Articles by " Anthony Bergin"

Australia–Fiji defence cooperation can be ‘win-win’

Fijian Army Private Qiri desembarked from Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) at Canala Bay

In a recent op-ed I suggested that as we’re now normalising our relations with Fiji we shouldn’t just go back to the ‘same old, same old’ when it comes to defence cooperation.

The great advantage of military relationship-building is that much of it can be done without attracting too much political attention. The new Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Staff College, and he’ll likely be receptive to engagement with his Australian counterparts. Early resumption of places for Fijian officers at our training establishments, along with participation in joint exercises should be part of a normal Fiji–Australia relationship.

But I also suggested that one new idea we might consider would be ADF training courses in Fiji or Australia to prepare young Fijians to be, at the same time, Australian permanent residents and ADF recruits: after they’d performed sufficient loyal service, this would lead to Australian citizenship. Fiji would benefit from the remittances. Alternatively, if there were concerns we were ‘cherry- picking’ the best and brightest, they could go back under a return-of-service obligation and strengthen the RFMF (Fiji now allows dual citizenship). Read more

The rule now is that you have to be an Australian citizen before you can enlist, or—in certain circumstances for ‘high priority’ jobs—you can be a permanent resident nearing citizenship and your application can be fast-tracked. Most of our overseas military recruits and lateral transfers come from the UK, US, NZ and Canada.

We should be taking a closer look at the UK model of Commonwealth recruiting to see the justifications and modalities, and get away from any notion that this would be some kind of ‘guest worker’ scheme: Fijians serving in the UK armed forces aren’t called ‘guest workers’.

The UK’s Commonwealth recruitment scheme advertises vacancies in the relevant country, interviews in those states, and selection is based on skills.

Certainly equal conditions with Australian personnel would be essential, (as in the UK model). They’d not be in separate units and nor should navy and air force personnel be excluded.

Currently there’s no evidence that the ADF’s facing massive recruiting shortfalls. (The applicant-assessment-enlistment ratio’s around 10:3:1—that is ten applicants test for three to be assessed for one to enlist.) So the idea of incorporating Fijians into the ADF is an idea that can and should receive careful preparation to ensure its success.

Still, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a winning formula here. Fijians and Australians have a long history of getting along with each other through tourism, sport, education, and commerce. Moreover, Fijian military cooperation with Australia has a long and positive history.

If it was successful, such a scheme might be extended by bilateral agreement to other island states. But I’d guess that the overwhelming majority of recruitment would come from Fiji: the country’s long exported security personnel and Fijian expertise is highly-regarded in UN peacekeeping missions (Fiji’s now got over 500 troops in UNDOF’s delicate mission in the Golan). For every RFMF vacancy advertised in Fiji, there’s a huge response from would-be recruits.

If properly instituted the proposed scheme may well prove to be a positive strand in the ties that bind Australia and Fiji.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indian Ocean regionalism – picking up the pattern of connectivity

The members (dark green) and dialogue partners (light green) of the Indian Ocean Rim Association

It’s fair to say that, despite the existence of initiatives and organisations such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indian Ocean regional architecture is under-developed.  This reflects a lack of shared interests relative to some other regions, including limited economic and strategic integration, great socio-economic disparities, and modest people-to-people links.  Yet there’s benefit in seeking to address Indian Ocean transnational issues by regional means.

I recently attended a workshop in Mauritius organised by IORA, in association with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, on ‘IORA and Strategic Stability in the Indian Ocean’. I was asked to address the question of what IORA can do to build trust, confidence and effective security cooperation. Here are the key points of what I said in Port Louis. Read more

IORA is the only body with a broadly-based agenda that spans the region and meets at ministerial level.  But it has struggled to find common ground among its diverse membership and suffered from institutional weakness (its secretariat has fewer than ten people). This has led to narrow project-focused agendas and an absence of strategic focus.

Australia (as chair for the next two years), India, (the immediate past chair), Indonesia (the current vice chair), and South Africa (which intends to nominate to succeed Indonesia in two years), should drive a more productive IORA agenda.   South Africa’s intention to nominate for vice-chair is welcome, as it’s keen to strengthen IORA’s work program and practices.  But these four countries need to avoid any sense of dictating to IORA’s smaller members.

IORA has agreed to work on six priority areas: maritime safety and security; trade and investment facilitation; fisheries management; disaster risk management; science and technology and academic cooperation; and tourism and cultural exchanges.  The ‘Perth Principles’ Declaration on the peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources was issued at IORA’s annual meeting in Perth in November last year and should guide IORA’s future work.

IORA should be using projects on oceanography and meteorology as a base for exploring more systematic work on the ‘blue’ economy. The Indian Ocean remains one of the least studied and understood of the world’s oceans, so IORA should support projects such as the ambitious International Indian Ocean Expedition 50th Anniversary Initiative (PDF).

Climate change is a huge issue for countries like Bangladesh, Seychelles and the Maldives. IORA should have a wider agenda on risk mitigation and humanitarian assistance arrangements in the Indian Ocean region. For example, an IORA protocol on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief could be useful.

lORA’s work on maritime security should complement any IONS initiatives. If IONS were to develop operational ‘pointy end’ type working groups, like the Western Pacific Naval Symposium has done, then  IORA should make sure it didn’t duplicate work on maritime affairs and was more strategic than IONS.

Ministers and senior officials need to be more involved in IORA’s work. For example, fisheries ministers could be engaged in work on fisheries management or science ministers in fostering collaboration on oceanic research. IORA should get regional buy-in by establishing regular senior officials meetings in each of the priority areas. Ad-hoc working groups could address thematic areas and facilitate strategic discussion in areas such as maritime cooperation.

The Perth communique noted the possibility of a formal post-meeting dialogue between lORA member states and Dialogue Partners. That’s a good idea and Australia should encourage Dialogue Partners to engage with lORA through association with and contribution to specific lORA initiatives, either financially or by in-kind support. An lORA Dialogue could be established after each annual meeting along the lines of the Pacific Islands Forum Post Forum Dialogue.

There’s an lORA Business Forum, but there are limited opportunities for senior business representatives at the annual IORA ministerial meeting for them to gain access to Ministers. To boost private sector engagement we need something like an Indian Ocean event, which could be held alongside IORA’s Ministerial meeting, equivalent to the Africa Down Under conference and designed to attract business and government officials.

lORA has an Academic Group as part of its structure, but it would get greater traction if it were a genuine Indian Ocean second track body focussing on IORA’s current concerns, just as CSCAP engages closely with the ARF.

The Indian Ocean is the ‘great connector’ between Asia and Europe and countries around the rim.  IORA’s core priority should be to keep the Indian Ocean as a peaceful maritime highway, where all can prosper.  IORA should have strategically focused meeting agendas to maximise discussion, driven by ministers, on core Indian Ocean regional cooperation issues.

My key message in Port Louis was that IORA needs a comprehensive engagement strategy with Indian Ocean government officials, academics and business. We want Indian Ocean elites to pick up the pattern of connectivity.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of DFAT.

Multilateral disaster relief efforts – not as easy as you might think

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Garrett Williams, attached to a Combat Logistics Regiment 3, clears debris during Operation Tomodachi in Noda, Japan, April 1, 2011. More than 80 Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilians from Misawa Air Base, Japan, participated in the cleanup operations. Operation Tomodachi was a multinational effort coordinated with Japan to respond to a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami that struck northern Japan March 11, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Bradley/Released)

Today marks the third anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck northeastern Japan, triggering a tsunami that caused widespread damage, including the meltdown of three of the six reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Only about 100 people died in the earthquake itself, (because of the earthquake-resistant design of many buildings), but almost 20,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami. It was also the most expensive disaster in human history, causing losses of $360 billion. As we remember Japan’s terrible losses, today’s anniversary also reminds us that the Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone area in the world.

On the weekend I was at a workshop in Singapore organised by the US National Bureau of Asian Research and the Japan Center for International Exchange on regional disaster management. It was part of a project to develop a US–Japan alliance approach to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), badged by the sponsors as the ‘Strategic Assistance’ concept. I was asked to give my views on the proposed concept of closer US–Japan HADR operations in south and Southeast Asia. Read more

Australia has wide experience in disaster response, both at home and abroad, with significant capabilities with respect to military assets, (to be significantly expanded with the LHDs), medical facilities (such as those located at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin), as well as urban search and rescue assets in Queensland and NSW. And our disaster response operations work smoothly with our aid program, as occurred with the recent Philippines Typhoon Haiyan.

On the question of how Australia would likely react to combined US–Japan HADR operations in the region, I suggested that we’d not only welcome it, we’d want to play a contributing role. After all, both countries are close regional partners of ours. Getting civil and military responders closer together would build confidence, and both the US and Japan have significant capabilities to offer here. The AusAID merger into DFAT should see us working even closer with the US and Japan in providing disaster relief.

The hard bit would be making the ‘Strategic Assistance’ concept work. Australia already has a a good working relationship with the US, with very close defence relations and no language impediments. Japan is becoming steadily more capable, but in many ways is still getting used to operating in coalitions.

The first 48 hours are critical in disaster response operations and it’d be much easier for us to establish connectivity with the US in that timeframe. Japan’s defence and civil defence assets were largely non-interoperable following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor challenge: as Australia puts strong emphasis on close civil–military interaction in disaster response, this may also limit Japan’s role.

To make the Strategic Assistance concept more appealing, it’d need to be a no surprises, sensibly coordinated and phased exercising approach. The concept also wouldn’t want to undercut regional mitigation efforts (as opposed to response and recovery).

In advancing the concept, we’d need to be mindful that there’s some fatigue in military and civilian circles from the burgeoning HADR exercise and ‘conference industry’ as political masters use HADR to pursue military engagement or ‘soften’ military connections.

The HADR space is now very crowded, so the Strategic Assistance concept shouldn’t reinvent wheels. For example, ASEAN centrality will be important to the countries of Southeast Asia and the already have several extant arrangements. The ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus regularly holds large scale exercises. The APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group and Senior Disaster Management Officials Forum, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association all work in the region on disaster risk reduction, management and response. They will want Japan and the US to work with them, rather than striking out on their own.

China and India may be sensitive to the US–Japan Strategic Assistance concept, so ideally we’d want to bring them into the tent. But the more participants the harder it would be to make the concept practical. For example, one constraint may be that the PLA are designated as first responders in disasters, so bringing them in may risk them not working cooperatively with civil responders and NGOs. Australia would want a mix to include military, government relief agencies, local and international NGOs, and the private sector when conducting HADR operations.

I argued that the US-Japan proposal should be embedded in the East Asia Summit construct as all 18 leaders have already signed an agreement (PDF) to cooperate on disaster response. Maybe it could start with a ‘trusted community’ of countries such as Australia, US, New Zealand, Japan, and Singapore. Then others could join to provide particular types of assistance e.g. landing rights agreements, forensics, medical assistance and so on. Each member of the ‘trusted community’ might want to ‘mentor’ an individual state to boost their HADR capabilities and contribute to burden sharing.

Finally, one question the organisers asked me to address was how Australia would react to a combined US–Japan humanitarian ‘invasion’ on our soil. I think that’s quite a vexed question. Unlike New Zealand, our national crisis planning doesn’t acknowledge that we might be overwhelmed by the ‘big one’ or even that ‘black swans’ like Japan’s triple disaster can happen to a developed country. I think that, like other countries, we’d be naturally reluctant to show we couldn’t handle things, but we’d also want to show we’d welcome friendly offers of help. And that’s the trick in organising any multilateral HADR organisation—to keep it ‘user friendly’.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user United States Marine Corps Official Page.

Strengthening trans-Pacific ties

The Pacific island states face real challenges in managing the security of marine resources in their EEZs.

Australia supports maintaining the prosperity of the region mainly through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, (twenty two boats donated to 12 island countries and administered through Defence.) We’re committed to gifting a fleet of vessels to replace the existing patrol boats, which need replacing over the period 2018–2028. New vessels will be provided to all states that currently have Pacific Patrol Boats (including Fiji upon a return to democracy). Timor-Leste would be invited to join the program.

But Australia shouldn’t being going alone here: we’ll need to work with others on maritime security in the region. The more resources we can recruit to assist the better, particularly in addressing the illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing problem. In this context, it’s noteworthy that the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin recently returned from a visit to increase Australia’s defence ties with Chile. Read more

Chile has a capable defence force, with assets that could assist a cooperative effort. It operates three P-3 Orion and three C-295 Persuader aircraft as well as a modest fleet of naval vessels for maritime surveillance and patrol. In recent years, Chile has also acquired two multi-purpose offshore patrol vessels which are now in service with its Coast Guard, and a third is due for delivery later this year. These vessels provide enhanced surveillance and search and rescue capabilities as well as logistic support to isolated areas. Surveillance and patrol is seen as an ongoing national priority, and Chile is considering options including the purchase of long-range unmanned systems to meet this need.

Chile’s been a fairly responsible international player on fisheries. It’s a member of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, which has a secretariat in New Zealand. The organisation aims to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of non-tuna fishery resources of the south Pacific Ocean.

Chile has ambitions to be seen as a Pacific player, mostly via their claims to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Chile has long, although only episodically, wanted to join the South Pacific Commission on behalf of Easter Island.

Chile has expressed an interest in doing more in our part of the world, and a fair amount of their trade passes through the South Pacific to and from Northeast Asia and Europe. Both Australia and Chile are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and two years ago Australia became an observer of the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru).

Chile attended the first South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting in Tonga last May. Ministers discussed opportunities to enhance cooperation on maritime security, as well as avenues to deepen our coordination on disaster relief activities. Australia said (PDF) it would lead a regional effort to develop improved maritime domain awareness and fund a one-year air surveillance trial in the Pacific.

There’s a lot of ocean between us and Chile. Chile doesn’t have assets just floating around our South Pacific neighbourhood. Nor does it have territories to service, which is what sets the US and France apart. The French decision to rebalance its security assets away from Tahiti to Noumea may well have been a factor in Chile’s desire to be included in regional security arrangements that could help to redress the loss of French capacity on its western maritime flank.

Chile mightn’t be the first country that comes to mind when contemplating our efforts in promoting stability and prosperity in the Pacific. But there’s no harm in Australia pursuing some modest, cost effective engagement if there’s the chance it might lead to strengthening the region’s capacity to respond to maritime security and oceans management challenges. 

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI and Richard Herr is adjunct professor of Pacific Governance and Diplomacy, University of Fiji.

Reader response: Fiji and Australia rapprochement

Richard Herr was right to say that there was ‘no massacre of hopes’ in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to Suva to meet with Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

As Richard noted, it proved more of a love-in than a confrontation. But there’s no doubt that Minister Bishop took on a political risk with her Fiji policy shift. It’s now clear, however, that the risk was worth taking: she was praised in Suva, in the Australian media and the think tank world after the visit.

Ever since Julie Bishop announced some time back that there would be change in our Fiji policy, there were plenty of nay-sayers on the merits of shifting from our hard line position of trying to isolate Fiji. During the Rudd years in particular, such views had over-weening influence on the Australia-Fiji relationship, to our disadvantage in the region. Read more

Being able to restore defence cooperation was a very good outcome of Minister Bishop’s visit. We should support Fiji’s UN peacekeeping efforts (Fiji has a long history of involvement here), and immediately restore places at Duntroon and our staff colleges. We could also look to explore wider national security cooperation in areas such as maritime affairs, disaster resilience, law enforcement and cyber security. After all, Fiji’s Prime Minister has delivered on his Fiji Roadmap (PDF) to date, and the elections are on track, with Australian and New Zealander people working in the elections office.

The retirement of Fiji’s Prime Minister from the Commander RFMF post at the end of this month also presents an opportune time to lift our travel bans. As Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum recently made clear, our travel sanctions are a calculated insult and have been damaging to the formation of public Boards in Fiji:

I call [travel sanctions] an abomination, in the sense that how can you in this globalised world have that type of travel ban placed on individuals who are completely political. They have nothing to do, for example, the events of 5th of December, ’06. So it was a form of what we believe, a form of economic sabotage. Why would you want to deprive a country from not being able to access the best brains that’s available to help run the country or to help sit on various state-owned enterprises… there are still some people who are reluctant to come on board, because of the fact that there’s been no general announcement made, so people don’t want to necessarily go through the throws of we’ll deal with these matter on a case-by-case basis and they do not necessarily understand the extent of the travel ban… these are not people who are political people, these are very apolitical people who are professionals, who want to contribute to their country.

Fiji has been more independent over recent years, but there’s absolutely no reason why a cooperative bilateral relationship can’t be reinstated to the mutual benefit of both countries.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Reader response: defending the global air commons

Ben Schreer correctly noted yesterday that the US had ‘demonstrated its will and capability to contest China’s ADIZ in East Asia’.

As Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State, told the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Wednesday:

China’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in November was a provocative act and a serious step in the wrong direction. The Senkakus are under the administration of Japan and unilateral attempts to change the status quo raise tensions and do nothing under international law to strengthen territorial claims. The United States neither recognizes nor accepts China’s declared East China Sea ADIZ and has no intention of changing how we conduct operations in the region. China should not attempt to implement the ADIZ and should refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region.

China’s unilateral and sudden action on the ADIZ is a violation of the Law of the Sea Convention, which ensures high seas freedoms throughout the EEZ beyond 12 nm, including airspace activities. The ICAO-authorised flight information region is recognised in the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation as the sole management authority for international civil aviation. Read more

China’s uncoordinated ADIZ declaration amounts to trying to control international airspace. A lawful ADIZ is aimed at civil aircraft that enter national airspace: it’s not lawful for China to apply its rules to aircraft not intending to enter its airspace within 12 miles of China.

The US has very appropriately asserted freedom in airspace in response to China’s action, but what’s now required are regular overflights by states to demonstrate a commitment to openness in the air commons.

International law requires the regular assertion of rights, which is why the US has run its freedom of navigation program since 1983. The program is the means by which the United States exercises and asserts its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis, and in a manner that’s consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

As well as the US, what’s required is a proactive strategy by its friends and allies to maintain access to the air commons by the continuous assertion of rights, consistent with international law.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI and a former reader in international law at the Australian National University. 

France: Australia’s regional partner?

The Sydney Harbour bridge displays a tricolourAs Andrew Davies mentioned last week, we’ve just held an Australia-France Defence and Industry Dialogue. We discussed a wide range of security, industry and defence cooperation issues.

There was a lively discussion about the big picture of the regional security outlook, with an emphasis on the increasingly important role of the Indo–Pacific system for global security and trade. But the success or otherwise of these sorts of gatherings isn’t so much the quality of the discussion, but the practical steps that follow. As a participant at the forum, I’d like to outline some specific suggestions for security and defence cooperation. While France mightn’t automatically come to mind as a regional partner, there’s already a lot going on between our two countries, and plenty of future opportunities.

In the South Pacific, France contributes to the islands through aid, disaster relief, and search and rescue. It supports the island countries with surveillance of their EEZ’s, as well as patrolling the high seas. They’ve got operational ports in Noumea (New Caledonia) and Papeete (Tahiti), a small maritime air wing, and a small surface force, coordinated through a headquarters. Read more

Australia coordinates surveillance with France through the QUAD arrangements, (with the U.S and New Zealand) and, from the French perspective, through the France, Australia, New Zealand (FRANZ) accord for regional disaster relief. We could extend those efforts by working with France to conduct joint patrols of the high seas area adjacent to our EEZ and New Caledonia’s EEZ, and possibly inside other areas EEZ’s.

We could also collaborate on boosting the capability of regional countries to do their own surveillance and constabulary work. In that context, France and Australia should be discussing longer term approaches to maritime surveillance governance arrangements in the region. For a start, this might include both countries working to include Japan in the QUAD maritime surveillance arrangements: Japan’s been very active in supporting maritime surveillance in Micronesia.

It’d also be helpful for France to further formalise its regional activities. For example, it could become a party to the multilateral Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement, finalised in November 2012. This Agreement will improve the region’s ability to conduct multilateral exercises through the requirement to share minimum fisheries data, and allow for the cross-vesting of enforcement powers between countries, as well as hot pursuits into another country’s EEZ. If France were to become a Party, it’d substantially decrease the bureaucracy surrounding their participation in planned and ad hoc operations.

Strengthening cooperative regional maritime security and disaster relief activities would be also helpful. One possible mechanism is the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting, the first of which was held in Tonga last year, with France represented by its local ambassador.

A more robust diplomatic presence at this year’s SPDMM in PNG would send a strong message, so Paris might consider sending its Defence Minister, and work with Canberra to broaden the membership of the group, so that it become more like the Pacific equivalent of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus grouping. And, given its size and importance in the Pacific islands community, both countries should work together to bring Fiji into the SPDMM at the earliest opportunity.

The Coral Sea is another area where we could engage France. Measures to preserve and protect its marine environment and conserve its biodiversity would be most effective if implemented through cooperation with the other countries that also have a responsibility in the area. Discussions about establishing a Coral Sea Council for oceans management should be started with France, (New Caledonia), Vanuatu, PNG and the Solomon Islands.

We could also look south. In the Southern Ocean, fisheries enforcement patrols continue to be undertaken by French authorities as arranged under the Cooperative Fisheries Surveillance Treaty in the maritime areas adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories (Kerguelen and Crozet Islands) and Heard Island and McDonald Islands.  Australian AFMA and Customs and Border Protection Service officers embarked on the French vessels are able to enforce Australian law in our jurisdiction. But Australia hasn’t performed a southern patrol since early 2012. Instead, we’ve deployed our Customs vessel to patrol northern waters for boat people operations. France has continued to patrol southern areas, with a small number of Australian Customs and fisheries officers on board French patrol vessels. Australia should be giving strong consideration to resuming southern patrols to relieve France of part of the burden.

Australia and France work very well together in Antarctica. We’re both claimant states and share a similar approach to the norms of the Antarctic treaty system. France has recently supported our push for marine protected areas off eastern Antarctica, and has provided logistic support to Australian scientists to go inland for ice drilling work from our Casey base. France recently assisted in trying to free from the ice a Russian ship with Australian scientists and tourists on board.

Australia and France should be working to pool resources with a view to dominating eastern Antarctic science and logistics: if Australia gets a decent new ice breaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis, this will help us support resupply to the French base at Dumont D’urville.

In the Indian Ocean, France has been focused on exercising sovereignty over its territories in the south west, (Crozet, Kerguelen, Mayotte, Reunion, Saint Paul and Amsterdam and the Scattered Islands), as well as wanting to deploy a force in the greater Indian Ocean with a military presence in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden. It’s building a strategic partnership with India. France has in fact largely focused its attention and capabilities on the western part of the Indian Ocean.

Of course, we have interests there as well. France is a dialogue partner in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), a regional grouping which Australia is chairing for the next two years. Getting a significant power like France on board to strengthen maritime security arrangements in the Indian Ocean region can only be to our advantage, so we should be working to bring France into more of the IORA’s work.

In other words, Australia and France have overlapping interests on issues to our east, south and west—something that isn’t true of many other potential partners. It’d make a lot of sense for us to capitalise on the potential in this relationship.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user 黒忍者.

A Strategist retrospective: Australia’s Antarctic ambitions

This post was originally published on November 6, 2012.

(The Strategist will return with new material on January 6, 2014 – Ed.)

Neko Harbour

Our Antarctic claim is about the size of Australia, minus Queensland. So it’s pleasing to see that the new Asian Century White Paper gave a decent acknowledgement to the cold continent (p. 248):

The development of the close relations we have with our Asian regional partners involved in Antarctica will be increasingly important in protecting the Antarctic region as well as in frontier marine, biological and climate research in the Asian century. Australia’s scientific research and basing capacities in Hobart and in Antarctica have fostered closer cooperation with China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia and other partners on Antarctic research and logistics. This cooperation can be elevated through the Australia’s Antarctic science strategic plan, working within the Antarctic Treaty system.

Asia doesn’t operate as a bloc in Antarctic affairs. But there’s an eight year old Asian Forum for Polar Sciences. It coordinates research among India, Japan, China, Korea, and Malaysia. At some point we might consider requesting observer status at AFoPS.

Read more

Malaysia joined the Antarctic Treaty system [in 2011]. It had previously actively promoted the idea at the UN that the common heritage of mankind regime should apply, like the international seabed, to Antarctica. But unlike the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction, Antarctica’s subject to sovereign claims.

China already has two stations inside Australia’s Antarctic Territory and we’ve recently concluded an MoU with China on Antarctic cooperation: China’s now an important player in climate change science in Antarctica.

Indeed, Chinese scientists are modern polar explorers. In 2005, they reached Dome A, in Australia’s Antarctic territory, one of the last great unexplored areas of the white continent. It also happens to be the highest point on Australian territory, but a place that Australia never visits. An Australian automatic weather station was installed by a Chinese expedition to the site seven years ago because the Australian Antarctic program couldn’t do it themselves.

India’s commenced construction of a new station close to Australia’s Davis Station two years ago. In fact, we assisted India develop an environmental impact statement for the base. South Korea plans to establish a new station in proximity to our Antarctic territory by 2014, with Australia already assisting on environmental impact assessment analysis.

We shouldn’t be too concerned about these developments: the Antarctic Treaty system provides access to establish bases on the continent to members of the Treaty system to facilitate scientific research.

Asian states are expanding their activities into Antarctica, partly motivated by opportunities for economic activity. While there’s some interest in tapping into Antarctica’s biological resources, the main focus is on fishing.

Southern Ocean krill is the largest underexploited fishery in the world. South Korea has fishing interests there, although India doesn’t yet. China did conduct illegal fishing for Patagonian toothfish in the Southern Ocean some years ago, but isn’t active any more. It’s interested, however, in krill fishing.

Australia’s working with other Asian states in Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to manage marine living resources in the Southern Ocean.

But China’s blocking proposed marine parks in the Southern Ocean that we’re promoting, fearing it might create a precedent for restricting the exploitation of ocean resources.

Both China and Russia at last week’s [2012] CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, managed to put in place a procedural move to get the issue considered by a specially convened CCAMLR science committee meeting next July [2013] in Germany. It will examine proposals for marine parks in the Ross Sea and eastern Antarctica.

China’s also interested in Antarctic minerals development, but a protocol to the Antarctic Treaty bans mining, and this can’t be reviewed until 2048.

If there were to be disputes over Antarctic resource development, the issue is, however, unlikely to ever get to the UN for settlement. That’s because members of the Antarctic Treaty system have actively opposed any UN involvement in Antarctic affairs, preferring to work within the Treaty system.

The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki- moon, in January this year set out his five year agenda. It included making Antarctica a world nature preserve. This will be strongly resisted by Australia and other Antarctic treaty players (PDF).

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Image courtesy of Flickr user Rita Willaert.

Pacific fisheries diplomacy

A bigeye tunaThe effective management of the fish stocks in the Pacific is important for the food security, healthy ocean ecosystems and livelihood security for those regional states. In many ways, sustainable fisheries help to underpin regional political stability.

This week the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission opened in Cairns, where there’s likely to be some disputes between the island countries and distant water fishing interests. The WCPFC has 25 members, including the European Union as a group, and operates by consensus.

Read more

Several Pacific island countries have EEZs of over a million square kilometres. The economic potential of the maritime zones of these developing countries is mostly unrealised. A notable exception, however, is the importance of coastal and oceanic fisheries, especially for tunas: they play a significant role in development opportunities and foreign earnings, as well as providing food for local communities, jobs and a safety net for people living in the region.

In 2012, the Western Central Pacific tuna fishery produced its highest catch on record, 2.65 million tonnes of tuna, which is around 60% of the total world’s tuna catch. The estimated landed value of the total Western and Central Pacific tuna catch last year was around US$7 billion. The landed value of the tuna catch from Pacific EEZs is estimated at around US$ 4 billion. The returns to Pacific Island Forum countries from access arrangements and other investments is estimated at around $300 million, or around 8% of the gross value of the Pacific fishery.

But with overcapacity and overfishing having taken their toll in many fisheries, more fishing boats are heading to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are also growing concerns that rapid population growth projected in several islands will outstrip the capacity of coastal fisheries to supply fish for food. Seafood is being replaced in Pacific diets by nutritionally poor imported foods, contributing to the rising prevalence of obesity and related diseases.

As Pacific island countries aim to grow their economies, and to feed their people, many want to compete with distant-water fishing nations harvesting and exporting their tuna stocks in their coastal and oceanic fisheries. With more vessels under construction all chasing the same stocks, catches rely on smaller fish sizes to feed growing needs.

A key fishing issue is that China has the biggest distant-water fleet in the world. It has rapidly expanded its western and central Pacific tropical longline fleet to be the largest. They’re focused on albacore, but it’s only a matter of time before they move to other tuna species. Yet China also faces challenges in keeping accurate logbooks and observer data (PDF), properly identifying bycatch, and attributing catch to the correct country of origin.

The Executive Director of the WCPFC, Glenn Hurry, warned Forum island leaders in September this year that the record Pacific catch was taken with an increased number of vessels, fishing harder than they’ve ever fished before, with better technology than seen in previous years. Hurry said that catches of three of the region’s tuna species (skipjack, yellowfin and albacore) remain sustainable, but bigeye tuna is subject to overfishing and requires a reduction in catch of around 30% from current levels.

Hurry pointed out that that are 23 large purse seiners (vessels over 70 metres) and 22 medium purse seiners (over 50 metres) under construction in Asian shipyards, and that over half of these vessels will begin to enter the Pacific fishery from 2014. He argues that this will mean capping and reducing the number of vessels in the fishery, as well as taking hard decisions for the management of the region’s tuna stocks.

As one commentator put it, a lack of action by the WCPFC in Cairns this week ‘will undermine its role as a credible regional fisheries management organization, particularly if island nations see they cannot get collaborative action from distant water fishing nations to support sustainability of the resource’.

Australia’s participating in this week’s WCPFC Cairns meeting. We need to be thinking more strategically about how and where fisheries fit in terms of our long term Pacific islands regional policy: it’s not just about fish.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI and co-author of Our Near Abroad: Australia and Pacific Islands Regionalism (ASPI) and Japan’s tuna fishing industry: a setting sun or new dawn?. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

China’s medical diplomacy and the Philippines

China's Peace Ark hospital ship

China has been strongly criticised for its sudden announcement of an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea. This comes just after the withering international criticism it faced for its early response to the Philippines’ disaster. The death toll from Typhoon Haiyan stands at over 5,000.

At first, China left its wallet at home: its initial offer of aid to the battered country was a stingy $100,000, but it’s now pledged a modest $1.6 million worth of relief materials. That still looks mean, with more than $10 million from Australia, $20 million from the US (which has sent an aircraft carrier and marines), $17 million from the European Union, $16 million from the UK, and $10 million from Japan, (with three ships and 1,000 personnel). New Zealand coughed up $1.7 million.

It’s not as if China hasn’t contributed to disaster response in the region before. Between 2002 and 2010, the PLA carried out 28 international humanitarian aid missions. That’s comparable to the Australian Defence Force, which undertook 16 such operations between 2003 and 2011. Chinese personnel numbers in these missions over the last decade are roughly similar to our own military deployments (PDF). Read more

This time China’s aloof stance seemed linked to the fact the Philippines have refused to bow to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and have challenged its maritime claims before the UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Now China has decided to try to repair some of the damage to its international image. Last Monday, the Chinese Navy’s hospital ship, the Peace Ark, started to give medical aid to patients in typhoon-hit areas in central Philippines. The Peace Ark will set up a field hospital in the disaster area to receive patients and transfer them to the ship for further treatment. This is the first time PeaceArk has taken part in any international disaster relief missions. (After the Japan earthquake disaster of March 2011 China offered to send the Peace Ark, but the offer wasn’t taken up.)

The hospital ship has 300 beds, 20 ICUs and eight operating theatres, and can accommodate 40 major procedures a day. The Chinese claim that the Peace Ark can provide seagoing medical services equivalent to those of a top hospital in Beijing. Among the world’s hospital ships, only US Navy’s Mercy and Comfort are larger (PDF).

There’s no doubt that the Peace Ark hospital ship could do a lot of good. The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines has indicated that the Peace Ark, will do its ‘utmost’ to offer medical services to local victims.

It’ll be interesting to see if China’s medical diplomacy mission provides an opportunity for multinational cooperation with other donor states, and if it results in any relationship building between China and the Philippines.

Anthony Bergin is the deputy director of ASPI and co-author of More than Good Deeds: Disaster Risk Management and Australian, Japanese and US Defence Forces. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Australia and Africa working together


The need for Australian engagement with Asia is natural and obvious, but that doesn’t mean that we should focus only on Asia in our international policy.

Today ASPI and the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa published a report from the inaugural Aus-Africa Dialogue, held at Bunker Bay, Western Australia, in July hosted by both think tanks. The Aus-Africa Dialogue is a unique second track initiative that brought Australians and Africans together to discuss ways to strengthen relations between the two continents.

Africa now offers a golden age of economic opportunities: it’s the world’s fastest growing continent. Over the past decade, five of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. In eight of those ten years, Africa grew faster than East Asia. Its political governance is improving, and its workforce (which is becoming far better educated) is growing at a faster rate than anywhere in the world. Read more

The Dialogue highlighted how Australia can assist Africa’s economic potential and the ways that Africa can contribute to our own long-term economic security.

Australian investment in Africa is worth over $50 billion, mainly in the natural resources sector. Australia’s commercial interests in Africa, mainly in mining and oil, have nearly tripled since 2005. More than 200 ASX-listed mining and resource companies are operating more than 700 projects in about 40 African countries. Australia–Africa two-way trade was worth $10.39 billion in 2012—more than double its 2009 level.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and a participant in Aus-Africa Dialogue, writes in the report’s Forward: ‘The discussion in Western Australia made clear that increased Australian trade and investment in Africa is the best way for Australia to help stimulate growth and development in Africa.

His Excellency Raila Odinga, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya, and also a Dialogue participant, notes in the report that:

Intra-African trade is growing year on year, but it is still small when compared with Africa’s trade with the EU or China. The main reason it remains so is because Africa lacks the infrastructure—power, roads, ports and so on—to support robust economic development. The ‘Cape to Cairo’ dream has become a necessity for Africa. Investment in infrastructure represents a golden opportunity for Australian firms seeking not just profits but also wishing to contribute substantially to the continent’s development.

The report stresses the need for longer term Australian thinking to take advantage of Africa’s opportunities. It makes numerous suggestions on strengthening people-to-people links, (one suggestion is for Australia to expand the ‘reverse Colombo Plan’, to include Africa), engagement with small business, assisting with vocational skills training, particularly in the mining sector, and promoting a positive environment for investment, trade and broader defence and security cooperation.

With Australia taking over the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for the next two years we’ll be looking west more, so good things will hopefully flow to Africa.

The report being released today underlines the way in which the Aus-Africa Dialogue, as an exercise in private diplomacy, can raise key issues for policymakers and strengthen relations between Africa and Australia.

As the African proverb says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

Anthony Bergin is the deputy director of ASPI, and was a participant in the Aus-Africa Dialogue.

Reader response: the risks of restraining big data

Thanks to Ed Snowden, the whole world now knows about the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. In his thoughtful and timely piece on The Strategist, Klee Aiken asks if the mass surveillance of big data really keeps us safe.

Data mining technologies now allow our intelligence and security agencies to collect unprecedented amounts of personal information. Quoting a former US intelligence official, Klee describes the current approach as not so much looking for a needle in a haystack, rather ‘collecting the whole haystack.’

Read more

There’s probably no way to prove whether this is an effective approach: as Klee observes, this is all hidden behind ‘layers of security clearance’. Coincidentally, the day that Klee’s post was published, the US National Journal magazine ran a long article by Michael Hirsh, which examines the NSA’s very wide data-trawling methods in the context of the changing threat from al-Qaeda.

Hirsh argues that AQ is moving from the 9/11 spectacular type attacks on iconic targets to more lone wolf opportunistic strikes, like the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston marathon. Hirsh describes how Abu Musab al-Suri (a nom de guerre that means ‘the Syrian’) has emerged as an increasingly influential jihadist leader, and how al-Suri has long argued for lower-level attacks.

In his post, Klee states that bulk data gathering won’t always identify and thwart the ‘lone wolves’, with lower levels of organisation and competence. But Hirsh argues that the NSA’s seemingly indiscriminate scouring of phone data and emails is ‘precisely what intelligence officials say they need to detect the kinds of plots al-Suri favors’.

Hirsh cites Michael Hayden, former NSA Director, as saying these kinds of attacks will be harder to track and that the US should expect more, less lethal attacks than in the past. Hirsh also quotes Mike Rogers, chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee pointing out that AQ’s capabilities for a strike in the US are more dangerous and numerous than before 9/11. Also cited is a US government official ‘well versed in NSA practices’ who says that trying to tie specific intelligence ‘tidbits’ to specific foiled plots is too simplistic:

That entirely misses the point. It doesn’t account for the reality of how intelligence works. It’s not that pods or cells are disrupted by one piece of information from one authority. It’s a complex endeavor that puts different pieces together to rule things out.

Hirsh’s answer to Klee’s question on the effectiveness of big data is that if we’re to find the needle of al-Suri style plots, then we’ll probably need the ‘whole haystack’ approach to phone and email data for some time: ‘for better or worse, the only hope to track them all is an exceptionally deep, organized, and free-ranging intelligence apparatus’.

Klee’s post concluded by pointing to big data’s cost to privacy. If Hirsh’s judgement is right about the need for a big data approach, then we’re going to need to devote much greater efforts to developing a coherent privacy doctrine that addresses the challenges of our enhanced ability to collect, analyse and distribute personal information.

Anthony Bergin is the deputy director at ASPI.