Archive from February, 2013

Is another ‘Guam doctrine’ moment approaching in Asia?

Nixon 2.0?

On 25 July 1969 President Nixon outlined a US strategic policy for Asia that came to be known—because of the location in which the speech was delivered—as the ‘Guam doctrine’. The Guam doctrine contained three elements: a reassurance that the United States would not abandon its allies; a reaffirmation that extended nuclear deterrence remained a key US contribution towards regional security; and an expectation that regional military forces would become more self-reliant in their own defence. It was a speech intended to suggest that, post-Vietnam, the US would not lightly embark upon a future land-war in Asia, but it was widely interpreted across the region as a downplaying of the US role in the Asia Pacific. Here in Australia, it was one of the drivers towards the more self-reliant defence policy that unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, in 2013, with the US defence budget under pressure, and a rising level of economic development in Asia, are we close to a second round of the Guam doctrine?

It would certainly make sense for Washington to be more interested in burden sharing with its allies now that its economy is under pressure and theirs are expanding. And the US has been telling its NATO allies that it expects more from them in carrying the weight in Europe and its near abroad. But I sense that a repeat of the Guam doctrine isn’t close. I think there are three reasons to believe that. First, the general tone of US declaratory policy remains expansive in the Asian context, despite the slowing operational tempo suggested by Iraq and Afghanistan. The speech that Obama delivered to the Australian parliament in November 2011 suggests a greater engagement with Asia, not a lesser engagement. It’s true that the language of that engagement is not settled, and the fact that the administration is unsure in its own mind about whether its ‘pivoting’ or ‘rebalancing’ is not entirely reassuring to its allies and partners on the western side of the Pacific. But the US’ Asian allies aren’t hearing the same messages about burden-sharing that NATO allies are. Read more

Second, it makes sense for the US to press forward with a new strategic footprint in Asia. Its old footprint was primarily forged during World War II and the Cold War, when much of the strategic weight of Asia lay up in the Northeast subregion. The Soviet Union, Japan, the two Koreas and a growing China meant that the strategic centre of gravity for the region lay somewhere around the Korean peninsula. Nowadays, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relative slow economic growth of Japan, and the rapid economic development of China, India and Southeast Asia (not to mention Australia itself) all suggest a centre of gravity further southwest, and moving a little further in that direction every year. As the regional centre of gravity moves, the US footprint will move—which is why Washington is looking at new opportunities for strategic engagement in our own subregion.

Third, President Obama is now acutely aware that regional sensitivities about the future US role are high. A perception that the US was walking backwards in Asia would light a Bunsen-burner under a volatile mix of nationalism and anxiety amongst allies and partners. Especially in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test and Chinese assertiveness of territorial claims, a restatement of the notion that US allies should be primarily responsible for their own defence could be horribly destabilising. Asian countries look out upon 20 years of looming regional transformation. They are all prepared to weight up as needed the better to ensure their own security during that period. But another Guam doctrine moment in Asian security would be alarming to the region’s technologically-savvy US allies.

So, while the US economy is pulling its strategic policy in one direction, the tempo of strategic change in Asia is pulling it in another. I’m betting strategy trumps economics.

Rod Lyon is a non-residential fellow at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user cicatrix.

How we can prevent Japan–China war

A demonstrator bares a shirt declaring the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands as Japanese territory. Nationalist group 'Ganbare Nippon' has seized on the issue as an example that Japan needs to enact a tougher foreign policy position towards China and its recent 'aggression'.

The Australian debate on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is interesting for what it reveals, and what it omits. So far, very few are talking about Australia’s diplomatic strategy—and that’s a big problem. While the best strategy will probably involve elements of military balancing, it’s worth examining Australia’s potential diplomatic role in the peaceful de-escalation of Japan–China tensions.

Australian foreign policy, under Bob Carr, has been prudently non-committal on this dispute. That’s a smart approach, but prudence and even-handedness don’t equate a diplomatic strategy. Australia has some diplomatic leverage in the current crisis, in part thanks to its status as a new member of the UN Security Council and future G20 host. And we have good reason to take a keen interest.

It matters very little to the direct Australian national interest who owns a pile of rocks in the East China Sea. What matters is that Japan and China don’t go to war over them and risk Asia’s (and hence our) security and prosperity in the process. We can’t afford to be so complacent on this crisis as to assume that major war, involving Australian lives, could not result from it. Read more

Under a reasonable reading of ANZUS and the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Australia has no alliance obligations to involve itself, should war break out and the US come to the aid of Japan. The United States, however, might have some expectations about Australia’s involvement under a strict reading of both texts, and this is something for us to consider very seriously.

For the above reason, it’s important to emphasise that Australia cannot aim to directly mediate this dispute. In short, it’s not seen as a neutral player by both parties. And we are not, as far as China is concerned. According to numerous sources, since the deal with the US on basing Marines in Darwin, China basically perceives Australia as part of a strategy to contain its rise.

The following points suggest key elements of the Australian contribution to a broader diplomatic game plan to prevent Japan–China war. (See my six-point plan to prevent Senkaku war). Australia should pursue a two-pronged strategy—with two short-term and two long-term objectives.

Our first short-term goal in this dispute should focus on directly restraining both parties. In practice, Australia can begin by proposing an immediate naval and aerial standoff, in which both Japan and China ceased incursions around and over the contested islands for one month of high-level talks. Submarines should fall under this understanding, as their presence could destabilise peace talks.

Secondly, by virtue of our seat on the UNSC, Australia might be able to increase pressure on both parties to accept Ban-ki Moon’s recommendations. To this end, we could support the Secretary General in referring this dispute to the Security Council, under Article 99 of the UN Charter. It’s obvious that China would try to block this from reaching the agenda, and this could spark a damaging public debate at the UN. This is a fairly blunt instrument, so Australia should only seek to use it if Ban-ki Moon requested the extra pressure.

Clearly, the above two are only short-term measures to encourage de-escalation. Even if successful, they will only buy time for calmer and more in-depth talks to seek to resolve the core issues.

As a first long-term objective, Australia should encourage Japan and China to conclude military-to-military and civilian confidence-building measures (CBMs) covering their interactions at sea. Mark Valencia offers two basic formats—either a US–Soviet style Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) along the lines of what Sam Bateman has previously discussed on this blog, or a Declaration on Conduct, similar to that concluded by ASEAN and China in the South China Sea.

I favour the first agreement. The ASEAN–China declaration was more aspirational, but its failure was evident in the past few years of skirmishes in the South China Sea. An INCSEA agreement’s concrete measures of mutual restraint—such as ‘not simulating attacks at, launching objects toward, or illuminating the bridges of the other party’s ships’—are more relevant to this crisis.

Australia can push both parties to conclude such an agreement in the next few months. To avoid the trappings and slow bureaucratic channels of officialdom, a major Australian think tank could perhaps present a draft INCSEA negotiating text to Japanese and Chinese negotiators in a Track II proposal.

Finally, Australia’s second long-term objective should be that Japan and China conclude the present bout of tensions with an in principle agreement to negotiate the future status of the islands. In many ways, this would vindicate China’s position that Japan recognise the disputed nature of the territories. However, Japan need not verbally recognise the territorial dispute—its very engagement in such talks would tacitly make this brave concession. Whatever their content, future talks should not ignore Taiwan, which is a legitimate and constructive claimant to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Daryl Morini is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a Pacific Forum CSIS WSD-Handa Non-Resident Fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Al Jazeera English.

Australia and Indonesia’s 2+2 dialogue: room for one more?

Room for one more? Senator the Hon Bob Carr, HE Dr Marty Natalegawa (Indonesian Foreign Minister), HE Dr Purnomo Yusgiantoro (Indonesian Defence Minister) and Defence Minister Stephen Smith address media following the inaugural Australia-Indonesia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Canberra on 15 March 2012.

There’s been talk lately about building our relationship with Indonesia beyond the usual military exercises and defence engagement. But while government statements like the National Security Strategy have emphasised building security ties via the Lombok Treaty, developing the overall relationship (as called for in the Asian Century White Paper) might begin to include more discussion on economic matters. In fact, that’s something that both Australian and Indonesian leaders have flagged at past summits, and the direction in which Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (amongst other Indonesian voices) would like to see the bilateral relationship go. So if we’re serious about moving the relationship forward, then why not a 3+3 dialogue?

The 2+2 dialogue is a newish forum held annually between the Australian foreign and defence ministers and their Indonesian counterparts. A 3+3 could broaden the agenda by adding the Trade Minister (a natural inclusion given DFAT’s structure) or the Treasurer. While the foreign minister bears responsibility for raising trade issues in the context of the 2+2, having a trade minister in person means the ability to address the specifics of ideas and discussion around the table. But while there might be appetite for more bilateral cooperation opportunities, the test of whether it’s worth adding more acronyms (or numbers) to the alphabet soup is really weighed up in terms of process and substance.

In terms of process, aligning six busy ministerial schedules will be no easy feat. The 2+2’s precursor, the Australia–Indonesian Ministerial Forum (AIMF), which lasted from 1992 to 2008, had to muster around 11 or 12 ministers at a time. But the logistics toll can be eased when you think of the number of smaller, more focused meetings that could be held along the sidelines of a larger forum. And there’s diplomatic mileage to be gained by expanding the 2+2 in a way that more meaningfully reflects our aspirations with Indonesia. In the coming years, there’ll be a lot of business sector as well social and cultural initiatives flourishing under the auspices of the Asian Century White Paper but it’s still crucial for high level talks to grow in symbolic terms. Read more

Turning now to substance, a 3+3 might mean cutting back on the time spent talking about strict foreign affairs and defence matters, and discussion might become rather formulaic. But discussion of trade security challenges with the presence of all three ministers more adequately reflects the intertwined nature of our strategic interests, our respective national security plans and the evolving nature of economic linkages in our region. There’s a natural overlap between issues of security and trade; illegal fishing—an issue high on Indonesia’s agenda—is an example where defence capability and trade imperatives intersect. The Lombok Dialogue, after all, was a product of the AIMF.

It doesn’t even have to be confined to the Trade Minister. Perhaps the Minister for Defence Materiel could explore greater defence industry partnerships, especially in light of Indonesia’s push to revitalise its arms industry. The Minister for Education could sound out options to work with Indonesia to help it compete better regionally (it’s something ANU’s Indonesia Update Conference looked at in detail last year). In the opposite direction, Indonesia could help address our apparent Asian language literacy deficit.

Similarly, the Attorney General or Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries or Forestry could add plenty of value. On the Indonesian side, the Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs could attend. Whatever the configuration, it’s about appraising the ends and means and deciding what would bring both partners the most dividends. And most of all, it’s about getting closer to a comprehensive bilateral partnership.

Of course there’ll be challenges in trying to coordinate three ministers a side, let alone four or five. And with the collapse of the Australia–Indonesia Ministerial Forum after 2008 and the 2+2 just off the ground, there’ll be, understandably, bureaucratic reluctance about going down that path again. But with both sides expressing great willingness to work together and so many areas of potential high-level cooperation, there are good odds of survival for this kind of configuration, if it’s given half a chance.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

ASPI suggests

J-town, Indonesia

Here’s our weekly round-up of links and events in the NatSec, defence and strategy world.

For those interested in AirSea Battle, Richard A. Bitzinger and Michael Raska have a new RSIS Policy Brief on the concept and the future of conflict in East Asia (PDF). ASPI’s Ben Schreer also has a paper on the subject due for release soon.

In the world of energy security, few technologies have offered so much hope and so little apparent progress over the past half century as nuclear fusion. Now Lockheed Martin have announced that they are planning to bring a reactor online by 2017.

Sticking with the United States, William C. Martel has a longread that argues the US needs a grand strategy to help grapple with foreign and self-generated sources of ‘disorder’.

Admiral Gary Roughead and Kori Schake have a new Brookings policy brief on restructuring the US military in a time of change.

Here’s a new post by Kenneth G. Lieberthal that examines prospects (or not) of negotiations with China on cyber security. Read more

Indonesia-watchers might like to sign up for ANU Indonesia Project’s weekly news updates, which track and summarise the week’s prominent policy developments. For more deeper insights and analysis, also check out Inside Indonesia which focuses on human rights, environmental, social and political issues.

Lastly, ABC journalist Sally Sara looks at the lives of twelve inspirational Asian women, starting with Latifa Nabizada, Afghanistan’s first woman military helicopter pilot.


Canberra readers, where’s Myanmar heading? UNAA ACT and AIIA ACT are co-hosting an expert panel on Myanmar and how Australia might play a role in its political, economic and social development, Wednesday 27 February at 5.30pm at Stephen House, Deakin.

Check out Professor Jason Sharman’s seminar based on research from a field experiment in impersonating terrorist financiers and money launderers on Tuesday 5 March at 12.30pm, ANU, RSVP essential.

National Security Advisor, Dr Margot McCarthy will be speaking about national security challenges at Spender Theatre, Australian Defence College on Wednesday 6 March at 6pm.

Professor Fen Hampson will be speaking about the fractured nature of global governance and what it means for conflict management in the 21st century, Thursday 7 March at 6pm, ANU.

If you’re in Adelaide, Detective Superintendent Graham Goodwin (SAPOL), Officer in Charge of the State Intelligence Branch, will be speaking at a RUSI function on police intelligence on Monday 4 March at 1pm.

Image of Jakarta’s skyline courtesy of Flickr user yohanes budiyanto.

Australia’s future submarine, but which one?

Last week ASPI and the Submarine Institute of Australia sat around a table for a day to discuss the rationale for the future submarine. The aim was to set out as clearly as possible what each team thought about the role of submarines. Note that I didn’t say ‘both sides’—it wasn’t a debate between opposing factions, but an exercise in understanding the shared and disputed spaces in the argument. We didn’t reach a definitive result—and I’m not sure that’s even possible given the subjective nature of the judgements required—but we got to a point where there was agreement about a wide range of issues and disagreement on only a few.

For example, we quickly agreed that submarines have some capabilities that can’t be easily replaced by other platforms. I think the readiness with which we agreed to that surprised our SIA colleagues, perhaps based on a slight misreading of my previous blog post in which I suggested several other ways to do some of the things that subs do. But my claim wasn’t that the alternatives were the same—and Peter Briggs did a good job of explaining the differences last week—but that some of the submarines capability was replaceable by other means.

It also didn’t take long to agree that big submarines are more capable than small ones. That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, a submarine’s payload is proportional to its overall weight, typically a little under 10%. That payload has to include the fuel required to get to the patrol area and stay there for an operationally useful time. It also includes all of the weapons it might need and the provisions the crew will get through during the voyage. As well, if the patrol area is far from base, the boat will use a lot of its endurance in just getting there, unless it has a fast transit speed. But the higher the speed, the more fuel required, in something of a vicious circle. Read more

So any future decision to scale back the size of submarines for reasons of reducing the cost and/or the engineering and project risk would cause a hit to capability. That needn’t be fatal to the cause of smaller submarines, as we’ll come back to later, but it has to be acknowledged. If we bought submarines smaller than the Collins, in some respects we’d have less capable submarines than we do now. Conversely, nuclear submarines have payload, range, speed and endurance capabilities greater than even the largest conventional submarines. If we could manage the very substantial difficulties we would have in acquiring and operating them, we’d end up with more submarine capability than we have now.

This actually brings us to several logical fallacies often seen in the public submarine debate. At one end, we find those who assert that off-the-shelf submarines could meet Australia’s strategic needs just as well as the larger Collins class.

That simply isn’t the case. The European submarines, for all of the reasons explained above, don’t have the same capabilities as larger boats. They offer a lower level of capability, albeit at a lower cost and much lower project risk, so the case for them necessarily has to be based on a different cost benefit calculus. At the other end, we find the argument that nuclear submarines offer too much capability for Australia.

The fact is that the more capable the submarine, the more military options it potentially  has. The trick of course is to work out how much it costs to get and maintain that capability in relation to the options it provides. Those costs are crucial, because they displace other military options within the defence budget, and other national options more generally. And that’s where our view and the SIA differed most noticeably. We didn’t accept that demonstrating the unique abilities of submarines and the relative effectiveness of large ones was sufficient to make a case for building  them. Nor do we accept that the unquestionably superior qualities of large submarines over small ones means that the latter should be ruled out.

Instead, we simply continue to argue that it’s necessary to have, on the one hand, the military options that submarines of different kinds provide and at least a qualitative understanding of the benefits they could bring in various scenarios. On the other hand, the costs need to be understood as well, and weighed against the potential benefits. The SIA have made this judgement and have come down on the side of large conventional submarines (PDF). We aren’t so sure that the case has been made. In a later post I’ll examine the questions that have to be answered to make the case as we see it.

Until then, here’s a simple way to understand that such a process is necessary, using the method of ‘limiting cases’. At one limit, if submarines were free, there’d be no trouble deciding to get some. After all, there’d be no opportunity cost, and the benefits they brought wouldn’t have to be likely to be required—we’d keep them around just in case they were useful. At the other limit, if they were a trillion dollars each we’d have little difficulty deciding that we’d live without their capabilities and find some other ways to insure our security through military and other means. The real world isn’t kind enough to present such idealised choices, of course. That’s why we have to think through our options and opportunity costs as carefully as possible.

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

The South Pacific ‘arc of opportunity’

Fijian Participating Police Force advisor Lait Buakula and Warrant Officer Class Two Graham Bell listens in as locals sing for them in a village on the outskirts of Honiara.

I’ve previously written on The Strategist that it’s time for Australian policymakers and academics to see the South Pacific as an ‘arc of opportunity’, rather than an ‘arc of instability’ (PDF). That proposal was tested at an 8 February workshop at the Australian National University (ANU), which brought together two often separate communities: security and strategic thinkers on the one hand; development and governance thinkers on the other.

The overwhelming consensus was that it’s time to reframe Australian perceptions of the South Pacific to focus not only on the region’s challenges but also its potential. Professor Peter Leahy, Director of the National Security Institute at the University of Canberra, emphasised that the region sits across the ‘shoulders and flanks of approaches to Australia’, and therefore that securing it through supporting development offers an opportunity to make Australia more secure. Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb from the Strategic and Defence Studies at the ANU stressed that these efforts should focus on strengthening South Pacific states (PDF), reflecting the approach of the recent National Security Strategy.

His Excellency Charles Lepani, Papua New Guinea High Commissioner to Australia, argued that the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea should shift from one of ‘perceived dependence’ to one of ‘mutual respect’, in which Australia recognises Papua New Guinea’s trade, investment and other economic opportunities. James Batley, Deputy Director General of the Asia, Pacific and Program Enabling Group at AusAID, expressed confidence that the relationship between Australia and South Pacific states is improving and highlighted an emerging sense that Australia is working with the region as ‘partners’. Batley also argued that strengthening South Pacific states will involve new approaches to development at sub-national levels, including by working with communities and NGOs. Read more

ASPI’s Graeme Dobell agreed that the relationship between Australia and the South Pacific is improving and proposed enhanced economic integration, perhaps modelled on Australia’s Closer Economic Relations agreement with New Zealand, as another opportunity for Australia to build partnerships with the region (PDF). A further way to build partnerships was proposed by Dr Quentin Hanich from the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, who identified the potential for Australia to assist South Pacific states to more effectively harness the fisheries and other resources opportunities offered by their massive exclusive economic zones.

Australian scholars who provided updates on five key South Pacific states: Papua New Guinea (PDF), Solomon Islands (PDF), Timor-Leste (PDF), Vanuatu and Fiji (PDF), agreed with the need to shift Australia’s perceptions of the region. Dr Sinclair Dinnen from the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program at the ANU argued that the tendency towards viewing the South Pacific through a security lens highlighted the challenges facing the region, but obscured its potential and opportunities.

Constructive proposals for how Australia and South Pacific states could engage with each other to develop this potential were provided by seven emerging Pacific scholars. Dr Jack Maebuta from the University of the South Pacific stressed that efforts to stabilise and develop the region must address the underlying causes of instability and underdevelopment via ‘culturally-appropriate deep interventions’ (PDF). Reflecting this call to address development and security at the community-level, Serena Sasingian, Executive Director of The Voice Inc., called for a paradigm shift to make Pacific islanders agents in their own development, rather than passive aid recipients. In Papua New Guinea, both Sasingian and Vergil Narokobi from Victoria University, Wellington were optimistic that, if properly utilised, the constitutional National Goals and Directive Principles could provide guidance for human development in the future.

The importance of local agency was also emphasised by Dr Patrick Vakaoti from the Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work at the University of Otago. Echoing Batley’s proposal for sub-national engagement, Vakaoti outlined a series of proposals for how Australia could enhance its engagement with Fiji’s young, future leaders. The importance of engaging at the community-level in Fiji (PDF) was also highlighted by Jone Baledrokadroka from the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program at the ANU in the context of Fiji’s ongoing return to democracy.

The need for Australia to utilise new approaches to development at sub-national levels was also supported by Tony Hiriasia from the University of the South Pacific, and Greg Nimbtik from RMIT University. They provided fascinating accounts of the opportunities for local customary practices to develop and secure Solomon Islands and Vanuatu by increasing the legitimacy and effectiveness of governance practices and institutions.

The overall message of the workshop was that security and development in the South Pacific are linked, and that Australia’s approach to the region should integrate the two. While participants acknowledged the challenges facing the region, they also identified myriad opportunities for security and development to be achieved, which suggests that it is time to shift Australian perceptions of the region from that of an ‘arc of instability’ to an ‘arc of opportunity’.

Joanne Wallis is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where she also convenes the Asia-Pacific Security program. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

A video discussion of the workshop theme is available at the ANU’s YouTube channel. Videos of the presentations made at the workshop will be available soon.

Kiwi and kangaroo (part III): the ANZUS resurrection

This is part III of a series on Australia–New Zealand relations (part I here, part II here).

To be in Canberra in 1985–86 as the ANZUS alliance was shaken until it collapsed and died was to witness the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Of those five stages, anger was the strongest, and acceptance was a long time coming. The one thing missing from the Kubler-Ross stages of grief as displayed by Australian politicians and bureaucrats was the sense of amazement, stretching to the incredulous, that the slow-motion disaster couldn’t be averted.

There was plenty of incredulity in Wellington, too, but it was accompanied by the sense of popular exhilaration at the faceoff with the US. The nuclear-free principles of the Lange Labour government crashed into the ‘neither confirm nor deny’ doctrine of the US Navy, compounded by the determination of the Reagan administration that the Kiwis would not set a new low for alliance backsliding. This was drama played as Mouse That Roared farce.

The US renounced its treaty obligations to New Zealand, the excitement faded, everyone slowly adjusted, and all sides eventually got used to the idea that ANZUS was no more. Over the past few years, however, we have come to the realisation that there can be life after death. The resurrection of ANZUS in some form rises before us. Read more

The question facing both Canberra and Wellington is what this restoration will mean for their relationships with each other and with the US. The word ‘trilateral’ is being used again in talking about the US, Australia and New Zealand. The usage is hesitant and limited, but the ability even to talk in trilateral terms marks a remarkable revival.

The former Australian Defence Secretary and Australian High Commissioner to NZ, Dr Allan Hawke, says the game has shifted for Australia:

I think it probably has changed Australia’s thinking about New Zealand, in that there were some residual issues as a result of the breaking up of the ANZUS treaty. But now that NZ has been welcomed back into the fold by the US, in fullness, I think our policy makers and ministers are much more open about dealing with New Zealand on both a bilateral basis and also in terms of the nature of the trilateral relationship with the US.

The big shift has been by the US. It was Washington that cast the Kiwis into the darkness in 1986 by suspending its treaty obligations. Now Washington, in pivot mode, has reached out to New Zealand to revive much of the relationship without restoring the old treaty or needing to resolve the old argument. Certainly, New Zealand has done what it can to prove willing, especially in its contribution in Afghanistan. Both sides have shown a pragmatic ability to step around the ANZUS cadaver to try anew.

Limits on intelligence sharing have been relaxed; the 2010 Wellington Declaration announced a US–NZ ‘strategic partnership’; and the 2012 Washington Declaration gave explicit expression to a new defence relationship.

The result is that New Zealand can rank beside Singapore as a firm but de facto US ally in the Asia–Pacific; one alliance is all about US ship visits while the other rests on an avoidance of US ship visits.

The de facto alliance with Singapore allows up to four US Littoral Combat Ships to be deployed to the island on a rotational basis. US flexibility allows Singapore to argue that the rotational deployments mean the US ships won’t be based or home-ported in Singapore. Equally, US flexibility allows New Zealand not to worry about the ship visits imbroglio that killed ANZUS in the first place. New Zealand warships can visit US ports, but the US Navy doesn’t get return rights. Part of  the beauty of the de facto alliance now expressed in the Wellington and Washington Declarations is their emphasis on the shared history of the US and New Zealand while ignoring a significant element of that history.

Professor Robert Ayson, of New Zealand’s Centre for Strategic Studies, says the important development is that New Zealand has achieved a closer relationship without having to disown its nuclear-free policy. This means there’s no expectation of a full return to the ANZUS alliance while trilateral cooperation is again thinkable. He embraces the idea that New Zealand has achieved a de facto alliance:

I’ve been arguing that for a while. New Zealand is a strong supporter of the [US] rebalancing. We’re now involved in a closer working relationship with the Americans. We have this Washington Declaration which is about cooperation in the Asia Pacific. In that sense, I think there are expectations, even if they’re not always there in terms of all the formal documents at times, there’s certainly a sense that while we are not full ANZUS partners in the way that we were, we have a much closer relationship with Washington than we did ten or twenty years ago.

Watch the full ASPI interview with Dr Hawke and Professor Ayson here:

That interview and the next column in this series consider the military issues that confront Australia and New Zealand, now they can no longer blame all the gaps and the silences on the United States.

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

Why submarines for Australia?

oyal  Navy Submarine HMS Astute Fires a Tomahawk Cruise Missile (TLAM) During Testing Near the USA

I would like to reinforce Justin Jones’ recent points on submarines and in doing so take issue with some of the points made by Andrew Davies in his response. I think the unique features a submarine capability brings to our future strategic situation deserves greater prominence in the debate. And I hope this will convince Nic Stuart that there is no Rudd-initiated conspiracy; we really do need submarines—more of them!

Justin, Andrew and I seem to largely agree on the strategic setting and that it will constrain Australia’s strategic choices. We would all agree on the Chief of Navy’s recent emphasis on criticality of the maritime environment for Australia’s prosperity. I argue that our access to the region’s oceans will be impacted by the significant growth in regional navies, making it more difficult for our Navy to operate freely.

We need to look for capabilities that will give future Australian governments options to cope in this emerging situation—and submarines fit the bill. A capable submarine will be able to operate in these difficult strategic circumstances and provide a ‘strategic impact’ that would make a potential aggressor avoid a military confrontation with Australia.

The submarines most fundamental, key feature is its stealth. A well-handled, capable submarine is able to operate without causing fuss in areas where sea and air control is not assured and is able to gain access to areas denied to other platforms. Large submarines, such as Collins, are able to operate at long range for weeks carrying a flexible payload of sensors, weapons and specialist personnel. A capable submarine force creates great uncertainty for an adversary: countering them would be difficult, expensive and can’t be guaranteed. Read more

In the surveillance role submarines are able to simultaneously observe activities under water, on the surface, in the air and over the electromagnetic spectrum, often in areas denied to other eyes and ears. Andrew suggested replacing them in the role with overt platforms such as satellites and unmanned aircraft. In fact, submarines complement those systems; not only do they not cover the underwater spectrum, but their presence can be observed/predicted and sensitive activities curtailed whilst they are present.

In the land strike role a submarine’s stealth enables it to covertly position precision land attack missiles without causing a diplomatic incident, retire if not required, or launch and withdraw. Andrew’s point about the reload time is valid. However, a large conventional submarine configured for a strike mission can certainly carry more than 12 missiles. In some cases, eg targeting a non-state actor, 12–20 missiles might be enough.

But strike is a long way up the spectrum of conflict. In situations short of conflict, Australia’s submarines are able to provide unique indications of another player’s long-term intentions, facilitating counter-measures via diplomacy and force preparation that will, hopefully, avoid an escalation to conflict.

There’s also a payoff in terms of alliance management—the United States has made it clear that it would value an Australian submarine force offering these capabilities.

In a short space it’s hard to do justice to the topic, but I want to say something about the prospect of an off-the-shelf purchase. To be able to exploit the initiative gained from their stealth, Australia’s submarines must be able to covertly reach sensitive areas throughout our region with sufficient mobility, endurance and payload for the long-duration missions involved, frequently in or through hot tropical waters. It’s worth understanding these terms, because they’re often misused or confused:

  • Mobility is the capacity to complete the long transits required expeditiously and discreetly, ie with low chance of counter detection.
  • Endurance is a combination of mobility (fuel and energy), habitability (food and crew support systems) and availability of sensor/platform systems (equipments, power, cooling, redundancy and onboard repair capability).
  • Payload is the capacity/flexibility to carry/deploy sufficient crew and specialist personnel teams, a range of weapons and remotely operated vehicles/off-board sensors—the latter are the next capability frontier/force multiplier for submarines.

Taken in combination, this is a more demanding regime than maximum range frequently quoted in specifications or cited by advocates for European boats. Such figures tend to be based on a non-operational scenario, with transits completed at an optimum, low speed with prolonged and predictable periods for recharging batteries.

Habitability and crew size over the long missions are also important, not only for crew effectiveness, but also to ensure an acceptable quality of life for crews; a key factor in attracting and retaining personnel. The Submarine Institute of Australia has had a lot more to say about these issues and the mathematics of how many submarines we require in its submission to the 2009 Defence White Paper (PDF).

The importance of stealth can’t be understated and it underpins the strategic impact of Australia’s submarine capability. This enables access that confers significant initiative in the complex strategic environment ahead; and submarines are best employed proactively to exploit this. And, where appropriate, they can be employed offensively to maximise the benefits gained from this advantage. Submarines are the only weapons system in Australia’s ‘order of battle’ with this characteristic. They offer a unique range of options for future Australian governments.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine commanding officer, past President of the Submarine Institute of Australia and has provided input as a consultant, assisting in the development of Deep Blue Technology’s design capacity.  Peter has no current affiliations with any of the potential suppliers to meet the RAN’s SEA 1000 requirement. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.

Reader response: Australia and Fiji – it’s complex and problematic

At the beginning of the year I predicted that developments in Fiji had the potential to outbid almost all else in terms of political significance in the region this year. So far, this doesn’t seem particularly wide of the mark. The rhetoric expressed recently by Victor Lal on this blog (see here and here) is powerful and compelling.

What’s missing from the analysis, however, is that Australia needs to factor in how its handling of Fiji might affect other relationships in the region. Australia can expect to exercise considerable influence within the Pacific Islands Forum from which Fiji remains excluded. The same doesn’t hold true for the Melanesian Spearhead Group: Fiji is the chair (until the middle of this year) but Australia isn’t a member.

The MSG is yet to make a consolidated response to Fiji’s apparently full-scale retreat from a return to constitutional democracy. It might be that such a response won’t be forthcoming, with the Melanesian leaders preferring to exercise influence using more subtle methods than exercised by others, such as the blunt words of the Prime Minister of Samoa.

What is undeniable is that the political profile and influence of the MSG has been, and continues to be, in the ascendancy. Australia’s overt support of Peter O’Neill as PM of Papua New Guinea might allow some indirect influence but, as Australia is all too aware, managing relationships with Melanesian states is a difficult task and each action and reaction needs to be carefully judged.

Tess Newton Cain is head of Devpacific and a research associate of the Development Policy Centre, ANU. 

Singapore: walking the walk?

Singaporean army Lt. Col. Jimmy Toh, second from left, briefs Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., second from right, about the Murai Urban Warfare Training Facility in Singapore Aug. 26, 2009.

This week I attended the inaugural Fullerton Forum in Singapore, hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, who described it as the ‘Sherpa’s meeting’ for the Shangri-La Dialogue at the end of May. The organisers requested the content of the meeting be confidential, but it was kicked off with a public keynote presentation from Dr Ng Eng Hen, Singapore’s Minister for Defence. His speech, on Potential Threats to Regional Stability in Asia, is worth reading because it highlights the breadth of challenges facing the region and the serious limits to capacity which hampers coherent regional responses.

Dr Ng’s speech starts on familiar territory by discussing the factors underpinning stability in Asia, including the importance of America’s forward military presence and China’s economic liberalisation acting as a growth engine for the wider region. He points to the impact of ‘shifting dependencies’ and here his data is both telling and stark:

Between ASEAN and China, two-way trade increased nearly ten-fold from about US$30 billion in 2000 to about US$300 billion in 2011. In contrast, the increase in two-way trade between ASEAN and the US for the same time frame was just 50%…

Another tsunami is coming. In about 10 years’ time, China alone expects to have nearly 200 million college and university graduates. Then, four out of every 10 university graduates in 2020 will come from just two countries globally; China and India…

Read more

There are more statistics like that, but the intent is clear: to show the massively growing strategic impact China is having on Southeast Asia. How should the region deal with these shifting dependencies? In attempting to answer this question, Dr Ng’s speech worryingly points to the region’s very limited capabilities to manage these deep strategic changes. First he says that ‘the US–China bilateral relationship must widen its areas of mutual interest to achieve better cooperation and accommodation’. That’s a sensible observation, and one that many in Washington and Beijing would support. But it’s hardly within Southeast Asia’s capacity to drive. Dr Ng says:

I am glad that Secretary Kerry acknowledges this—he said during his Senate confirmation hearing that strengthening the US-China relationship was crucial, and also expressed hope that China would recognise the need to broaden the bilateral relationship. He also expressed caution about an over-militarisation of the US footprint in the region, noting that ‘we [the US] have to be thoughtful about how we go forward’.

Putting aside the rhetorical device of quoting others to make your own argument, many in the Obama Administration will be astounded to receive a caution from Singapore about ‘over-militarisation of the US footprint in the region’ when Singapore has so assiduously cultivated that greater American presence. This was most publicly shown in April of 2012 when Singapore agreed, according to a Pentagon statement:

… to forward deploy up to four littoral combat ships (LCS) to Singapore. The LCS will be deployed on a rotational basis and will not be based in Singapore. The deployment of the LCS signals the U.S.commitment to the region and enhances its ability to train and engage with regional partners.

[Then US Defence Secretary] Panetta and Ng also agreed to increase the complexity of existing bilateral exercises, such as Exercise Commando Sling, to enhance interoperability and promote greater cooperation between both armed forces.

The US–Singapore bilateral defence relationship will continue to get closer, not least through key technology acquisitions—Singapore for example has been a ‘security cooperation partner’ on the Joint Strike Fighter project for some years. No part of that developing relationship was covered in Dr Ng’s speech, but even in ASEAN actions speak louder than words.

The Defence Minister’s second response to ‘shifting dependencies’ was to point to the importance of multilateralism as offering ways to build regional ‘confidence and capacity’. He highlighted the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Plus Meeting indicating that the grouping would be ‘conducting its first 18-nation exercise in Brunei this year, based on the themes of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and Military Medicine’. That exercise is a worthwhile endeavour and the achievements of ADMM+ are to be celebrated, but the exercise itself will be more valuable for its public effect than military training. In one very sad respect all it demonstrates is the complete incapacity of the region’s security architecture to deal with the growing strategic risks we face.

A final, perhaps uniquely Singaporean highlight from the speech was what Dr Ng referred to as a second source of potential instability: ‘we are witnessing greater polarization within and across countries’. Here the speech focuses on rising nationalism, growing wealth divides within countries, religious extremism and ‘the inability of local governments to act quickly or plan for the longer term’. The Minister was talking about the wider region, but surely there’s at least a hint there of the anxiety Singapore’s long-ruling People’s Action Party must feel as it looks at the country’s demographics and changing attitudes to politics.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user US Department of Defense.

New Zealand does some things better than Australia

Members of TG Rata 8 perform a Haka to welcome TG Rata 9 onto the RAMSI Compound.

This is part II of a series on Australia–New Zealand relations (part I here).

To stray into areas that are simultaneously sacred yet deeply unsafe, look at New Zealand’s strength in important areas such as rugby, race horses and the ability to make oceans of sauvignon blanc that millions of Australians guzzle as acidic nectar.

On race horses, Australia will never concede. On rugby, Oz has reached a state of resigned grace about being stomped by the All Blacks. On wine, the marvellous mixture from Marlborough—the top selling white in Oz—is driving Australian wine producers demented, moaning about the NZ blanc’s resemblance to cat’s pee, body odour and a noxious weed.

The whine about the wine prompts the thought that it’s good to see traditional standards of invective in trans-Tasman dialogue are being maintained. But let us turn from bruising topics like booze and ball games to the calmer, gentler realms of defence and diplomacy.

The previous column sketched some of the rules that influence the bilateral dance between Canberra and Wellington. This column seeks to subvert Oz traditions about kicking Kiwis by seeing what New Zealand can do in defence and diplomacy that Australia might find difficult, if not impossible. To focus the question that way is to come immediately to the South Pacific. Read more

The Kiwi claim that it can ‘do’ the South Pacific better than Oz produces a toxic response in Canberra similar in tone to that of Australian wine growers. On one big measure—decolonisation in the South Pacific—NZ was quicker and showed far more creativity and smarts than Australia. New Zealand was proactive in seeing Western Samoa to independence in 1962 (the first in the South Pacific); then Wellington came up with different solutions for Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, each of which maintained close links with New Zealand. Australia’s task in Papua New Guinea was far bigger, but the size and importance of the task merely emphasises how slow Australia was in realising the inevitable. Using that as the comparative framework, consider two recent policy achievements which support the New Zealand claim to some South Pacific sensibility.

The first is Bougainville. New Zealand could find a way to a peace agreement on that troubled island. Australia might pay for it, but New Zealand built it. The truce of 1997 and the permanent ceasefire of 1998 showed that New Zealand could do what Australia, as the old colonial master, could not. It was a wonderful achievement that saved many lives and resolved a major problem in Australia’s relations with PNG. Australia and PNG are ever in the debt of the NZ Foreign Minister, Don McKinnon, and his diplomats for that bit of Kiwi magic (although you’d never guess it from the history of the Bougainville Peace Process on the Australian Foreign Affairs website).

The fact that all the truce/peace monitors sent to Bougainville were unarmed was one notable bit of the Kiwi inspiration that achieved the deal. Given what might or might not happen in Bougainville this decade as the clock ticks towards the promised independence referendum, the NZ touch might be needed again. Bear in mind that the Kiwis only had the resources to command the first rotation of Bougainville truce monitors; after that the command task was handed to Australia. During that handover, the Australian Army was not at its gracious best, telling the departing NZ commander: ‘Piss off Kiwi, we’re in charge now’! That, by the way, is the polite version of the sendoff; the lack of grace does reflect the hard truth that while New Zealand achieved the settlement, it was Australia that paid for the process and provided the bulk of the people.

There’s a deeper truth there. If Kiwi magic is going to have a chance to work in the region, it has to be backed by Australian muscle. This is a policy two-step with many possible applications in the South Pacific. It needs the Kiwis to be sharp and willing (not always the case), but equally it requires Canberra to have the sense and self-restraint to let someone else get out in front occasionally. Australia doesn’t have so many policy options in the South Pacific that it can afford to ignore an independent asset that can be effective—even if the bill does have a way of ending up in Canberra.

New Zealand’s second great policy achievement was the instigation of Pacific worker schemes. New Zealand heeded South Pacific voices and delivered for the Islanders while Australia was dragging its feet and still inclined to say no.

New Zealand showed Australia the way to admit Pacific workers to do seasonal agriculture jobs. Australia would have taken much longer to react without the impetus of the New Zealand example. Given that the three year pilot scheme in Australia was as much failure as success, we probably need to take more notice of the Kiwi example, even though the Australian scheme is now permanent.

Sometimes, of course, the Kiwi touch doesn’t deliver. Every possible element of the ‘Pacific way’ was deployed in the NZ-sponsored talks at Government House in Wellington in 2006 between Fiji’s then Prime Minister, Laisenia Qarase, and Fiji’s military chief, Frank Bainimarama.

The Kiwis felt they had extracted a promise from Bainimarama, but the coup express was not to be derailed. Quicker than many in the region, New Zealand learnt not to trust a Bainimarama promise unless it was clearly in the Supremo’s self-interest to keep his word. New Zealand has been as hard-line as Australia in its approach to the Fiji military regime, and had just as many of its diplomats heaved from Suva. So that South Pacific magic has its limits.

Talking about things that New Zealand can do that Australia couldn’t even imagine leads to one of the biggest differences of all: New Zealand could walk away from the alliance with the United States. The earthquakes generated in New Zealand when the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate collide between the North and South Islands have a diplomatic and defence equivalent in 1986, when ANZUS was shaken so hard it collapsed as a three-way alliance.

The aftershocks from the US expulsion of New Zealand still echo, yet a new structure is rising from the ruins. The next column will consider the prospect of life after death for ANZUS.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user NZ Defence Force.

Fiji: the perils of appeasement (part II)

Josaia V. Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of the Fiji Islands, addresses the general debate of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.

I explained yesterday how the fear of driving Fiji into China’s arms has been wrongly used by what I call the ‘appeasement lobby’ as a reason to lessen the isolation of Fiji’s regime. It isn’t the only error they’ve made. They also fear that further isolation by Australia would destroy Fiji’s economy. Here they are on firmer ground. But the sad truth is that there’s little left to destroy. After six years of military rule Fiji’s GDP is lower in real terms than it was in 2006. All credit is due to the Minister for Finance: J.V. Bainimarama. In the same period, sugar production—on which at least 200,000 people depend for their livelihoods—has halved. Credit to the Minister for Sugar: J.V. Bainimarama. In the same period, wages have fallen, pensions have been slashed by up to 60%, and poverty now affects at least 40% of the population and possibly many more. The tax burden has been steadily shifted from the wealthy to the poor. The Minister responsible: J.V. Bainimarama.

It’s hard to see how Australia’s isolation could make this worse. In fact, most Fiji islanders would welcome the short term pain involved in removing Bainimarama if it meant a return to the rule of law and a return to growth. Read more

The appeasement lobby has also bought into the myth that Bainimarama is eradicating racism and it expresses fear that any further action by Australia would further polarise and radicalise Fiji’s society. Again, sadly, there’s not much more that can be done to that end. Fiji is divided—but not along the racial lines that the Bainimarama cheer leaders fear. It’s increasingly divided between rich and poor, the powerful and the voiceless, the armed and the unarmed. The eve of coup pledge to stamp out racism was received with joy by many—but it has turned out to be just another empty promise. While Bainimarama’s spin doctors loudly praise his token tinkering at the edges of racism, the military remains the most racially skewed organisation in the country, with some 99% of its membership ethnic Fijians. As a result, the militarisation of the public service has seen it become staffed almost exclusively by an ethnic majority representing about 58% of Fijians.

The lobby’s concerns are misguided and misplaced, born as they are of an inadequate knowledge of Fiji’s situation. The thrust of its argument is that the Australian government—not to mention the small coterie of academics who regularly raise mirth with their breathtaking ignorance as expressed through their favoured contributor status in opinion pages of The Australian and elsewhere—has got the policy settings right. If only it were so.

There are two issues in play. One is moral:  how can Australia look the other way while a friendly people suffer under the military jackboot? The other is pragmatic: wouldn’t it be better for Australia to act now rather than wait for one of the most populous states in the region to fail? For ‘failed state’ is where Fiji is heading. In his desperation for money, Bainimarama has very probably exhausted even China’s willingness to lend. He is now looting the nation’s savings—but even that’s no bottomless pit. Sooner rather than later the money will run out and the nation will implode—with Australia left to pick up the major share of the tab. Neither China nor America is likely to offer other than moral support—if that. And China is highly unlikely to write off any of its debt, the total of which is unknown.

So it is the policy of appeasement—not sanctions—that would be counter-productive. We almost hear daily the argument that sanctions haven’t worked (which is not true, but that’s another discussion) and need to be abandoned in favour of engagement, as if it were a matter of night following day. There is, however, a never mentioned alternative: ratchet up the sanctions with the aim of removing an illegal regime that very clearly has no regard for the people it has subjugated by threat and sometimes force of arms and from whom it has no mandate whatsoever.

And elections next year—assuming they actually happen—won’t change a thing. Already we see moves to outlaw all opposition, meaning the forces of democracy. The submissions to the Ghai Commission leave no room for doubt that Bainimarama and his gang are unelectable in any free and fair expression of the public wish. The leader of the most popular opposition political party is aged 72 and probably doesn’t have another election in him. Nevertheless, he languishes in jail on charges seen by many as politically motivated while a similar fate very probably awaits the leader of the well organised Fiji Labour Party.

So a one party state with the military at its apogee is for now at least, the favoured plan. A ‘guided’ or ‘protected’ democracy is freely talked about by the military. Protected from precisely what is not difficult to guess.

Will Australians support this? Of course they will not and neither should their elected government. Australia needs to discover some backbone—and stand up for what is after all in Australia’s interest; stand up for a people who hold Australia in the highest regard; and pull the plug on an illegal, dishonest, selfish plundering regime.

Again to be pragmatic, Australia can’t do anything much about the situations in Sri Lanka or Myanmar. Nor can it can do anything about Robert Mugabe. But it can and should do something about Voreqe Bainimarama.

Victor Lal is an Oxford-based academic researcher and is a former Fiji journalist and human rights activist. He is the author of Fiji: Coups in Paradise – Race, Politics and Military Intervention. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.