Archive from March, 2013

ASPI suggests

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr meets with President U Thein Sein at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on June 7, 2012.  Photo: Christopher Davy

There’s been a lot of reflection on Australian blogs and news sites about our role in the Iraq war, so for a change, here’s a piece that examines Iraq’s future political prospects and another that ponders whether Iran was the real victor of the war.

Following on from last week’s visit by Myanmar President Thein Sein to Canberra, Sean Turnell’s latest East Asia Forum post examines two economic reforms that are illustrative of challenges ahead for foreign investment.

Next week we’ll be featuring a post on the complex issues raised by autonomous drones. Here’s a New York Times piece that draws on similar themes including the ethics involved in killing and autonomy.

There’s a fascinating blog post on the barriers to professional military blogging. Cross-posted to CIMSEC, it asks, why is it so difficult to attract Gen-Y thinkers to post about naval warfighting? Here’s a snippet:

The perceived risks and rewards of sharing ideas online have never been greater in an era where the center of gravity in naval warfighting thinking has shifted from the dusty Naval War College Review lying unread on the shelf in the empty wardroom, to the simulator and the blogosphere.


Canberra: What is ‘Abenomics’ and will it help Japan’s ailing economy? ANU is hosting a public lecture by Professor Takatoshi Ito on Tuesday 2 April at 5.30pm, JG Crawford Building.

Melbourne: If you’re interested in the economic relationship between Australia and China, Mr Colin Heseltine, a former Australian diplomat, will talk about strengthening business ties, hosted by AIIA Victoria Thursday 4 April at 6pm, Dyason House.

Is China at a turning point? Hosted by the Asia Institute and the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, Professor Christine Wong, Mr Murray McLean and Professor Ross Garnaut will discuss China’s trajectory on Monday 8 April at 5.30pm, Sidney Myer Asia Centre.

Sydney: the Lowy Institute will be hosting former Prime Minister John Howard who will deliver an address on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war on Tuesday 9 April, details here.

A (fiscal) reality of our own creation

As part of the Alliance 21 project, I was asked to give an Australian perspective on defence spending and the Australia–US alliance. Or, in other words, it was my job to explain why Australian defence spending has been slashed. A simple enough task you’d think, given the apparent agreement—at the political level at least—that we each face a so-called ‘new fiscal reality’. If only it were so.

While US officials say they understand and accept the imperative for Australia to curtail its defence spending, it’s increasingly clear that’s not the case. Certainly those in the US defence establishment not constrained by diplomatic niceties haven’t been fooled. Have a look at what my US colleagues on the Alliance 21 project Michael O’Hanlon and Patrick Cronin [coming soon] have to say.

After all, why would anyone conclude that our countries face similar situations? Australia and the United States are in very different economic and fiscal situations. The table below (click to enlarge) shows the most recent data for comparable periods for each country. Read more

Australia has lower unemployment, higher workforce participation and stronger economic growth than the United States. More importantly, from a fiscal perspective, Australia’s debt and deficit are insignificant compared with that of the United States, and our government expenditure as a share of GDP is 10% smaller. At the same time, the United States is spending more than twice as much as Australia on defence as a share of GDP.

The US fiscal consolidation is being driven by the realisation that they can’t continue to pile up debt at the rate they are today forever—especially given the long-term trends in social security and health costs. There’s no denying that the machinations over the US budget are ugly; sequestration is the bluntest of blunt instruments. But who are we to point the finger about dysfunctional politics?

The point is that the US needs to get its fiscal house in order one way or another. The argument that the US can continue to borrow indefinitely because they have the exorbitant privilege of being the world’s reserve currency is flawed. They’ll only be accorded that privilege so long as expectations of inflation and default are held in check—and that demands getting debt under control. No such imperative exists for Australia.

That the United States has decided to cut defence spending as part of its effort to balance the books is hardly surprising—at 4.1% they spend a greater share of GDP on defence than any advanced economies apart from Singapore and Israel. Once again, the difference with Australia is stark; they are cutting defence from a high base, we are doing so from a relatively low one.

So what was I to say to a US audience about Australia’s dramatic about-turn on the spending promises touted in the 2009 White Paper? I offered two viewpoints.

First, I explained that history had given Australian politicians an irrational fetish for surpluses at any cost. I said that because an Australian Labor government hasn’t delivered a surplus since 1989; it represents a political Holy Grail that blinds politicians to anything else. They didn’t swallow that argument. For some reason, unbeknown to me, Australia’s policy acumen is held in very high regard in America. Perhaps we’re still living on the reputation of the Hawke-Keating era. Whatever the reason, they assume that we are thoughtful and deliberate in our decisions. It was put to me twice that Australia only fully abandoned its 2009 defence plans after it became clear that the US pivot to Asia was going to happen—hardly a healthy suspicion for our ally to be holding.

The second explanation I gave was that Australia is simply behaving like any junior partner in an alliance and free-riding because it would be illogical to do otherwise. They understand this argument, having borne the brunt of free-riding allies in Europe and Asia since WWII, but they don’t like to hear it. If nothing else, it offends them to think that a friend such as Australia would deliberately take advantage of them.

Having failed to adequately explain why Australia has reduced its defence effort concurrent with an increased US focus on the region, I turned to explain how we might nonetheless work together to build security in this part of the world. My ideas are set out in my Alliance 21 paper. It’s the usual package of enhancing regional cooperation, greater use of Australian bases and materiel cooperation. They took this for what it was worth—better than nothing.

I’m on the record as arguing that Australia can and should set its defence aspirations below that contained in the 2009 Defence White Paper. I stand by my arguments. But I can’t pretend, and nor should anyone else concerned with the health of the ANZUS alliance, that the recent precipitous cut to Australian defence spending hasn’t had a negative impact on the Canberra—Washington relationship.

Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI.

Australia’s studied non-commitment in Iraq

Soldiers from Combat Team Waler board the C-130 Hercules at Ali Air Base, Tallil Iraq for the first stage of their journey home to Australia.In The Strategist’s debate on Australia’s 2003 entry to the Iraq war kicked off by Graeme Dobell, it seems the balance of the argument tilts more towards him than to Peter Jennings’ rejoinder. Further, the process Graeme identifies affected not just the way that Australia went to war but how it became mired there for years to follow.

Graeme’s case on the silence of Canberra’s national defence bureaucracy is supported by stronger evidence than he chooses to use. Brian Toohey cites an unnamed official confirming Graeme’s claims, but the clincher comes from former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Ashton Calvert who said that, ‘DFAT did not argue against that war role. In my view there was a strong and shared sense of policy direction on Iraq from Howard and Downer. In my view they didn’t need advice on what they should do because they had, in effect, made up their minds’. Read more

That being said, the nature of Howard’s commitment to the Iraqi war was exactly what one would have expected of a political action to reinforce the ANZUS alliance. On 20 March 2003, 2,200 members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were deployed to participate in the invasion of Iraq. Their war concluded on 15 July that year and numbers were quickly drawn down (as had happened more than a year earlier when 1,500 Australians had been deployed to Afghanistan). Only 70 were left to guard the Australian embassy, 80 to operate the control tower at Baghdad Airport, 16 to search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and 90 were seconded to positions with the US Iraq administration. Howard later stated ‘the understanding we had with the Americans, when we originally participated, was that after the sharp end (of the invasion) was over we weren’t going to have any troop presence’.

Despite initiating some training assistance to help redevelop the Iraqi armed forces, the Howard government stuck to this line for eighteen months. As the ‘shock and awe’ of America’s invasion morphed into outrage and loathing amongst a growing sector of the Iraqi community and as the US increasingly sought security assistance from its allies throughout 2004, Australia didn’t budge. The government rejected a UN request for combat forces to assist in the conduct of elections for the interim government, scheduled for January 2005, arguing that training, equipment and related logistics assistance for some 180 military sentries and bodyguards from Fiji discharged any Australian obligation.

During this period of studied non-commitment it seems that Canberra’s government machinery continued in maintaining its silence about the Iraq intervention. From early 2004 Colonel Mike Kelly, seconded to the Office of General Council in the Coalition Provisional Authority, began unravelling evidence that the Australian company, AWB, had paid Saddam Hussein’s regime over $300 million in bribes up until the eve of the invasion. His warnings fell on deaf ears within DFAT.

Then again, little notice was paid to reports as early as October 2003 from Kelly, other military lawyers and Australian WMD searcher Rod Barton that the International Committee of the Red Cross had complained of the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. When the scandal about that prison broke in early 2004 the bureaucracy and government pleaded ignorance, despite the Department of Defence having earlier prepared draft responses to formal complaints from the Red Cross. The outcome for an organisation that should have learned something of the dangers of official silence from the ‘children overboard’ incident of 2001 was two days of humiliation for Defence officials before the Senate Estimates Committee in June. Kelly, now Minister for Defence Materiel, later said he observed a government that was unprepared for events in Iraq: ‘… after the combat phase … there was a distinct coming down [of] the shutters back in Canberra. We just didn’t do any strategic thinking or analysis of our own’.

But by mid-2005 the government had changed tack. Campaigning for the 2004 election, the Coalition undertook to not dramatically increase troop numbers in Iraq, a position reinforced by Howard when interviewed by The Bulletin in February 2005. On 22 February the Prime Minister announced that Australia would provide a force of 450 troops for twelve months to protect the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group in al Muthanna Province, replacing 1,200 Dutch personnel. In July 2006 Iraq assumed control of the province and the Japanese withdrew. The ADF force soon moved to Camp Terendak at the US-operated Tallil airbase in neighbouring Dhi Qar Province, where it was to undertake a training and mentoring role and be available to assist Iraqi authorities in crisis situations, if asked.

Nonetheless, the government continued to keep the ADF away from combat operations. During the December 2006 AUSMIN talks Defence Minister Nelson and Foreign Minister Downer were approached by US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to consider Australian participation in an American practice of attaching US Army units to Iraqi army counterparts. The two Ministers quickly scotched any idea of Australian combat involvement, Downer insisting ‘with Australia…no, we only have a very small number there. We’re not planning to do it ourselves, no’.

By that time ADF operations in Iraq were costing well over $1 billion annually. Yet the land force component never undertook offensive operations, attack and pursuit, never went to downtown Baghdad or  Basra. That policy made infantrymen ashamed of their uniform and promoted the perception that the army was plagued by institutional cowardice. Not my words, but those of two serving infantry officers, Hammett and Colton, writing in the Australian Army Journal. (See here for the condensed version and here for full version)

These complaints don’t reflect the whole story of the ADF’s involvement in Iraq. They were directed primarily against a perception that all the dangerous operations of Australia’s participation in the war against terrorism were restricted to the Special Air Services Regiment. What they do represent is the kind of confusion, resentment and ineffectiveness that can emerge at the end of an undertaking entered with insufficient thought, understanding and clarity.

Derek Woolner is a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the ANU. He was Director of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Group in the Commonwealth Parliament’s research service till 2002. Image courtesy of the Australian Defence Force.

Correction: an earlier version of this post incorrectly included Helmand province in a list of Iraqi place-names.

Australia’s many ‘maritime strategies’

The Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Sydney (FFG 03) and the Anzac-class frigate HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155) conduct formation maneuverings in the Atlantic Ocean July 17, 2009. The combination of the rise of China, interest in new submarines and debates on the Army’s future role has sparked a renewed interest in maritime strategy. There are several alternative maritime strategies in play, often with stark differences, but perhaps all have a similar fundamental shortcoming.

But first what is a maritime strategy? Most quote the early 20th Century British naval strategist Sir Julian Corbett, who believed that a strategy is maritime when ‘the sea is a substantial factor’. Crucially, he stressed that such a strategy involved joint forces working cooperatively to win a conflict rather than fighting their own separate wars. Read more

Maritime strategies have loomed large in Australian strategic thinking, generally as part of someone else’s maritime strategy or, relatively rarely, independently. In this debate, there are some (PDF) who devise an Australian ‘continental’ strategic school to rail against, but in so labeling specific strategies they disagreed with, the sea remained a substantial factor. The fundamental reason for disagreement was that the Army didn’t have a role—and thus a funding priority—which they considered essential.

So what maritime strategies are in play today?

  • Some propose a sea denial strategy, in which assets like submarines, missiles and maritime strike aircraft prevent an adversary easily using the sea for their purposes. The 1987 Defence White Paper was based on this concept, as it built a path to a self-reliant national defence; Hugh White has recently advanced this idea further. Perhaps for similar reasons, the Chinese have also embraced sea denial.
  • Others embrace a technological maritime strategy based principally around specific capabilities that are considered especially significant and intrinsically valuable. Amphibious capabilities and large submarines are currently seen in this way. Big LHDs and big submarines are so versatile that many uses will surely be found for them in whatever future strategic circumstances arise. This is a ‘build it and they will come’ maritime strategy.
  • The Chief of Navy and James Goldrick propose a more wide-ranging maritime strategy that focuses on using the sea as a means of communication, including protecting Australia’s international trade. In this there are a very large number of ships to be protected, very few are Australian owned and they sail on dispersed sea lanes mainly across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In most cases this would be a strategy that involved many other nations across vast ocean spaces and, if actually adopted, would change our planned force structure significantly.
  • There are also strategies of being involved in other people’s maritime strategies. Australia has deployed ships to the Gulf almost continuously from the early 1990s as part of US-led efforts to promote Middle Eastern stability. Recent tensions between the US and Iran suggest that this involvement will persist and in the nearer term may dramatically intensify—our next Middle Eastern war? Closer to home, Ross Babbage believes (PDF) we should be a part of the US AirSea Battle strategy that would fight for sea control against Chinese anti-access sea denial strategies. Andrew Davies sees such a linkage as a major factor influencing the size and cost of our new submarines. Michael Evans though, worries about such involvement negatively impacting Army force structure, and rejects such a strategy.
  • Michael instead advocates a maritime strategy of land force expeditionary warfare across the Indonesian archipelago. The concept owes much to the successful island hoping campaigns of WWII (PDF) but it can be argued that the strategic environment is very different today. Instead of outposts of European empires, the archipelago now comprises proudly independent states, mostly democratic and with relatively large land forces. Any Australian intervention would be by invitation only and the sea is unlikely to be a substantial factor in the terms Corbett meant. Certainly sea transport might be essential—just as in supporting the war in Afghanistan—but fighting won’t involve clashes at sea.
  • Partly combining all these strategies, the Williams Foundation sets out the operational capabilities Australia should aspire to. This concept—where everybody gets to play—isn’t quite a maritime strategy but rather what one should consist of. The Foundation postulates a scenario where Australia makes an alliance contribution, when the US is committed elsewhere on more important tasks, by mounting a joint force amphibious assault on a distant island against a peer adversary. This sounds somewhat reminiscent of the last days of WWII, when Australia undertook amphibious operations against by-passed Japanese forces while the US drove onto Tokyo Bay and victory. It’s not obvious how valuable that strategy is; Peter Charlton labeled it an unnecessary war.

This criticism highlights what is missing across the various proffered maritime strategies. They don’t clearly communicate how they’ll lead to a successful conclusion of a conflict. If the aim of war is a better peace, not just a return to the conditions that necessitated the war, these strategic alternatives don’t offer a path to this outcome. At the least they need locating within an overarching grand strategy that does. In this regard, the maritime strategies advanced are more operational concepts than strategies.

Justin Kelly and Michael Brennan have criticised such a focus on the operational level of war at the expense of considering the ‘bigger’ strategic level picture as at least partly explaining the limited success of recent large scale military campaigns. Historically, free-floating military thought bubbles have proven dangerous. Political leaders can unwittingly allow military forces to act out their aspirations and preferred operational models if there are no other ideas in play. At the start of WWI Kaiser Willhelm II famously complained of just such a conceptual straitjacket when he realized the Germany General Staff could not conceive of any alternatives or even modifications to its preferred Schlieffen Plan.

A sensible maritime strategy might require some more thought to develop and need to be subordinate element of an overarching grand strategy. Fortunately there may be some thinking (here and here) thinking that could be useful in this regard.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW. Image courtesy of US Department of Defense Current Photos.

Henny Youngman and Indonesian military reform: part I

 U.S. Marines and Tentara Nasional Indonesia - Angkatan Laut (TNI) marines find concealment in the tall grass of Banongan Beach. (May 29, 2010)One of the routines of 1950s American stand-up comedian Henny Youngman was to have his sidekick ask: ‘So, Henny, how’s your wife?’ Youngman would face the audience, roll his eyes to the roof and fire back: ‘Compared to what?’

Many critics of post-New Order reform of Indonesia’s National Defence Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or TNI) could take a leaf from Youngman’s book of one-liners. Those who challenge the nature, extent and pace of TNI reform over the past 15 years mostly frame their judgments in absolute terms, unleavened by context or comparisons. The process of reform is viewed as an end in itself rather than a means of achieving the important goal of military professionalism. Those critics would do well to heed Youngman’s question; compared to what? Read more

Some criticism of TNI reform is entirely valid. Serious contemporary scholarship, particularly out of the ANU, has highlighted Indonesia’s vulnerability to a Thai-type reversal, with Indonesia statistically facing the real chance of experiencing a military coup in the next two decades. While recognising the progress made by Indonesia in sector reform across the board, some analysts point to shortcomings that could jeopardise the consolidation of democracy in the world’s fourth largest nation.

But much of the criticism of TNI reform is selective and one-dimensional, presents only half a picture and is viewed through a Western liberal democratic lens.

One of the laments is that TNI lacks civilian control. This undersells the authority and reforms over the past decade by civilian defence ministers, professors Juwono Sudarsono and Purnomo Yusgiantoro. It ignores the oversight and budgetary approval function of Commission I of the Indonesian National Parliament. It also fails to grasp the important leadership role of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

True, the chiefs of TNI and the national police occupy seats in Cabinet alongside the defence minister, unlike democracies in the West. Although this differs from the Westminster and Jeffersonian systems, it’s consistent with good government, Indonesia-style.

Criticism is also frequently levelled at the Indonesian Army’s territorial system, whereby the majority of the standing army is assigned throughout the archipelago, across 12 geographic Military Area Commands, comprising both conventional army units and largely locally-drawn, territorial units. This is seen by critics as anachronistic and unwanted by the populace, and a vestige of the oppressive Suharto-era system of internal control. But there are several inconvenient truths about this characterisation.

In the far-flung extremities of Indonesia, the army’s presence is the only tangible manifestation of national government. Contrary to the view of many critics, the overwhelming majority of Indonesians don’t support separatism within their borders and most Indonesians support their armed forces. In an annual opinion poll by Indonesia’s largest circulation national newspaper, Kompas, which solicits popular views on Indonesia’s various government agencies, TNI is regularly rated by Indonesians among the top two most respected and trusted organs of government.

The ability of the central government to mobilise the Army’s territorial system is also critical in time of natural calamity. When earthquake or floods strike, the president’s first ‘000’ call is to the commander of TNI, not his chief of police. Even with the establishment of a relatively new National Disasters Organization, the territorial system provides the skeletal framework onto which disaster response efforts can be grafted. In late 2010, TNI concurrently deployed some 20,000 troops in response to a tsunami off western Sumatra, an explosive volcano in central Java and major floods in the province of West Papua. This is thanks largely to the territorial system.

Much is made of the ‘impunity’ of TNI members, who don’t fall under the jurisdiction of civil law. This is where most critics stop, implying that soldiers are somehow above and beyond any form of justice or legal censure. There’s little recognition of the fact that Indonesian soldiers, like our own, are subject to disciplinary action under a code of military justice which has legal standing within the hierarchy of Indonesia’s national laws.

Those commentators who recognise the military code of justice rarely credit that nowadays charges are laid, offenders convicted and sentences handed down more than ever before. Some critics complain that courts martial are infrequent, inconsistent and lack transparency. Justice is seen as slow in coming and sentences are slammed as lenient. Compared to what?

If the corollary is that the civil legal system is better equipped and able to mete out justice swiftly and incorruptibly to TNI offenders, this isn’t a perception shared by Joe Citizen across Indonesia. Many Indonesians hold their legal system in very low regard. In a 2010 article, New Straits Times columnist John McBeth reported that sentences imposed on TNI soldiers convicted of human rights abuses in Papua were harsher than those imposed by a US court martial on all but three of the eleven military police convicted of torture and abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.

TNI is still in the business of doing business, much of it camouflaged nowadays as ‘cooperatives’ or ‘foundations’ and an indeterminate proportion of TNI businesses operate illegally. And herein lays another (perhaps legitimate) layer of dissatisfaction with the course of TNI reform. It’s often argued that denying TNI such funding sources will increase civil control, on the grounds that whoever holds the purse strings will necessarily call the shots.

That argument is tenuous. To see why, we need to look no further than the experience of our neighbours in Papua New Guinea and East Timor for lessons on how restive troops can become when they are underpaid, underfed and underemployed. Most of Indonesia’s defence budget is spent on salary increases and on replacing obsolete equipment. The operational budgets of military commanders, which cover everything from barracks maintenance to the training and sustainment of forces, are often, at least to some degree, self-funded.  Until this is properly addressed, extracting TNI from business enterprises will be difficult. It’s clear that the inter-ministerial body set up in October 2009 to oversee the takeover of TNI enterprises by other government departments has had little impact. TNI Inc. will likely be around for some years yet.

Most critics concede that the lion’s share of military reform achieved since the start of the reform era has been at the initiative of the TNI leadership itself, notably General Wiranto and General Endriartono Sutarto. When reform was thrust upon it, TNI responded by abruptly withdrawing from all forms of active politics and disassociating itself from the former ruling Golkar Party, by abolishing the system of sinecures in provincial government and civil administration for high-ranking officers, surrendering its one-third of seats in the People’s Consultative Assembly and formulating its own philosophical basis to guide future reforms, known as the ‘New Paradigm’.

But in recent years the pace of reform has stalled and some commentators warn of possible backsliding, noting that military reform is reversible. They’re right, of course, but they’re less accurate in sheeting home blame to TNI for this drift. Instead, the administration and the National Parliament must bear the principal responsibility for enacting and enforcing legislation, which has been painfully slow in all public sectors during President Yudhoyono’s second term.

In my next post, I’ll address what yardsticks we might employ to better gauge the extent of TNI reform.

Gary Hogan is a former Professor of Grand Strategy at the US National Defense University. He was the first foreigner to graduate from Indonesia’s Institute of National Governance (Lemhannas) and was Australia’s Defence Attaché to Indonesia 2009 to 2012. Image courtesy of Flickr user #PACOM.

Cyber in the Pacific Islands

Increased connectivity in the South Pacific

Internet access in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia is on the rise. That’s a good thing, but there are gaps in governance. It would be in Australia’s interests, and those of our friends and neighbours to help.

Mobile phones with 3G and 4G are rapidly spreading across the region (PDF)—around 60% of Pacific Islanders have access to one. In 2012, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu announced that they would be undertaking an undersea fibre cable project to improve their internet connection. It is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Fiji is already connected to the Southern Cross Cable and enjoys good internet connection. These and other benefits also bring new cyber security challenges. Read more

No Pacific Island state has its own computer emergency response team. A distributed denial of service attack in the Marshall Islands in 2008 saw the island disconnected from email communication for two days. At present, cybercrime legislation across the region is also fairly uneven. There have been efforts to strengthen cyber-crime legislation, notably in Tonga and Fiji, but for the most part the capacity to enforce these laws remains a challenge. Cyber legislation in Fiji is also coupled with censorship that targets online dissent against the Bainimarama regime. Lax cyber regulation in the region is potentially a problem for Australia. In 2011, for example, Tokelau was ranked second in the world for malicious registrations aimed at stealing personal financial information. Tokelau had sold its domain name to a foreign company. With an open domain, the island became a hub for cyber-crime.

Australia can help. We are already involved in a number of regional initiatives including PacCERT (a regional computer emergency response team that helps enable the region in addressing cyber security problems), regional workshops on dealing with cybercrime, workshops on cybercrime legislation and Cyber Safety Pasifika—an initiative aimed at facilitating responsible and safe internet practices. Other initiatives, with Australian support, have been taken through organisations like the Pacific Island Forum and Pacific Island Law Officers’ Network.

Continued AFP involvement with Cyber Safety Pasifika would likely pay dividends, and greater attention could be paid to assisting with the development of cyber legislation. Siaosi Sovaleni, manager of the SPC’s Pacific Information Communications Technology Outreach programme, stated in July last year that the Pacific Islands ‘need to actually have appropriate legislation in place’ to deal with cyber offences.

There are other major players. The EU, under the ICB4PAC project, is assisting with Pacific Island ICT development. China, a major actor in the South Pacific region, has also increasingly become involved with cyber initiatives among the Pacific Islands. The Fijian Commissioner of Police and Hong Kong Commissioner of Police met last year to discuss issues including cyber-crime. Additionally, Chinese company Huawei Technologies provided the funding for Vanuatu’s e-Government program, loans from China (PDF) have helped Fiji create a data centre in Suva, and China is working within the region to provide access to low-cost internet (PDF).

Australia has an enduring interest in capacity building in South Pacific nations. Helping them to develop a robust internet backbone and the ability to deal with unlawful and malicious online behaviour is a natural extension of our other activities. It’s not as obvious as other activities, but it’s no less important.

Mary Willett is an alumnus of ASPI’s internship program. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mika417.

Mobility, endurance, and payload: lots of each for our submarines

HMAS Manoora's SK50 Sea King helicopter flies over Collins Class submarine, HMAS Collins.Andrew Davies’ recent post on The Who, What, Where, and Why of the Future Submarine reverts to the beginning of the argument about submarines. Anyone who read my earlier response, ‘Why submarines for Australia?’ would guess that I disagree with some of the points he is making!

I’ve previously endeavoured to show the limitations of a defensive strategy for Australia’s submarine operations. Restricting Australia’s submarine capability to operating in or below the Indonesian archipelago by acquiring a smaller submarine might be cheaper, but it wouldn’t be money well spent. The SIA’s submission to the 2013 Defence White Paper argues the case well.

Given the unfolding strategic landscape, we should indeed accept Andrew’s challenge and convince ourselves that our submarine force must be able to operate north of the archipelago, throughout the South China Sea, and be able to observe, report and if necessary strike. Read more

Let me explain why. While they are at heart a warfighting platform, submarine operations are conducted across the spectrum of circumstances. In peacetime, successful operations are an important demonstration of the capability and a training ground for operations in higher threat environments. A long-range, high-endurance submarine force offers Australia an asymmetric capability, achieving a disproportionate level of deterrence that can’t be obtained from a shorter-range submarine force or any other ADF force elements.

Operations constrained to be within the Archipelago would require the cooperation of Indonesia and the Philippines to allow our submarines to undertake offensive missions. This level of cooperation can’t be assumed, and the alternative could be to widen the problem.

Andrew also puts more weight on the alliance benefits than is perhaps warranted. Although operations are normally conducted in an alliance context (where they are critical to establish Australia as a contributor, not just a user), a capable Australian submarine force offers an independent capability should the Government of the day so desire. And in the alliance context, a capable conventional submarine is a valued supplement to alliance submarine forces and might indeed be more effective in confined littoral waters, where the larger nuclear boat may be restricted in its ability manoeuvre. The ability to operate throughout the South China Sea is the essential capability to provide the unique intelligence, warning and hence, the ability to respond to or shape situations. The areas closer to an opponent’s bases are high pay off in surveillance and for submarine on submarine operations.

Overall, the shorter-range submarine capability provides markedly fewer options for a future Australian government facing a difficult and uncertain strategic environment.

And we’re not really sure of the costs. Until we’ve undertaken a conceptual development, with cost/benefit trade-offs, we don’t have a sensible figure for the cost of the new design submarine; we should at least allow that estimate of $36B currently being used might be wrong and avoid constraining our options because of that figure. In any case, the savings from moving down the capability curve might not boost the budget bottom line as much as implied in Andrew’s post. It’s worth noting that the program to design and deliver 12 larger submarines would probably take in the order of 30 years. So even if the $36 billion figure is correct, this is an average acquisition spend of $1.2B per annum.

In short, I agree with the Chief of Navy’s remarks at the SIA’s Conference in November 2012:

A long range, long endurance, survivable submarine gives Australia the maximum number of options in dealing with that vital national role of protecting our ability to trade and ensuring that our national prosperity is secure. We must continually restate that the two primary combat missions for submarines are anti submarine warfare and anti surface warfare. Being able to operate in a stealthy way and conduct ISR is vital but at the end of the day it is but an enabler to the main combat missions and not an end in and of itself.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine commanding officer and past President of the Submarine Institute of Australia. Image courtesy of Flickr user MATEUS_27:24&25.

Strengthening Parliament’s role over military operations

Parliament and the PM

I certainly agree with Graeme Dobell’s recent post that debating the powers of the Prime Minister and the Parliament over the prerogative to go to war is an important subject. Moreover it’s one on which I suspect Graeme and I would mostly agree. He stops short of saying that Parliament should have some final right to authorise deploying Australian troops. Frankly that’s the only sensible response when you consider the structure of our system of government. The fact is that, although the media increasingly presents Australian politics as being like Washington, we remain resolutely a Westminster system—where the executive government is of the Parliament, not separate to it. Our Parliament can’t act like the US Congress, as an arm of government separate to the executive, because doing so in our system in effect brings the government down. And our Senate is there as a house of review rather than an alternate executive government.

So much for politics 101. Those who support giving Parliament a right of veto over Government decisions to deploy troops tend to that view, I would argue, out of a hope that the Senate will block such deployments; governments tend seldom to have majorities there. In other words, their position is based more on an expectation about how Australian politics really works (Oppositions oppose things, for example) than out of any belief that Parliament will redesign itself into the US Congress and hold different policy positions on national security to the government. Read more

But that doesn’t mean to say Parliament can’t play an important role in shaping how governments direct military operations overseas. Deployments since Iraq in 2003 establish the contemporary practice of Parliament’s role in deployments.

The first emerging practice is for the Prime Minister to make a detailed statement to Parliament about the basis of a government decision to deploy forces. John Howard did this in relation to Iraq in February and March 2003 and his statements were debated in both houses of Parliament. Detractors will say that this doesn’t amount to much because governments typically control the numbers in the House of Representatives. Maybe so, but the practice runs counter to the current trend of governments making major policy statements outside Parliament. It’s easier to launch policies, as the 2009 Defence White Paper was, on the deck of a warship with no debate and only a handful of bemused journalists to please. Parliament is a much more difficult theatre. Developing such a statement forces governments to consider the basis of opposition to deployments and of the need to make a convincing case for their decisions.

A second practice has been for Governments to commit to reporting to Parliament on progress in military operations. John Faulkner, a believer in the importance of Parliamentary debate, adopted this in the form of quarterly reports on the Afghanistan operation. This has been continued by Stephen Smith. Julia Gillard has added to the practice with an annual Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan.

With some reinforcement, I believe this practice could strengthen Parliament, put governments on their mettle and perhaps even satisfy those who hanker for a Canberra that looks more like Washington than Westminster. These practices—let’s call them the Howard and Faulkner initiatives—force governments to confront the implications of their policies, test the adequacy of decisions, give Parliamentarians the opportunity to shape thinking through the quality of their contributions and ultimately stand as history’s record for later generations to judge. Anyone who says that isn’t important—or that governments don’t care deeply about them—hasn’t been involved in developing such statements. It’s up to MPs in their Party Rooms to demand that similar approaches are used in future.

A third development, albeit a less well established one, has been for Parliamentary Committees to scrutinise critical aspects of decision making about military operations. Graeme Dobell mentioned the outcome of one of these best efforts—a recommendation by the then Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD (now the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security) that there should be an independent review of the performance of intelligence agencies’ reporting on weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq. That led to the review by Phillip Flood. Its precursor, the Joint Committee review, was based on a reference from the Senate and wasn’t welcomed by John Howard. The committee produced a sensible, balanced and fair report—a model in fact of what well-chaired Parliamentary Committees can achieve.

Committees could do a lot to strengthen Parliament’s responsible assessment of decisions to go to war. Now would be a good time for a forensic review of the record of deployments in the Pacific since Bougainville in the late 1990s. Equally, there would be no better time than now for a Committee to review the lessons emerging from Afghanistan, before the process is hijacked by a variety of interest groups with points to prove.

With some consolidation, the measures I’ve described here can be codified into a modern Parliamentary practice to oversee military operations. It might go some way to satisfy the wishes of those who pine for Washington on the Molonlgo. For it to work, governments need to show more respect more than they have for the value of bringing policy to Parliament. In response, Parliamentary committees need to improve their act beyond the poor theatre of the budget estimates process. Everyone would win from that.

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

Indonesia and ‘strategic trust’

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao at the JIDD. March 20 2013.One of the main features of the Indonesian President’s speech to last week’s Jakarta International Defense Dialogue was the concept of ‘strategic trust’. Admitting this was difficult to define, he referred to it as ‘an evolving sense of mutual confidence between nations – particularly between government and militaries’ that enables parties to work together more effectively and, more importantly, peacefully.

President SBY offered two examples from Indonesia’s own history where strategic trust has been the glue in otherwise shattered relationships: between Indonesia and East Timor (a poignant reference given East Timor’s PM Xanana Gusmão was sitting in the audience), and between the Indonesian government and GAM in Aceh. His message is that it’s something that can bring bitter enemies together very gradually over time, ‘brick by brick’, and it has to reach from top leadership to the bottom rung.

It’s not a particularly radical concept, and it has been bounced around before. But what President SBY has put in words is, for instance, what Australia is seeking to build with regional partners. If we were asking ourselves, ‘what does it take to be strategic partners with Indonesia?’, SBY has got an easy answer: ‘strategic trust’, as it’s understood in Jakarta. And that’s the beauty of abstraction: you’re off the hook proving it in quantitative terms but you certainly can say you’re working towards it. Read more

The President gets further mileage from a term ‘strategic trust’ because it’s entirely consistent with the back catalogue of Indonesia’s regional and international proclamations. Strategic trust is an extension of Indonesia’s foreign policy of ‘dynamic equilibrium’ and its diplomatic approach of having ‘a million friends and zero enemies’. It continues to affirm Indonesia’s desire to be seen as a balancer within the region, not only between global and emerging powers, but also between Asia–Pacific partners. It comes as no surprise that the President would cite opportunities for strategic trust-building as areas where Indonesia has been active diplomatically: in Myanmar’s democratic transition and the South China Sea Code of Conduct.

The speech might not be ground-breaking but it’s clever for slipping a diplomatic buzzword into a forum like JIDD. There’s no doubt ‘strategic trust’ was whispered around the JIDD stalls throughout the day and after. Media coverage of the event has played up SBY’s speech like he was ‘dropping the mic’ on strategic thinking. But at the end of the day, ‘strategic trust’ is a term that, if incorporated into our everyday diplomatic parlance and practice with Indonesia, wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of President of the Republic of Indonesia.

Rethinking the Defence White Paper after next

USS Constellation (CV 64) steams near the Western Coast of Australia on her return transit to her homeport of San Diego, California. Apr. 7, 2003.As Andrew mentioned last week, we were recently invited by RUSI ACT to talk about challenges and prospects of the next Defence White Paper. Actually, it was more about the White Paper after next, as a document released only shortly before an election is likely to be short-lived, particularly if there’s a change in government.

Andrew talked about White Papers then and now. My talk focused on how to readjust the strategy that must underpin any defence policy as it relates to dealing with the two major powers in our region, the US and China, and how we might approach our bigger neighbour to the north, Indonesia. The good news is that we are entering another ‘interwar period’ and we could use the ‘strategic pause’ to make changes to strategy and force structure. We don’t live in a rapidly deteriorating security environment, and there is no imminent major power war or destabilising arms race in Southeast Asia.

Undoubtedly, China will become stronger militarily and flex its muscles in East Asia and parts of the South China Sea. But that doesn’t mean that conflict or war is inevitable, or that we have to choose between China and the United States. Nor need we buy into inflated assessments of the PLA’s rising military capabilities. In fact, China faces major challenges to project significant military power beyond its ‘near seas’. Moreover, Chinese investments in lower-end military capabilities for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and protection of sea-lanes are largely underreported, and are all avenues for cooperation with the PLA. Read more

The 2009 White Paper was strong in its anti-Chinese rhetoric and its ambition was to develop an ADF geared towards participating in a potential war against China. It would be better if the next White Paper avoids that approach. We have no interest in complicating our relationship with China. Nor do we necessarily add any value to our US alliance by doing so. If there ever is a war with China, Australia could provide niche capabilities to coalition operations without subscribing to ‘China threat’ theories now. And we should avoid the folly of thinking that we need an independent military capability against China—which is, after all, a nuclear power.

The US alliance is still our best bet against unforeseen major strategic disruptions in Asia. As I’ve argued here recently, Washington will be able to sustain the ‘pivot’ to Asia despite its current domestic problems. Staying close to the US also allows us to spend relatively little on defence, and gives us access to intelligence and world class military technology.

Nevertheless, the next White Paper needs to address the future alliance burden-sharing arrangement. The US expects its Asian allies to step up, and it hasn’t been amused by our defence cuts. This raises the question if the next White Paper should define concrete areas of possible alliance contributions, even if explicitly excluding others. Should we structure the ADF to play a more active role in Southeast Asia but not for sending forces to Northeast Asia? The answer to this question has force structure implications: for example, would we want to build very big submarines which could operate in Northeast Asia or ones that can make meaningful contributions in maritime chokepoints in Southeast Asia and might be a a more cost effective option?

Moreover, it’s time to put our defence relationship with Indonesia on a new footing. As CDF General David Hurley has argued, Australia needs to work towards a true ‘strategic partnership’ with our bigger neighbour, which is on a strategic trajectory towards becoming the major power in Southeast Asia, and which will likely outgrow Australia economically by around 2030. Given our history with Indonesia, there’s a natural inclination among some security pundits in Canberra to argue that a more powerful Indonesia could also pose problems for us and that we need to maintain a ‘residual capability’ in case ‘something goes wrong’ in Jakarta.

Yet, to paraphrase former Australian Defence Attaché to Indonesia Gary Hogan, this ‘ain’t your father’s TNI anymore’. TNI is a far more sophisticated outfit than it used to be, and as its view shifts from internal problems Indonesia’s external threat perception is focussed north, not south. It aims to improve its very limited maritime and air capability to secure its approaches and make a more active contribution to maritime stability in Southeast Asia. This is good news for us since it provides greater opportunities for basing our relationship on shared strategic interests. Moreover, having Indonesia as an additional geostrategic shield against unwanted security developments in Asia is the best thing that can happen to us.

Even if Indonesia’s next President is less Australia-friendly than SBY has been, the country’s core interest won’t change all that much. The most obvious potential flashpoint is West Papua, but it’s hard to see how it would be in either country’s interest to go to war over it. The next White Paper therefore could make clear that we have a major interest in supporting a militarily more capable Indonesia.

Finally, there’s no regional peer-competitor to Australia on the horizon. Southeast Asian countries are modernising their forces rather than engaging in arms races. According to the 2013 Military Balance, Southeast Asia accounted only for 11.6% of all defence spending in Asia. True, over time countries in that region will become militarily more capable. But instead of worrying about the loss of ‘air superiority’ and defending the ‘ air-sea gap’ against some phantom threat, we could more helpfully conceptualise our strategy more along the lines of active defence cooperation and defence diplomacy in Southeast Asia. That is, helping Southeast Asian countries operate sophisticated weaponry and navigate around potential miscalculations in maritime disputes.

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

US–Australia military interoperability II

he littoral combat ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Coronado (LCS 4) is rolled-out at the Austal USA assembly bay.

In his recent summary of his Alliance 21 paper for this blog, ADM Gary Roughead cogently explained why Australia and the United States benefit from high levels of military interoperability. He also suggested several fertile areas where further developing shared approaches would pay dividends, including the establishment of a governance mechanism to move what has been a somewhat ad hoc (but often successful) approach onto a more formal footing. I’ll resist covering the ground again here, other than to say ‘what he said’. In any case, my perspectives on some of those issues can be found in my full length paper.

ADM Roughead’s paper comes with the perspective you’d expect from someone with an impressive career as an operator of military capability. My paper takes a different tack and focuses on acquisition and industry policy, mostly here in Australia but also raises some issues where the United States could helpfully review its approach.

A couple of the recommendations for the development of Australia’s defence industry policy have appeared in my previous ASPI publications on off-the-shelf procurement and naval shipbuilding: Read more

  • off-the-shelf materiel solutions from the United States come with built-in interoperability (and ‘Australianising them’ often reduces it) and should therefore be the default option
  • there’s an inexorable trend in defence industry towards Australian companies becoming part of a global supply chains, and efforts to artificially support or protect local suppliers introduces inefficiencies and often results in less value for money, reduced and less interoperable capability or both

From experience, I know there’ll be some resistance to those observations. One of the objections is usually that there isn’t a level playing field in the global defence marketplace—meaning that Australian companies would be placed at an unfair advantage. My usual response to that is that if other countries want to be inefficient in a way that lets us capitalise on their poor policy, we should let them. But I’m prepared to make an exception to that argument in the case of a close ally. After all, it’s in our interest as well as America’s for their procurement processes to be as efficient as possible.

For a start, I recommended that American systems should be developed with an expectation of export to close allies. This hasn’t always been the case, but with increasing American expectations of their partners and allies doing more in the way of burden sharing—as seems to be the case in the Pacific region and was demonstrated in the Libya campaign last year where Europeans allies were concerned—it seems to be in the interest of both sides of the arrangement for allied capabilities to be at a high level. A step in that direction was the release to Australia of the EF-18G Growler airborne electronic warfare platform, which represents the first time such a capability has been exported.

I also saw some scope for the US to lower some of the effective barriers to Australian companies operating in the American market. Perth shipbuilder Austal has been very successful winning work for the USN, but had to establish a new yard in Alabama to do so. Not knowing the details of the business case, it’s impossible to tell if that was the most efficient solution, but Austal already had a production facility in Perth, and an expansion on the existing base is likely to have been a cheaper all-round option—but wasn’t consistent with US procurement policy.

I also see a problem with the way that work on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has been allocated. In effect, the prime contractor (with the acquiescence of the US Government) has used contracts to attempt to ‘tie’ partner governments to acquisition of the F-35. Australian companies have won work on the program as a result of a limited competitive process. But the work is contingent on Australia continuing with its planned purchase of the aircraft—effectively adding a steep local political price to any decision to pursue an alternative, and recruiting the Australian industry lobby to the cause of the F-35. In effect, what could be an arms-length commercial relationship is instead being used to constrain the Australian Government’s decision making on an important defence capability.

The disadvantages aren’t one-sided either. The US will have trouble signing up partners and allies for future projects after this experience. From the contractor’s side, the distorting effect of the ‘pay to play’ approach to industry has almost inevitably resulted in a less than efficient allocation of manufacturing contracts. And if partner countries with industrial work already under way defer, downsize or even abandon their F-35 acquisition, the disruption to production if work is taken away from local firms will introduce still further inefficiencies and delays into an already troubled program.

Finally, interoperability isn’t just about the hardware. As well as the logistics, training and doctrine development that ADM Roughead discusses, there’s also behind the scenes support in the form of intelligence. Systems such as the Growler, F-35 and cyber warfare require extensive intelligence support to operative effectively. Not just by keeping ‘threat libraries’ up to date, but also in near-real-time exchange of data to deconflict activities and coordinate manoeuvre. The deep intelligence relationship enjoyed in the signals intelligence world provides many of these benefits already. But it’s not clear—at least from the outside—whether the intelligence sharing arrangements required across the board are as robust.

To summarise, on the American side:

  • the allocation of work on American procurement projects to suppliers to Australia should be made on the basis of competitiveness, rather than being contingent on particular materiel acquisition plans by the Australian Government
  • American systems should be developed with the assumption of export to close allies
  • intelligence cooperation is increasingly important for the effective use of cutting edge systems. The Sigint model of cooperation might need to be extended into other realms—especially cyber.

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

A change in climate

Maximum temperature (°C) 1 December 2012 to 28 February 2013Today ASPI releases a report, Heavy Weather: Climate and the Australian Defence Force, which I’ve co-authored with Anthony Press, the CEO of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, and former ASPI analyst Eliza Garnsey, now based in Cambridge.

The 2009 Defence White Paper dismissed climate change as an issue for future generations, judging that the strategic consequences wouldn’t be felt before 2030. But we think that’s no longer the case. Heavy Weather argues that the downstream implications of climate change are forcing Defence to become involved in mitigation and response tasks right now. Defence’s workload will only increase, so we need a new approach.

Climate change is a change in Defence’s operating environment. Just as the ADF changes in response to shifts in economic conditions, technology and demographics, it needs to adapt in response to changes in the physical battlespace. Climate science involves no more uncertainty than other environmental factors in Defence planning. The ADF operates on ‘warning times’, so it needs to understand how environmental changes can affect risk management and prepare accordingly. Read more

Climate change will require Defence to play its part as part of a whole-of-government approach, rather than work in isolation. Tasks range from identifying the threat and taking preventive action to reduce the risk, through to dealing with the consequences.

The ADF will always need to have hard-edged war-fighting capabilities, but it will also have to recognise the increasing requirement to become involved in capacity building, especially in those countries that are already feeling the effect of stresses and where climate change will have its greatest impact.

Heavy Weather recommends that Defence work with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to establish an interagency working group on climate change and security. The group would focus on analysing climate event scenarios for Australia and the Asia–Pacific region in order to manage the risks those scenarios pose to national resilience and regional stability.

Having a senior ADF officer, backed by a competent and knowledgeable staff, with responsibility for climate change matters would send the right message about the degree to which the ADF is responding to climate risks. The Navy’s Hydrography, Meteorology and Oceanography Branch Director-General is well placed to become the adviser to the Chief of the Defence Force on climate issues. A key role would be to develop a Responding to Climate Change Plan, which details how Defence will manage the effects of climate change on its operations and infrastructure.

On the home front, Defence should audit its environmental data to determine its relevance for climate scientists and systematically make that data publicly available.

And at the international level, Australia should work with like-minded countries to share best practice and thinking on how military organisations should best respond to extreme weather events. Extreme heat, floods and bushfires were likely all aggravated this summer in Australia by a shifting climate, and the trend is likely to continue.

These recommendations, and others that are set out in Heavy Weather, aren’t about Defence having a ‘green’ view of the world: they’re about the ADF being well placed to deal with the potential disruptive forces of climate change.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Australian Bureau of Meteorology.