Archive from January, 2013

Reader response: NSS, escalation and clarification

Having led the development of the National Security Strategy, we are pleased to see the lively commentary and debate which has followed its release including on The Strategist.

While it would not be appropriate for us to become active participants in that debate, we want to ensure any factual inaccuracies are corrected. Mr Jennings states that ‘the word ‘escalation’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the strategy’. It does, on page 27, as follows: ‘But miscalculation or escalation is possible in contested areas, such as in the South and East China Seas, and by countries of strategic concern, such as North Korea.’

More broadly, in relation to Mr Jennings’ statement that ‘there is no bigger judgement than that Australia has a ‘positive’ and ‘benign’ security outlook’, we believe it is important to draw readers’ attention to the important qualifiers used in relation to these words. The Prime Minister’s Foreword states that ‘our strategic outlook is largely positive’ [our emphasis]. And on page 11, the Strategy states that ‘ [strategic and economic competition] brings a degree of uncertainty and complexity to the relatively benign strategic landscape’ [again, our emphasis]. Mr Jennings implicitly acknowledges these caveats by reproducing the same extracts elsewhere in his post. He is of course entitled to his opinion that the Strategy ‘underplays the strategic risks emerging in our wider region’. We simply note that in laying out the risks and challenges Australia might face in the future, the Strategy recognises there are already clear elements of strategic competition at play in the region and that miscalculation and escalation are possible, with the potential for dangerous outcomes.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet


Peter Jennings responds:

I should have spotted the Strategy’s use of the term ‘escalation’; that was sloppy on my part. As PM&C notes, I quoted instances where the Statement qualified the use of terms such as ‘positive’ and ‘benign’, but I stand by my overall judgement that the statement underplays the impact of strategic risks emerging in the region.

Countering violent extremism – the ‘soft power’ approach

The new National Security Strategy points to the Commonwealth’s Countering Violent Extremism Strategy as a key feature of its approach to countering terrorism, espionage and foreign interference. Community programs designed to counter violent extremism—so-called ‘soft power’ counter-terrorism programs—are being increasingly adopted by governments worldwide, including Australia. They are part of an evolving response to the threat posed by groups and individuals seeking to perpetrate or support violence in pursuit of ideological, political or religious goals.

The prevalence of ‘home-grown terrorism’—defined by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department as ‘locally-cultivated violent extremism by individuals born, raised or currently living in Australia’—has prompted a re-design of the solely ‘hard power’ approach to counterterrorism that was the hallmark of the immediate response to the 9/11 attacks.

The threat of violent extremism is now more complex and is becoming increasingly difficult to detect, with violent extremists frequently operating in small independent groups or as ‘lone actors’. Under significant organisational pressure, Al-Qaeda inspired affiliates have used online channels such as its Yemeni affiliate AQAP’s Inspire magazine to campaign for local solo attacks. This campaign seems to be paying off for them, and has coincided with a marked increase in the number of such attacks since 2008. And the threat isn’t just from violent jihadism—the attack by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in 2011 demonstrates the possible presence and lethality of violent extremists across the ideological spectrum (jihadist, right wing, left wing or ethno-nationalist). Read more

While security agencies will continue to use intelligence and law enforcement to prevent or disrupt acts of terrorism, those traditional tools are now being complemented by early prevention policies under the banner ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ (CVE). It’s a broad-brush approach that encapsulates a range of non-coercive tools and programs developed by community organisations and government partners. It aims to collectively:

  • increase community cohesion and trust by fostering interactions and networks between a range of communities, government, police and social service providers
  • dissuade individuals from using violence by supporting non-violent forms of expression
  • reintegrate groups and individuals who have become involved in violent extremism by facilitating their disengagement from the networks and behaviours that promote violence or criminal behaviour.

One such program is the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department’s ‘Building Community Resilience’ grants program. Having adopted some of the promising practices associated with previous CVE programs (eg the UK’s ‘Prevent’ strategy), the Attorney-General’s grants program funds self-nominated community organisations (eg universities, religious NGOs and sports associations) to identify local needs and implement local projects. Projects range from broad community cohesion and youth mentoring programs for vulnerable groups and individuals to leadership and media training for individuals seeking to contribute to community cohesion efforts. Collectively, the dozens of projects funded each year aim to contribute to the Commonwealth Government’s countering violent extremism strategy (PDF).

So how can we determine whether this form of counter-terrorism is effective? A recent ABC report cited community concerns that Australian CVE projects may be missing their target by focusing on community empowerment rather than trying to counter extremism in the community. This mirrors past critiques of the UK’s Prevent program.

However CVE not only involves efforts to counter the influence of violent extremism in vulnerable communities, but also attempts to locate individuals who have the credibility and willingness in their community to do so. CVE is as much a network- and trust-building exercise between government and community partners as it is a countering of violence strategy. Likewise, some of the best solutions will likely come from those groups and individuals who are in close contact with radicalising influences but who reject their message and wish to work against them.

The recent violence during protests in Sydney and raids by police in Melbourne reminds us that there are potential violent extremist elements present in our communities. But we must also be reminded that Australia, to date, has been able to mitigate these nascent threats with the assistance of sound working relationships developed between the community and relevant authorities. Maintaining, developing and promoting these relationships should remain an integral part of the strategy to combat violent extremism now and in the future.

Andrew Smith is a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre (GTReC), Monash University.

Why Carr needs the velvet glove more than the iron fist

"More velvet, eh?"

On my flight home from Fiji recently, I was struck by the continuing negativism of the arguments regarding Australian relations with Fiji. Rowan Callick’s commentary in the Weekend Australian is another example of a tough line on Fiji without any positive proposals. The one element of novelty in Callick’s piece, however, is the suggestion that Carr’s ‘soft’ approach toward the Government of Commodore Voreqe (‘Frank’) Bainimarama is the reason why Fiji has slipped the leash and gone feral recently. But this belies the evidence of the past six years. When has the Bainimarama Government ever been on an Australian leash or even responded positively to pressure from Canberra?

Having viewed the changing events in Fiji fairly closely in a variety of roles over the past six years, I find it difficult to see how the tactics that have failed to have any influence on the course of Fiji’s return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup will work in the 18 months before Fiji is due to go to elections. And this view has been bolstered by a week in Suva talking with a range of people that included participants in the constitutional process, current and former members of Government and academics. More of the same intransigence simply will not to produce a different outcome.

The Bainimarama Government has neither deviated from the roadmap’s timing for the return to democracy that it announced in July 2009 and nor has it altered this timetable since Bob Carr became Foreign Minister. Still, it’s a welcome development that Carr apparently has accepted this—albeit at a fairly low level—but it’s far too late to have the sort of influence that was on offer at the beginning of 2008. Read more

The deepening frustration with Canberra since July 2009 comes from seeing Australian Governments refusing to set incremental steps for returning to a balanced relationship; of being obdurate even to the point of reneging on an agreement. Fiji’s lifting of censorship rules, withdrawal of the public emergency regulations, registering of voters and starting of the constitutional process have all been greeted with ‘not enough’ from Canberra.

The Bainimarama Government nevertheless expected some improvement in relations after the July 2012 tripartite agreement between Australia, Fiji and New Zealand to restore High Commissioners and relax some visa sanctions. However, to its genuine disappointment, many in Government in Suva saw little real change. They smile wryly at Australian critics who interpreted Carr’s expression of understanding over some of the complexities of the drafting of a new constitution as example of unwarranted appeasement.

Understanding scarcely constitutes undeserved compassion in a sanctions regime against Fiji which includes elements that, arguably, would be illegal if applied domestically—such as those against family members of targeted officials. Indeed, within the Fiji Government, the travel sanctions against it are claimed to be more extensive than even those against Mugabe at his worst. Yet, for all their severity, the critics can’t point to a single positive instance where these sanctions have hastened the return to democracy in Fiji by so much as a day.

Seen from the Suva perspective, there hasn’t been a skerrick of public encouragement to mark the passing of the roadmap’s milestones to elections. The most recent disappointment was the denial of a visa to Aisake Taito, the chief executive of the Fiji National Provident Fund (a Government enterprise) and Bainimarama’s brother-in-law, who was to make a business trip to Australia at the end of December. Suva saw this as a clear breach of the July 2012 tripartite agreement. According to one commentator, it’s now highly likely that the Government’s response will be to refuse Margaret Twomey a chance to present her credentials as the first Australian High Commissioner to Fiji since James Batley was expelled in November 2009.

Whether anyone one in Canberra wants to admit it, Australia has suffered a retreat from influence within our region and its institutions; a decline of support from our neighbours in the United Nations; and diminished respect from key allies in the South Pacific on regional affairs. These foreign policy consequences for the contretemps between Australia and Fiji shouldn’t be used to excuse the weaknesses in the political processes of Fiji today but the critics, especially those so vocal in the Australian media, should be consistent in their expectations.

Even supporters of the Bainimarama Government have been disappointed that it hasn’t taken every opportunity to demonstrate the bona fides of its professed reformist goals. This includes, most recently, aspects of the constitutional process and the edict regulating political parties as well as a renewed activism by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. Nevertheless, the present Government is the only game in town at least until 2014. Canberra needs to recognise this even as its South Pacific allies have already done. Moreover, Canberra needs to recognise and address the fact that Fiji has its own complaints against Australia.

It’s impossible to prove that a gentler, more engaged approach to the Bainimarama Government would have accelerated the return to democracy or made the path to democracy smoother. What’s undeniable is that the hard line approach advocated by critics over the years hasn’t prevented any of the adverse consequences of the toxic political relationship between the two countries. Indeed, it has contributed demonstrably to these outcomes. Failing to reset policy settings with regard to Fiji until ‘after free and fair elections in 2014’ merely demonstrates this ineffectiveness. Worse, where does Canberra go when elections are held under a constitution it regards as flawed by a process it deems biased? Does Australia rail against the result as not ‘free and fair’ and so maintain the sanctions that have had no effect?

It’s far too late to expect any great Australian influence on Suva’s charted course to the 2014 elections. But there’s much to be done to assist technically with the preparations for them, if Bainimarama will accept help now. If not, it’s still essential to prepare the ground for more effective relations after the elections. Hectoring from the bunkers is not only a demonstration of impotence; it is also preparing a grave for future relations.

Richard Herr is honorary director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs, University of Fiji. Some of these themes will be explored more fully with regards to the broader implications for Australia’s security interests in Melanesia at RUSI’s forthcoming 2nd International Defence and Security Dialogue. Image courtesy of Flickr user Asia Society.

The NSS: a strategy within a strategy

A strategy within a strategy within a strategy

Last week’s National Security Strategy has attracted a mixed reaction, with many commentators focussing (rightly) on the vagueness of the document and the lack of any concrete spending commitments.

But the PM’s speech on launching the paper was rather more concrete. In particular, she emphasised three big changes in Australia’s strategic environment: a swing back to focusing on states rather than non-state actors, on our region rather than the world, and on diplomacy over other alternatives.

I think she’s right on each of these. The tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, and between China and almost everyone in the South China Sea, are good examples. Both are all about states, all about our region (and particularly maritime sea lanes and freedom of passage, perhaps the most crucial security issue for Australia) and (hopefully) both can be resolved diplomatically. If not, we’re in trouble. Read more

This also suggests to me that it will be the intelligence agencies, which have grown hugely in the post-9/11 era, that will bear the brunt of any funding cuts this time around. The ramp-up in spending in intelligence over the past decade has been very much driven by the ‘war on terror’. But the PM was unequivocal in declaring the war won: ‘Osama Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda’s senior leadership is fractured. Jemaah Islamiah has been decimated in our region’.

The other major beneficiary of the loose funding of the past decade, AusAID, could also get a haircut. Given that its now $5 billion annual budget has come largely at the expense of defence and foreign affairs, a serious look at the opportunity costs and national interests inherent in Australia’s emergence as a major aid donor is well overdue. If Australia’s sea-lanes of trade and communication are threatened, it won’t be the aid industry that comes to the rescue.

Ultimately, a swing back to a more realist rather than liberal strategy for Australia is overdue. But hard power requires hard decisions on spending. As they say in the Pentagon, ‘show me your budget and I’ll show you our strategy’.

On this point, the PM’s speech did include one ludicrous clanger—a claim, since amended on the official draft, that Australia is the world’s second largest defence spender per capita. According to 2012 SIPRI figures, we are not even in the top 10 on this measure, falling behind the US, Israel, Singapore and even Norway, amongst others.

Benjamin Reilly is professor of political science at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. Image courtesy of Flickr user backpackphotography.

Challenges for South Korea’s new president

Incoming South Korean President Geun-hue Park

Ms Park Geun-hye, a conservative leader, was elected as South Korea’s new president in a general election last month and is due to take office in a few days’ time. And, while Northeast Asia may seem outside Australia’s field of direct security focus, South Korea is nevertheless going to be an important partner for Australia, as flagged in the Asian Century White Paper and the newly released National Security Strategy. Park has been known in the past for a tough stance on North Korea, having demanded a formal apology from the North for former acts of aggression and once rejected the idea of holding talks with the North ‘just for the sake of having a meeting’. While she won by a narrow margin of just 3.5%, the win signalled that perhaps the majority of South Koreans would prefer a harder-line security and defence policy to manage the North Korean threat and address rising tensions with Japan. There’s no doubt that Park has her work cut out for her with those issues while guiding South Korea through a potentially turbulent period as China and the United States increasingly vie for influence in North Asia and beyond.

Some analysts believe that Park will try to walk a middle ground between the hostile and conciliatory approaches towards North Korea of former governments, and will attempt to blend elements of both. So far, Park has opened dialogue with the North and agreed to continue providing food and medical aid. But she’s also said that North Korea’s nuclear threats ‘will not be tolerated’. So, she’s tougher than Moon who lost the race for the Presidency, but she’s not so tough that she won’t continue dialogue and aid. We’re yet to see whether Park will be effective in reigning in Northern aggression—in response to recent tightening of existing sanctions by the UNSC, the North has threatened to conduct further missile tests as well as a third nuclear weapon test. How Park reacts to a third nuclear test will be a test of her character and her policy. Read more

Looking east, Park has the difficult task of improving relations with the newly-elected Abe government in Japan. South Korea-Japanese relations have soured recently over territorial claims and long-standing World War II grievances. Both South Korea and Japan have played a part in aggravating tensions: South Korea’s outgoing President made an ill-advised visit to the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo Islands in August last year while the incoming Japanese Prime Minister Abe called into question Japan’s accountability for recruiting Korean ‘comfort women’ during WWII. While these issues continue to rile the public, the South Korean and Japanese governments have more reasons to cooperate on security and defence issues than not, as they will be directly affected by nuclear developments in North Korea, an assertive China, and US–China rivalry.

For his part, Abe has tried to mend relations between the countries by sending a special envoy to Seoul. It doesn’t help, however, that activists in both countries protest attempts to improve the relationship (a South Korean man protested the arrival of Abe’s special envoy by stabbing himself in the stomach at Seoul’s Gimpo Airport). If Park wants to make progress on cooperative actions with Japan, she’ll need to quash the South Korean nationalist sentiment that was stirred up in the lead up to the elections, and fast. Similarly, she’ll need to play down territorial and other conflicts and play up the benefit of security cooperation with Japan. With South Korea and Japan being close economic and security partners of Australia, it’s in our best interests to encourage a bond between the two and to be innovative in our defence arrangements with them. As my colleague Benjamin Schreer wrote recently, US alliance partners need to work together to clarify mutual expectations in the Asia–Security order.

Perhaps most difficult of all for the new South Korean President will be how to respond to changing power dynamics in the region. China’s rise and the US pivot to Asia will create a number of new challenges for South Korea, and at the forefront of these challenges is the future of the US–South Korean alliance. There’s every indication that the US–South Korean alliance remains strong; the US is gearing up to provide South Korea with additional Apache attack helicopters and Washington has been upgrading the personnel, weaponry, and equipment of South Korean forces. But, as the US commits more military hardware to the region and the US expects more of South Korea as a key ally in Asia, Park needs to be wary of how these actions will be perceived in Beijing. If China feels that South Korea is complicit in a US-led policy of containment, there might be a point where the US alliance becomes more of a liability than a benefit—especially since the ROK always has one eye on possible reunification on the peninsula and the spoiler role that China could play. The trick is for Park to reap the benefits of the alliance while minimising the fallout in China. Like it or not, South Korea—just like Australia—needs to be wary of the impact of its US alliance on China. If there is to be a smooth power transition in the region, US allies need to play a bigger role in mitigating tensions, and part of that means being more accommodating of China.

Ms Park already has the spotlight for being the first female President of South Korea, but now she needs to open a new chapter in inter-Korean relations, see Japan as a security partner and help facilitate a smooth power shift in Asia.

Hayley Channer is an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας

Australia’s National Security Strategy: it’s more than Asia

The release of Australia’s new National Security Strategy raises a number of issues, of which two seem preeminent. One is a growing gap between the opinions of the media and public and those of the small groups concerned with policy advice and policymaking. The other is an equally significant gap between policy guidance intended to seem stable and predictable over a few years and the realities of an increasing unpredictable and volatile international environment.

At first sight the paper seems carefully phased, largely appropriate and, as Michael l’Estrange has pointed out, even subtle. Its statement of principles seems obvious. Many of its views go, helpfully, far beyond the generalities of previous white papers. One example is the priority given to cyber security. That inevitably involves not just attention to countries in other quarters of the world but to a variety of non-state, criminal and mobile individuals and groups who might be located anywhere. They pose multiple threats; industrial espionage or the theft of patents, hacking into private email and other communications or penetration of government and intelligence agency computers. Some may even have no interest in Australian secrets per se but seek access to US or British intelligence or defence networks via Australian systems. The origins of such threats can’t be geographically defined.

Nevertheless, there’s much in this policy statement, especially in its generalisations, that is debatable. ‘Asia’, ‘the Asia-Pacific’, and especially the ’Asian Century’ are abstractions, not ways of describing reality. ‘Asia’ is not a unit economically, politically, demographically or in any other way. China and Japan are almost at daggers drawn, as are India and Pakistan. China is not within sight of matching the United States, militarily or economically, nor in innovation. Even if China’s GDP overtakes the US, that will be a mere statistical aggregate, bearing no necessary relation to global financial or military power, technological leadership or innovative capacity. Not for nothing has China in the last 30 years sent 2.5 million students abroad to developed countries. Read more

The paper also assumes, as does the wider public, that serious dangers to Australia must stem from geographic contiguity. Hence ADF deployments are widely accepted for disaster relief at home or peacekeeping in the Solomons or East Timor, while deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan have been much more controversial.

It would be wise to pay more attention to our own history. The realities of power relate not only to military or political culture, economics or even geography, but to language, religion, race and sentiment. There’s a visible backlash against globalisation in the current reassertion of competition between nations. None of the major powers, singly or in combination, look in the least likely to succeed in imposing an effective global, or even regional, security system in Africa or Asia. Indeed, the world has entered, not for the first time—and surely not for the last—what the Chinese used to call a ‘time of troubles’.

For Australia, the reality is that there are few significant choices to be made between ‘our region’ and the rest of the world. The entire history of Australian interests and engagements, since before Federation, has been to do with global rather than narrowly regional and local involvements. Military activities have ranged from Southern Africa to France, Palestine, Afghanistan, Eastern Siberia, Korea and Japan. But, secondly and even more importantly, security issues and policies long ago ceased to be purely military matters. In the contemporary world they also have to do with disaster relief, aid programs of many kinds, commercial investment, financial loans and a host of other activities. Many of the security issues turn out to be stabilisation exercises in and with a civil society. Soldiers have had to learn to be not just skilled fighters but policemen, traffic wardens, aid givers, and even child minders.

A few other points illustrate the continuing global nature of Australian interests. The first is also the most obvious; Australia doesn’t have, and never has had, any possibility of maintaining its military or intelligence capabilities without foreign production, technology, weaponry and equipment, training and advice. Interoperability with allies is one of the main questions in all defence acquisition decisions. The so-called ‘Anglosphere’ continues to play a critical role in these matters.

Furthermore, there are obvious, major and continuing distant threats. Arguably the single most dangerous current conflicts in the world are the religious wars of the Islamic world. The most dramatic is probably that by jihadis fighting what they see as a defensive war against their Western, often Christian, enemies. But the more important is that between Sunni and Shia versions of Islam. Sunni Salafist extremists have been building their influence through the Islamic world for years, from Morocco into sub-Saharan Africa, through Libya, Egypt and Somalia and north through Syria and Iraq and beyond, into Afghanistan and the Russian Islamic republics. That’s why Russia continues to side with the Shia rulers of Iran and Iran’s pro-Shia allies in Syria fighting largely Sunni ‘rebels’ in a civil war. And it’s also why the US-led campaign in Afghanistan has, among other things, served the interests of a China anxious to avoid having such radicals penetrate the Muslim population of its vast Xinjiang province. Australia must be involved when its neighbour Indonesia is the most populous state in an Islamic world being rocked all the way from Morocco to Bali.

Nor is it likely that the constellation of global power will remain unchanged for long. For instance, while the major Australian media seem to have paid very little attention, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has laid down markers for a challenge to the shape and size of the evolving European Union. That accompanies moves to create a trans-Atlantic, US–European security grouping as well as a free trade area. It might within a few years create the most powerful military, technological and economic grouping in the world—and one with multiple links with Australia

In other words, it’s a practical and intellectual error to try to classify security-related issues or problems in terms of the security of the Australian continent or of their proximity to, or distance from, Australia’s shores. Our security will continue to be strongly influenced, even dictated, by geographically distant events and decisions, as it has always been.

Harry Gelber is emeritus professor at the School of Government, University of Tasmania.

Submarines and maritime strategy – part 1

HMAS Collins and HMNZS Te Mana (background) anchored in Jervis Bay during the Fleet Concentration Period.  Fleet Concentration Period held in the vicinity of Jervis Bay allows ships company to hone their skills, conducting various exercises to enhance a war fighting capability.

Nic Stuart’s enquiry regarding the need for submarines, asks the reader to think back to the very beginning, the 2009 Defence White Paper. Yet, 2009 is hardly an appropriate start point if we are to adequately grasp the need for submarines, or understand broader Australian maritime strategy.

The real beginning was 1901. In the years following Federation, the fledgling Australian Government sought to understand its needs for the defence of the realm. On 7 April 1902 Major General Hutton, Commandant of the Military Forces of the Commonwealth, noted:

The defence of Australia cannot… be considered apart from the defence of Australian interests. Australia depends for its commercial success and its future development firstly upon its seaborne trade and secondly upon the existence, maintenance, and extension of fixed and certain markets for its produce outside Australian waters. It therefore follows that Australian interests cannot be assured by the defence alone of Australian soil.

The Commonwealth first seriously considered acquiring submarines in 1907. Alongside the mix of destroyers and cruisers that made up the first fleet unit, Australia eventually elected to purchase three submarines, and in 1914 the first two, AE1 and AE2, arrived at Sydney. So began Australia’s nearly 100-year association with submarines, running through the J, O and Oberon classes, until Collins in the 1990s and the current debate. Read more

Over this period some aspects of Australia’s geo-strategic situation have sharpened significantly. Today China and India are rising, competitive multipolarity is the order of the day, and a new Indo-Pacific (PDF) maritime sphere has emerged in geo-strategic thought. As the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper puts it:

Driven by Asia’s economic rise, the Indian Ocean is surpassing the Atlantic and Pacific as the world’s busiest and most strategically significant trade corridor. One-third of the world’s bulk cargo and around two-thirds of world oil shipments now pass through the Indian Ocean. Regional cooperation to ensure the safety and security of these vital trade routes will become more important over coming decades.

But other strategic factors have barely changed, or have changed in ways that require us to adjust rather than reject them outright. A century ago Major General Hutton understood that decisive outcomes could be achieved by effects applied at sea, far from our shores. In the Asian century Australian prosperity has become more not less reliant on the proper functioning of the global maritime trading system.

Indeed, we’ve entered a maritime century as much as an Asian century. Moreover, as the Prime Minister made clear in launching the National Security Strategy on 23 January, we have entered a ‘post 9/11’ era, ‘in which the behaviour of states, not non-state actors, will be the most important driver and shaper of Australia’s national security thinking.’

Australia needs a maritime school of thought to underpin intellectually a maritime strategy. The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, recently postulated what this school of thought needs to consider:

  • the sheer scale of our maritime sovereignty and the area where we can credibly exercise sovereign rights, the two of course being very different
  • the increased pervasiveness of maritime trade and our national dependence on it for our ongoing prosperity
  • our terms of trade play a significant role in the growth of our real gross national income
  • the fundamental vulnerabilities to which our geo-strategic situation exposes us in a highly interconnected and ‘just in time’ economic system
  • the importance of collaboration and cooperation in keeping our global maritime trading system free and open. No single maritime focused force can expect to achieve this mission alone.

Furthermore, ADM Griggs sees a need for reach and endurance:

It is crucial for example that we have frigates and submarines that can be operated and sustained where they need to in this global system, that we have other ISR assets that can do likewise, and that we have the ability to deploy and sustain credible and potent land forces to support the broader national objectives.

Submarines provide Australia with capabilities of stealth, reach, endurance and formidable striking power. While operating undetected, they can provide a wide variety of intelligence and enhance the range of options open to the government to protect national interests. Contrary to assertions in Nic’s article, they do have unique capabilities, including the capacity to operate in areas denied to other forces. And in a maritime region where submarines are already proliferating, our own submarines have a vital anti-submarine role.

The inclusion of submarines in a maritime strategy is a force multiplier. Operating as part of a balanced, joint, integrated and networked force, submarines will often create the conditions necessary for sea control, allowing other components of the ADF to be effectively employed. These characteristics, coupled with the submarine’s ability to deny the use of the sea to a potential adversary are of significant deterrent value

The current submarine debate in Australia is important given that the capability is a significant cost to the taxpayer. I have no issue with questioning the need for submarines. But if that question is to be asked, then the starting place for the argument should be our enduring strategic circumstances. The current fascination with platform type, place of build, engineering configuration and numbers does little to add intellectual rigour to the analysis of the submarines’ role in Australia’s maritime strategy.

In no part of Nic’s post does he address Australia’s geo-strategic circumstances, or suggest what might be included in the ‘plethora of other alternatives’. Nic makes some other assertions I’ll come back to in another post.

Captain Justin Jones RAN is the director of the Sea Power Centre – Australia. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Australian government, Department of Defence, Australian Defence Force or the Royal Australian Navy. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

The Australian National Security Strategy: still under construction?

Australia's National Security Strategy: still under construction?

The new National Security Strategy has much to commend it in terms of ambition and intent, although its real strength is probably as a comprehensive public information overview document. This is an important matter in a democracy, where the great Departments of State expend society’s resources in trying to achieve agreed national goals.

There’ll be many who will comment on the Strategy’s judgments on the strategic environment and threats, but the conceptual framework it’s built upon will probably escape much scrutiny. While a less exciting aspect, it’s worth examining how the framework sharply constrains the Strategy and unfortunately diminishes its overall value.

Firstly, the Strategy isn’t a grand strategy unlike, for instance, the American National Security Strategy (PDF). A grand strategy is concerned with the development and allocation of resources—manpower, money, materiel, legitimacy and soft power. The Australian National Security Strategy glances backwards to last year’s budget allocations but otherwise is uninhibited by resource considerations. Also, rather than guiding the full range of the instruments of national power, the Australian Strategy focuses strongly on hard power instruments, including border security and law enforcement as well as the ADF. There’s little mention of the economic, diplomatic or informational instruments. Read more

The Strategy also isn’t a risk management strategy, unlike the UK National Security Strategy. The British Strategy prioritises risks into three tiers, based on a National Security Risk Assessment looking out five and twenty years. The Australian Strategy, on the other hand, lists a range of risks but neither prioritises them nor explains how they were derived. And rather than adopting a whole-of-government approach like the UK document, the Australian one is much more narrowly conceived to emphasise activities only concerning a small number of Departments and agencies. In fact, both the British and the Australian National Security Strategies aren’t national in the sense of encompassing the whole-of-the-nation. They really only encompass ‘the state’ (and in the Australian case not even all of it) and perhaps should be renamed accordingly!

That’s what it isn’t. But what is the Australian Strategy document? Like other strategies that adopt a risk management approach, it has many lists. Australia, we are told, has four objectives in the national security field, seven ‘key risks’ and eight ‘pillars’. Wags may suggest that this then means ‘only’ 224 possible permutations, but it raises the more serious question of why these numbers? Why eight pillars, why not four, or indeed twelve?

These ‘laundry lists’ are sometimes reflective of strategies built from the ground up; existing activities and current Departmental predilections are aggregated by some coordinating organisation in an eye-pleasing manner and on a broadly functional basis. This might have happened in the Strategy given that that the objectives, risks and pillars sometimes overlap and sometimes only loosely align, with little direct connection between them. There seems to be a confusion of business strategy methodologies—including the use of the ubiquitous vision statement—with a risk management approach, and the result is a certain degree of incoherence.

However, the Strategy’s four objectives are worthy enough statements in themselves: for example, who wouldn’t prefer to ‘secure our assets’ rather than make them more insecure? But the objectives are ultimately not measurable on a quantifiable (or even qualitative) basis. As such, how can anyone know when the objectives have been achieved or which are the most cost-effective methods to reach them? Worse, the objectives aren’t prioritised and at times are in conflict with each other. One objective seeks to strengthen our sovereignty while another seeks to secure our infrastructure; the latter may require embracing alliances or collective defence, potentially diminishing our sovereignty. How are such tensions to be reconciled?

The problems identified here could be addressed by having a clear objective, in the service of which the nation’s ‘means’ can be employed. All else would then follow, including a whole-of-nation scope, priorities, sensible resource commitments and overall coherence. This doesn’t mean some Stalinist command approach which everybody must rigidly follow, rather an overarching objective towards which the various Departmental and agency working levels can work in flexible ways.

And lo, right at the end the Strategy gives us this Holy Grail. Tucked away at the finish is a cogent list of three priorities—albeit only loosely linked to the earlier four objectives, seven risks and eight pillars: enhanced regional engagement, integrated cyber policy and operations and ‘effective partnerships to achieve innovative and efficient national security outcomes’.

Two of the priorities are means to an end; cyber defence isn’t a good in itself but is done to protect other interests and, similarly, partnerships are formed to achieve specific objectives, not as ends in themselves. But the other priority is different, and hints at working towards building a particular type of institutional order amongst the nations in our region. And it’s this potential grand strategic objective that could form a meaningful basis for a more useful national security strategy.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW. Image courtesy of Marko Milošević.

ASPI suggests: Australia Day edition

Air Force will officially retire its remaining C-130Hs on 30 November 2012. Ahead of the type's retirement from service, the aircraft with the distinctive commemorative tail artwork flew over the Blue Mountains, the NSW Coast and Sydney Harbour area, acknowledging the strong links the C-130H has held with these communities since the first of 12 aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Richmond in July of 1978.

Happy Australia Day! Coming to you from Jakarta once again, here’s a jam-packed edition of ASPI suggests, our collection of links, reports and news from the security, defence and strategy world for your long weekend reading pleasure.

Internship applications are now open

We’ll kick off with good news: applications for the Round 2 2013 (1 April 2013 – 1 December 2013) ASPI Research Internship Program open today!

The ASPI Research Internship Program is a great opportunity for recent graduates to acquire practical experience in how strategic policy advice is developed and delivered to government. Interns work in a paid research assistant capacity, under the guidance of one of our senior staff. You’ll get the opportunity to make a real contribution to developing strategic policy advice, and in the process, gain some valuable ‘on the job’ training.

Australian citizens who have recently graduated from undergraduate or postgraduate studies in a field relevant to ASPI’s research programs are eligible to apply. Applications close 15 February, see here for more details. Read more


Sticking with Australia, the Prime Minister launched Strong and Secure: a strategy for Australia’s national security on Wednesday (you can find the text here). Australia’s security relationship with Indonesia gets a special mention on page 12, in fact ‘maintaining the positive trajectory of that relationship is a priority’.

Yesterday, Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley tweeted that working together with New Zealand on combined operations like Timor Leste, Solomons Islands and PNG has strengthened our defence relationship. General Hurley made the statement while in New Zealand on Thursday for the biennial BRITANZ meeting. Also present was UK Chief of Defence Staff General David Richardson who, with General Hurley, spoke on Wednesday at an ASPI lunch in Canberra about future security challenges (you can watch the video here).

Southeast Asia

According to The Australian, a draft copy of the 2013 Defence White Paper suggests Australia will be restoring defence ties with Myanmar. Australia withdrew its last resident defence attaché there in 1979.

And while most of the news in Indonesia understandably is still focussed on the Jakarta floods right now, here’s a piece by Indonesia’s ambassador to South Korea on the bilateral relationship, including the joint development of a new jet fighter. Also, the first former RAAF C-130H aircraft is being prepared for transfer to the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU), as part of a defence agreement announced last year.

Next, an article on Indonesia’s reaction to Obama’s second term as US President; observers are not expecting any radical changes in policy and they hope the relationship will grow only stronger.

North Korea

What does North Korea do in response to tightened UNSC sanctions? Threaten to ‘target’ the US with further nuclear tests and missile launches, of course (ignoring the fact that last month’s missile launch is what caused the tightening in the first place). Speaking of last month’s missile launch, Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk takes a close look at the Unha 3 wreckage.

Social media

Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations asks four experts whether social media can prevent conflict. Among the interesting responses, one noted that Twitter has helped reduce violence in Brazil’s favelas while in another, an Egyptian activist said: ‘We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.’

On a related note, take Rebecca Johnson’s military ethics course via Twitter! The associate professor at the Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College has opened her course for tweeps to audit. To find out more, including the course outline and reading material, check out her blog or follow #METC on Twitter. And here’s Wired’s coverage of Johnson’s project.

Women in combat

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that it would begin to lift its official ban on women serving in combat units. The move will eventually make all ground combat jobs open to women. One commentator expressed scepticism about what this means, saying: ‘Does that mean that women are going to be full-up Navy SEALs? Probably not … It probably means there will be sub-specialties within the SEALs for which they are eligible.’ For a range a reactions in the US, check out this article by Politico.

Special operations

Seen Zero Dark Thirty? Over at Abu Muqawama blog, Adam Elkus uses the film as an inroad to discuss great raids (and disasters) and the increasing complexity of special operations raids like Operation Neptune Spear.

Meanwhile, for an Australian perspective on the bin Laden raid, here’s Strategist contributor Jim Molan’s review of No Easy Day. Released last year, the book was written by a member of SEAL Team 6 who was involved in the raid and is an on-the-ground account of what went down in Abbottabad.

Rolling Stone magazine isn’t sold on the defence that movies can depict things without necessarily endorsing them. This review of Zero Dark Thirty takes a sceptical view.


Brisbane readers, check out Dr Jong Kun Choi of Yonsei University speak on why engagement policy still works and remains to the best policy option to resolve North Korea’s problem. The public lecture is on Thursday 7 February from 2pm, Griffith University.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

National Security: the decade after the decade before

'Near miss'. Image courtesy of Flickr user Madison Guy.

In strategy it’s the big judgements about security that matter— they set the context for all the policy decisions that follow. In Strong and Secure: A Strategy for Australia’s National Security, launched by the Prime Minister this week, there’s no bigger judgement than that Australia has a ‘positive’ and ‘benign’ security outlook. It’s worth tracking the use of these words in the Strategy. In her foreword Prime Minister Gillard says:

Some 12 years [after 9/11], our strategic outlook is largely positive. We live in one of the safest and most cohesive nations in the world. We have a strong economy. A major war is unlikely.

In chapter four, which reviews Australia’s strategic outlook, we read:

An assessment of the strategic environment suggests that the outlook for Australia’s national security over the next decade is largely positive. Major conflict is unlikely and we have a proactive, effective and adaptive national security capability to respond to challenges as they unfold.

The use of the word ‘benign’ is in a section titled ‘National Security Risks’:

The current international environment is unlikely to see war between major powers. However, it is characterised by shifting power balances, strategic and economic competition, and territorial disputes. This competition brings a degree of uncertainty and complexity to the relatively benign global landscape.

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The Prime Minister warns that ‘this positive strategic outlook is no excuse for complacency’, but the biggest risk the Strategy acknowledges is ‘uncertainty and complexity.’ One can only hope that this upbeat judgement about Australia’s security was subjected to forensic analysis. How confident, for example, can we really be about the judgement that a major war is unlikely? In the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear development program could well spark a war in the very short term. The Strategy says that ‘Iran’s nuclear ambitions could also lead to heightened tensions and possibly further conflict.’ No kidding! In South Asia, there’s serious potential for a conflict between India and Pakistan, possibly sparked by another Lashkar-e-Taiba attack. In North Asia tensions between North and South Korea have been at a heightened state for years.

The authors of the Strategy might counter that such wars would not be ‘major’ or that they are far enough away from Australia for us not to worry about their consequences. I struggle to see how Australia could remain aloof from conflicts involving nuclear powers in areas where we have deep alliance and economic interests. More broadly, the best that could be said of the Strategy is that it has a remarkably optimistic view about the state of strategic competition emerging between the major powers. Yes, the paper does acknowledge ‘the potential for minor clashes to have dangerous outcomes’, but it would take a certain cast of mind to categorise a naval incident in the South China Sea as a minor clash. And the word ‘escalation’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the Strategy.

Even if the judgement about the low risk of major war is correct, we should ask if it’s the correct benchmark for assessing how well placed Australia is to handle strategic developments. Putting Afghanistan to one side, the biggest test of Australia’s national security community in the last forty years was the deployment of a brigade-sized force to East Timor starting in 1999. While the Strategy says of East Timor and the Solomon Islands that ‘the immediate outlook for security and stability is more positive’—there’s that ‘p’ word again—no one should doubt how quickly the need might arise for Australia to deploy a similarly sized force into our nearer region. Any such operation will be highly costly and will immediately absorb the full attention of government and the national security community.

Overall, the Strong and Secure statement underplays the strategic risks emerging in our wider region. It’s revealing that the Prime Minister’s speech at the ANU to launch the Strategy uses neither ‘positive’ nor ‘benign’ as words to describe Australia’s strategic environment. The language of Julia Gillard’s speech is more sober, more attuned to talking about the heavy responsibilities of office ‘because national security is the most fundamental task of government.’ It would be a much tougher sell to claim that the strategic environment is largely benign and that, as a consequence, defence spending can be significantly cut. But that conclusion follows naturally from the big strategic judgement in the Strategy. As the Prime Minister said in her speech, ‘The National Security Strategy will also inform priority-setting in a time of fiscal constraint.’ It most certainly will. Welcome to the decade after the national security decade.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user Madison Guy.

Graph(s) of the week: expensive ships or a big fleet – you may only pick one

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 18, 2012) Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, renders a salute during a pass in review by the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) as she arrives in San Diego. Fort Worth was commissioned Sept. 22, 2012, in Galveston, Texas, and will be assigned to U.S. Pacific Fleet.

For the first graph of 2013 we’re going back to a topic that has been exercising the minds of force planners around the world for decades: how can we keep up with the rising unit cost of military platforms? The short answer is ‘we can’t’, except by expending an ever greater proportion of national wealth on military equipment, and the graphs below tell the story.

In the first figure, the blue data points are the number of major combatants in the USN from 1960 to the current date. The red line—labelled the ‘fleet affordability index’—is the number of vessels that would be expected if the USN had fixed buying power across the period. It shows how the USN’s fleet would be expected to decline if the sole driver was the increasing cost of vessels. It’s calculated by taking the RAND Corporation’s estimate of the increasing real cost of naval vessels—a 2.1% real increase per annum—and compounding it. As the curve shows, the USN bucked the trend for a while as the Vietnam War was at its peak in the late 1960s, and again in the Reagan build-up years of the 1980s. But economics has a habit of coming back to bite, and as defence spending returns to the long term trend, so too the fleet size inexorably heads back towards the ‘line of fixed buying power’ represented by the fleet affordability index.

Sources: USN fleet size from Cost index curve from RAND Corporation estimates of unit price increase.Sources: USN fleet size from Cost index curve from RAND Corporation estimates of unit price increase.

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In each of the periods of fleet growth, American spending on defence as a proportion of GDP was increased for a few years. The second graph below shows real US defence spending indexed to the 1960 budget, on the same chart as the rising growth in the cost of naval vessels. During the Vietnam and Reagan years, the budget got ahead of the unit cost curve, allowing for an expansion of the Navy. After the end of the Cold War it fell well behind, hence the steady tailing off of the fleet size. The surge in spending since 2001 is a little misleading in this context, because a lot of it has gone into supporting two land wars and the USN has been only a modest beneficiary of the additional funds. In the years to come, it will be interesting to see if the focus on the predominantly maritime Asia-Pacific theatre and the associated AirSea Battle concept will see the USN bounce back. But in an era where ‘austerity’ seems to be the by-word, I wouldn’t be betting on it.

Source: US defence spending figures from Pentagon budget papers 2012 ‘Green Book’

Source: US defence spending figures from Pentagon budget papers 2012 ‘Green Book’ (PDF).

Andrew Davies is a senior analyst for defence capability at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Official US Navy Imagery.

A strategy as a statement

There is an element of Spinal Tap message management in going from a mere statement to the grand plains of strategy.

Having nearly a five year gap between ‘annual’ national security statements does offer one benefit—the chance to compare and contrast successive documents to assess directions and decisions. PM Gillard quietly disposed of the ‘annual’ burden in two ways. First, she trumped the National Security Statement Kevin Rudd issued in 2008 (PDF), with a grander sounding National Security Strategy. Second, she announced that the strategy will be renewed on a five-year cycle.

There is an element of Spinal Tap message management in going from a mere statement to the grand plains of strategy. But the shift makes sense at several levels beyond the political. The new five-year schedule for national security updates comes into line with the five-year cycle of Defence White Papers. Certainly, this strategy document settles some of the conceptual parameters for the White Paper that Defence is expected to issue by mid-year. And in a parallel with the Defence Capability Plan, there’s to be a National Security Capability Plan.

The National Security Strategy is the bridge that links the optimistic liberal internationalism of the Asia Century White Paper (we are all going to trade our way to happiness) to the state-based realism of the Defence White Paper (as Gillard expressed it, ‘the most basic expression of our sovereignty’). Read more

Beyond carping about message-management, the Gillard document does have some of the sinews of strategy (although still lacking money muscle—more on that from Peter Jennings in a coming post). A lot more wordage and nice graphics have been thrown at the document than went into Rudd’s 2008 statement. That partly reflects the changed bureaucratic reality. The position of the National Security Adviser and the new national security coordination role in the PM’s Department is set and settled. The Strategy is an expression of this now established institutional role.

While on that point, there was one interesting whack by Gillard at Canberra’s existing structure: ‘My message to the national security community is: if you see a silo, dig it up’. Such a tear-down-that-wall instruction suggests that the PM and her National Security Adviser are not quite as sanguine and satisfied about how well all the Canberra players are partnering as was the 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community.

The change in tone offered by Gillard was her comment that we have entered the post-9/11 decade. Mark that as a continuation with a harder emphasis of the direction flagged by Kevin Rudd in his 2008 statement. The biggest Rudd departure from the Howard Government’s language was his relative demotion of terrorism and the promotion of climate change as security issues. The language in the 2008 Statement put terrorism on par with a range of other scourges, from people smugglers and organised crime down to the need for e-security against cyber attacks.

The Australian Greens have noted that the new strategy demotes climate change in much the same way that non-state actors have dropped down the list. In Gillard’s national security hierarchy, the state is back at centre stage, and that applies as much to the cyber domain as to the ‘strategic competition’ she identifies between the US and China.

In the National Security Strategy, the US still dominates Australia’s view (nearly 40 references in the document) but China isn’t far behind, with close to 30 appearances. By comparison, mentions of Indonesia score in the low 20s; India and the Indian Ocean pop up a total of 15 times, while Japan gets less than ten references. Regard that as a crude but accurate hierarchy.

In terms of presentation, Indonesia gets its own section (Australia’s Security Relationship with Indonesia) near the front of the document, in the second chapter on Australia’s strategic environment. In setting the parameters for the Defence White Paper, the nub of the Strategy is the section on ‘China’s role in the region’ in chapter four. Here, there is a lot of panda hugging going on as both the Asia Century White Paper and the National Security Strategy set the scene for the coming Defence White Paper.

The Strategy accepts that China and the US are going to make Asia’s weather, strategically as well as economically. But China’s military growth is described as ‘natural’ and ‘legitimate’. The prescription offered to deal with growing confrontation and competition is to avoid escalation, keep everyone focussed on economic growth and deeper trade integration, openness and transparency, and ‘more open and active engagement by China with the region’. It might look a bit thin, but this is an election year, cash is tight and a lot of happy whistling might have to suffice.

One other presentational point is worth noting. The Rudd Statement in 2008 was given in Parliament. The traditionalist in me says that Gillard, too, should have made her speech to the House of Representatives, not at the Australian National University. A Prime Minister heading a minority government might be expected to pay more attention to Parliamentary prerogatives. Eventually, the Strategy document will be tabled in Parliament and we might even get some formal debate. But in such matters these days, message management and the mastery of the minders are paramount and Parliament comes in a distant second.

The Prime Minister takes centre stage in a well-managed event and the Opposition doesn’t even get to share the platform. Rudd set the standard by releasing his Defence White Paper on a frigate in Sydney Harbour (great photo op!) and Gillard also released her Asian Century White Paper in Sydney.

Such spin shouldn’t obscure the substance to be found in this Strategy announcement. The true test of this document won’t be its presentation but how it is translated into dollars and diplomacy.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user LEOL30.