ASPI suggests

Henry Kissinger‘The warrior ethos is at risk!’ Headlining today’s round-up is a speech by the US Army’s Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster at a Veterans Day ceremony. Specifically, it’s worth reading the second half, which discusses the importance of the warrior ethos while ‘remaining connected to those in whose name we fight’.

Need the facts and figures behind the Asia Pacific’s most pressing maritime security issues? Check out the 18 maps assembled by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (an initiative conceived and designed by CSIS) that show major trade routes and straits, South China Sea LNG flows, the location of oil and gas reserves, membership of security forums and EEZs. The maps are accompanied by analysis and a searchable timeline spanning 175 years of Asia Pacific maritime affairs.

Also on regional order, Farish Ahmad-Noor has a new RSIS Commentary on how China sees itself and its role in Asia. Looking at Xi Jinping’s speeches, Ahmad-Noor’s piece is a useful insight into what the Communist Party of China thinks about Asia (spoiler alert: better without the West).

Meanwhile, Paul Dibb and John Lee have a new Security Challenges article (PDF) on why China will not be the dominant power in Asia.

Turning now to Japan, CSIS has a quick primer on Shinzo Abe’s decisions to postpone a tax hike and hold a snap election in December this year, with analysis on the implications for Abenomics and relations with the US. Meanwhile, the Stimson Center’s Yuki Tatsumi asks, can Japan’s National Security Strategy outlive Abe?

Obama has a lot to learn from Kissinger’s book on foreign policy, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter. In an interesting but longer read, Slaughter identifies elements in Henry Kissinger’s conceptualisation of international order, including his interpretation of American exceptionalism and position on military intervention, that are instructive to the current administration.

Looking further beyond the Asia Pacific, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick offers four ways the African Union can stand on its own to better deliver peace and security. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting interview with Northwestern University’s Richard Joseph on why defeating Boko Haram is a global imperative.

In this week’s science and technology pick, DARPA is looking at synthetic biology in the fight against Ebola. As the name suggests, synthetic biology involves redesigning living organisms to carry out specific functions by creating new DNA (which kind of makes me think of this).

On capability, the Russian army will introduce a new family of armoured combat vehicles next year. Over at The National Interest, Dave Majumdar looks at the implications of the replacement vehicles, including the potential for Russia to operate them in the Arctic Circle.

Last but not least, there has been (more) debate overseas about women in combat. In Britain, a former Army officer has said women lack a ‘killer instinct’ (a position the two Strategist female editors would happily challenge). While in the States, War On the Rocks has published Anna Simons’, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, post against moves to place women in combat units, drawing a pointed critique from blogger Gary Owen.


Listen to this CSIS Smart Women Smart Power podcast on the re-election of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff for the analysis on the country’s economic prospects but also for the impact Rousseff’s background as a Marxist guerrilla fighter has had on her political style.


Canberra: It’s back! Kokoda Next is on again next Friday 28 November, featuring seven future strategic leaders on national security. The event is at the Palace Electric Cinema, New Acton from 4.30pm. Tickets available here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user david son.

Australia and great power cyber strategy after APEC

US President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi JinpingLast week’s APEC forum was a game played with a smile. To recall advice Churchill gave to his officers, ‘if you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way until you can.’ So, despite lingering mistrust—and expectations of a ‘shirtfront’—world leaders smiled together.

One of the big omissions at APEC was progress on US–China cyber relations. That came as a surprise, as both US national security advisor Susan Rice and deputy Ben Rhodes had signalled prior to the Obama-Xi meeting that cybersecurity would be a major talking point. Any meaningful discussion was largely overshadowed by the climate change agreement (positive as it was). The most Obama stressed about cybersecurity was the ‘importance of protecting intellectual property as well as trade secrets, especially against cyber-threats.’ There may have been a breakthrough in their half-day discussion, but it’s unlikely.

Also explaining the lack of progress is that, in the weeks leading up to the meeting, the US began to pressure China on its cyberespionage activity, causing China to back away from the table. The FBI released a private warning to the tech industry about a group of Chinese government hackers running a campaign to steal data. That coincided with the release of a report by cybersecurity researchers, who allege that a state-led group, dubbed ‘Axiom’, is operating in areas of ‘strategic economic interest’. Furthermore, the US Postal Service and the federal weather service—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—both confirmed that Chinese hackers had breached their networks.

A set routine is developing in US-China cyber relations. Security companies and federal agencies build pressure by calling out cyber attacks, before leaders and top officials attempt to persuade China that the cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets will have to slow, if not cease. The US hopes that it can influence China’s behaviour by building up sufficient evidence and pressure. Then, complemented by high-level talks, both sides can begin to establish norms of state behaviour in cyberspace. The most important norm would seem to be limiting intelligence activity that has a commercial, as opposed to a political, interest.

China has mirrored this strategy. Top cyber policy regulator Lu Wei, minister for the Cyberspace Administration of China (formerly the State Internet Information Office), has recently called out US cyber attacks while simultaneously claiming that dialogue is ‘unhindered’. China’s motive is likely twofold: to undercut an international ‘cyber threat’ narrative against it; and reorient its strategic competitor, the US, as the main protagonist in post-Snowden cyberspace.

In some private conversations here in Beijing, the belief is that the US should first take measures to limit its cyberespionage activity. There’s also a conviction that the US is engaged in the theft of trade secrets, and that allegations against China are part of a broader attempt to constrain China’s economic development. But the reality of the issue is that China has likely calculated that the benefits of continued theft of commercial secrets make the costs of doing so worthwhile.

It’s a witch’s brew. Each side believes that the critical first move needs to be made by the other, and pressure from the US and denial by China is allowing distrust to fester. Although there’s potential for working-level arrangements, such as between the Department of Homeland Security and the Ministry of Public Security, more high-level discussion is needed.

There’s no easy way to reconcile differences between the US and China. And defining rules of the road seems a long way off, particularly as competition increases in broader debates about the future of the internet. Over the last few days, China has hosted the World Internet Conference. Early commentary asked whether the meet could compete with the established ‘London process’ that began in 2011—and is scheduled to be hosted in The Hague next year.

Australia’s interests are probably best served by staying away from moralising. (Chinese all too often remind me of Julie Bishop’s comments on the ADIZ.) But with a freshly-inked free trade agreement and an elevated ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ with China, and an expectation from the US that allies do more for security in the Asia-Pacific, it’s both appropriate and timely to develop a more meaningful cybersecurity dialogue between Australia and China.

As was the case in the Howard era, there’s a need to emphasise the importance of economic relations as a context for discussions about sensitive security issues. As trade and investment partners, there’s an expectation that a better understanding on cybersecurity will underwrite and support that relationship. Abbott told Xi in the House of Representatives that ‘we trade with people when we need them; we invest with people when we trust them.’ A substantive cybersecurity dialogue to build trust with China would seem to be a rising priority on Canberra’s agenda—a point I argue in this recent Special Report.

Simon Hansen is a research intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. He is currently a visiting scholar at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing. Image courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Embassy The Hague

Indonesia: Widodo government heralds more muscular strategic posture

Utilitiesman 3rd Class Orestes Chavez and an Indonesian Marine take a break from placing tile in an Indonesian elementary school to arm wrestle.

Prior to President Joko Widodo’s inauguration, one of his principal advisers lamented Indonesia’s weak state mentality. In a critique of Indonesia’s defence posture, which he characterised as ‘too passive’, he quipped to seminar participants that Indonesia’s South-China-Sea-located ‘Natuna [Islands] would be snatched and Indonesia forced to snatch them back again!’

Not so, if the more robust defence of Indonesia’s airspace is anything to go by. In the last few weeks, the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) has scrambled its Russian-made Sukhoi fighters on three separate occasions to intercept civil aircraft traversing Indonesia’s airspace without necessary flight clearances.

Although Indonesia has scrambled its fighters previously in response to perceived incursions, three incidents in as many weeks is unprecedented. The incidents have undoubtedly provided the Sukhoi pilots from Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin Air Base with some useful combat training experience, but they also indicate a more muscular strategic posture by the Widodo government.

Indonesia’s military brass, it seems, is getting more serious about defending the country’s territorial integrity. The nation’s diplomats, meanwhile, are pursuing a foreign policy predicated on a more hard-nosed calculus of national interests.

Widodo’s global maritime axis doctrine (poros maritim dunia), the centrepiece of his foreign policy platform, can best be understood as the geopolitical component of a broader maritime development agenda. Its defence aspects include (PDF) a boost to Indonesia’s naval capabilities, enhanced Indian Ocean defence diplomacy, and a strong emphasis on the protection of Indonesia’s maritime sovereignty and the security and welfare of its outer islands.

Widodo’s projected increase in Indonesia’s defence spending from 0.8 to 1.5%of GDP within five years is to be concentrated on building naval capabilities. It remains highly contingent upon global economic growth rates and the success of further macroeconomic reform within Indonesia. But if achieved, it would see a doubling in Indonesia’s defence spending from around $7.83 billion (IDR 83 trillion) to $15 billion.

There is, of course, considerable policy continuity with the previous government. The Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) administration oversaw both a relatively rapid increase in defence expenditure and the procurement and/or indigenous production of more modern military air and naval platforms. Those include new Changbogo-class diesel electric submarines; Sigma corvettes; KCR-60/KCR-40 missile attack craft; stealth trimaran patrol craft and AS565 Panther helicopters with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities.

However, Widodo has given prioritisation of the seas greater institutional substance. This is evident in his appointment of former chief of naval staff Admiral (retd) Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno as the powerful Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs and in his decision to establish a new Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs led by distinguished scientist and marine resources expert, Indroyono Soesilo.

Whilst the Indonesian Armed Forces has indicated a greater willingness to respond to territorial incursions with displays of hard power, diplomats are recalibrating foreign policy settings to reflect redefined national interests. Such interests are predicated upon a maritime-led model of economic growth and the robust defence of both the country’s political and territorial sovereignty.

Under the new government, SBY’s ‘one thousand friends, zero enemies’ mantra has been consigned to the historical dustbin by Widodo’s advisers. The country’s diplomatic motto can now more accurately be characterised as ‘pro-people’ and ‘pro-growth’. Implicit in this is a rejection of a previous foreign policy approach perceived as over-conciliatory and lacking in substance.

Indonesia’s new foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, is now ‘expected to put more attention on bilateral relations, which would directly benefit Indonesia rather than multilateral processes’. Coming from influential Widodo adviser, Rizal Sukma, who has previously expounded the need for a ‘post-ASEAN foreign policy’, this is code for a more pragmatic appraisal of ASEAN’s utility to Indonesia’s foreign policy interests.

In short, Indonesia looks set to test ASEAN’s consensus norms, and won’t retreat from offending its neighbours. ‘To uphold our political sovereignty, what we must do is preserve the sovereignty of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. We’ll do this firmly and clearly’, stated new foreign minister Retno Marsudi.

It seems demands that Indonesia discard its weak-state mentality are finally beginning to have real military and diplomatic consequences.

Greta Nabbs-Keller is the director of Dragonminster Consulting, a Brisbane-based company providing Indonesia expertise to government, university and private sector clients. Image courtesy of Flickr user slapheap.

Defending ‘the region’

Risk vs. RewardI write to make a further contribution to the ongoing debate about Australia’s strategic place as a Top 20 power. In Peter’s latest response he implies that regionalists are less ‘grown up’ than globalists. I beg to differ.

Peter talks about defending a broadly-defined set of global interests. But those interests are ill-defined: how broad is broad enough? And, if it’s appropriate, how much should we contribute to the fight in Iraq and Syria in order to win, rather than just to keep the fight going. Contemplating an approach involving piling on with more is frightening, with dark consequences.

Piling on got us nowhere in Vietnam. Piling on in Iraq from 2006 to 2008 provided only a temporary reprieve—once we left, there was little to show for our presence. The jury’s still out on our contributions in Afghanistan but the signs are ominous. Read more

A concern Peter doesn’t address adequately is whether the current plan for Iraq and Syria is even viable or likely to be remotely successful. There are a number of indicators which would suggest it’s not going to end well for the people of Iraq and the neighbourhood (as I’ve argued here and here). There’s no evidence we have a viable end point in sight or even in conception. I’m all for contributing to global coalitions that have clearly defined and achievable objectives and which don’t undermine our position or that of the US in East Asia. But where are the clear and achievable objectives for this one?

Peter verbals me saying the Middle East isn’t a second- or third-order priority. Yet I was merely citing the order of priority from successive Defence White Papers. What’s the point of having tiered DWP priorities if the lowest priority (global issues) is treated the same as the highest (DoA)?

Peter suggests Middle Eastern hot spots can ruin Australia’s day more thoroughly than events closer to home in places like Dili. Really? On what measure? To be sure, returning vigilantes from the Middle East are a problem, but plans are already in place to address those concerns.

Does East Asia matter more to Australia than the Middle East? If so, why? If not, why not? Economically, the Middle East used to matter a lot. Nowadays our economic interests are overwhelmingly linked to East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. The visits of Xi and Modi bear testament to that fact. Having said that, I agree we have a stake in preventing the spread of terrorism and halting the descent into sectarian violence. But are we following a viable path toward that objective? The past decade or so of intervention suggests not.

Peter refers to a G20 benchmark of international contributions to the war in Iraq and Syria. He cites NATO countries, but most are former imperial powers with residual influence in places like Africa. They also have genuine obligations to the security of the periphery of NATO—including the borders of Turkey. That’s a direct and understandable connection. But it’s not ours.

Also if there’s a G20 benchmark then why have other Asian G20 countries been quite circumspect in staying out of the game there? He seems to overlook China, Japan, ROK, Indonesia, India, Brazil, and Mexico. Peter says we don’t have a choice to opt out of the club, but those countries appear to have done so with no untoward effects.

Why not ask our Muslim neighbours why they aren’t buying in more and perhaps what insights they might have to share with us as to why more people are going to the war in Iraq/Syria from Australia than from Indonesia or Malaysia—even though there are many more Muslims in those states? Perhaps it says something about Australia needling the hornet’s nest in the Middle East unnecessarily.

Peter talks about overcoming our geopolitical cringe and accepting that Australia can have real strategic interests beyond its neighbourhood. Of course it can. I recognise Australia has real interests in the Middle East. They’re just lesser ones than with our immediate neighbours and principal trading partners in East Asia and Southeast Asia. As I’ve argued elsewhere, events from Whitlam to Howard and beyond demonstrate Australia has always taken a carefully calibrated approach to contributions far afield. Those imperatives haven’t changed.

Peter paints what I perceive to be a false dichotomy of opting in or out from the world’s biggest security concerns. I’m not for opting out. But we should only opt in where it’s viable, achievable and commensurate with the risks and potential rewards.

Peter closes by saying Australia’s size confers an obligation to make meaningful contributions to the global order. That’s true. But the question is where best to do so and how? In our neighbourhood, no one else can be relied on to pick up the slack. Back in 1999, for instance, Australia had to coax the US to be involved in INTERFET. Similarly in Bougainville and Solomon Islands, Australia, along with New Zealand had to take the lead. Let’s not kid ourselves that by making niche contributions in the Middle East we somehow guarantee reciprocal commitments in our neighbourhood.

John Blaxland is a senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Bradley Huchteman.

Australia, India and maritime security

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Abbott after the Indian leader's address to Parliament.

In a historic address to Parliament in Canberra, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested both countries should collaborate more on maintaining maritime security: ‘We should work together on the seas and collaborate in international forums’. Modi noted that ‘the oceans are our lifelines. But, we worry about its access and security in our part of the world more than ever before’.

He’s spot on: the importance of the Indian Ocean can’t be over-emphasised. Over 55,000 ships transit through the Indian Ocean every year transporting oil, consumer goods and food, reflecting the dependence of nations of the region and beyond on this ocean. So Modi was right to raise the maritime security challenges faced by both countries, particularly the need for protection of sea lines of communication. (These days that includes ensuring global broadband connectivity via the network of undersea cables.) Read more

Both our naval forces are effective, and they aren’t in competition with each other. Common maritime challenges include counter piracy, maritime safety, strengthening port state control, and search and rescue. In his Canberra speech, Modi also singled out the opportunity for both countries to respond to regional disasters: that should include operational aspects between designated coordinating authorities.

India’s already making a solid contribution to maritime security: it’s been convening the biennial Milan exercises in the Bay of Bengal for nearly twenty years, drawing participants from across the Indian Ocean, including Australia. And for the last six years Australia has participated in the meetings of the chiefs of navies from all Indian Ocean littoral countries under the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) that was started by India (we’re currently the chair). IONS has the potential to serve as a broader platform discussing security cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

Increased naval cooperation with India will become more common, with a joint naval exercise next year. The last time the two navies engaged operationally was seven years ago during Exercise Malabar. And there’ll be more maritime exercises under the ‘Framework for security cooperation between Australia and India’ concluded during Modi’s visit.

There’s scope too for joint capacity building in the Indian Ocean’s island states such as Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Seychelles and Australia, for example, recently identified opportunities for bilateral cooperation in ocean resource management. The Indian Ocean Rim Association, which Australia chairs for another year, promotes freedom of the seas and open sealanes. Modi noted in his Australian parliamentary speech the need for both countries to coordinate more closely in IORA.

Australia and India are heavily dependent on the oceans for economic growth. So we’ve both been pushing for developing greater cooperation in IORA on the ‘blue economy’—that is, maritime-related economic activity—as a common source of growth, innovation and job creation. As we shift our gaze westward across the Indian Ocean, there may be scope for the Indian Coast Guard and the new Australian Border Force, that will be established mid next year, to further develop the agenda of Indian Ocean maritime security.

Of course, these improvements in Australia–India relations come at a time when both governments already have crowded agendas. In Australia, the Abbott government has made no secret of its intentions to strengthen the bilateral relationships it enjoys with Washington, Tokyo and Jakarta. But, it would like to do more with India too. India, on the other hand, is looking east and building ties with Japan. And, as outlined above, there’s a shared agenda of work and interests already available. The real test will be whether both Canberra and New Delhi are willing to make it work.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Twitter user @TonyAbbottMHR.

Obama and Xi speeches on G20 sidelines bode well for Australia

President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China greet children during the State Arrival Welcome Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Despite US President Obama drawing attention to Australia’s inaction on climate change, we should be extremely pleased with his speech, as well as that of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Obama’s speech has reinforced the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific at a time when American attention has again been hijacked by the Middle East; Xi’s has elevated the status of the Australia–China relationship at a crucial time for the region.

While a large component of Obama’s speech was a call to action on climate change (perhaps appealing to his young, student audience), a significant portion focused on the US rebalance to Asia. That should be music to Australian ears as well as to other US allies in the region. Obama conceded that events around the world had ‘demanded [US] attention’ including ISIL, Russian aggression in Ukraine and the outbreak of Ebola. However, he reassured allies and partners that those challenges weren’t distracting the US from the Asia Pacific because ‘…in each of these international efforts some of our strongest partners are our allies and friends in the region’. Read more

While Obama may have been reaching a bit here, he grabbed the issue of greater allied support for global US pursuits with two hands: ‘Our rebalance is not only about the United States doing more in Asia, it’s also about the Asia Pacific region doing more with us around the world’. Translation: allies should step up to help in global coalitions so America will have the capacity to stay around for longer in the Asia Pacific.

Obama also had a couple of subtle jabs for China in his speech, saying:

  • ‘An effective security order for Asia must be based—not on spheres of influence, or coercion, or intimidation where big nations bully the small—but on alliances of mutual security, international law and international norms…’
  • ‘…by the end of this decade a majority of [US] Navy and Air Force fleets will be based out of the Pacific because the United States is and will always be a Pacific Power. And keep in mind we do this without any territorial claims…’
  • ‘How well a country does is based on how well they empower their individual citizens…’

Obama was less subtle in saying ‘in this engagement we are also encouraging China to adhere to the same rules as other nations—whether in trade or on the seas’. That frank and forthright approach to China could be more effective than an approach that pulls its punches: being upfront about what America wants from China sends a stronger message and leaves less room for ambiguity.

The important parts of President Xi’s speech for Australian strategic policy were his suggestion that China and Australia become ‘strategic partners, who have shared vision and pursue common goals’ and that we increase our security cooperation in a number of areas.

Xi’s assertion that Australia and China have ‘every reason’ to go beyond a commercial partnership and become strategic partners is perfectly true, but it doesn’t mean we share the same vision of the world. Australia and China’s strategic interests don’t overlap in the key area of maintaining the US-led regional order in the Asia Pacific. In addition, our track record over the last few years has been patchy at best: Australia’s military and diplomatic support for the US rebalance to Asia has been criticised by China and China’s assertive actions in territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas and declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) have been criticised by Australia. Given those factors, it’s hard to see how Xi could reasonably expect a strategic partnership with Australia to be especially close.

However, Xi’s assertion that we should cooperate on ‘disaster relief, counter-terrorism, maritime safety and jointly meet various security challenges’ is positive. By making this statement in Australian Parliament, Xi has shown that China is open to exploring new means of security cooperation with Australia, despite our alliance with the US and ongoing support for the rebalance.

Another important takeaway from Xi’s speech was how much it stressed China’s desire for peace and cooperation. Xi uttered the word ‘peace’ no less than 22 times in his speech and ‘win-win’ also featured prominently. Even for a diplomatic address, Xi seemed generous in his assertions, saying that China ‘will never develop itself at the expense of others’; ‘sincerely hopes to work with other countries in the region to…achieve win-win progress’; and is ready to ‘enhance dialogue and cooperation with relevant countries to jointly maintain freedom of navigation’. Those are all positive signs for the region and us.

All things considered, the implications for Australia from Obama and Xi’s speeches are good: the rebalance has been reinforced and there’s more fruit to bear from the Australia-China relationship. While both Obama and Xi made veiled references to the strategic tensions between their countries, they also showed that they can cooperate on climate change and they both want to work more with Australia. That’s good for us.

Hayley Channer is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of The White House.

Region or world? Australia as a ‘top 20’ player

Prime Minister Tony Abbott meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during G20 summit.

One of the most compelling passages in Thucydides’ detailed narrative of the Peloponnesian War doesn’t involve slaughter or killing. It comes instead when the ambassadors of Athens—the brilliant, cultural, democracy that has always been a paragon of virtue in the ancient world—travel to the little island of Melos, in the southern Aegean. The islanders were trying to do things their own way and had rejected an alliance with Athens.

After some brief verbal to-ing and fro-ing between the representatives, an (unnamed) Athenian cuts to the chase and tells the Melians how things are:

The strong do as they choose, and the weak do as they must.

Read more

The Melians put all sorts of intelligent reasons to the Athenians as to why they should just be left to live in peace. Their arguments (that Melos is neutral, and the use of force would be against Athens’ own long-term interests) are dismissed as irrelevant. It’s one of the clearest articulations of realist political theory, even though it’s 2,500 years old.

Perhaps the envoys were tired. After all, the long conflict between Athens and Sparta had been going on for 15 years by this stage, and perhaps the city-state’s patience had evaporated. For whatever reason, the sensible words cut no ice with the great democracy, and the Athenians decided to teach the Melians a lesson. The siege came to an end when traitors guided the Athenian hoplites into the city. And what did the democrats do once they were inside the walls? Forgive their enemies? Give them a chance to be good and make amends? No. Every man in the city was killed; the women and children were taken as slaves. There was no pity; no mercy. Power was everything.

It still is.

And that’s the thing that confuses me about the current discussion The Strategist has been having about Australia’s membership of the ‘top 20’. Top 20 what, exactly?

Well yes, we do currently possess one of the 20 largest economies in the world. Hooray! But that’s nothing. We’re number six in terms of land area. Shouldn’t that deserve a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? We’re 14th by per capita income (although Qatar and Luxembourg are numbers one and two on that list, so you do sort of wonder, don’t you?). By population though, we’re number 50, and perhaps that’s more relevant?

But the more I search for hard definitions of our importance, the more confused I become. We’re number 35, for example, in terms of foreign exchange reserves, being beaten by Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Indonesia, Iraq, etc, etc.

The problem is, of course, that one can use statistics to make any argument you choose. Because I’m a journalist, I began looking up other important numbers (like, for example, the number of reporters per head of population and the amount of money in their pay packets), but I soon realised that was pointless. Measuring the quality and quantity of articles produced compared to the salary journalists are receiving doesn’t really tell you anything. And it’s the same, I think, with the idea that belonging to some nebulous grouping means we’ve acquired particular responsibilities.

The important thing is to behave as a responsible stakeholder in the international system. For that reason I happen to agree with both Peter Jennings as well as John Blaxland. This isn’t an either/or choice, and shouldn’t be posed as such.

In my opinion, John’s absolutely right—where our region’s concerned, there’s a shocking dearth of understanding. That’s a significant strategic weakness, one day likely to be exploited to our disadvantage. That must be addressed urgently. Forget China; it’s Indonesia, the giant on our doorstep, we need to work with. And now, not later.

And how about the Pacific? That’s an area where we should be making a positive contribution, and yet the tragic reality of this fragile region is that it could, at any moment, spiral out of control. It faces so many threats—environmental, social and economic—and yet we’re doing nothing to assist our neighbours.

But it’s incorrect to posit this choice as some sort of dichotomy. We need to recognise we aren’t getting more powerful. Every year, other nations are catching up. The choice mustn’t be Asia, or the Pacific, or the Middle East—it needs to be all of those, and then some. If it doesn’t seem as if we’ve got enough money, then we need to find some other way of addressing the issue. We need to both engage with our region as well as contribute to the stability of the world.

As the Melians found, opting out isn’t an answer.

Nic Stuart is a columnist with The Canberra Times. Image courtesy of Twitter user @TonyAbbottMHR.

Cyber wrap

PandaPresident Xi Jinping spoke of ‘a bridge of mutual trust’ and ‘a vast ocean of goodwill’ in his address to the Australian Parliament, but on the cyber front, recent headlines have painted China in a much more menacing light. Ahead of last weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane, CrowdStrike uncovered malicious cyber activity targeting Australian media outlets that it has connected to Chinese government-linked hacking groups. Deep Panda and Vixen Panda, as the groups are being called, ‘typically go after very strategic interests for the Chinese government’, with CrowdStrike CEO Dmitri Alperovitch highlighting Vixen Panda as particularly focused on Australia.

Reports from the US are also pointing fingers at China after a spate of attacks on US federal systems. Following targeted attacks on the White House and the United States Postal Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has revealed that four of its websites have been compromised. While the resilient meteorologists are said to have ‘deflected’ the attacks, taken in concert with a breach of the State Department’s unclassified email system, the trend is ringing alarm bells on the Hill. State’s tight-lipped approach is concerning lawmakers, but, as Steve Ward reminds us, the best course of action isn’t always ‘to rush out and inform’. With the cyber blur causing trouble for America’s cyber defenders, many were surprised that cyber didn’t feature more prominently in meetings between President Obama and President Xi. Read more

Of course, in this overhyped environment it’s often worth taking a step back to unpack the underlying complexity of the US–China cyber relationship. That’s precisely James A. Lewis and Simon Hansen’s intent in ICPC’s latest publication. Lewis breaks down the hysteria around Chinese economic cyber warfare, warning to ‘never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by avarice’. And while a new Cold War in cyberspace makes for compelling headlines, oversimplifying and misrepresenting China’s relationship with cyber has ‘serious policy implications’. Our man in Beijing, Simon Hansen, looks to rectify that very issue, deciphering China’s elite discourse and political aspirations concerning cyberpower. For even more on the US–China cyber relationship, check out this great interview with Jim from the Diplomat.

While the US–China cyber relationship is far more complex than may first appear, what’s perfectly clear is the growing need for confidence building in cyberspace. Efforts in the OSCE and in the ASEAN Regional Forum have shown promise, but more comprehensive and inclusive measures are needed. The latest report from the Cyber Statecraft Initiative over at the Atlantic Council and the Swedish National Defense College takes a crack at addressing that need, calling for a multistakeholder approach for stability and security.

One reason a multistakeholder approach to CBMs is needed is that ‘cyberspace is predominantly dominated not by the actions of states but of nonstate actors’. That fact is no more apparent than in the UK, where Scotland Yard is waging ‘war’ on 200 cybercrime gangs in London alone. Like traditional criminal activity, cybercrime’s primary driver is profit. As FBI Supervisory Special Agent Keith Mularski puts it, ‘cyber criminals view themselves as businessmen. They even buy ads on underground forums’. Mularski went on to describe cyberspace as the venue for ‘organized crime for the 21st Century’, drawing comparisons with La Cosa Nostra and Joe Valachi.

Despite the increasing number of threats posed by nefarious cyber actors, Mularski did praise the ‘great strides’ made in information-sharing and law-enforcement cooperation. NIST is looking to further enhance that space, having released SP 800-150, its latest DRAFT Guide to Cyber Threat Information Sharing. The document falls under NIST’s Federal Information Security Management Act responsibilities and comments on the draft are welcome until November 28.

Klée Aiken is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Eben Regls.

The Russians are coming. Not.

A Russian sailor assigned to the Russian navy destroyer RFS Admiral Chabanenko (DD 650) plots a course It’s always good to spend time in Indonesia immersing oneself in the local scene and receiving a different perspective on the world. I was there for two weeks—for both a defence technology exhibition and some leave—and it always surprises and sometimes embarrasses me about how much thinkers in Jakarta know about Australia and how little most of us know about the complexities of this country. A partial explanation is that many of the people I spoke with went to university in Australia and still visit regularly.

But there’s more to it than that and I found many Indonesians have a far more nuanced view of regional politics than do most Australians. I assume this flows from the radically different postcolonial paths both countries have followed. Indeed the phrase ‘post-colonial’ barely applies in Australia with the country happily supplementing the British with the United States as a dominant security and cultural partner. Other measures such as the re-introduction of Imperial Honours and the slavish affection directed toward visiting US politicians shows how desperately we desire to cling to someone else. On the other hand, with the end of Dutch rule, Indonesia quickly became a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement under President Sukarno and has remained leery of becoming anyone’s deputy sheriff ever since. Read more

When I discussed the apparent hysterical reaction in some Australian paper to the presence of some Russian ships in the Coral Sea, the view here was very much one of ‘what on earth are they talking about’? Particularly since the end of the World War II, Indonesia is well accustomed to various navies—especially the USN—exercising right of free passage through the entire archipelago. That trend’s likely to intensify with the rise of China and US pivot to Asia.

Few people in Australia—and I suspect the same is true in the United States—realise just how annoying this sort of behaviour is to a proud and sovereign country such as Indonesia. As a former Defence Minister put it to me, speaking figuratively, several years ago: ‘imagine the reaction if we had an aircraft carrier and used the right of free passage to sail through the Great Lakes and anchor off Chicago?’ But who knows—maybe someday an emerging naval power will do just that.

For decades the US—almost always a force for good and regional stability—has sailed carrier battle groups all over the place. Those deployments regularly go into the Yellow Sea to scare the bejesus out of the North Koreans while reassuring South Korea and Japan; into the North Pacific as a reminder to the Russians of who’s who; down to Singapore as a gesture of solidarity and, most famously, in 1996 when two carrier battle groups were sent to the Straits of Taiwan to smack down China. Indeed, this was a lesson in the offensive use of naval power that the Chinese seem to have learned well.

Australia has been spared entirely from this sort of behaviour because, of course, we aren’t on the way to anywhere else and the US hardly needs to protect us from New Zealand or New Guinea—at least, not yet. I’m reminded of Henry Kissinger’s assessment of Chile as ‘a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica’. The position of Australia isn’t much different.

However, times are changing and I think it’s likely that the Australian public—and the boorish media—is going to have to get used to the presence of more non-US warships in our immediate vicinity. These’ll most probably come from China, which in February this year sent a three-ship flotilla (two destroyers and a support ship) along the south coast of Java not too far from Christmas Island before heading back north.

The reasons why the Chinese Navy, the PLA(N), might wish to have greater visibility in and around Australia are varied. Firstly, China has a great interest in the Antarctic, of which Australia administers a disproportionately large amount. Secondly, China has small ethnic communities amongst many South Pacific nations and also tries to curry political favor with these same countries—it’s always handy to have extra votes in the UN for little cost. Thirdly, the PLA(N) might wish to deploy down here using the same logic sometimes applied by the USN: because it can.

This is the likely new reality of the 21st century—and neither the British Queen nor the US President can stop it happening.

Kym Bergmann is the editor of Asia Pacific Defence Reporter and Defence Review Asia. Image courtesy of Flickr user US Navy.

The delights of summitry

G20 Leaders' PhotoOn the evidence of APEC, the East Asia Summit and the G20, anyone who decries summitry as a waste of time, talent and money either has a narrow view of the world or is extremely hard to please. To take just one of the players—but what a player—Xi Jinping in the space of a week has deeply delighted Oz and deeply shocked the Abbott government.

The delight was the consummation of a free trade deal a decade in the making. The shock was a climate change agreement with the US in which Canberra was surprised by Xi and blindsided by Obama. What more can you ask from summitry? Thrills, spills, twists and dramatic plot shifts—and this column isn’t even going near Putin.

The successive summits hosted by China, ASEAN and Australia produced a blizzard of images and ideas, driven by power, policy and personality. Tracking power is about the trend lines and how the narratives are sold. Read more

The intense burst of summitry offers all sorts of stories. Come on a quick dance through some bits that matter to Oz. This tour is a communiqué-free frolic. Not to dismiss the formalities—merely that power flows from summitry in lots of ways:

  • The G2 delivers. Obama and Xi changed the terms of one of the great arguments of our time. The Republican Congress hates it, but an incoming Republican president will grab a G2 that can work. And if it’s President Hillary….
  • Visions of Asia’s future have been offered to the Australian Parliament, in the addresses by Japan’s leader in July and this week by China and India. Add the Brisbane speech by the US President and Australia has a front-row seat for big picture explanations and exhortations. Obama’s rebalance recommitment stands beside Xi’s ‘big guy’ imagery. China’s President noted that many people ‘naturally wonder how the big guy will move and act and be concerned that the big guy may push them around, stand in their way, or even take up their place.’ As I heard this, the association that came to mind was the diatribe China’s Foreign Minister directed at ASEAN in Hanoi in 2010: ‘China is a big country. And you are all small countries.’ Xi, wasn’t making threats, but offering an image of peace and prosperity—or a big piece of prosperity. The big guy has a big taste for what Oz is selling.
  • The Free Trade Agreement signed by China and Australia disappointed some Oz farmers (rice, wheat, sugar and cotton) but in other areas delivered more than even optimists had hoped for. The out-of-the-quarry-and-into-services sentiment was expressed by the Australian Services Roundtable’s Ian Birks, who calls it a sensationally good deal: ‘It’s so far beyond what anyone expected that it looks to me to be more than just a trade deal with Australia but a statement by the Chinese government to the world.’ China’s statement to the world ups the ante in the competing Asian trade negotiations/narratives/visions—one led by the US (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the other centred on China (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). What the big guy has given Oz bilaterally is the basis for a multilateral banquet in the RCEP. The alternative to the TPP just got a big boost from the big guy.
  • On the sidelines of the G20, Australia, Japan and the US had their first trilateral leaders’ meeting since Sydney’s 2007 APEC. Tony Abbott had a chat with the big ‘A’ ally and the small ‘a’ ally. Almost as noteworthy was Abbott’s special meeting in Myanmar with the 10 leaders of ASEAN, marking the 40 years of Australia’s dialogue partnership with ASEAN. The big guy was the phantom at both feasts.
  • Modi Magic: Here comes India. The magic Modi delivered at the G20 was the settlement with the US—a food stockpile peace clause—giving a breath of life to the World Trade Organisation, the Doha round and the multilateral system. The summit demand for ‘announceables’ can produce real announcements. And while leaders come for the multilateral, they stay to do bilateral business. Australia tries to talk the talk about India as a major foreign policy priority. But Modi’s mere presence in Canberra—the first visit by an Indian PM in decades—injects a lot of India into Australia’s India policy.

Finally, two observations that can go in either the personality or policy categories. First, salute Andrew Robb as the standout can-do minister of the Abbott government. Australia’s Trade Minister performed as promised. In 12 months, he completed bilateral negotiations with South Korea, Japan and China—the three nations that take more than half of Australia’s exports. This column mocked the announcement of that deadline to achieve the three deals as a naive new government skipping into a minefield. Andrew Robb delivered; this columnist eats crow.

The other observation is that China is drilling down into Australia so deeply it has developed a Tasmania policy. Yes, after thrilling Canberra, Xi Jinping headed to the Apple Isle. The big guy gets around.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Twitter user TonyAbbottMHR.

Collins and the afterlife

Last known image of AE1, 9 Sep 1914 with Yarra & Australia in the background.I was pleased to be invited to the Submarine Institute of Australia biennial conference last week, which doubled as a celebration of the centenary of Australian submarines. Australia’s first boats, the AE1 and AE2, were commissioned in early 1914. But a little over a year later both had been lost, AE1 with all hands. Historically, submarine operations have been among the most dangerous of any military activity. Having spent a short time on both Oberon and Collins class boats and having experienced the cramped working environment, let me give a shout out to Australia’s submariners, past and present.

I had a couple of speaking roles at the conference. My main address was on the strategic environment out to 2050. (I’ll come back to that in another post.) But I also took part in the first session on the conference program: a robust panel discussion. We covered some expected ground, such as the much-rumoured ‘Option J‘ and its impact on naval shipbuilding in Australia. But a few things came up that surprised me. Of those, at the top of the list would be the lack of appetite among the panellists for a Collins life-extension program. Read more

One of my working assumptions about the Future Submarine project (FSM) had been that a Collins life extension was likely, if not unavoidable. As Mark Thomson and I showed in 2012, if a new design submarine is required, then there’s a high likelihood of a capability gap unless the replacement boat can be engineered and built relatively quickly—certainly faster than the Collins was. And later that year (also at an SIA conference) Defence said that there were no obvious show-stoppers for an extension program—a conclusion government endorsed shortly afterwards.

But some of the panel participants were adamant that a Collins extension was something to avoid if at all possible. That view seems to have wider currency than I’d have thought, and it was later reinforced by Defence’s General Manager for Submarines, David Gould. He observed that he’d prefer to deliver the FSM without having to ‘give the Collins class another commission’, though he added that ‘we might need to keep them going a little longer’.

Of course, the landscape has changed in the past six months, which might provide an explanation for the apparent change of thinking. The more ambitious—and almost certainly highly bespoke—FSM of the 2009 Defence White Paper has apparently been relegated to a footnote in history, to be replaced by something more modest in scope. Though Admiral Greg Sammut, Head of the FSM Program, pointed out that even the new specs were challenging:

… our requirements in terms of range, endurance and payload do not differ from those that shaped the Collins program. Naturally, we will need improved stealth and sensor performance… We have taken a disciplined approach based on operational analysis to setting requirements for the FSM, mindful of the current state of technology and with a keen eye to the integrated nature of submarine design. In doing so, we’ve readily established that some of the higher-end requirements of the Collins remain challenging to this day…

The focus on stealth and sensors is sensible. The operating environment for submarines is inevitably going to become more challenging, and the evolution in ASW sensors will mandate improvements in stealth. The question, as always, will be how much performance is achievable, and at what cost? In that context, Sammut added (in words that almost brought a tear to my eye and which Augustine would approve) that ‘… we have a much clearer understanding of the cost-benefit capability trade-offs that are guiding our planning at the outset’.

But, overall, there was more that remained unclear than clear after this conference, including the basic question ‘how many submarines’? That’s consistent with the Defence Minister’s comments at our own submarine conference earlier this year. In fact, it became a running joke amongst presenters that one shouldn’t mention the size of the future fleet. And that’s fair enough—until the costs, capability benefits and project risks are well understood, it’d be ill-advised to pick a number.

Equally unclear, though less unspeakable, was the acquisition strategy. There are two quite different options—Japanese, with most of the construction work done offshore, or European (France, Germany or Sweden), with construction there, here or (likely) a combination of both. The various would-be European exporters all had a chance to make a pitch, and did so in presentations very much in keeping with their national characteristics. The newest item was a new submarine concept from French firm DCNS, based on their nuclear-powered Barracuda boat. And the Swedes spoke after throwing their hat in the ring with an unsolicited bid. But, overall, we didn’t learn much new about those options and much of what Mark and I wrote a few months ago remains as good as we’re going to get for now.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Royal Australian Navy.

Submarines: reader response

A Collins class submarine in dock at the Australian Submarine Corporation facility, Adelaide.Henry Ergas and Mark Thomson criticise, on a number of counts, the paper on Economic analysis of Australia’s future submarine program prepared by the South Australian Economic Development Board. Each count requires detailed rebuttal, but there’s space for only a brief response here.

Ergas and Thomson state that the paper assumes that the cost would be the same (AUD$20bn) whether built in Australia or overseas. In fact, that conclusion was the result of gaining frank opinions from submarine construction experts from several countries. All of those experts were in a position to assess the international commercial realities of the construction task. The model used a US$0.92 exchange rate but also included a ‘purchasing-power-parity’ exchange rate of US$0.73, which when used, yielded an even stronger case for building in Australia: a $26.7bn benefit compared with $21bn. Read more

The authors make much of reported errors and cost blowouts on Australian defence construction projects. Only those cost problems relating to the Collins class submarines have been assessed in the analysis. Evidence submitted to the Commonwealth Senate Economics References Committee—and reproduced in the Coles and other reports—point to administrative errors on the part of the Defence Materiel Organisation and the Navy that had a greater, but less widely publicised, impact on costs and outcomes than errors by ASC.

Assuming the identified errors are corrected, Australia has ‘the smarts’ to build and maintain submarines to a standard and cost comparable with its competitors. It’ll certainly have to partner with firms in other countries for design and to gain access to the weapon systems and new technologies it wants to deploy in the vessels but, as in the case of the Collins class, it retains the ability to coordinate the project and gain skills in installing and maintaining that technology. That there’d be gains in knowledge spillovers, employment and firm development is beyond question.

Ergas and Thomson refer to ‘agency problems’ of having a national monopoly supplier—which do exist, but there are numerous ways of constraining them to levels that make a national monopolist the most efficient and effective supply option. In this case, ‘efficient and effective’ includes addressing the problem that other countries with defence monopolists face: ensuring existence of on-shore capabilities to respond to unforeseen challenges in the event of military attack.

The question of need for adequate on-shore capability arises again in the authors’ criticism of the assumption that what the report describes as ‘heavy maintenance’ (HM) must be done at the location of construction. HM includes replacing and upgrading to address new technology that inevitably becomes available to Australia and its potential enemies over the life of the new submarines. They clearly don’t understand that a major cost of such HM is maintaining the capability to do it. That includes a detailed understanding of the new and existing technology—and since we don’t know, in advance, what elements will need upgrading, we must maintain capability in all aspects of the submarines built.

Building and maintaining such capability is also a major cost of the construction phase and the most effective way to do that is to have the relevant experts involved in design and construction—so it doesn’t make sense to separate the HM function geographically. The logic is all the more compelling since the total cost of HM is only 21% of the total $20bn cost as the cost of maintaining capability is absorbed by the construction phase. It’d be significantly more otherwise.

In addition, it’s worth reflecting on Australia’s requirement to be the ‘parent navy’ for this new class of submarines since we’ll be the only user of this class—which is different from buying an off-the-shelf product like a US fighter plane. The parent navy role entails the full design, development, test and evaluation effort for both the construction phase of the class and for the class’ operational life, some 40-50 years all in all. A parent navy must understand all emerging issues, set aims and objectives, pay for changes, and ensure that design certification is assured and design intent preserved. Failure to do this will result in the mess that brought about the Coles Review. A parent navy role can only be taken on if the submarine is built in Australia.

Finally, most OECD countries have come to realise that they can’t remain prosperous without a thriving manufacturing sector with its linked service sector. For that reason, most have large programs, including defence procurement, to stimulate innovation and thereby to provide a competitive edge to their industries. Eliasson estimates, for example, that between 1982 and 2007, the Gripen multi-role combat aircraft project in Sweden generated at least $350bn Swedish Krona (SEK) in additional production from a government investment with a 26-year opportunity cost (at 4% real discount rate) of SEK$132bn. That’s a turnover multiplier of 2.6 times the investment. Most of these benefits come from ‘spillovers’ in the form of new knowledge. In the South Australian case, analysts used a conservative knowledge spillover multiplier of 0.35. It’s safe to assume that almost all such spillovers will be lost to Australia if the submarines are built overseas.

Göran Roos is professor of business and strategic design at Swinburne University of Technology and chairs the South Australian government’s Advanced Manufacturing Council. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.