Archive from December, 2012

Happy holidays from The Strategist

Lego Santa

Since we started up in July, we’ve had a wonderful time working with our contributors and receiving feedback from our readers. We’re pleased that you have found The Strategist a worthwhile experience in an increasingly crowded marketplace of ideas. Our aim continues to be to provide high-quality analysis in a format that suits busy readers.

Our last post for 2012 will be on Friday 21 December, and we’ll be taking a break from blogging until Monday 7 January. We’re looking forward to bringing you more considered analysis on the big defence, strategy and security issues facing Australia in 2013.

But while we won’t be publishing during this time, we don’t want to lose touch with our contributors or readers. Until our return, we’ll be happy to receive submissions of around 800 words for our Strategist Summer Series which kicks off 7 January. We’ll be checking our emails during that time and will still be around on social media so follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook for updates, links to articles and other news.

From the Strategist editorial team, we thank you for reading and contributing to our blog and wish you a wonderful holiday season!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bob Doran.

Using social media strategically: #Indonesia

Recently I wrote about the ways in which social media can be employed in an aggressive virtual campaign during warfare, using the example of Israel and Hamas. Australia is in very different geostrategic circumstances, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons here for the ADF. The IDF–Hamas case shows how social media can be employed in spreading a strategically-crafted message to a world-wide audience. Australia in general, and Defence in particular, have a good opportunity to tailor some strategic messaging about our relationship with Indonesia.

With a population of 240 million, Indonesians are some of the world’s most prevalent users of social media. Looking at Twitter alone, Indonesia is the fifth largest Twitter user country in the world, with Jakarta and Bandung (another major Javanese city) ranking first and sixth respectively in recent surveys (click to enlarge). A message in Indonesia’s Twitterverse is likely to be heard.

Top 20 cities by number of posted tweets, Source: Semiocast

Source: Semiocast 2012

And Indonesians haven’t shied away from opportunities on Australian social media, including those of the ADF. During this year’s Exercise Pitch Black, Indonesian social media users took to the official Exercise Pitch Black Facebook page to share their enthusiasm and support for the Indonesian Air Force’s pilots and Sukhois (see images below). Indeed, it was a momentous occasion to celebrate—it was the first time that Indonesian combat aircraft had participated in an Australian air exercise. Read more

Ex Pitch Black FB page

Ex Pitch Black FB

In fact, it was an opportunity to really push the development of ADF–TNI ties and the camaraderie between our personnel, just over a decade on since Timor Leste. But even more than promoting ties at the tactical and operational level, these messages can be crafted as part of positive Australia–Indonesia relations at the strategic level. We’ve come some way since the ambiguous language about Indonesia in the 2009 Defence White Paper, and social media is just one way to reinforce the message to the Indonesian public that we see Indonesia as a strategic and Asian Century partner. Showing our militaries cooperating in a positive light signals the future potential of the relationship.

In terms of implementation, we’re not going to have the kind of intense resourcing like the IDF had during Operation Pillar of Defense. But defence PR via social media is a toe in the water of gauging Indonesian public opinion, and we can afford to start small. It could be as easy as a question and answer time in both English and some Indonesian. DFAT have already done that, with Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty holding an #askGM event over Twitter this month.

Or we could live tweet an event with a call to submit questions directly to a panel like the Chief of Army’s Exercise 2012. For this event tweeters could follow proceedings in realtime via a live tweet on the Land Warfare Studies Centre account (see below) as well as submit questions to a panel of visiting military experts using the hashtag #CAEX12. The panel addressed a select number of questions that were projected onto a screen during the conference.

Pitch Black was supported by the social media world by bloggers like the Melbourne-based Mike Yeo of The Base Leg whose coverage of Southeast Asian and Australian aviation appeals to a regional audience. And there was an official Facebook page, Twitter feeds (including Defence personnel like Eamon Hamilton who gave a face to the campaign) and regular Defence releases via the official Pitch Black page which provided an interactive multimedia package for sharing images and information about the exercise. All good stuff, and a good basis for further development, more proactive engagement, more strategic messaging and more active social media diplomacy.

And this doesn’t need to be limited to Indonesia. For other multinational exercises involving regional partners, a few phrases in Malay, Thai, Vietnamese or Tagalog (provided by Defence linguists) to accompany Facebook photos or tweets would go a long way. And, given the ease with which social media content can become a news story in itself, a well-crafted message coupled with images and statements on an exercise with a regional partner like Indonesia could provide some much needed balance to the next story about drug smuggling or the cattle trade.

All of these efforts will have to be appraised in terms of effectiveness. As I’ve argued before, this isn’t as easy in a military context, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. There’ll be immediate gains in relationship building via social media avenues like IKAHAN (the online Australian–Indonesian defence alumni group), but also longer term strategic gains in our ties as well. There’s bound to be more ‘firsts’ like Exercise Pitch Black, with our relationship with Indonesia set to grow. If Indonesians can develop an increasingly clear and favourable attitude towards Australia, nationalistic sentiments stoked up about Papua (for example) will become less potent. And this can be done by harnessing the skills of ‘internet natives’ who will increasingly populate Defence ranks in both countries. This will be for relatively little cost but, if done well, will be beneficial in its effect. What’s not to ‘like’ about that?

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist.

Internationals fighting on Syrian soil: beware what might return home

Syrian soldiers, who have defected to join the Free Syrian Army, hold up their rifles as they secure a street in Saqba, in Damascus suburbs, in this January 27, 2012It’s difficult to play down the significance of the current situation in Syria from a counterterrorism perspective. Many felt that the death of Bin Laden, Al-Awlaki and numerous other key members of the al-Qaeda leadership had stemmed the tide of the movement and the global jihad. However, as terrorism issues appear to be slipping down the hierarchy of perceived risks in much of the Western world, the trends that are emerging from the Syrian conflict remind us that al-Qaeda are in this campaign for the long term and still require our attentions at home as well as abroad.

The Arab Spring in early 2011 caught most governments off-guard, as it did al-Qaeda, who were still recovering from the death of their leader and very much in disarray. But before the emergence of a popular movement against the Assad regime, which can be traced back to March 2011, al-Qaeda’s new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had called upon pious Muslims to support an insurgency against the Syrian leadership. Al-Zawahiri’s message was released in an eight-minute video in February 2011 and was pitched predominantly at Sunni Muslims living in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Since then the message has spread further afield and the lure of joining the jihad in Syria against a Shia dictator is drawing in young men from across the globe. Read more

Within the complex web of armed civilians, defected soldiers, paramilitary units and militias, the dynamic of growing numbers of foreign militants joining the fight is providing further confusion and danger as they disperse within the different groups present, including the Free Syrian Army, Liwa al-Islam, Katibat al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham, and most concerningly Jabhat al-Nusra, which has close linkages with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Accurate estimates of the number of foreign fighters who are present in the country are difficult to come by but there are somewhere between 1500 and 2500. Of course, not all of these are battle-hardened warriors; many have travelled to the region to experience the ‘thrill’ of a war zone, provide assistance in non-combat roles, or want to help because of family ties to the region. But many make the trek with the goal of helping to overthrow the Assad regime.

In this context it’s hard to not draw parallels with the situation in Afghanistan during the mid to late 1980s, when foreign fighters poured into the country to assist in defeating the Soviet forces there. Although they only made up a minority of the jihadists within the fighting force, they capitalised on the training, both ideological and practical, to create the beginnings of the al-Qaeda narrative, sow the seeds of the global jihad and one among them became the group’s figurehead. When focusing on the situation that has developed in Syria, we’d do well to bear history in mind and learn from the mistakes that were made when al-Qaeda went about their business relatively unwatched and unconstrained.

There’s now evidence that jihadists from Chechnya, Algeria, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang province in China, Afghanistan, Europe (including the UK), Indonesia and even Australia have been active in Syria. I understand that approximately 100 Australian men have been to or are currently in Syria and involved in the conflict in some form, in either combat or combat support roles. There are obvious security issues for Australia as those individuals return.

Some of these cases have come to light in the press when individuals have been killed, such as Marwan al-Kassab, Roger Abbas and Sheikh Mustapha Al Majzoub who was already known to counterterrorism authorities here. Yet many more remained unnamed and presumably many unmonitored. The Australian government, aware of nationals travelling to Syria, provided a statement by the Australian Federal Police (PDF), in August this year stating that it is illegal for Australians to engage in fighting for either side in Syria, to fund train or recruit someone to fight, or to supply or fund weapons for either side. Yet it appears this warning hasn’t stopped those most highly motivated. Those individuals who gain frontline combat experience in Syria and the ideological extremes and motivations that they bring back with them, are likely to concern Australian authorities. These skills and motivations create a potent magnetism to others interested in the violent jihadist message.

Even if the Assad regime falls sooner rather than later, the jihadist element might already have influence in a post-Assad era. The longer the battle rages within Syria, the more influence the jihadist element will gain. One of the key consequences of this is that against a majority of popular terrorism analysis, the al-Qaeda banner could once again increase its significance, and this has quite dramatic consequences not only in Syria but globally including Australia.

The bottom line is that while governments are busy downgrading the terrorist agenda, new spheres of influence and radical messaging emerge. As anyone who has examined the long-term goals of al-Qaeda and its affiliates will know, theirs is a long-term battle in which a decade is but a fraction of the timescales required to fulfil its objectives. The warning to be heeded is that before any cuts to established counterterrorism capabilities are applied, might happen in times of tight budgets, a greater understanding of the long-term aims of terrorist groups is needed.

Tobias Feakin is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user FreedomHouse.

Do alliances work?

The signing of the ANZUS Treaty.

With ANZUS a core pillar of our own strategic policy, it should come as no surprise that Australians frequently turn (and return) to the subject of just how reliable that alliance is. Most of the debate tends to be remarkably impressionistic. For some, history is the best guide—and Britain’s inability to come to Australia’s aid after the fall of Singapore in 1942 a salutary warning about the dangers of a smaller power becoming too reliant on a great power to protect it. For others, reliability is simply assumed—sometimes on the basis that if the US refused to honour its ANZUS commitments all of its other alliances would come under increased pressure.

But we should look at some data to take the impressionism out of the debate. We should be interested not just in the big question—is ANZUS reliable or isn’t it—but in the specifics: how reliable is it? There are several ways of judging the utility of alliances—including whether they deliver strategic gains during peacetime through training, technology, intelligence exchange and the like. Still, the real test of an alliance’s reliability is whether alliance partners end up honouring their commitments to each other on the battlefield.

It’s instructive, then, to turn to the academic literature for a set of insights on just how reliable alliances actually are.

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Here, there are relatively few major studies, and I’ll discuss only two of them. An American academic, Alan Ned Sabrosky, back in the 1980s, put a sizeable dent in the reputation of alliances when he concluded that a study of allies’ behaviour over a 150-year period showed that they fought alongside each other in wars only 27% of the time. On 61% of occasions, allies sat by while their partner was fighting. Worse, on 12% of occasions they fought on the other side.

Those unsettling conclusions—enough to make any country doubt the value of its alliance—have, in more recent years, been revisited by other researchers. Brett Ashley Leeds and two of her colleagues at Florida State University revisited the Sabrosky data-set in 2000, and argued that his test for ‘alliance reliability’ left much to be desired. Sabrosky had tested only whether one ally fought alongside another in any conflict, not whether it did so in the circumstances in which it had a specific alliance commitment to do so. Moreover, Sabrosky had counted as ‘alliances’ agreements that might more properly be described as ‘ententes’ (agreements merely to consult) or non-aggression pacts. Leeds recoded the data to reflect the specific obligations laid down in alliance commitments.

The results were substantially different. Alliance ‘reliability’, redefined as the honouring of specific agreements, rose from 27% to 74.5%—or, near enough, from one quarter to three quarters of cases. Leeds’ research lies at the basis of an important truth in alliances: specifics matter. Alliance reliability increases when we take the specific commitments made by nations into account. Most alliances are not general purpose pledges to fight alongside another country in all circumstances, and shouldn’t be judged as such.

Now, what does all that mean for ANZUS? Well, if we genuinely believe that ANZUS might well be a more substantive alliance in the 21st century than it was in the 20th, then we might want to go back and re-read the specifics of the agreement. Further we might want to discuss with Washington how we both interpret the specifics. We can read Sabrosky’s research as a sign of just how weak international commitments are if they are regarded as general-purpose undertakings. But we can take Leeds’s research as an affirmation of just how strong international commitments are in relation to specific undertakings. They certainly aren’t absolute guarantees—but they seem to work three quarters of the time. I suppose there’s a caveat needed somewhere here similar to the sort used by fund managers selling their products: that past performance should not be taken as an assurance of future outcomes. Still, we should draw comfort from the broader pattern.

Rod Lyon is a non-residential fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user kohane.


Australia’s air combat capability – the next step?

The Super Hornet, A44-203, sets the scene on a cold winter's morning, at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California, USA.

Last week the Defence Ministers announced that the government would approach the United States to get cost and availability information for a second tranche of 24 Super Hornets. It doesn’t commit Australia to such a move but it shows that, at the very least, there is some lingering doubt in government circles regarding the feasibility of maintaining the RAAF’s air combat capability until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is able to enter service.

The announcement followed the development of an ‘Air Combat Capability Transition Plan’ recently delivered to the government. In fact, the government has had a lot of advice this year. The National Audit Office delivered a pair of reports in September on the maintainability of the existing fleet and of Australia’s participation in the F-35 program. As I noted in a previous post, the Audit Office reiterated some known challenges in keeping a credible capability intact through what is now shaping up to be a critical transition at the end of the decade.

We don’t know what the government was told by Defence on delivery of the Transition Plan, but evidently it didn’t completely allay their concerns—otherwise there’d be no need to continue collecting data on the alternatives. And Australia isn’t alone in being worried—the Canadian government has ‘reset’ its acquisition process, which until recently had been a sole-source buy of F-35s. Like Australia, Canada is heading off to the world market to get price and availability data.

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There are some similarities in the position of both countries. Both operate 1980s vintage ‘classic’ Hornets and both need a replacement around 2020 at the latest. Both have been long-term members of the international JSF consortium and so would have some political issues to navigate if there was to be a change in direction—there’s no doubt that Washington would like both countries to stick with the F-35.

There is one significant difference in the situations that Australia and Canada face. Australia has already bitten the bullet and bought 24 Super Hornets—which achieved Final Operating Capability last week. That means that a lot of the fixed costs that come with a new type—the training and support packages, simulator, maintenance facilities etc—have already been incurred. To give an idea of how the costs work, the first 24 Super Hornets came at a total cost of $6.1 billion. Of that, well under half was for the aircraft themselves (called the ‘flyaway cost’). My estimate is that we paid about $2.5 billion in flyaway costs (based on US Navy prices), another $1.7 billion for all of the spares and support equipment, and the rest on running costs for the first decade of their lives.

The ‘sticker price’ for Super Hornets is currently running at about $83 million each, or just on $2 billion for 24. Any further tranche would still come with additional costs above that. It’s hard to estimate how much—perhaps an extra $500 million to $1 billion. But they wouldn’t cost as much as if we were starting from scratch. Canada, however, has no such ‘natural’ fallback option—any other type it acquired would come at the full acquisition cost. If things go as planned, the F-35 won’t cost much more than its competitors. That’s why some Canadian commentators are predicting that the F-35 will still be the preferred option after the ‘reset’ process runs its course.

Of course, any decision to buy more Super Hornets won’t be made solely on the grounds of cost. The government will be anxious to avoid any gap in capability, as was the Howard government in 2006 when it made the initial decision to buy Super Hornets to replace the F-111 when it retired. But the financial circumstances then and now are very different. The Howard government had relatively little trouble finding the money for the first 24. The current government has no such luxury, and will be looking at the bottom line carefully.

And that’s where the F-35 might have an advantage. If Super Hornets were ordered now, payments on long-lead items would be required almost immediately for aircraft to be delivered in two or three year’s time. Data from the previous purchase suggests that we would pay about 15% of the cost in the first year, around $400 million based on the estimates above. On the same basis we’d pay about $670 million, $800 million and $530 million respectively in the three years after that. By government standards these aren’t huge amounts, but a government looking nervously at the budget position in the forward estimates period mightn’t see it that way.

The government will make its decision in 2013. There’s a lot to be said for an aircraft that’s working now versus one that’s promised for ‘just in time’ delivery later. But it is going to have to balance any strategic nervousness it’s feeling with the near-term costs. One tool that might be useful is the net present value analysis that Henry Ergas wrote about here last week. That’s something we’ll take a look at in the new year.

Andrew Davies is a senior analyst for defence capability at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.


Cyber statecraft: learning from ocean diplomacy

Sailors from a special boat team conduct boat operations supporting a SEAL team during their maritime operation training cycle

The Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, was recently in Dubai to lead the Australian delegation at the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The conference considered amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations, which assist in the operation of telecommunications networks across national borders. Some of the amendments are seeking to extend the regulations to cover internet governance. This is now the job of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN).

As my colleague Toby Feakin wrote last week, Australia wants to make sure that any amendments to the ITRs don’t fundamentally change the way the internet operates.

Australia, along with US UK, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Kenya, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Qatar and Sweden walked away from the ITU negotiations last week, over fears that the new text of the new ITRs could be interpreted as giving the ITU control over elements of the internet.

The final treaty text (PDF) contains a resolution that explicitly ‘instructs the [ITU] Secretary-General to take the necessary steps for the ITU to play an active and constructive role in…the internet.’ Yet after the conference Senator Conroy said that ‘Australia does not support any changes that would undermine the current multi-stakeholder model for internet governance or fundamentally change the way the internet operates.’

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Diplomatic sparring over cyber affairs and the internet is likely to grow more intense in the future, so if Australia is to play a significant role in international cyber affairs we need to ensure that we are well placed to advance our interests in all aspects of cyber security and the digital economy.

One way of approaching that goal is to draw some lessons from another area of international legal diplomatic activity. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea. We might apply some of the lessons from our success in ocean diplomacy to the new area of international cyber statecraft. This isn’t the first time that this concept has been proposed but it’s the right time to revisit it. While the parallel might not be immediately obvious, the oceans and the internet are both global commons that have at their boundaries the territorial and economic spaces belonging to sovereign states. Before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), the ocean was a vast and unregulated space in which arbitrating issues like fishing and resource exploration was challenging. Today we find ourselves in a similar situation with the internet, with more cats and less fish.

It wasn’t easy to get to an agreement on the oceans, but today most countries are onboard. The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea was negotiated over nearly a decade, and culminated in a major convention, (in effect a constitution for the world’s oceans), in 1982. Australia was very successful in achieving our key ocean goals at these marathon negotiations. We were seen as one of the most influential players during the longest, largest and most ambitious multilateral conference exercise the UN had ever attempted. And there were several reasons for our success.

First, we were assiduous in establishing early clear objectives across the whole gamut of law of the sea issues and in identifying, in tactical terms, the ways in which to achieve those objectives. This assisted our image as a competent actor on law of the sea issues.

Second, there was solid unity over policymaking in Canberra, where our ocean priorities were set by an interdepartmental Law of the Sea Task Force, which undertook considerable consultation with industry. Right from the start Australia made it clear that we were playing for high stakes that justified a significant commitment of bureaucratic resources to ensure our success.

As well, at five substantive sessions of the conference the delegation was led by the Foreign Minister. Ministers became knowledgeable about law of the sea issues and helped to bring about a situation where any bureaucratic policy differences were brought under control.

Third, the Australian delegations enjoyed the strong support from state governments and industry groups, such as the fishing, shipping and mining industries. Fourth, the quality of the Australian delegation contributed enormously to our negotiating success. Continuity of leadership of the delegation was also important. States that frequently changed their delegation heads had less influence on the negotiations.

Fifth, Australia decided its goals at the conference would override traditional loyalties. A hard-headed approach meant that negotiating partners had to be chosen in terms of those countries which were prepared to give political backing to Australian positions.

If we’re to make a significant contribution to the growing area of international diplomacy on cyber behaviour we’ll need well organised and adequately backed diplomacy. Particularly where the internet is concerned, the complexity of cyber issues means that a number of different Australian federal and state agencies are involved. Coordinating each of them, let alone creating a unified national cyber policy that we can subsequently sell internationally, is no mean feat.

So an important start on advancing our international cyber objectives might be to start at home with the establishment of a committee of the heads of the key departments and agencies of government to establish a national position on all aspects of cyber policy. Then we’d be in a much better place to take up the issue internationally.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user Official U.S. Navy Imagery.


The unintended consequences of Fiji’s UN peacekeeping operations

Members of the Fijian colour guard and the guard unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) march. 4/Feb/2009. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Great socio-economic promise was envisaged for newly-independent Fiji in the 1970s but due to a series of military coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006, this promise has remained unfulfilled. While many scholars explain the coups with reference to ethnic politics, I’d argue that the politicisation of the Fijian military is partly due to the fact that it has developed a self-image as a mediator of political tensions and executor of coups d’état. Unlike the Indonesian military, the Fijian military’s raison d’être wasn’t determined by internal security threats; in fact, it was historically apolitical. And the development of this self-image appears to be an unintended consequence of the Fijian military’s involvement in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations.

Much of this development has its roots in the Fijian military’s first deployment on a UN peacekeeping operation as part of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1978. Participation in UN peacekeeping operations had obvious benefits to the fledgling Fijian nation, including being seen as a good international citizen, the generation of foreign exchange and improved youth employment.

However, rather than staying in Lebanon for a year or so as originally intended, the soldiers served for more than two decades, withdrawing only in 2002. Moreover, the confidence the Fijian military gained from serving with larger nations’ militaries in UN peacekeeping missions has given it an inflated corporate self-image. Participation in UN peacekeeping missions also necessitated that the military increase in size beyond what would be required to defend Fiji. By making peacekeeping the centerpiece of foreign policy, Fijian governments have unwittingly enhanced the military’s capability to intervene in domestic politics. Read more

Fijian soldiers were also indelibly affected by the mediator role they performed when trying to defuse communal factional conflicts as part of UNIFIL. By the time the battalion pulled out of Lebanon in 2002, this mediator role was engrained in the collective military psyche and valorised by the deaths of 37 Fijian soldiers. Hailing from a small south Pacific nation, relatively isolated from partisan global politics, the Fijian military has been seen as impartial, an important quality for PKO forces. The involvement of Fijian troops in peacekeeping in the Middle East attracted much international attention, including a 1980s UN documentary featuring Fijian soldiers which further enhanced their self-perception. It also gave them a sense of self-belief in being part of a complex diplomatic solution of global proportions. Looking at Fiji today, officers who have been central to the military’s role in the successive coups—Rabuka in 1987, Filipo Tarakinikini in 2000 and Pita Driti in 2006—were all previous commanders of the peacekeeping battalion in Lebanon. The implication of a ‘Lebanon situation’ is quite obvious in Rabuka’s coup operational orders (OPORD 1/87). In the conclusion to the OPORD Rabuka clearly states that ‘You will see that the sit [sic] Fiji is in is dangerous and will develop into something much worse and resembling Lebanon and other troubled areas of the world.’

The self-styled mediator role also stems from a patron–client, or chief-warrior (Turaga-bati), relationship that has developed between elite indigenous chiefs (and their associates) and the predominately indigenous military (99 per cent indigenous Fijians). This relationship has its origins in the intensive peacekeeping tempo and swelled military numbers over the last 25 years.

The security and development agenda of the current Fijian leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama is also a throw-back to Malaya in the 1950s when, as part of British Commonwealth forces, Fijians were imbued with the notion of successfully quelling Communist insurgents. Many of the top government positions are ‘militarised’. This process of setting apart the military from society was carried into the post-independence period by the ruling elite. The military has now entrenched its authoritarian rule until September 2014 at least. The big question is whether the military will continue to play a key role in Fiji politics after the 2014 elections.

Jone Baledrokadroka is a former colonel with 26 years of service in the Fiji military and he recently completed PhD studies in the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program at the ANU. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.

The article on which this post is based is published in the December special volume of Security Challenges on ‘Security in the Pacific arc’.

A workshop will be held on 8 February 2013 at the ANU to discuss the special volume. Details and registrations are available here.

The 2011 Libya campaign: lessons for Australia

Despite the aphorism that generals always prepare for the last war, the 2011 Libyan campaign to oust the Gadhafi regime presents some useful pointers regarding the exercise of deadly force by Australia. This is especially so when compared with the lengthy, costly and perhaps inconclusive military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. From a Western perspective, the Libyan campaign was short, cheap, and successful.

Nineteen nations, employing the most potent military coalition in the world (NATO) attacked a small country, of 6.6 million people, for seven months to eventually force a change of regime. No NATO personnel were lost in combat, there were few civilian casualties caused by NATO and the mission was clearly achieved. The cost was about one billion dollars, one ninth of what it costs for a month in Afghanistan.

The campaign has been widely hailed by air power advocates, but it was more than just a sophisticated air campaign. Forces from aerospace, land and maritime and cyber domains were all needed to ensure success. In the opening attack on the night of 19 March 2011, 45 precision munitions from three B-2 bombers aircraft and 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against air-defence and other targets. The British also launched Tomahawks and delivered Storm Shadow cruise missiles from strike aircraft flying from Britain. This initial engagement, mainly by the US with some UK and French support, was crucial to the eventual outcome as it enabled subsequent operations to occur unencumbered by an air threat, and it began the attrition of Libyan military assets. Once air superiority had been established, the Europeans were then able to conduct about 90 per cent of all strike sorties.

The employment of precision guided missiles was central to maintaining domestic public opinion, ensuring fewer civilian casualties as well as removing the air threat. This part of the campaign is a model for the future and Australia is working to be able to implement a similar strategy. The elements required included Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance capabilities, aerial tanker support and a supply of precision-guided weapons. Australia is currently purchasing the Growler electronic warfare aircraft, which potentially offers an offensive cyber capability. Australian forces, with the JSOW-C long range strike weapon on Super Hornets have similarly capable missiles and modern combat aircraft with which to deliver air superiority. Read more

In the maritime environment, mine countermeasure operations kept sea lines of communications off the coast of Libya open for humanitarian support and embargo implementation. Australia’s modest mine countermeasure capability based on the Huon class mine hunters, has been approved for augmentation.

Other maritime activities in the campaign included using surface ships and submarines (21 in all) to conduct non-combatant evacuations, enact the UN arms embargo and to support the campaign with naval gunfire, command and control, surveillance and logistics.

The Libyan campaign re-kindled the debate on the role of airpower in modern warfare on the basis of the so-called ‘Obama doctrine’, which emphasises multilateralism and has as a corollary that military action should be strictly limited, with few or no ground forces involved. The Libyan rebels provided the critical ground element to the campaign, supported by special forces from several European and Arab countries. While small in number, estimated as not exceeding a couple of hundred, special forces initially deployed to rescue civilians working in Libya, to gather intelligence on the rebels and to liaise with them. These tasks evolved into training and mentoring, provision of weapons, target de-confliction and eventually in-combat coordination. Australian special forces could offer a similar capability.

The forming and practice of coalitions of like-minded nations is largely absent from the exercise regimen of Asia–Pacific militaries, except when a combat-weary US provides the opportunity. The few nations that conduct periodic low-scale exercises or one-off humanitarian operations don’t come near to replicating the kind of coalition cooperation and cohesion exhibited during the Libyan campaign. But Australia, as agreed with its US ally, could seek further opportunities to conduct military exercises with regional partners.

America’s high-end capabilities and scale can’t currently be replicated by any other nation, but well-organised coalitions demonstrate an accumulation of both political will and military forces. Australia remains largely on track to being able to offer military capabilities that might be attractive to regional coalitions. Even small-scale actions will demand the deployment of sophisticated forces from a range of combatant domains. If regional tensions are assessed as likely, then regional coalitions might be needed, and additional activities with regional partners will become a higher priority for Australia.

Brian Agnew is an Australian public servant with the Department of Defence. He is a member of the staff at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies.

This work is the sole opinion of the author, and does not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies or the Department of Defence.  The Commonwealth of Australia will not be legally responsible in contract, tort or otherwise, for any statement made in this publication.

Reader response: Japan and Asia’s future order

U.S. and Japanese flags were raised and lowered by a joint U.S. and Japanese color guard during Yama Sakura 61 a bilateral command post exercise held at Camp Itami, Osaka, Japan. The final flag was lowered as the exercise ended 4 Feb., 2012.

Peter Jennings gave a spirited response in the Oz last week to my thoughts about the trend of Australia–Japan strategic relations. I’m sure Peter is right that ‘there is no intent at this stage to sign a defence alliance between Japan and Australia’. But of course we shouldn’t wait until the decision has been made before asking whether it’s a good idea to head in that direction. Peter’s argument that it’s a good idea raises lots of important issues. Let me just focus on a couple—one about China and one about Japan.

China is clearly a key factor in this question, but I’m not quite sure where Peter stands on it. At one point he says Australia’s defence relationship with Japan has never been developed at the expense of our relationship with China. But later he says that China would clearly prefer that it not develop any further, and urges us not to allow this to dissuade us from building stronger strategic links with Japan anyway.

Whether we would be right to ignore China’s concerns depends on much wider questions about how best to keep Asia peaceful over the next few decades. Peter seems to agree with the predominant US and Japanese view that the best approach is to build a solid front of like-minded countries to ‘persuade’ China to accept the status quo with minor modifications. If this strategy—let’s call it containment—is workable, then an alliance with Japan would make some sense. But if, as I have argued elsewhere, the policy of containing China is mistaken, then so would an Australia-Japan alliance, because it would weaken rather than strengthen regional security. Read more

This brings us to the question of Japan’s own role in the future Asian order. I absolutely agree with Peter that Asia, and Australia, needs Japan to do more in regional strategic affairs. But how? Peter wants Japan to keep its old role as US ally, and is surprised that I argue for a radical change in Japan’s strategic posture. But I argue for radical change because I think Japan’s post-war posture, which has worked so well until now, is not sustainable under the very different strategic circumstances of the Asian Century.

This is the heart of the matter. Underlying our different views on these specific issues is the much bigger question about how far the rise of China changes the fundamentals of the Asian order and of Australia’s strategic circumstances. Peter, I think, believes little fundamentally has changed. I don’t agree. We should debate that sometime.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at ANU and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user Minnesota National Guard.

All ashore: the utility of amphibious operations

ESPIRITU SANTO, Vanuatu (Apr. 28, 2011) - Sailors exit Landing Craft Utility 1665, from the amphibious transport dock ship USS Cleveland, on the beach in Espiritu Santo during Pacific Partnership 2011.

The end of amphibious operations has been prophesised at various times during the past century. After the Gallipoli experience in 1915, many military thinkers in Britain and elsewhere believed that airpower, modern artillery, machines guns, mines and torpedoes and so on made it impossible to force a landing against a well organised defence. After World War II, which saw the greatest amphibious operations in history undertaken, Chief of Staff of the US Army General Omar Bradley stated that nuclear weapons precluded further large scale amphibious operations. In the contemporary environment much of the discussion is centred on the proliferation of Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2AD) technologies and ways of defeating them.

Meanwhile, in Australia the decision to buy two new large amphibious ships has been criticised as lacking a utility to the ‘Defence of Australia’ and turning the ADF into a ‘one shot defence force’ that will be used ‘like the US marines… to storm from the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli‘ (paywalled).

Yet, despite the extremely difficult nature of these operations, time and again the utility of possessing an amphibious capability has been realised. In 1950, only one year after Omar Bradley had announced its death knell, the US military launched an operationally-decisive amphibious landing by a two division assault force at Inchon, South Korea. In 1956 the British had to pull their amphibious capability out of mothballs to conduct an amphibious landing during the Suez Crisis. This same capability proved exceptionally useful a few years later in Kuwait in 1961. Read more

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) landed troops in Lebanon in 1958 and made extensive use of tactical amphibious landings in the Vietnam War. During the 1980s, amphibious forces were used extensively by the British in the Falklands War and by the US in invading Grenada. In the post-Cold War period, amphibious forces were used during the 1991 Gulf War. The decade just past saw the trend continue. For example, the British made use of their amphibious assets in both Sierra Leone in 2000 in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Amphibious forces have also been vital elements in US operations in the 2000s; against Al-Shabaab in Somalia and pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, as well as alongside Filipino forces in operations against Jemaah Islamiyyah and Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu Archipelago. Only this year the Kenyan military used amphibious manoeuvre against Al-Shabaab.

Amphibious assets are not only critical in the strategically important littoral regions, they also provide platforms that are extremely versatile. They can operate along the full spectrum of operations from disaster relief and search & rescue through to the more tradition roles of amphibious assault—although in the contemporary era you can forget the ‘old school’ versions of amphibious forces storming the beaches à la Normandy or Iwo Jima that most people are familiar with—raid, demonstration and withdrawal.

Relief operations might be a harder sell in some quarters compared to high-end war fighting capabilities, but the fact remains that they tend to happen more often than forcible-entry assaults and have substantial political effect. Amphibious forces are also multipurpose assets in numerous other ways. They are excellent platforms from which to undertake regional engagement and capacity building missions. And during NATO’s intervention in Libya, French and British amphibious assets undertook the mission of managing sea and air assets, including coordination with onshore rebel forces.

For the USMC post Iraq and with the imminent drawdown in Afghanistan, the emphasis has been put back on re-invigorating their amphibious capability. The USMC commandant General James Amos recently noted that to meet the ‘wish-list of the [US] military’s tops regional combatant commands, the Marine Corps would need four times the amount of amphibious force currently available’.

The demand for these flexible assets around the globe has meant that multi-mission landing helicopter dock ships such as the Canberra Class LHDs have been at the centre piece of a number of recapitalisation programs for navies around the globe. As a Janes Defence Weekly Briefing noted in July 2011, ‘[o]ver the 10 year period from 2011–2020…nearly USD36 billion [is] projected to be spent by naval forces on the construction of amphibious ships with multi-spot flight decks’. Half of this spending is by the US Navy, but the remainder includes an eclectic group of nation states including France, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, India, Malaysia, Turkey, Germany, Russia, Poland, Portugal and Australia.

As Robert Kaplan has reminded us recently, geography matters. Seventy per cent of the world’s population, 80% of countries and virtually all centres of international trade are in littoral regions. Five per cent of the world’s coast line is human-made and can easily be used by ships and craft to unload. Twenty-five per cent of beaches can take landing craft, 75% of coastlines are accessible by hovercraft and 95% can be accessed by small boats.

These fundamental facts will remain despite changes in international affairs. This means that amphibious forces are of increasing importance and utility, especially to major maritime states or those with a maritime strategy.

Peter Dean is a fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU. Image courtesy of Flickr user PACOM.

ASPI suggests

Here’s our usual weekly round-up of the latest articles and reports in strategy, defence and security.


China is making great progress in the development of new aircraft. This Diplomat article wonders, now that they’ve got their own jet fighters, how they are going with jet engines?

Next, the Australian government announced this week it’s keeping open the option of buying more Super Hornets (pictured below) as part of its ‘plan B’ approach to the purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

An F/A-18F Super Hornet sits under the night lights of the hangar at RMAF Base Butterworth, Malaysia during Exercise Bersama Shield 2011.

It’s interesting to see the parallels in Canada, where their F-35 purchase is also under review. The F-35 might have made headlines here, but discrepancies between the public figures and in-house costings have caused enormous political grief for Canada’s Conservative government.

Security and strategy

CSIS Jakarta’s Iis Gindarsah has a new article on the logistical issues holding back the Indonesian military’s modernisation plans.

Last week, I included a piece on the legalities of China’s new South China Sea passport. Here’s a follow-up: a new IISS Strategic Comment on how it’s stoking the territorial dispute.

Moving onto the Asian Century, the Asialink Commission’s new report ‘Our place in the Asian Century’ (PDF) argues that closer ties with ASEAN is the best way to navigate the rise of China and enhance our influence in Asia and beyond.

And speaking of engaging Asia Pacific partners, Hugh White argued earlier in the week, Australia should be wary of closer ties with Japan while Peter Jennings says full steam ahead. Meanwhile, Tessa Morris-Sukuzi looks at what the nationalist troika in Japan’s upcoming election means for regional security.

SDSC’s Stephan Frühling and Benjamin Schreer argue we need to get serious about ballistic missile defence and the Australian government should reinforce political support for international missile defence cooperation.

Next, this Foreign Affairs article by Brandon Valeriano and Ryan Maness on why we shouldn’t fear the fog of cyberwar (thanks Peter Layton). In short, actual cyberattacks aren’t as severe as people think. And if you’re in a reading mood, here’s a Foreign Affairs list on what to read on cybersecurity.

Keeping with a cyber theme, Land Warfare Studies Centre’s Chloe Diggins and Clint Arizmendi have a Wired post on the next domain of warfare: your brain. With new brain-computer interface technologies, could soldiers’ brains be hacked and manipulated in warfare?

Last but not least, here’s SIPRI’s 2012 map of multilateral peace operation deployments (PDF). It’s a useful snapshot of which groups of countries are involved in which peacekeeping ops globally. And for more detailed information, check out their database.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Reader response: getting carried away with Britain’s new carriers

HMS Ark Royal Visits HMNB Clyde for the Final Time

Harry White’s contribution on the UK carrier program highlights a number of the flaws in the UK’s current approach to its defence capabilities. But he seeks to ask the wrong first question in suggesting that it should be ‘are carriers the best way to achieve our strategic objectives for the money’?

Rather, the UK needs to go much deeper than this and seek to work out much more precisely just what its strategic objectives are. If, as proposed in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, they are to include a capacity to intervene overseas, only then does the question of whether carriers are the appropriate basing solution for air power arise.

If (and only if) there is determined to be a requirement for an intervention capability, it’s worth looking at the very mixed experience with maintaining basing access and passage through other nations’ airspace that the UK and its partners had during operational contingencies in the 1990s, and the part that this played in the original decision to build the carriers. The need to achieve and maintain access certainly drove much of the thinking behind the 1998 SDR and was the reason for the unanimity of Defence advice (including the RAF) at the time. If the UK is to continue in the intervention game, then that issue of access very much remains on the table. And, even if access can be assured, there remains the question of the cost benefit difference between proximate, sea delivered air power (plus seaborne lift—and an island state like the UK will always need to use the sea when conducting expeditionary operations) and long distance air-to-air refuelled capability. This is a very complicated question. Read more

The UK’s deliberation in 2012 is simplified to some extent by the fact that the construction costs of the ships represent money already spent. I have little doubt that a desperate UK Treasury would have forced their cancellation in 2010 if there were anything to be saved, but the difference between completing the carriers and paying the cancellation penalties proved to be negligible. Disposing of the ships to another power would also only result in a fire-sale price, tiny by comparison with Britain’s outlay so far. However much the wisdom of the original decision and the expenditure involved since may be bewailed by some, the cost benefit question as to whether to retain the carriers depends now upon their through life costs and the capability that they provide by comparison with the shore based approach and its associated resources.

I should note that the lessons drawn from the Libya campaign in many quarters are rather different to those implied in Harry White’s blog—there is a lot of informal evidence that the British government bitterly regretted its decision to rid itself of the seaborne Harrier strike capability so precipitately. And, while Malta might have been an effective base for humanitarian evacuation operations, it was not—and I do not think ever will be again—a willing platform for military operations by foreign forces. The forward deployed fixed wing strike and fighter operations that were flown over Libya by the British came from an Italian airfield, and at substantial financial cost.

In many ways, the planning of the new aircraft carrier capability has been vexed. For example, there has been a lot of backwards and forwards in British planning circles regarding the type of aircraft that will fly off the carriers. After a brief flirtation with the carrier version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the UK government has since gone back to its original plan of the F-35B ‘jump jet’ version (at the cost of an additional £100m for these musings).

However, before condemning the ships as not worth the money in relation to the air power that they will be able to generate, even presuming that the F-35B gets off the ground (so to speak), I would draw readers’ attention to Norman Friedman’s new book Unmanned Combat Air Systems: a new kind of carrier aviation. His assessment is that drones will effectively reduce many of the historical overheads of carrier aviation, such as the need to practise landing techniques. In fact, the number of launches and recoveries will be much reduced by the greater inherent endurance of many unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), while the numbers which can be carried will be much increased from those of manned aircraft—even when considering large UAVs alone. With smaller UAVs, the number of platforms which might be embarked could be increased several fold or more. At the same time, given the potential for remote operations, the air group element of the carrier’s crew can be greatly reduced, lessening cost and increasing the ship’s inherent endurance. Carriers like the Queen Elizabeth class have the potential to remain in service into the second half of the century and their capacity for adaption and change needs to be considered in that light.

One final point. Harry White, like some other strategic commentators, seems to be unclear as to the meaning—and the nature—of sea control. The fact is that there is always an element of risk in operations at sea when the environment is contested in any degree. The question must be whether such risk is acceptable in relation to the operational objectives. Carriers are vulnerable in a high intensity environment. So are fixed air bases whose position is already known to the adversary.

Rear Admiral (ret’d) James Goldrick is a fellow of the RAN’s Sea Power Centre and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.