Articles by " Anthony Bergin"

The rising strategic stocks of Micronesia

CHUUK, Federated States of MicronesiaStrategists have long focused on twin arcs drawn from Kyushu through Okinawa to Taiwan and then back through the Philippines to Indonesia. Much of the maritime space inside those ‘shallow arcs’, also known as the First Island Chain, is contested, not least by China.

But in a piece published in the AFR today I’ve suggested we consider another arc: from Tokyo to the US-held Northern Marianas and Guam, and on to Yap, Palau and Indonesia. Behind this ‘deep arc’ lie the Caroline and Marshall islands, forming independent republics.

This ‘Second Island Chain’ surrounding China is the Micronesian region. It’s of great strategic importance to the US, which is in the midst of a military build-up on Guam. And it has been used in the past as an invasion route to PNG and Australia. It’s an important strategic axis where the interests of China, Japan, Taiwan and the US, as well as several Southeast Asian countries, intersect.

Japan has a strong interest in the three former US trust territories—the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) and the Republic of Palau—and maintains diplomatic missions in each, as well as consulates in Guam and Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.

The region is rising in political prominence: RMI hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in 2013, Palau last year and FSM will do so next year.

Under the terms of ‘Compacts of Free Association’ with Palau, FSM and RMI, the United States has defence responsibilities for each. The US military’s Kwajalein Base is used as a test site for ballistic missiles launched from the US, and for other missile and space-related activities, on a long-term lease arrangement with the RMI.

The centrepiece of US-led North Pacific security is Guam, a US territory further from Honolulu than Honolulu is from Los Angeles. It’s an island with a thriving tourism industry alongside its military bases. Preparations continue for the future strengthening of the US military presence on Guam. A US–Japan joint statement in 2012 specified that out of about 9,000 Marines to be relocated from Okinawa, about 5,000 Marines would move to Guam, a move that will start in the early 2020s.

Our diplomatic footprint in the region is tiny. Our Pohnpei Ambassador has multiple accreditations: to the FSM, the RMI and Palau, and (as Consul-General) to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. We’ve got no Defence adviser based in Micronesia (although there are several naval surveillance advisers linked to Australian-donated Pacific patrol boats).

We need some harder thinking about our strategic interest in the North Pacific, including possible plans we might put in place in preparation for the marines basing in Guam. While we currently contribute to regional security through annual participation in Exercise Cope North, we could consider Australian defence representation on Guam and training with the US there and other areas of Micronesia.

We like to say we’re a big player in the Pacific and if that’s so, then why aren’t we thinking about a bigger role in the North Pacific?

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user US Pacific Command.

Reader response: Pacific labour mobility

Graeme Dobell argues in his latest post that ‘the one thing the Islands want from Australia and New Zealand—labour mobility—is the one thing Australia and New Zealand won’t give’. He says that ‘If PACER Plus is going to deliver new opportunities to the Islands then it must tackle the taboo of labour mobility’.

Graeme’s right that  Pacific Island nations see labour mobility as an essential component of the PACER Plus negotiations. We’ve now got a Seasonal Workers Program where people from the Pacific and Timor-Leste can work in Australia on a short term basis in select industries. We recently invited Fiji to join the SWP. Read more

ANU development economist Stephen Howes points out that in 2013–14, the SWP cap was 2,500 and just 2,000 workers came. The main problem is backpackers:

…backpackers are currently rewarded for three months work on a farm by a second year’s visa…It has been incredibly effective in channelling an ever-growing number of backpackers onto farms. Pacific seasonal workers simply can’t compete with backpackers. The number of backpackers who applied for a second-year visa on the basis of farm work in 2005-06 roughly equals the number of Pacific SWP workers last year. But in the meantime the number of backpackers on farms has shot up to over 40,000! No wonder the SWP is languishing. If Australia is serious about the SWP…the two most important things we could do are reform the backpacker scheme and increase the SWP cap. Both together are important. Increasing the cap on its own will achieve nothing. Reforming the backpacker scheme and not increasing the cap will quickly make the SWP cap binding.

Apart from those two sensible reforms, why don’t we look across ‘the ditch’ and consider a variant on New Zealand’s Pacific Access Category (PAC) scheme as a way of addressing unemployment in the Islands. Under the PAC and Samoan Quota Scheme for settlement in New Zealand, New Zealand provides residence to a number of citizens from Island countries. The schemes provide opportunities for low-skilled workers and for those who don’t qualify to migrate under the various skills categories.

Eleven hundred Samoan citizens are granted residence in New Zealand each year under the Samoan Quota Scheme. Under the PAC, New Zealand grants residence to 75 Tuvaluan and 75 Kiribati citizens as well as 250 Tongan citizens each year. Fijian nationals will be able to apply next year. Both the PAC and the Samoan Quota are determined by ballot. Applicants become eligible for the schemes once their registration number is drawn from the ballot pool for their country. To be eligible, applicants must register for the annual ballot and meet application requirements. The principal applicant must be aged between 18 and 45 years and be a citizen of one of the three PAC countries or of Samoa. Applicants must either have been born in one of those four eligible countries or be the children of citizens who were born in an eligible country.

After being selected from the ballot, applicants can apply for residence if they (or their partner) have an acceptable offer of employment and meet health, character and minimum English language requirements. Applicants with dependent children must meet minimum income standards. Under the PAC and Samoan Quota schemes, New Zealand accepts 1,500 migrants annually. If an equivalent program were adopted in Australia, and we accepted the same number of migrants per capita as New Zealand, we’d accept 7,964 migrants.

Graeme Dobell suggests that the ‘prize of labour mobility’ between Australia and the Islands maybe three decades away. In the meantime, we ought to consider a permanent Pacific migration scheme like New Zealand’s, at least for the smaller island states, where such an arrangement would make a significant economic difference. It would also put more Pacific people into our Pacific policy.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user ashokboghani.

Australia, India and maritime security

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Abbott after the Indian leader's address to Parliament.

In a historic address to Parliament in Canberra, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested both countries should collaborate more on maintaining maritime security: ‘We should work together on the seas and collaborate in international forums’. Modi noted that ‘the oceans are our lifelines. But, we worry about its access and security in our part of the world more than ever before’.

He’s spot on: the importance of the Indian Ocean can’t be over-emphasised. Over 55,000 ships transit through the Indian Ocean every year transporting oil, consumer goods and food, reflecting the dependence of nations of the region and beyond on this ocean. So Modi was right to raise the maritime security challenges faced by both countries, particularly the need for protection of sea lines of communication. (These days that includes ensuring global broadband connectivity via the network of undersea cables.) Read more

Both our naval forces are effective, and they aren’t in competition with each other. Common maritime challenges include counter piracy, maritime safety, strengthening port state control, and search and rescue. In his Canberra speech, Modi also singled out the opportunity for both countries to respond to regional disasters: that should include operational aspects between designated coordinating authorities.

India’s already making a solid contribution to maritime security: it’s been convening the biennial Milan exercises in the Bay of Bengal for nearly twenty years, drawing participants from across the Indian Ocean, including Australia. And for the last six years Australia has participated in the meetings of the chiefs of navies from all Indian Ocean littoral countries under the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) that was started by India (we’re currently the chair). IONS has the potential to serve as a broader platform discussing security cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

Increased naval cooperation with India will become more common, with a joint naval exercise next year. The last time the two navies engaged operationally was seven years ago during Exercise Malabar. And there’ll be more maritime exercises under the ‘Framework for security cooperation between Australia and India’ concluded during Modi’s visit.

There’s scope too for joint capacity building in the Indian Ocean’s island states such as Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Seychelles and Australia, for example, recently identified opportunities for bilateral cooperation in ocean resource management. The Indian Ocean Rim Association, which Australia chairs for another year, promotes freedom of the seas and open sealanes. Modi noted in his Australian parliamentary speech the need for both countries to coordinate more closely in IORA.

Australia and India are heavily dependent on the oceans for economic growth. So we’ve both been pushing for developing greater cooperation in IORA on the ‘blue economy’—that is, maritime-related economic activity—as a common source of growth, innovation and job creation. As we shift our gaze westward across the Indian Ocean, there may be scope for the Indian Coast Guard and the new Australian Border Force, that will be established mid next year, to further develop the agenda of Indian Ocean maritime security.

Of course, these improvements in Australia–India relations come at a time when both governments already have crowded agendas. In Australia, the Abbott government has made no secret of its intentions to strengthen the bilateral relationships it enjoys with Washington, Tokyo and Jakarta. But, it would like to do more with India too. India, on the other hand, is looking east and building ties with Japan. And, as outlined above, there’s a shared agenda of work and interests already available. The real test will be whether both Canberra and New Delhi are willing to make it work.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Twitter user @TonyAbbottMHR.

Australian Antarctic policy: an update

Kangaroo over AntarcticaThe recent Senate report, Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters, released on 29 October, was—to some extent—a lost opportunity.  The timing of its release, virtually coinciding with that of the Abbott government’s commissioned twenty-year strategic plan for Antarctica, meant the Senate’s findings lost some of their impact. In all likelihood, they would’ve grabbed greater attention if the two hadn’t overlapped. But the fact that the findings of both studies reinforce each other in almost every way lends strength to the arguments presented in both documents.

I’d welcome the Senate Committee’s proposal that the government examine the potential for further use of non-vessel technologies, such as UAV’s, including consideration of the potential application of new Defence assets, to support law enforcement and border patrolling in the Southern Ocean. I’d also endorse the Committee’s emphasis on strengthening funding for science. Read more

I’d question, however, its recommendation to develop and implement a Southern Ocean mapping program. A better priority would be mapping the Australian Antarctic Territory and its near seabed. But there’s a strong case that even this task should be down the list from other science priorities, such as understanding changes in the Southern Ocean and their impact on Australian and global climates.

I was pleased that the Senate Committee recommended an ‘interagency working group be established to review Australia’s current and proposed marine assets and their utilisation, and to explore the potential costs and benefits of a national fleet approach to the acquisition and management of Australian vessels’. Here, it appears to have accepted the thrust of the submission made by Sam Bateman and myself on the need for a national fleet approach to our polar priorities in research, logistics and search-and-rescue. (Submission 2.)

We argued that there’s a hole in our current national fleet: the lack of a decent offshore patrol vessel. Neither the Customs’ Cape class nor the Navy’s likely Armidale class replacement vessels are suited for operations in the Southern Ocean. They don’t have the range, seakeeping qualities, and nor do they have a helicopter: the ability to carry a helicopter, particularly one that can be stowed in a hangar to protect it from weather, is an essential capability for sovereignty protection and law enforcement tasks down south.

I’m a bit more cautious, however, on the Committee’s recommendation that Australia ‘explores the possibility of concluding new agreements with neighbouring and like-minded countries to cooperate in patrol and deterrence in the Southern Ocean, based upon the example of the arrangements presently in place with France’.

The Maritime Cooperation Treaty on Surveillance in the Southern Ocean with France entered into force on 1 February 2005. But it was very specific. It was aimed at combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing around Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) and the French territory of Kerguelen Island, that adjoins the HIMI EEZ. It was also aimed at strengthening Australian and French collaboration in CCAMLR. It came about because Australia and France faced a joint economic and political problem. That’s not really the same for any other of our near neighbours, including New Zealand.

It’d be more appropriate for Australia to promote multilateral cooperation around specific issues—such as sustainability of the Southern Ocean, marine and Antarctic management, port state control, and flags of convenience.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the Committee’s report recommended the appointment of an Australian Antarctic and Southern Ocean Ambassador to ‘coordinate whole-of-government policy and to provide senior leadership for the promotion of Australia’s interests and role domestically and internationally’. That’s a suggestion proposed seven years ago in ASPI’s first study of our Antarctic policy settings.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Fransisco Martins.

Hizb ut-Tahrir: compete not ban

The limits of free speech?

Emma Alberici’s recent Lateline interview with Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Australian spokesperson, Wassim Doureihi, prompted the Prime Minister to state he’s reviewing the Islamist group after calls for it to be banned. The group’s spokesperson repeatedly dodged questions about whether Hizb ut-Tahrir supported the campaign waged by Islamic State extremists.

The group isn’t currently listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. But Abbott has made clear his recent views on the organisation, in particular in a radio interview with Neil Mitchell in the wake of the Lateline program. There he condemned the group as ‘un-Australian’ and said the interview confirmed his concerns about Hizb ut-Tahrir. He described the group as ‘very careful to avoid advocating terrorism but [which] is always making excuses for terrorist organisations’. Interestingly, he drew on the work of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair: Read more

He made the point that there is the fringe—a small minority of people who engage in terrorism—and then there is the spectrum—a much larger group of people who support an ideology—who have a set of beliefs which justify terrorism. Now, they are not practitioners of terrorism but they have an ideology which justifies and explains terrorism. The point that Tony Blair…is making is that while we must resist fiercely terrorists themselves, do everything we can to defeat the terrorists, we also have to intellectually wrestle and grapple with the spectrum of thinking which supports terrorism.

Asked about the laws currently before parliament, Abbott said that the government wanted ‘to make it an offence not just to engage in terrorist activity, but to engage in terrorist advocacy’. He accepted that it would be a question of law as to whether Hizb ut-Tahrir was doing that, but was especially critical of ‘preachers of hate’ coming to Australia to ‘stir up trouble’.

The proposed Counter–Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 is set to be passed this week. The bill would make it illegal, subject to a five-year prison term, to counsel, promote, encourage or urge a terrorist act.

Some of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s statements and literature could well fall under the proposed offence of ‘advocating terrorism’: if incitement or propaganda influences an individual or group to perpetrate an act of terror, it’s difficult to argue that one bears no responsibility, especially in a time of mass and rapid communication through social media.

The Prime Minister has said the current law doesn’t allow the government to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, but he has now stated that he’ll have another look at this question once the ‘advocating terrorism’ law passes, (ASIO would have the lead here). A court may also find a group to be a terrorist organisation as part of the prosecution of a terrorist offence. Listing Hizb ut-Tahrir under the Criminal Code Regulations as a terrorism organisation would send a clear message that the group is associated with terrorism and make it illegal to donate to the group.

Hizb ut-Tahrir would no doubt argue that individuals involved in terrorism have deviated from the group’s path. But the organisation operates in that grey area between advocacy of terrorism and free speech. While it maintains a public commitment to non-violent change at this stage, its threat comes from the ideology that drives the group. Its literature and speeches often seem close to praising terrorism.

Still, a ban might make it harder to track the group’s activities. Its legal status means it has a public platform, but that also makes it easier to observe. The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen recently argued (paywalled) that ’if we keep asking questions of the extremists in our midst, we will defeat them. Along the way we will bolster our commitment to free speech’.

I agree: we should be competing with the group for the support of its potential recruits. Banning the group isn’t going to assist in the war of ideas. So it was disappointing to learn early last week that several ANU academics had declined the opportunity to debate Hizb ut-Tahrir in a forum organised by the ANU’s student newspaper. As Tony Blair and Tony Abbott have said, we should be willing to wrestle intellectually with arguments we oppose deeply.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director, ASPI and co-author of Responding to radical Islamist ideology: the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Australia. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mikael Altemark

The Indian Ocean Rim Association: a progress report

HMAS Perth transits through the Southern Indian Ocean as an Orion P-3K of the Royal New Zealand Air Force searches for debris as part of Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN.

The Indian Ocean littoral region’s resources and economic growth are attracting greater political attention. So it’s surprising there wasn’t more press coverage of last week’s meeting in Perth of the 20 member-states of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. IORA aims to spearhead future regional integration as the Indian Ocean grows in economic importance.

Australia is chairing the Association—until next year, when we hand over the role to the current vice chair, Indonesia. IORA’s the only pan-regional forum in the Indian Ocean that tries to address challenges faced by the more than 2 billion people who live around the Indian Ocean rim. Its priority issues include maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk-management, and academic, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchanges. Read more

Membership of IORA is in demand. Somalia’s in the queue to join the association, although there are still a few formalities before that’s finalised. Myanmar and Maldives are also applying to join. But Somalia’s application signifies a new and constructive development: IORA members recognise that the international community has made significant investments in the area adjacent to its 1700-kilometre coastline, and Somalia needs to be constructively engaged (presumably IORA would do that once Somalia’s membership begins.)

A key outcome from the Perth meeting was a greater focus on business: for the first time there was an IORA Business Week that looked at increasing trade and investment flows in the region.

The grouping issued an IORA Economic Declaration (PDF) issued that centred on the so-called ‘blue economy': creating oceans industries such as port development, fisheries, aquaculture, renewable energy, mineral exploration, and marine-based tourism. The Declaration picks up on the key message of last year’s IORA declaration on the principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources.

If there’s to be greater Australian focus on the oceans as part of our economic diplomacy, that strengthens the case for an Australian Office of Ocean Affairs to coordinate DFAT’s oceans expertise.

In Perth we supported IORA’s economic declaration by establishing a fund of a $1m dollars to support economic diplomacy initiatives and activities in the Indian Ocean region.

No doubt some of that money could support Australia’s commitment at the Perth meeting to host an Indian Ocean Dialogue next year. That would build on a similar exercise held in India recently. It would be useful in promoting thinking on different aspects of regional cooperation and complement IORA’s discussions.

The MH370 tragedy highlighted gaps in search and rescue in the Indian Ocean and the need for regular SAR exercises in the region. At this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Defence Minister David Johnston proposed Australia facilitate a regular multilateral search-and-rescue exercise in the future, that’s ‘practically focused, designed to strengthen interoperability, and to build fraternal connections’.

Streamlining SAR efforts was therefore a key objective of the Perth meeting. And last week five countries (Singapore, Australia, Seychelles, Comoros and South Africa) signed an MOU on search-and-rescue cooperation developed by IORA. Hopefully more states will sign on in the near future. To support the MOU Australia usefully committed $2.6 million to working with Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Maldives (the three countries bordering our SAR region) on responding to maritime and aviation distress situations.

The Perth meeting also saw increasing involvement by IORA’s dialogue partners. I’ve argued before that we should be encouraging this process. So it was positive that there was very high-level representation in Perth from the United States and China (both dialogue partners).

There were other positive developments, IORA’s sub groups—the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum and Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group—were given stronger mandates to provide more focus and expert advice to IORA. There was an agreement to better resource IORA’s Secretariat to service the needs of the organisation.

But it’s a pity that little attention appeared to be given to closer connections between the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and IORA in addressing maritime confidence-building measures in the region. Potential for cooperation there was highlighted at the recent Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean. The issue could be explored at the second Indian Ocean Dialogue that we’ll be hosting in 2015.

Regional cooperation is critical for the creation of a stable and prosperous Indian Ocean. At the half-way point of Australia’s chairmanship of IORA, good progress was made in Perth on the Association’s development towards a regional institution that’s able to respond effectively to a range of economic and security challenges.

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

Reader’s response: three lessons for Australia from the Ebola outbreak

Ebola virusWhile it’s possible we could get an Ebola case in Australia, the chances are pretty low, with no direct flights between here and the west African countries most affected.

Those countries also now have in place Ebola screening at their airports. But as Rod Lyon notes in his recent post: ‘most Ebola victims aren’t travelling anywhere fast’.

So the good news is that the likelihood of Ebola overwhelming our health system here is low: it would be simple fear-mongering to suggest otherwise.

Even though Ebola poses little risk to our general population, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has said that our facilities would be able to contain any cases here and prevent it from spreading further: ‘We have a tried and true system in relation to our quarantine officers… and our health system is really well-placed to manage where there is a concern of a disease of this nature’. Read more

Queensland’s chief health officer recently said Australia’s Ebola preparations had been successfully trialed three weeks ago. A Gold Coast man claimed to be sick on the back of a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa, hit by a separate outbreak of the disease. He was found not to have Ebola.

But being able to treat an isolated case of Ebola here wouldn’t provide the most accurate assessment of the ability of Australia’s health-care system to respond to a widespread infectious disease outbreak. If a large-scale influenza pandemic occurred in Australia, for example, and spread more quickly than anticipated, then the surge capacity of our health response systems would almost certainly be rapidly overwhelmed.

We still don’t think enough in this country about our public-health system’s need to develop surge capabilities to handle a large influx of patients over a short period of time and our ability to provide adequate care for persons with special medical needs.

There’re no minimum standards for national disaster planning that relate, for example, to the number of critical-care beds or operating theatres required. No hospital sets aside intensive-care-unit beds: instead they rely on rather vague notions of making beds or space available depending on the disaster case load.

The Bali bombings didn’t really test the system: the small number of patients was easily absorbed, and the same applies for victims of the Black Saturday bush fires in Victoria.

Most of our health-care facilities are now operating at close to their maximum capacities, and hospitals have fewer resources for preparedness in harsh financial times.

So the first take–away from the Ebola outbreak is that it reminds us that we need to ensure we’ve got a robust public-health system that can adapt to the challenges that an infectious disease outbreak might pose at home.

The second lesson from the Ebola case stems from Rod’s point that ‘countries that already have strong health systems are better placed to respond to Ebola’. He’s right: so it makes perfect sense that we should help other countries not only to fight specific diseases like malaria and HIV but to build up their public-health infrastructure. That’s the best way we will help in preventing infectious diseases from reaching us, and keeping our public safe.

The third lesson of the Ebola case for Australia arises from Rod’s point that there’s a legitimate concern about the prospect of ‘diseases without borders’, given the ‘growing viral superhighway that globalisation provides’.

The key point here is one that an Australian parliamentary report into health issues across international borders highlighted last year: a disease outbreak in one country can easily spread to another, so we’ll need to have open lines of communication with health officials in different countries to share information for effective disease surveillance.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of CDC Global.

Reader’s response: modest assistance for African counterterrorism

A.U. and Somali Forces Capture Strategic Positions in Fight Against Shabaab

Africa’s more stable than ever before. The continent’s economy is growing faster than any other’s. According to International Monetary Fund figures, 10 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa. The continent’s population is expected to double by 2050 to more than 2 billion people.

Yet as Tobias Feakin makes clear in his recent report and blog post, the spread of violent Islamic extremism in Africa is troubling; there’s no doubt that terrorism is limiting Africa’s progress.

A peaceful and economically strong Africa can counter the threats of terrorism. A more secure Africa is one in which Australian engagement can flourish. So what can we do to help Africa here?

I’d suggest we should offer modest security assistance, focused on those states who respect democratic principles: we shouldn’t be offering security help to regimes that abuse their own citizens. Read more

We might consider sending a defence or foreign affairs officer to serve with US Africa Command (in the same way we’ve attached senior Defence people to PACOM).

Unlike the other US regional commands, which were created primarily for warfighting, Africa Command is designed to support regional partners and includes large components from other government agencies like the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. AFRICOM’s whole-of-government approach has been evident in its counterterrorism work.

Africa has a number of highly professional militaries. But we could make worthwhile, albeit modest, efforts to assist defence institution-building. IED detonations are of great concern in Africa. ADF personnel are among the best in the world at managing this threat so we might offer assistance here.

Unfortunately there’s minimal funding for defence cooperation with Africa: we have only one Australian defence attaché on the continent (based in Addis Ababa). That’s totally inadequate to cover the many areas of potential defence cooperation across 54 countries

We can lift our efforts in peace operations on the continent and do more with UN missions to show we’ve not forgotten about Africa after our UNSC stint ends later this year: seventy percent of UNSC business concerns Africa.

Given the links between crime, corruption and terrorism on the continent, we could provide training through Attorney–General’s on financial crimes and anti-corruption.

Training opportunities in counterterrorism in Africa should be explored by our Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism. It helps here that we weren’t a colonial power. Our Australia Awards could be extended in this area.

We’ve got a range of humanitarian goals across sub-Saharan Africa, but countering Islamist militancy should be accorded a higher priority in our aid policy. Our aid to Africa has slipped from around $230 million last financial year to around $150 million this financial year. (There’s a case for stabilising it for now at around 5 per cent of our aid program, i.e. around $250 million.)

We should be spending our African aid budget in those countries threatened by jihadist groups and lacking the resources to fund the necessary capabilities to defeat those terrorist groups.

Australia’s long term global interests are served by tackling terrorist groups at the source by building local capacity. We might consider a special program on counterterrorism working with the appropriate NGOs.

We should sponsor educational institutions that compete with radical messages emitted from foreign-funded educational institutions. We’ve done that in Indonesia. Africa’s full of mosques built with Saudi and Libyan money, and Imams trained accordingly. That needs to be balanced with more enlightened Islamic preachers.

We should focus on nation-building in those front-line African states as part of a co-ordinated strategy worked out with all other agencies of government to counter Islamist militancy in Africa: our foreign aid should be seen as the soft end of counterterrorism.

Communication via social media is of growing significance in Africa and that can be important in developing counter-narratives. But we have no public diplomacy activities in Africa yet to promote universal values in any organised way. We could partner here with other ‘like-mindeds’, such as the UK, US, Germany, and the Nordics.

Countering Islamist and other militia groups could be directed by supporting regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States. That would build better capacity for coordinated responses to cross-border groups, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Tuareg in Mali.

We might partner in areas like security sector reform and forensics. Our federal police have, however, only one Africa-based officer (located in Pretoria).

Counterterrorism shouldn’t trump all our other causes for aid. But we can make a modest contribution to building Africa’s resilience to the forces of international terrorism.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.

Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean: round two

Frigate HMS Kent is pictured during counter piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.Last week ASPI, the Indian Council of World Affairs, and Indonesian participants, met in Canberra at the Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean (TDIO) to build upon the work initiated at the first round held in New Delhi last year. The TDIO came hard on the heels of the Indian Ocean Dialogue, held in Kochi, and organised by the Observer Research Foundation and India’s Ministry of External Affairs. It considered maritime security policy issues in the Indian Ocean.

Australia puts a high priority on strengthening bilateral relations with Indonesia and India, as reflected in recent prime ministerial and ministerial visits. What the TDIO countries found last week was that there’s also lots of opportunities to enhance trilateral cooperation, in the broader context of developments in the Indian Ocean region.

In a way that’s hardly surprising: TDIO countries have common interests in the eastern Indian Ocean that provide a potential building block for addressing concerns of the wider Indian Ocean region, without the diversions of the strategic troubles of East Asia and the northwest Indian Ocean. Read more

TDIO countries are powerful democracies, heavily dependent on shipping and the security of sea lines of communication, with extensive EEZs in the eastern Indian Ocean. We’ve each got a vested interest in the management of the wider Indian Ocean. (A pillar of Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo’s campaign was an emphasis on strengthening the country’s identity as a ‘maritime nation’ and becoming what he called a ‘global maritime nexus’.)

The TDIO exchanged views on strategic stability in the Indian Ocean, shipping safety and security, disaster risk management and humanitarian assistance, maritime confidence-building measures, search and rescue, marine scientific research and fisheries management.

Our discussions underlined the importance of the Indian Ocean Rim Association as the premier institution in the Indian Ocean region. India was the immediate past chair of IORA, Australia’s now the chair and Indonesia will take over in 2015.

The TDIO countries considered there to be value in further work around developing a ‘best practice’ approach to providing security in ports and anchorages against the threats of armed robbery and petty theft. Participants saw utility in crafting guidelines for maintenance of armed security guards on board merchant vessels and investing more effort in the security of offshore infrastructure (major safety incidents or attacks on the security of offshore facilities would have significant security, economic and environmental implications).

There was scope to strengthen arrangements for port state control for safer shipping, and developing capacity, both at the national and regional levels, for disaster risk management. (Marine natural hazards, in particular, are a major threat in the Indian Ocean region.)

There was potential to initiate a dialogue among the national disaster agencies of TDIO countries, as well as the development of cooperative protocols for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). MDA provides an effective understanding of any activity associated with the maritime environment that could impact on security, safety, the economy or environment. There are also opportunities for cooperative defence research projects of interest to TDIO countries, perhaps related to MDA and information-sharing.

Search and rescue (SAR) can be particularly demanding when the search area is mid-ocean and search vehicles must transit a long distance from base to the search area. Australia has accepted responsibility for a large SAR region in the Indian Ocean. Indonesia’s SAR region extends out from the Indonesian archipelago, and India’s covers an area in the Bay of Bengal.

In the light of the lessons of MH370, there’s an urgent need for regular SAR exercises in the Indian Ocean region, especially among TDIO countries. There’s a need for IORA to press forward with the early conclusion of a MoU on search and rescue. There are possible synergies between IORA and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium around maritime confidence-building measures.

The TDIO highlighted the importance of marine research, especially through the Indian Ocean Expedition 50th Anniversary Initiative. Between 2015 and 2020, the IIOE-2 will undertake an integrated marine scientific (with coupled climate science) program in the Indian Ocean, which will lead to an improved understanding of current systems and linkages between the ocean and weather. There are prospects for developing cooperative marine research initiatives among TDIO countries.

The TDIO canvassed the need to establish a fisheries-management regime for the Indian Ocean: current regional fishing bodies are fairly weak in the region, with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing widespread.

It’s clear from last week’s TDIO that there’s plenty of scope for cooperation in the Indian Ocean. That applies especially in the eastern Indian Ocean, under the leadership of the TDIO countries.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI and co-chaired last week’s TDIO. Image courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.

Data retention: who should pay for our national security?

Who should pay for national security?

The data-retention debate has been dominated by discussions over the extent to which metadata information retention is an essential tool for investigating terrorism and crime, what agencies should be able to access it, and the safeguards that should exist for privacy.

A neglected issue is who bears the costs of implementing the means to safeguard national security: do we ask telcos and internet service providers to find the money to retain metadata, or should government bear the full responsibility and foot what could be a significant bill? ISPs have been vocal about the costs that storing metadata will have on their businesses in what might be an open-ended commitment. Read more

Generally speaking, the principle that has been adopted is that the users, providers and owners of the property or service pay for the costs of security: in other words, security is a cost of doing business in a risky world.

In that sense, ISPs and telcos are no different from other essential services and critical national infrastructure, like electricity and water companies, that have had to shoulder the responsibilities for the costs of securing their own assets.

One alternative is for the public to pay, through taxation.

The argument is one that involves issues of equity, efficiency and effectiveness. If the government subsidises data retention as part of its counter-terrorist measures, it may waste money and create a bidding contest amongst companies seeking counter-terrorism funding support. Self- reliance can provide incentives for companies to innovate in their counter-terrorism protection.

But we can’t leave all our counter–terrorism efforts to be managed solely by market forces. That approach won’t always offer adequate protection across the community. Certain threats such as chemical and biological attacks, for example, require a response with specialist equipment, which would be difficult to achieve without direct government intervention.

Lack of adequate information to price the risks associated with terrorism resulted in a market failure in insurance in this country, and prompted the government some years ago to establish the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation to provide reinsurance cover for losses arising from a declared terrorist incident.

When it comes to who pays for data storage, the benefits of any government intervention must be weighed against the downside of excessive cost.

Government intervention may do more harm than good in an innovative and rapidly-evolving market like data storage. If the government picked up the whole tab it could encourage gold-plating. In some cases, ISPs and telcos may well have undertaken the digital data storage required by government even in the absence of government covering the costs.

Government payment for data storage may provide a strong incentive for the telcos to classify changes to their data-storage practices as counter-terrorism measures to line up for the government payment. And as the Abbott government wrestles with budget deficit pressures, how fair would it be to ask all Australians to provide the telcos and ISPs with a large subsidy?

This argument was neatly and recently (paywalled) put by Henry Ergas in The Australian:

Retaining that data will, no doubt, force providers to incur some costs, but with data storage becoming ever cheaper, their extent is controversial. Unpopular as it may be, placing those costs on network operators gives operators strong incentives to use smart technologies to manage them efficiently. Yes, like any other regulation, the costs can be likened to a tax; but as virtually all Australians use communications networks, this tax would be levied on a broad and relatively efficient base, and one that largely matches the beneficiaries of better law enforcement.

For those reasons, I think the market has a critical role to play in data retention, but government intervention in some form shouldn’t be ruled out completely: the entire community will benefit from strengthened counter-terrorism and crime-investigative powers that a data-retention regime provides.

Maybe we need a hybrid model, where the government could pay let’s say a third of the costs, (at least for some of the smaller- and medium-sized providers). Such an allocation would need to be reviewed in a couple of years as the market for digital storage is changing quickly.

Since telocs and ISPs would pay the greater share of costs under such a model, it’s far less likely that we’ll get a gold-plated system: after all is said and done, it’s industry that’s best placed to minimise the costs for data retention.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user penguincakes.

Reader response: a parliamentary vote on military action?

House of Representatives Front BenchHeath Pickering argues that ‘in the interests of democratic scrutiny and ensuring that any intervention occurs with broad political support, RAAF air strikes in Iraq (and potentially Syria) must be supported by a parliamentary vote in both houses’.

He cites the precedent of the UK where David Cameron lost a non-binding parliamentary vote last year (285–272) to support a British intervention in Syria. Prime Minister Cameron wasn’t legally required to hold the vote, but chose to do so (to avoid a repeat of the country’s swift backing for the invasion of Iraq). No British government has previously lost a vote over matters of military involvement since at least the mid-19th century.

I’d support Heath’s call for greater information to be provided to parliament on decisions about defence deployments. That might include governments providing a statement to parliament outlining the basis of the decision and reporting on the progress of military operations. Read more

But I’d reject the idea of parliament voting on decisions to go to war. Governments need the capacity to react quickly to events. Sometimes they won’t be able to disclose all secret intelligence that supports a decision. Most critically, where the government of the day doesn’t have control of the Senate—now the norm in Australian politics—the executive would be hamstrung in acting, regardless of the political, diplomatic and military circumstances of a crisis. The current Ludlam bill would, if accepted, simply hamstring the government of the day to the whim of minor parties.

There’s also the practical issue of the time delay this will create in engaging personnel. That’s a big enough problem now for the ADF, without the added complication of having to get both houses involved, possibly out of session.

The bottom line is that in a two-chamber system any government that’s required to get the approval of both houses for overseas conflicts will simply be a hostage to fortune.

A one-chamber system might be workable if a vote on troop deployments was thought necessary. But we have that already in the House of Representatives, where members can change a government or the majority party can change a leader if they oppose a war strongly enough.

There’s also a fundamental question of ‘what’s a war?’ for the purposes of a vote. The US system is relevant here: the US Congress has ‘war powers’ but the president has authority to exercise right of self-defence which has seen several wars/armed conflicts launched by the president without any reliance on Congress.

In any event, it’s not clear who in Australia would decide when parliament is to have a say on troop commitments, nor define the precise circumstances that would count as a ‘war’.

By the way, even if we introduced a vote to go to war I don’t think it would make any practical difference to the actual outcome. I can’t think of a single example where it would have changed a decision on Australia’s commitment to send our troops to war.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Alison Young.

Reader response: security vs civil liberties

PendulumMy colleague Tobias Feakin suggests that the discussion about any balance between security and civil liberties is inadequate for analysing counter-terrorism measures: it leads to ‘the establishment of rigid political positions which tend to overlook external perspectives—especially those of the public’.

Toby says that concepts of ‘balance’ have contributed to the widespread assumption that the relationship between the two can be considered as a ‘zero-sum’, and ‘that the balance model misunderstands the complexity of the relationship between security and civil liberties’.

I beg to disagree. The world is full of constraints: in a practical public policy sense, democratic governments will always need to balance national security objectives with civil liberties.

We can’t avoid the question of where the best point of balance lies because the two claims, both in law and policy, will always have some degree of tension between them. Read more

One claim won’t always defeat the other, so we do have to try and work out some balance (and this isn’t just a ‘splitting the difference’ exercise.)

It’s true that security and civil-liberties values and goals can sometimes both be maximised, but in practice it’s hard to think of cases where we won’t need to come to a judgment on where the balance lies.

Perhaps the most controversial recent example was the publication of the materials by Edward Snowden that raised basic questions about whether some security materials should be published.

I suggested in a recent op-ed on data retention that in making judgments on the balance here between security and privacy, there will be a need to adjust to the security situation we face at a particular time: we should permit a greater degree of tolerance for national security measures if the threat level goes up.

In striking the appropriate balance in our legal and policy measures for countering terrorism we should avoid excessive swings of the pendulum. (But there’s no doubt the pendulum’s swing will change over time.)

We must always compare the gains we make in national security benefits against any real harm done to our civil liberties.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Shannon Kokoska.