekhennet, “ Private Israeli spyware used to hack cellphones of journalists, activists worldwide”, Washington Post, 18 July 2021:

Scott Morrison, APEC Virtual Informal Leaders’ Meeting, Transcript, 17 July 2021:

Andrew Probyn, “Australia considering future return to Afghanistan to monitor Taliban resurgence”, ABC News, 20 July 2021:

The Rachman Review (podcast), “Coming to terms with Putin’s Russia”, 24 June 2021:

National Security Podcast, “Tim Watts MP on national identity and cyber literacy in Australia”, 8 July 2021:

Loki (TV show):

In an episode recorded on 24 June, Allan and Darren take a step back from the news to discuss an emerging theme in international affairs: the competition of systems, which arrays liberal democracies against various types of authoritarianism, with the China model most prominent. President Biden has made both restoring American democracy, and cooperation with likeminded democracies, core pillars of his foreign policy.

Allan and Darren compare and contrast Biden’s approach with the neoconservative vision from the early 2000s. What is notable is his inward focus on restoring the health of American democracy, which they agree is a necessary starting point. But what then does a “competition of systems” actually entail? Darren tries to articulate a concrete theory of the case, which leads into a longer discussion of the differences between foreign policy, diplomacy and grand strategy, and the extent to which the world has changed since the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648!

While it’s clear demonstrating the continuing success of democratic models is essential to western leadership of the international order, can democracy be an organising principle of international cooperation? Should the trajectory of other political systems be a matter of direct national interest? Is there a concrete policy agenda that does not collapse into the flawed neoconservative approach or complete hypocrisy? What does one do about “illiberal democracies” or “elected autocracies”? And where does Australia, and PM Morrison’s call for a “world order that favours freedom”, fit in?

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: [at] We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank AIIA intern Dominique Yap for her help and bid her a fond farewell. We also thank Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.            

Relevant links

White House, “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance”, 3 March 2021:

Lowy Institute Poll 2021:

C. Lee Shea, “The longest telegram: A visionary blueprint for the comprehensive grand strategy against China we need”, War on the Rocks, 1 April 2021:

Frances Adamson, National Press Club Address, 23 June 2021:

LDC Podcast, “Working From home”, 15 June 2021:

This week’s episode tracks PM Scott Morrison’s recent travels. We begin in Perth prior to his leaving the country with what Allan considers to be a major foreign policy speech. Why? Where Allan sees a definite break from decades of Australian foreign policy, Darren sees a speech responding to shifting political winds, especially with a new occupant in the White House.

From Perth the PM flew to Singapore to meet with his counterpart PM Lee Hsien Loong. Lee offered some advice to Australia in its management of relations with China, which Allan wonders might signal a growing gap between Australia and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Darren tries to reconcile Lee’s advice with comments made that same week by Defence Minister Peter Dutton.

The PM then arrived in the UK for the G7 summit. Was it important that he was invited? And what did Allan and Darren make of the communique? What is most interesting perhaps is the apparent return to prominence of the G7, which had for more than a decade taken a backseat to the G20. As Allan says, this is likely because of who is not at the meeting, rather than who is. Scott Morrison then wrapped up his trip with the announcement of a free trade agreement with the UK (did it deliver much?) and getting solid support from President Macron in his bilateral with the French leader.

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: [at] We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank AIIA intern Dominique Yap for her help audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.   

Relevant links

Scott Morrison, “Address to the Perth USAsia Centre”, Perth, 9 June 2021:

Daniel Hurst, “Peter Dutton flags more US troops on Australian soil citing potential China conflict”, The Guardian, 10 June 2021:

Scott Morrison and Lee Hsien Loong, Press Conference Transcript, The Istana, Singapore, 11 June 2021:

2021 G7 Leaders' communiqué: Our shared agenda for global action to build back better, 13 June 2021:

Fact Sheet: President Biden and G7 Leaders Launch Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership, The White House, 12 June 2021:

“G7 summit: China says small groups do not rule the world”, BBC News, 13 June 2021:

Jeff Wilson (@JDWilson08), twitter thread on the Australia-UK free trade agreement, 16 June 2021:

Andrew Tillett, “UK trade deal ‘rights a historic wrong’”, Australian Financial Review, 16 June 2021:

Martin Wolf, “The US should spurn the false promise of protectionism”, Financial Times, 15 June 2021:

“French President Emmanuel Macron backs Australia amid trade conflict with China”, ABC News, 16 June 2021:

“Ninth Japan-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations”, 9 June 2021:

Peter Dutton, “Address to Australian Strategic Policy Institute Conference, Canberra”, 10 June 2021:

Making Sense podcast, “Are we alone in the universe? A conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson”, Episode #252, 10 June 2021:

“Jon Stewart On Vaccine Science And The Wuhan Lab Theory”, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, 15 June 2021:

“‘They Are Going To Kill Us All’ - Jon Stewart Declares His Love For Scientists” (video) The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, 15 June 2021:

Thomas Wright, “Joe Biden worries that China might win”, The Atlantic, 9 June 2021:

Benjamin Herscovitch, “Beijing to Canberra and Back” (newsletter):

After some time away from the news, Allan and Darren have a lot to catch up on. This episode begins with PM Scott Morrison’s visit to New Zealand to meet his counterpart Jacinda Ardern. Allan provides his readout of the meeting, in which the leaders sought to affirm their shared interests and seemingly quash commentary that there are growing divisions in the relationship. Second on the list is an emerging constitutional crisis in Samoa, where a very close election result ended up in the courts, with the defeated incumbent not accepting the results. Is there anything Canberra can do? Third, the Australian government has announced the closure of its embassy in Kabul due to security concerns, perhaps no surprise given the ongoing troop withdrawals as the West tries to exit a 20-year war. But will the closure have a meaningful impact on Australian foreign policy?

Fourth, Darren offers his thoughts on the remarkable story in Belarus, where the government successfully forced a commercial airline flying between two European capitals to land so that it could arrest a dissident on board. Finally, Darren cannot resist but bring up the “lab leak hypothesis”, which is the possibility that COVID-19 leaked (accidentally) out of a lab in Wuhan, rather than jumping to humans from animals. Darren tries to set out why this hypothesis has transformed from fringe conspiracy theory to mainstream debate, one which the Biden Administration has publicly instructed its intelligence agencies to report on in the weeks ahead. How credible is the theory? Does it matter whether it’s correct? This is a deep rabbit hole and if listeners want follow Darren down it, some introductory links are in the show notes below.

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: [at] We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank Mitchell McIntosh for his help audio editing and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Joint statement: Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison, 31 May 2021:

PM Ardern and PM Morrison, Press Conference Transcript, Queenstown NZ, 31 May 2021:

Marise Payne, Tweet on Samoa election, 24 May 2021:

ABC News (Interview), “Samoa faces crisis after new PM sworn in outside parliament in a tent”, 25 May 2021:

Marise Payne, “Statement on visit to Afghanistan”, 10 May 2021:


Scott Morrison and Marise Payne, “Statement on the Australian Embassy in Afghanistan”, 25 May 2021:

Nicolas Wade, “Origin of COVID — Following the clues”, Medium, 3 May 2021:

Donald McNeil Jr, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory*, Medium, 17 May 2021:

Katherine Eban, “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins”, Vanity Fair, 3 June 2021:

Daniel Engber, “If the lab leak theory is right, what’s next?”, The Atlantic, 27 May 2021:

Tyler Cowen, “Why the lab leak theory matters” [with link to Ross Douthat Column], Marginal Revolution, 30 May 2021:

David Brophy, China Panic: Australia’s Alternative to Paranoia and Pandering, Latrobe University Press:

Tony Blair, “Without total change Labour will die” , The New Statesman, 11 May 2021:

Darren Lim and Nathan Attrill, “Australian debate of the China question: The COVID-19 case”, Forthcoming, Australian Journal of International Affairs, available at:

In the second half of this double episode with China expert Linda Jakobson, the conversation takes a broader focus. Allan begins with Taiwan, which has been in the headlines lately: how should we think about the dangers? What would it take for Beijing to use military force to resolve the situation?

The bulk of the episode is about the Australia-China relationship. How does Linda interpret the decline in bilateral relations—how much is it Australia’s ‘fault’ and how much is it China’s? What is the pathway forward? Linda offers her view, and then Darren and Allan provide their own assessments. Has China made up its mind about Australia? Finally, how can the West influence China and shape its choices? Is the deterrence/engagement binary a useful frame for thinking about the options?

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: [at] We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We thank AIIA intern Dominique Yap for help with research and audio editing, and Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant links

Linda Jakobson,  “Why should Australia be concerned about… rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait?”, China Matters Explores February 2021,

Linda Jakobson, ”What do we do when Beijing turns heat up on Taiwan?” Australian Financial Review, 9 February 2021:

Asialink podcast, “John Howard Reflects on the China Challenge and Trump's Legacy”, 15 Nov 2020:

Elliott Zaagman, “A rare test for China diplomacy”, Lowy Interpreter, 18 May 2021:

Load more

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App