Japan as small ‘a’ ally

Abe and Abbott
Some key elements have yet to embrace the idea of Australia and Japan as allies. Two groups not to have noticed or still to be convinced are the peoples of Japan and Australia. Fair enough, perhaps, because the idea has zoomed into view in less than 15 years. As notable is the political divide that has just appeared—this is one alliance where Australia’s major parties aren’t in vigorous agreement.

The Australian Labor Party is now sceptical about Japan as an ally, while the Liberal Party is an enthusiastic booster of the alliance; John Howard launched the effort and Tony Abbott is pushing it even harder. Abbott’s description of Japan as a ‘strong ally’ last year prompted columns on the differences in the language used by Labor and Liberal governments, and what Abbott wanted to build.

Fronting the first Senate Estimates hearing this year, Foreign Affairs secretary Peter Varghese had to explain Japan as a ‘strong ally’. Always one of the smartest men in the room, Varghese finessed Abbott’s ‘ally’ while not going all the way with his PM:

The term ‘ally’ can be used in a precise way and it can be used in a generalised way. It can be used with a capital ‘A’ or a small ‘a’. Japan is not a capital ‘A’ ally because we do not have a security agreement with Japan in the way that we have with the United States. Japan is a very close economic and strategic partner.

That’s a fine example of taking cover in clarification and seeking camouflage from classification. The idea of Japan as small ‘a’ ally has enough truth to it for this column to argue that Japan now sits on the second tier of Australia’s defence relationships, along with the traditional Anglo Allies, Britain and New Zealand.

Japan as ally is so new it caused the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader to misstep with their mouths. Their rhetorical ricochets were in different directions. Abbott was too effusive while Bill Shorten ranted several steps too far.

In welcoming Shinzo Abe to the Australian Parliament, Abbott paid tribute to ‘the skill and the sense of honour’ of the Japanese submariners who attacked Sydney Harbour. The sharp WWII history lesson Abbott received from parts of the Australian community was forceful advice that the Japan relationship can’t be built by airbrushing the past. Abe got the tone better with his words to Parliament about the horror and the trauma of that war.

Shorten brought up Japan’s torpedoing of Australian ships during WWII to attack speculation that Australia’s new submarine could be based on Japan’s Soryu subs. The Opposition Leader said a future Labor government might not honour a submarine contract with Japan. It’d be ironic if an effort to get value for defence dollars actually gets Australians to focus on the meaning of a small ‘a’ alliance that has both a bilateral and trilateral base.

In launching the US–Australia–Japan trilateral and in building bilateral defence ties, John Howard’s government took the lead and Japan warmed slowly. When Foreign Minister Alexander Downer first broached the trilateral with his Japanese counterpart he was told Australia was too insignificant as a security player for Tokyo to bother. Equally, Canberra was eager to go further than Tokyo in the ambit of the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation that Howard and Abe signed in March 2007.

As Greg Sheridan wrote at the time: ‘The Howard Government was keen to be as ambitious as the Japanese could accommodate and would have been happy with a formal security treaty. However, Japanese Government lawyers believed that it would be legally and politically too difficult to square such a treaty with their constitution.’

The then Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, was aiming at the Howard government rather than at Tokyo when he said there should be no step beyond the Security Declaration towards a full Australia-Japan defence pact: ‘To do so at this stage may unnecessarily tie our security interests to the vicissitudes of an unknown security policy future in North East Asia.’

In government, Rudd didn’t slow the growth of the military relationship, while the Gillard government quietly maintained the momentum; perhaps so quietly one Labor minister, Bill Shorten, didn’t notice. A lot of Australians are in the same boat (or submarine).

The Lowy Institute 2014 survey of Australian attitudes to the world posed a question based on Abbott’s embrace of Japan as ‘Australia’s best friend in Asia’ and got a different result: 31% of Australians nominated China as our best friend while 28% said Japan. See that as a B+ for our small ‘a’ ally.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Twitter user The Gov’t of Japan.

ASPI suggests

Out of the sunWelcome back for another serve of new reports, podcasts and events to attend for the defence and security enthusiast.

Kicking off today is Trevor Wilson on East Asia Forum who provocatively argues that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is an absent policy behind meaningless words. In his view, it’s unlikely to be endorsed by China or Japan, and the ‘absence of substantial strategic, economic or other interests along the western rim of the Indian Ocean means that ‘Indo-Pacific’ cannot serve as a more logical or plausible term’.

If you need to get your head around President Obama’s ISIS strategy, here’s a straightforward military assessment by IISS’s Ben Barry. But, as part of that strategy, can Arab state militaries help? Bobby Ghosh looks at the relative capabilities of militaries in the region and how they’d fare against the militants. After all, Bashar al-Assad’s forces, despite their superior arms, have taken quite a beating from ISIS and ceded large parts of Syria to it. Read more

As the US and its partners step up military activity in the region, China is adopting a long-term approach to consolidating its relationships with its Middle Eastern partners and securing access to resources, writes James M. Dorsey for RSIS. That would allow China to cooperate with the US but on Chinese terms. For more on the challenges in that approach, keep reading here.

Sticking with China, Euan Graham finds that, despite a heightened focus on energy exploration and security of oil and gas resources, political and strategic considerations are more important drivers in the country’s South China Sea policy. For instance, China’s stationing of an oil rig west of the Paracel Islands (and near the Vietnamese coast) in May, was driven by strategic imperatives. Nevertheless, according to Graham, Vietnam and the Philippines are concerned that the presence of Chinese vessels further south in the South China Sea is partly due to the oil and gas resources in the area.

Over at cogitASIA, Zachary Abuza looks at the impact of Vietnamese naval upgrades—including Russian Kilo-class submarines, Gepard-class light frigates, Molniya-class corvettes, and two Sigma-class corvettes. Although Vietnam is forecast to have the most modern submarine fleet in Southeast Asia by 2016, Abuza argues the deterrent capability of the naval upgrades against China is mixed.

What’s budget politics doing to the US Air Force? In the words of retiring chief of Air Combat Command, General Mike Hostage: ‘Our industrial base has eroded and we’re reducing our military down to a skeletal size at a time when the world is looking crazier by the day’. It’s worth reading his full speech for Hostage’s take on American air-power priorities and the impact of sequestration.

In today’s technology pick, we ask, where’s my flying car and jet pack? Flying cars will have to wait, but jet-propelled movement could be a reality for US military. Arizona State University’s ‘4MM’ project (which stands for ‘four-minute-mile’) funded by DARPA is currently developing a jet-powered backpack that can assist soldiers in combat zones get somewhere in a jiffy. Watch the video here.


The Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) in the US recorded this podcast with Popular Science blogger Kelsey Atherton back in May on the future of drones. They discuss the use of drones in real life and science fiction, where drone technology is headed over the horizon and how they might have changed the Civil War (35mins).


Canberra: The ICRC and Australian Red Cross will host a panel discussion on ways to improve the security and delivery of health care in armed conflict and other emergencies. The event launches a new publication, Promoting Military Operational Practice that ensures safe access to and delivery of health care, and is on Wednesday 24 September, Finkel Lecture Theatre, JCSMR, ANU, 5.45 to 7pm. Register here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Penelope Czyzewska is currently completing a degree in national security, and is undertaking work experience at ASPI through the University of Canberra. Image courtesy of leg0fenris.

War in Iraq and the need for a parliamentary debate

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet aircrew depart for morning sortie.

Cracks are already starting to show in the Government’s strange haste to commit Australian troops and aircraft to war in Iraq, and the equally confused messaging about how we are meant to respond to the raising of the domestic terror threat level.

Because of the institutionalised horror calling itself the ‘Islamic State’ that has taken root in Iraq and Syria, and because of Australia’s evident complicity in destabilising the region following the invasion in 2003, it’s not enough to stand back and leave it to the locals to fix the violent mess we helped create. We do have an obligation to help restore stability in Iraq; the question is, what constitutes the most effective and appropriate kind of help? On that score, the Australian Greens strongly disagree with the Abbott/Shorten unity ticket that a new war in Iraq will resolve the hideous aftermath of the last one.

It’s important that the Government immediately drop the façade that this is a strictly humanitarian endeavour, and call it what military commanders and Administration officials in the US are calling it: a war. Abbott’s ‘no boots on the ground’ commitment was jettisoned after less than a fortnight; we now have more than 600 pairs of boots arriving at al Minhad airbase in the UAE, headed for grounds unknown. Similarly, President Obama’s commitment that the 1600 inbound US troops would be there as ‘advisers’ now apparently extends to ‘close combat advising’ all the way to the front line. Read more

Thousands of boots notwithstanding, the military leadership in the US is determined that this should remain a campaign fought largely from the air by drones and conventional bombers, with campaigns in Yemen and Somalia being cited, without irony, as successful case studies. The appalling civilian death toll resulting from those high-altitude interventions is rarely reported in the Western press, but communities on the ground understand the consequences well enough. Iraqi Sunnis probably also have a better recollection than most Australians of the murderous persecution they suffered under the Al Maliki Government that Australian troops helped install, and of the hundreds of thousands who died in the sectarian carnage we helped unleash in 2003.

In here probably lies one of the keys to answering the more forbidding question of what the hell to do about the viral spread of Islamic State out of its Syrian stronghold and into Iraq and the mass consciousness of the Western world. For all its righteous bluster, IS is loathed from one end of the Islamic world to the other—from Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria to Iran to Indonesia. Without support from Sunni tribal leaders and regional communities in north-western Iraq, the Islamic State’s footing in the region is perilously narrow. Actions to counter IS might include: our direct support for a more inclusive government in Iraq; cutting the flow of financing from the Gulf States; applying pressure on Turkey to close the border to flows of foreign fighters; active support to regional actors to starve Islamic State of weapons and funds; above all, pushing the UN to restart negotiations on ending the civil war in Syria.

Those will all take time: in the immediate future, Chelsea Manning’s thoughtful contribution from behind bars on ways to contain the further spread of IS surely poses a more durable endgame than a massive escalation of US and Australian air raids. Finally, if the Prime Minister is serious that this is primarily a humanitarian intervention, this is an excellent time to lift our refugee intake and contributions to UN agencies to get direct help to the vast numbers of people displaced and traumatised by the conflict in both countries.

The Prime Minister’s awkward rush to war plays into domestic politics and the ravening blood-lust howled from the front pages of the same Murdoch tabloids that demanded we invade Iraq in the first place, but it may be horribly counterproductive. Either, as the satirical website ‘The Onion’ proposed with a straight face, ‘Obama Vows To Split ISIS Into Dozens Of Extremist Splinter Groups’, or more forbiddingly, foreign air strikes will forge warring extremist groups into greater unity to focus on the common enemy: us. There are signs this is already occurring, with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb issuing a rare joint demand to warring factions in the region to ‘Stop the infighting between you and stand as one rank against America’s campaign and that of its satanic alliance that lies in wait for all of us, to break us stick by stick.’

It’s surely no coincidence that despite more than three years of Australians transiting through Syria to fight in the horrific civil war there, ASIO was moved to raise the terror threat warning in Australia within weeks of the Government’s evident commitment to send us back to Iraq.

If, for once, Australia could strike a faintly-independent foreign policy stance and admit that foreign-flagged high explosives have had a dismal record in creating peace in the Middle East, we might stand a chance of actually providing meaningful help to people trapped in an unimaginable cycle of violence. Parliament, and the community at large, is the proper place for this debate, because if the Government has a solid case for committing us to another round of open-ended warfare in Iraq, it certainly hasn’t made it yet.

Scott Ludlam is an Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia and defence spokesperson for his party. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Islamic State (2): beyond coercion

Al Raqqa, SyriaThe phrase ‘too extreme for Al-Qaeda’ is inexorably linked to the Islamic State (IS). As a rhetorical tool, it complements ‘death cult’, ‘barbarians’ and Joe Biden’s promise to ‘follow them to the gates of hell’. The language also provides an insight into how IS is perceived in strategic policy circles—best evidenced by President Obama’s description of it as a terrorist organisation interested only in slaughter.

If that’s all true, IS supporters must be either maniacally-evil zealots or those petrified into acquiescence. On that basis, we can rest assured a strategy of forming multinational coalitions, bombing ‘bad guys’, liberating IS-controlled areas with local forces and reconnecting the populace with ‘their’ governments will work. I suspect that’s unlikely. For a strategy to have any hope, it must be based on recognising IS for what it is and understanding the spectrum of active and tacit supporters it attracts.

Insurgencies rely on the population for their survival—Mao asserted that insurgents are akin to fish and the population to the sea—and IS isn’t any different. It’s fluid and diverse supporter base is characterised by a complex interplay of perceptions of legitimacy, fleeting pragmatism and terror-induced collaboration as well as macro- and micro-relationships that may interact complementarily or disruptively. Coming to terms with those dynamics is crucial. Read more

Legitimacy and pragmatism dominate IS’s macro-relationships. Those include its alliance-building with tribal groups and rebel factions, its leveraging of intra-Islamist tensions for recruitment, and its appeals to broader regional and global support networks. IS’s supposed authenticity as an Islamic government (the reason for joining IS according to these British, Australian and Indonesian recruits) and its perceived functionality as a politico-military apparatus (a major reason IS publishes an annual report and promotes its ‘system of control’) are key factors in legitimacy-based support. Pragmatically-motivated IS support tends to fluctuate with successes in the field (IS alliances with tribes in its areas of control) or reflect temporary operational needs (coordination of IS and rebel manoeuvring). Legitimacy and pragmatism are often intimately linked due to the positive relationship between perceptions of legitimacy and the functionality of a ‘system of control’ (ie support follows strength). The fruits of that dynamic are reflected in how significantly IS numbers have swelled since it captured Mosul.

IS’s micro-relationships are those forged with local civilian populations. The CIA recently reported that IS’s fighting force numbers between 20,000 and 31,500 across Syria and Iraq. Those are not huge numbers. IS simply couldn’t successfully fight on multiple fronts, across thousands of square miles, while simultaneously implementing a ‘system of control’ over population clusters numbering in the hundreds of thousands, without local supporters. The nature of that support undoubtedly varies. Some actively support IS as a legitimate and rightful government; others pragmatically collaborate with it. For the majority, the promise of torture and public execution—from IS and its enemies—is sufficient to ensure their acquiescence. Coercion is unquestionably an important tool for IS. Still, flippantly dismissing IS’s ‘system of control’, which is perceived by some locals to address real political, economic and security needs, is fraught with potential problems.

With its complex interplay of motivational drivers and interacting macro- and micro-relationships, IS’s supporter base is inherently volatile. Two implications emerge. Firstly, the unpredictable combination of IS’s ongoing conflict with its rivals and fluctuations in its perceived legitimacy and pragmatic appeal will drive intra- and inter-group fracturing and alliance-building. Those may begin opportunistically but can congeal with time to fundamentally change the strategic landscape. Take for example IS’s conflict with Jabhat Al Nusra and Al-Qaeda (JN/AQ) which is rooted in fundamental differences regarding what is the correct methodology (manhaj) for achieving Islamist goals (see the IS argument and the JN argument). The ‘Letters from Abbottabad’ clearly demonstrated that was a significant issue across the al-Qaeda adhocracy. Just as IS broke away from AQ, the potential exists for other groups to turn to IS for support as its legitimacy and pragmatic appeal rises. A possible result: satellite ‘emirates’ dispersed around the world under the umbrella of IS’s central caliphate (eg Afghanistan and AQIM in North Africa).

Secondly, misguided counter-IS measures risk strengthening rather than rupturing IS support. For example, military alliances established for tactical expediency that ignore potential strategic repercussions (e.g. cooperation with Assad’s forces) could push rebel groups, Sunni tribes and civilian populations into IS’s arms. Bitter irony aside, collateral damage risks driving civilian populations in IS-controlled areas closer to the group. If the purpose of the US-led strategy is ultimately to trigger Sunni ‘awakenings’ against IS, military force alone risks pushing local populations closer to IS as a more palatable option to the return of authorities that helped create the politico-military vacuum for IS’s putsch. IS didn’t simply kill their way in to the ‘fertile crescent’ and the new anti-IS coalition isn’t going to kill their way out.

Haroro J. Ingram is a research fellow with the School of International, Political and Strategic Studies (ANU). His ARC-funded project, ‘Through Their Eyes’, analyses insurgent ‘information operations’ and explores its role as a determining factor in the success of insurgent movements. Image courtesy of Flickr user Beshr O.

Back to Iraq: the first problem’s a nail

Nailed It!As Australia dispatches half a squadron of fighter-bombers, a significant special forces contingent, and support elements ahead of likely coalition action against ISIL, most commentary falls into either the ‘bomb the hell out of them’ or ‘only fools rush in’ camps. Neither view is fully satisfying. To explain, we offer four observations on the implications for Australia of President Obama’s four point plan to destroy ISIL.

Obama’s strategy stressed the need for a ‘broad coalition’ to pursue: (1) a systematic campaign of airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria; (2) support for forces fighting ISIL; (3) counter-terrorist measures to prevent attacks; and (4) assistance to those displaced by militants. Over the weekend, Australia received specific requests from the US and Iraq to assist.

It’s hardly surprising that Prime Minister Abbott agreed to help but what does that mean for Australia? Read more

First, with the US a ‘weary titan,’ forced to pivot simultaneously to meet rising Russian and Middle Eastern threats while projecting strength in the Asia-Pacific, we have an alliance interest in helping carry some of the weight. Given the caution inherent in Obama’s don’t-do-stupid-stuff doctrine and warning that ‘just because we have the best hammer doesn’t mean every problem is a nail’, it’s doubtful we need to restrain US adventurism.

Second, whereas our prodding of Russia has been criticised as talking loudly while carrying a small stick, we’ve a direct stake in reducing Middle Eastern instability and some ability to assist. While some experts suggest we’ll need to get used to the idea of a post-Iraq Middle East, a rapid and bloody unravelling and partition could kill thousands and displace millions. It would exacerbate the humanitarian disaster, further stress refugee camps (historically a recruiting ground for extremists), and leave vast swathes of ungoverned—or ISIL-governed—territory. Despite warnings that Australia may be spreading itself too thin or could become distracted from important tasks in our own neighbourhood, our interests don’t stop at our shores. The ADF can and should make a proportionate contribution.

Third, we need to keep in mind what success might look like, and the costs and risks of pursuing it. Lessons from Libya point to both the promise and limits of relying primarily on air power. There, the West faced a mainly uniformed, coherent adversary. While ISIL has some features of a state, it could revert to being a more conventional ideological terrorist group if faced with military might; an idea is much harder to defeat than a state. Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen—Obama’s examples of success—are still alive and kicking. We’re more likely to be able to degrade ISIL than defeat it, especially if we’re looking at success in terms of months rather than decades.

Fourth, we should recognise the tension between a military imperative for boots-on-the-ground and a political imperative to minimise the same. As colleagues have noted, some advisers probably need to accompany the troops they’re mentoring to help them fight effectively. Such advisers could also reduce the likelihood that Shia militias operating alongside troops we’re mentoring will indulge in bloodletting of their own. And they just might give those under ISIL’s rule some confidence they could safely ‘turn on their ferocious allies’ in another ‘awakening’. Additionally, an inclusive Iraqi government is vital to long-term success; our on-the-ground support encourages Baghdad to respond to that concern (PM al-Abadi’s cabinet remains heavily Shia-dominated),

Furthermore, the mission’s already bigger than politicians acknowledge, as the 1,600 American troops committed so far don’t include the contractors and government civilians supporting the mission (during Afghanistan’s 2013 fighting season there were 1.6 contractors for every soldier). The US Defense Department put out a notice in August to gauge interest in ‘security assistance mentors for Iraq’, some of whom will, no doubt, be Aussies.

But the recent change in public sentiment from opposition to support for military action—driven by disgust and fury at the beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid-worker—may erode quickly. Forty-nine per cent of Americans now think it was a mistake sending forces to Afghanistan, despite the searing impact of 9/11. Public appetite for another ‘long war’ is unlikely to match the patience of an ideological ‘death-cult’ in Iraq, or the desperation of those caught up in life-or-death struggles in the ‘baddies-vs-baddies’ cauldron of Syria. Public support could be tested once body bags start coming home and pictures of innocent casualties emerge, given the legacy of doubts about our previous role in Iraq and patchy results of protracted operations in Afghanistan. The government’s doing much to dash expectations that this will be a quick, clean, or straight-forward mission—but it should do even more.

While particular caution is required in foreign policy ventures far from home, and it’s unlikely ISIL can be defeated through military means alone, Australia’s right to join the coalition. Airstrikes and advisers are insufficient, but necessary.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Brieana Marticorena is a visiting fellow at ASPI. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Bart.

A world of Scotlands

The Not So Distant Past 1Regardless of how the Scottish referendum on independence turns out, it’s worth putting the event into context by recalling some basic facts concerning the rate of state proliferation. That’s not a topic that gets a lot of attention in news media. But how many countries do you think there are in the world today? Actually, the answer depends on how you define ‘countries’, but ‘about 195’ wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Given there were 68 in 1945, the number of countries in the international community has—roughly—trebled over the past seventy years. In short, state proliferation has been a powerful force, even during those Cold War years that we like to think of now as a veritable model of strategic stasis.

Moreover, there’s no reason to think the number of countries in the world has peaked. In his work on geopolitics, Saul Cohen, for example, argues that ‘the creation of up to fifty additional quasi- or fully independent states over the coming decades will change the territorial outlines and functions of many major and regional powers’. Indeed, political disaggregation will likely continue despite—indeed, partly because of?—the centripetal forces of globalisation, as testament to the strength of what we might call ‘identity politics’. Read more

These days, there’s a popular myth that state boundaries tend to be fixed and inviolable—witness the recent outcry over the de-facto annexation of Crimea by Russia. In reality, though, state boundaries are not nearly as fixed as many might imagine. Take a look at this brief three-minute video of how borders have changed in Europe over the last thousand years. It requires no great act of imagination to believe that an independent Scotland might arise—nor that it might, at some point in the future, be reabsorbed into the United Kingdom. Over long time frames, change seems normal.

The map’s not good at depicting the global growth in the number of states over the last seventy years—not least because decolonisation was a strong driver of state proliferation and most of that happened away from European shores. Nor is the map a good indicator of strategic angst. Seen at a distance—on a computer screen or from the other side of the world—state proliferation is an interesting phenomenon to watch. Seen close up, it’s highly unsettling and strategically unnerving. Consider the attempts by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army to force Bougainville’s secession from Papua New Guinea. Or remember when East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia and the effects that had on the Indonesia-Australia relationship? Similar effects, perhaps more severe, would attend any move towards independence by West Papua.

And so far we’re only talking about relatively small cases of state proliferation. While some might think the prospect a Black Swan event, a broader break-up of the Indonesian archipelago, for example, would have major geopolitical consequences—indeed, it would fundamentally reshape Australia’s strategic environment.

Whether Scotland votes for independence or not, the big message is that state proliferation remains an important driver in international politics, and our own region is not immune to it.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Bradley Wells.

Australia and UN peacekeeping: comfortable complacency?

Australian Defence Force members receive a brief prior to flying on mission into South Sudan.Last weekend, Australia commemorated 67 years since it deployed its first peacekeepers under UN auspices to the Dutch East Indies. Since then, over 30,000 Australian military and police personnel have participated in UN peace operations. It’s a history Australians can be proud of. But there’s a risk we’re becoming complacent about peacekeeping.

Our commitment of personnel and capabilities to UN peacekeeping has declined over the last decade. At present, there are approximately 44 Australian military and police personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, the Middle East and South Sudan. We’re considered a small contributor for a country of our size and global reach, ranked 83rd out of a total of 123 countries contributing approximately 100,000 military and police personnel. Read more

At the same time, the operating environment and nature of UN peacekeeping operations has undergone rapid changes. The August edition of Australian Army News described ADF participation in UN peacekeeping as ‘minor operations’. ADF deployments to UN missions may be small in number, but referring to them as ‘minor’ does not assist in debunking misconceptions that peacekeeping is merely a holiday from more intensive war-like operations.

Some of the traditional ‘observe, monitor and report’ peacekeeping missions established before the end of the Cold War may have been less demanding. But few of those missions exist anymore. Even those that do—such as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights—are facing unconventional threat environments.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that ‘UN peacekeeping operations are increasingly operating in more complex environments that feature asymmetric and unconventional threats’. The last month tells a compelling story. UN peacekeepers have been detained by rebel groups, killed and injured by improvised explosive devices, and lost their lives as a consequence of a UN helicopter purportedly being shot down.

Peacekeeping missions are now being deployed into environments with raging inter-communal violence, no clear political processes, lack of governance and limited state infrastructure. In some contexts—as we’ve witnessed across the Sahel and Somalia—those environments provide the conditions for terrorist organisations and militants to flourish if there’s no response.

Complex mandates and operating environments mean modern-day UN peacekeeping missions often resemble operations in Afghanistan, only without NATO’s military capabilities. Most major troop and police contributors to UN peacekeeping missions come from South Asia and Africa. While they have institutional experience as peacekeepers, they aren’t deploying with the high-end capabilities and enablers that missions would benefit from.

The UN’s head of peacekeeping, former French diplomat Hervé Ladsous, stated in June that peacekeeping cannot reach its ‘full potential if those with the most significant capabilities choose not to participate’. Some European contributors have started to re-engage in significant numbers. In the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Dutch have committed Apache and Chinook helicopters, along with over 450 military personnel.

With the drawdown in Afghanistan underway, UN officials may have assumed that countries with more substantive capabilities, like Australia, would seek to re-invest in peacekeeping. Australia’s provision of one C-17A Globemaster and one C-130J Hercules to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in December 2013 enabled the UN to move urgently-needed supplies into the mission. It was a high-value, low-cost investment that aided thousands of civilians on the ground and provided the RAAF with UN operational experience. But the government hasn’t provided any further strategic airlift since.

As the operational environment of UN peacekeeping missions becomes more complex, there’s a risk that limited engagement will slowly erode Australia’s understanding of those environments. Even though our term on the UN Security Council has improved understanding across government about UN peacekeeping, it’s no replacement for experience garnered on the ground.

Furthermore, there’s a risk that Australia’s diminishing experience serving in UN peacekeeping operations may result in lost opportunities for defence and policing engagement in our immediate region. Peacekeeping is becoming a respectable source of operational experience for our neighbours. Peacekeeping training provides a means to engage countries with which we may want to broaden our cooperation, including India, China, Japan, Indonesia and Fiji. But in order to do so, we will need to maintain our credibility as a UN peacekeeping contributor. Deployments of personnel and equipment to UN operations are not the only way of doing that, but they’ll continue be the most highly regarded.

With attention now focused on Australia’s military contribution to combat ISIL in Iraq, future engagement in UN peacekeeping is unlikely to be a priority consideration. But given that our history of UN peacekeeping engagement has demonstrated that it supports our national interests, as well as those of the international rules based system, we should be giving it more thought.

Lisa Sharland is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Cyber wrap

John Key at the ICSU General Assembly opening ceremonyThis week news broke that New Zealand has become the latest five-eyes country to be involved in submarine cable tapping. The communications cables that lie on the sea floor, carrying global internet and phone traffic, have proven to be attractive targets to signals intelligence organisations. Edward Snowden has claimed in a recent blog post that NZ’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was involved in tapping the Southern Cross cable network, one of the largest cables connecting Australia to the United States via New Zealand, in 2012 and 2013. He also links New Zealand to the mass surveillance tool X-KEYSCORE, created by the NSA.

Prime Minister John Key has denied that GCSB conducts mass surveillance of its own citizens and has refused to comment on the X-KEYSCORE program, stating ‘we don’t discuss the specific programmes the GCSB may, or may not use’.

The other big story this week is Gmail’s supposed ‘hack’ of ‘millions of passwords’. A file containing 4.93 million account logins was published on a Russian Bitcoin board early last week, but the source and validity of the data has been called into question. The Department of Communications Stay Smart Online notification service reports that the data ‘is believed to be made up of old information captured from a number of other sources rather than a breach of Google services’. But if you’ve reused your Gmail password online in other locations, they also suggest changing it as a precaution. For those interested, you can subscribe to the excellent Stay Smart Online Service that outlines the latest online threats and vulnerabilities here. Read more

Turning now to Northeast Asia, the North Korean government is upset with foreign diplomatic missions in Pyongyang that establish and maintain satellite internet connections and Wi-Fi networks in their posts. The State Radio Regulatory Department sent a polite ‘cease and desist’ letter to diplomatic posts and International Organisations within the country urging them to gain a ‘licence’ if they wish to use a ‘regional wireless network’ in future. The letter justifies the request by stating that ‘the signals of regional wireless network [sic], installed and being used without licence, produce some effect upon our surroundings’.

Whilst that ‘effect’ is left deliberately ambiguous, the overall crackdown is most probably linked to a report published by The Diplomat in August. The article claimed real estate prices in diplomatic areas had risen due to local North Koreans moving closer to, and taking advantage of, internet access provided by wifi networks left unsecured by foreign missions.

Moving south of the border, the South Korean government has lined up a promising dialogue with China and Japan. Set to occur at the level of Deputy Foreign Minister, the meeting seeks to lay the foundations for a fully-fledged trilateral discussion, the last of which was held over two years ago. On the table is a new cyber security cooperation project, which, if successful, would see the issue discussed at ministerial level between the three countries for the first time.

Another surprising but encouraging collaboration occurred this week between two of the world’s three largest anti-virus companies. McAfee and Symantec have agreed to join the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), an industry grouping whose goal is to share malicious threat data across member companies. CSO reports that the CTA aims to share ‘malware signatures as well as mobile campaigns, botnet command and control channels, and patterns that indicate Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)’.

The biggest take-away from the partnership is the agreement to share information on major attacks including targeted campaigns. This type of collaboration allows information and resources to be pooled, and a bigger more holistic picture of online adversaries to be constructed.

Jessica Woodall is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user International Council for Science.

ISIS: the challenge and the opportunity

War in the Middle EastAfter President Obama’s announcement of his long-awaited strategy to defeat ISIS, there’s been considerable discussion as to how the world might respond to the strategy and the likelihood of its success. There’s also a growing and necessary discussion of what Australia’s role should be.

The rise of ISIS—and the somewhat patchy response by the West—has been both interesting and disturbing to watch. The common view is that it’s a regional problem with global implications and that states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey should be more forthright in their response.

My concern is that far too many commentators are focused on the impending ‘fight’, and the means to execute it, to the exclusion of all else. There’s little said about the broader regional landscape after the fight. My fear is that the conventional wisdom again sees the answer solely in US leadership of a coalition of supporting nations with highly-mixed capabilities—some offering nothing but rhetoric, others a limited range of combat capabilities surrounded by so many caveats on their use as to add little value. Read more

The Arab League has joined the chorus for a collective response but its ability to bring together one of its own is questionable.

Disturbingly, the key lesson of two Iraq Wars and Afghanistan seems already to have been forgotten—success turns on winning the peace. A strategy to build the social infrastructure and governance necessary for nations to grow and thrive economically after the fighting ceases needs to be part of the plan from day one of combat, not something appended late in the campaign.

The current focus on disrupting, degrading and containing ISIS is too narrowly cast. While limited operational objectives are important to guard against ‘mission creep’, the broader regional context must also be part of the collective thinking as the strategy to counter ISIS is developed.

In a recent WSJ piece on the rise of ISIS, Gerald F. Seib and Bill Spindle focus some light on the potential silver lining to what is a dark cloud of substantial proportions. For the first time in modern history we may just have an event, which enables the Middle East’s deep-seated resentment, mistrust and self-interest to be put aside. Will it be easy? No. Should the broader opportunity be missed? Absolutely not. The question is how to seize the moment.

The UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week to be conducted in New York later this month offers a unique opportunity to leverage the universal dislike of ISIS to achieve a response which just may have the capacity to start a process to breakdown generations of self-interest among regional players.

ISIS is no longer a pure Sunni–Shia issue—it’s a pan-Middle Eastern issue that demands a pan-regional response. There’s no doubt ISIS needs to be defeated on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq—but that’ll be a short-lived victory if the regional issues that fuel and sustain ISIS aren’t dealt with.

The building of a military coalition to bring to the fight can’t be the limit of our collective diplomatic thinking and efforts. The solution will not be found solely in US leadership; simply because the US role can be so easily manipulated by the astute social media players we currently see in ISIS to create the perception of another bullying and haranguing Western coalition.

A coalition of regional influence also needs parallel and urgent attention. In that regard support, direct or otherwise, to the military coalition may not be the only definition of commitment to the defeat of ISIS. We should be wary of condemning countries too quickly. The identification and development of shared interest among the countries of the Middle East will be the key. While on the surface the complexity seems insurmountable there seem now sufficient grounds to at least start a dialogue.

In the short term, the US may have to temper its concerns about Iran in order to encourage Tehran to exercise greater and more responsible regional influence. Equally, the Assad regime may need to be tolerated in the mid-term to open a door to negotiations that might bring the region a step closer to ending the Syrian conflict.

Does Australia have a role? While the government may commit forces in support of the US-led coalition it may also have a quieter and more significant role behind the scenes. While it’s easy to dismiss such a role as strategic overreach, the reality is potentially quite different. The influence that Australia has developed as a member of the Security Council and its reputation as a credible middle power in Asia and the Middle East offers the government the opportunity to use the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week to, at least, encourage a pan-Middle Eastern dialogue.

That will not be a quick nor easy road to travel; many have tried and failed. The difference now is a common foe that threatens the interests of many. Australia is a respected player not just militarily but commercially in the Middle East. Additionally, while we’re a close US ally we don’t threaten the key interests of the countries involved. The quiet leveraging of that influence may offer a significant return.

It’s time to look at the macro picture in the Middle East rather than the micro—notwithstanding the latter’s great urgency and import.

Michael Clifford is a Senior Fellow at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Coles.

Ukraine: a retrospective

Traditional Ukrainian dancers perform a traditional dance for the participants of Rapid Trident 2014 during the exercises opening ceremony here Sept. 15. Rapid Trident is an annual U.S. Army Europe conducted, Ukrainian led multinational exercise designed to enhance interoperability with allied and partner nations while promoting regional stability and security. The ceasefire struck two weeks ago between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be holding. Might a crisis that has cost 3,000 lives and created up to 250,000 refugees have been avoided?

The terms, which seem designed permanently to preclude Ukraine’s entry into the EU and NATO, could be seen as vindicating the realists’ argument that the eastward expansion of Western institutions in Europe lay at the root of the conflict all along. George Kennan’s warnings are well known and Henry Kissinger made his own, with remarkable foresight, during the Kosovo war of 1999.

The same year, journalist Anatol Lieven (now Professor of War Studies at King’s College London) published Ukraine and Russia: A fraternal rivalry, fruit of two years’ interviews with ordinary Ukrainians. It’s a portrait of complex, diverse loyalties—to a distinct Ukrainian nationality defined by language, to a Ukrainian land defined by allegiance to the soil, to a vanished Soviet identity defined by economic function—resulting from centuries of daily mingling and widespread intermarriage. Read more

Lieven warned that the only way to avoid dividing thousands of mixed communities and families—not least in the Donbass with its Soviet nostalgia and fear of ‘Ukrainianisation’—was for the West to abandon projects to draw Ukraine into NATO or build it up ‘as a form of buffer state against Russia and encouraged by all means to distance itself from Russia economically, politically and culturally.’ Russia would see that as a threat.

Focused in the delicate political and human geography of Crimea, Ukraine, he predicted, ‘could one day prove to be the stone that upsets the entire Eurasian applecart, and regional peace, economic development and democracy in both Russia and Ukraine will all go tumbling to the ground.’

Realists complain that the post-Cold War liberal assumption that geopolitics was dead led countries—wrongly—not to factor war into their foreign policy calculations. Yet if the 2008 banking crisis checked neo-liberal faith in the undiluted harmony of global economic interests, is it conceivable that the 2014 Ukraine crisis might give liberal internationalists pause too?

In his 1954 classic, Man, The State and War, Kenneth Waltz, describing the great liberal-utilitarian project of the nineteenth-century, observed that: ‘The effort was to proscribe state action in order to let the harmony of interests prevail.’ But, he asked: ‘If, in the absence of government intervention, some units come to dwarf others, will not fair, or economic, competition, be replaced by unfair, or power, competition?’

His conclusion was that an absolute harmony of interests was a utopia—one that the colossal costs of the 2008 crisis of under-regulated, globalized finance and banks too-big-to-fail would bear out. Waltz also observed that essentially the same faith sustained the early twentieth-century project of ‘collective security’, of rendering power politics and the threat of war obsolete in international relations:

‘War in international relations is the analogue of the state in domestic politics.…Liberals accept the necessity of the state, and then circumscribe it. They accept the role of war, and then minimize it—and on the basis of a similar analysis.’

He wasn’t the first to make that observation. Writing in hindsight on the Second World War, E. H. Carr wrote: ‘Nearly all popular theories of international politics between the two world wars were reflexions, seen in an American mirror, of nineteenth-century liberal thought.’ ‘Rationalism’, he concluded, ‘can create a utopia, but cannot make it real.’

The connection between globalisation and a liberal world order blind to geopolitics is an intimate one: it’s frequently asserted that increasingly economically interdependent states will be less willing to risk the costs of war and less able to wage it.

Last week on the ABC’s Four Corners, General Dick Berlijn, formerly the Netherlands defence chief, typically concluded that the Kremlin wanted to ‘re-establish an influence sphere towards the boundaries of the former Soviet Union’. The West, he said, should send ‘very clear messages that this is something of the past.’ ‘The world no longer functions like that’, he said, ‘We are open economies. We are dependent on each other. If we treat each other correctly we’ll prosper’. Moscow, in other words, hasn’t got the twenty-first century globalisation memo.

To realists, however, the 2014 Ukraine crisis will only confirm Waltz’s intuition that assuming a harmony of interests among states is utopian in inspiration and dystopian in effect: acting as if war’s impossible encourages countries to take risks they otherwise mightn’t. That isn’t to say that a mutually beneficial alignment of interests, in international trade as in inter-state relations, isn’t often to be found. But how far do we want to bet regional or global security on that alignment?

Not all will agree to link neo-liberal idealisation of the market with the liberal internationalist idyll of universal peace. But future historians may look back on the events of 2014 as a salutary check on some of Western liberalism’s founding assumptions. In the long run, that mightn’t be a bad thing. ‘Liberalism’, as Waltz observed, ‘which is pre-eminently a philosophy of tolerance, of humility, and of doubt, develops a hubris of its own’.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs commentator based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Image courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Army Europe Images.

Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean: round two

Frigate HMS Kent is pictured during counter piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.Last week ASPI, the Indian Council of World Affairs, and Indonesian participants, met in Canberra at the Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean (TDIO) to build upon the work initiated at the first round held in New Delhi last year. The TDIO came hard on the heels of the Indian Ocean Dialogue, held in Kochi, and organised by the Observer Research Foundation and India’s Ministry of External Affairs. It considered maritime security policy issues in the Indian Ocean.

Australia puts a high priority on strengthening bilateral relations with Indonesia and India, as reflected in recent prime ministerial and ministerial visits. What the TDIO countries found last week was that there’s also lots of opportunities to enhance trilateral cooperation, in the broader context of developments in the Indian Ocean region.

In a way that’s hardly surprising: TDIO countries have common interests in the eastern Indian Ocean that provide a potential building block for addressing concerns of the wider Indian Ocean region, without the diversions of the strategic troubles of East Asia and the northwest Indian Ocean. Read more

TDIO countries are powerful democracies, heavily dependent on shipping and the security of sea lines of communication, with extensive EEZs in the eastern Indian Ocean. We’ve each got a vested interest in the management of the wider Indian Ocean. (A pillar of Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo’s campaign was an emphasis on strengthening the country’s identity as a ‘maritime nation’ and becoming what he called a ‘global maritime nexus’.)

The TDIO exchanged views on strategic stability in the Indian Ocean, shipping safety and security, disaster risk management and humanitarian assistance, maritime confidence-building measures, search and rescue, marine scientific research and fisheries management.

Our discussions underlined the importance of the Indian Ocean Rim Association as the premier institution in the Indian Ocean region. India was the immediate past chair of IORA, Australia’s now the chair and Indonesia will take over in 2015.

The TDIO countries considered there to be value in further work around developing a ‘best practice’ approach to providing security in ports and anchorages against the threats of armed robbery and petty theft. Participants saw utility in crafting guidelines for maintenance of armed security guards on board merchant vessels and investing more effort in the security of offshore infrastructure (major safety incidents or attacks on the security of offshore facilities would have significant security, economic and environmental implications).

There was scope to strengthen arrangements for port state control for safer shipping, and developing capacity, both at the national and regional levels, for disaster risk management. (Marine natural hazards, in particular, are a major threat in the Indian Ocean region.)

There was potential to initiate a dialogue among the national disaster agencies of TDIO countries, as well as the development of cooperative protocols for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). MDA provides an effective understanding of any activity associated with the maritime environment that could impact on security, safety, the economy or environment. There are also opportunities for cooperative defence research projects of interest to TDIO countries, perhaps related to MDA and information-sharing.

Search and rescue (SAR) can be particularly demanding when the search area is mid-ocean and search vehicles must transit a long distance from base to the search area. Australia has accepted responsibility for a large SAR region in the Indian Ocean. Indonesia’s SAR region extends out from the Indonesian archipelago, and India’s covers an area in the Bay of Bengal.

In the light of the lessons of MH370, there’s an urgent need for regular SAR exercises in the Indian Ocean region, especially among TDIO countries. There’s a need for IORA to press forward with the early conclusion of a MoU on search and rescue. There are possible synergies between IORA and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium around maritime confidence-building measures.

The TDIO highlighted the importance of marine research, especially through the Indian Ocean Expedition 50th Anniversary Initiative. Between 2015 and 2020, the IIOE-2 will undertake an integrated marine scientific (with coupled climate science) program in the Indian Ocean, which will lead to an improved understanding of current systems and linkages between the ocean and weather. There are prospects for developing cooperative marine research initiatives among TDIO countries.

The TDIO canvassed the need to establish a fisheries-management regime for the Indian Ocean: current regional fishing bodies are fairly weak in the region, with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing widespread.

It’s clear from last week’s TDIO that there’s plenty of scope for cooperation in the Indian Ocean. That applies especially in the eastern Indian Ocean, under the leadership of the TDIO countries.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI and co-chaired last week’s TDIO. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.

Australia’s nuclear safeguards agreement with India

The Prime Minister of Australia Mr Tony Abbott paid a State Visit to India from 4-5 September, 2014A fortnight ago, Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with India, allowing Australia for the first time to export uranium to India for civil nuclear purposes. The agreement is touted as a win for Australia’s small uranium sector and a needed step towards improving Australia–India relations. India’s refusal to sign the NPT constrained relations for decades. It’s widely understood that the uranium deal is more directly related to diplomacy than boosting Australia’s mining sector, so what’s next now that the safeguards agreement has been signed?

The uranium deal is first and foremost a diplomatic gesture meant to jumpstart Australia’s broader engagement with India. Both countries share an interest in Indian Ocean maritime security and bilateral military relations can be built around that common interest. We should expect to see strengthened dialogue between India and Australia on security issues. And we can expect that more joint military exercises and military-to-military exchanges will also be announced. A bilateral naval exercise is already scheduled for 2015. Read more

There’s also potential for increased economic engagement between Australia and India. Trade Minister Andrew Robb plans to lead a business delegation of 300 to India early next year. Australia recognises a need to diversify its trade partners, and bilateral trade with India trails far behind that with other major Asian partners. India could become a large-scale market for Australian goods and services. And its surging need for energy security coupled with Australia’s competitive advantage in energy-supply potentially makes for a strong partnership. In the short term, we can expect coal to continue to be a significant export and later LNG will emerge to fuel India’s economy.

Although this agreement will spark some optimism in the struggling uranium business, it won’t make anyone rich anytime soon. Uranium prices are extremely weak due to decreased global demand in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and there’s a global excess of supply. Although Australia’s known resources are the world’s largest, uranium’s only a small part of Australia’s massive mining sector.

Moreover, it’ll take some time before uranium shipments to India begin. Australian mining company Toro Energy said shipments could start within five years. Things will likely change for Australia’s uranium sector as India and China deliver on their prospective nuclear power projects.

There’s been some concern that the uranium will be used not just for civil purposes. That’s a point of controversy given concerns about India’s nuclear arsenal. However, this June India signed the additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) placing its ten reactors under the agency’s safeguards. That agreement also allows inspectors into the country and requires India to report to the IAEA all uranium within its control that is redirected for export to a third-party country. Australia also has its own watchdog, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO). To ensure Australian uranium isn’t used for military purposes, ASNO accounts for it as it moves through the fuel cycle. India will be obliged to report to ASNO on the uses of uranium purchased from Australia.

While Australia can’t be completely certain uranium will never be diverted for military use, India knows there would be serious diplomatic consequences if it was discovered that such diversion had occurred.

The nuclear safeguards agreement is a diplomatic tool meant to build trust with India and move bilateral ties forward. As an economic tool, it’s a forward-looking measure to supplement India’s energy needs with Australian resources.

Kyle Springer is the program associate at the new Perth USAsia Centre at The University of Western Australia. He can be followed on twitter @kvspringer. Image courtesy of Flickr user Narendra Modi.