Articles by " Anthony Bergin"

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.

A new wave for Foreign Affairs?

A new wave in Foreign Affairs?

In the Indo-Pacific, there are enormous challenges in oceans management. Last November, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, chaired by Australia, recognised that fact by issuing a formal declaration on the principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources. The Pacific Islands Forum that recently concluded also issued the the Palau Declaration, The Ocean: Life & Future ‘Charting a Course to Sustainability.

Australia’s a three-ocean country: the Pacific, the Southern Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. We have the largest area of maritime jurisdiction in the Indo-Pacific region. Our security largely depends on maintaining good relations with our archipelagic and island neighbours. Maritime and oceanic issues should be a key element in these relations. Read more

Some of our archipelagic neighbours have large EEZs, including several Pacific island countries with EEZs of over 1 million square kilometres. The economic potential of their maritime zones is mostly unrealised. However, a notable exception is the importance of coastal and oceanic fisheries (see also here), especially for tuna. East African and Indian Ocean island countries also have significant marine resources that aren’t providing full economic benefits to them at present. (chapter 7)

With Australia’s recognised good-standing in managing the marine environment and resources, oceans affairs should be a central plank in our broader political relations, particularly where our neighbours have populations with a high dependence on extensive maritime domains.

We need a greater focus in Australian foreign policy and aid on oceans management and development. That would reflect many of our economic, scientific, environmental, and strategic interests in the surrounding oceans and seas. In coordinating Australia’s maritime aid, there’s a need for a formal process through which those programs and our national interests can be addressed in a strategic manner. With the integration of AusAID into DFAT, the transformed Department can better align foreign, development, and trade policies and programs.

A more coordinated approach to oceans affairs is needed in our foreign and aid policies. The Department of the Environment has some responsibility for regional and international marine initiatives, as well as broader external sustainable development advice. It’s heavily involved in Antarctic and Southern Ocean issues. The Department of Agriculture has responsibility for regional fisheries engagement work. Foreign Affairs leads on international law of the sea issues.

Australia should have a capacity to align regional ocean management with our foreign policy objectives. Coming to grips with the new mandate to align aid with foreign policy objectives means Australia should now create a mechanism in DFAT like the US Government’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, located in the US State Department.

Creating an Office of Ocean Affairs would be instrumental in coordinating DFAT’s oceans expertise, as well as providing a focus for interdepartmental coordination. It’d be a positive step towards advancing our regional foreign and security policy objectives, as well as Australia’s aid program. Our assistance to regional countries in managing their marine zones and exploiting their marine resources contributes to their food security and economic development.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr Sunova Surfboards.

Necessary, but not sufficient: Australia’s new Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre

Money is All Powerful

While most of the attention on national security has focused on this Tuesday’s announcement of limited new counter-terrorism measures, last week’s news that a Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre is to be established within the Australian Federal Police has been overlooked. The Centre will evaluate serious fraud, foreign bribery and corruption complaints and refer them on to state-based investigation teams. They will also assist in training Commonwealth agencies in fraud prevention.

The Centre will have federal police working with officials from the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Department of Human Services, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Department of Defence, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Importantly, the Centre will also leverage the intelligence capabilities of the Australian Crime Commission. The Centre will have out-posted officers in many state capital cities. Read more

Issues relating to national government integrity and anti-corruption go directly to the public interest: to see money used to the public’s best interests, to ensure transparency and accountability, and to retain a high level of trust in public decision-making. A national anti-corruption plan prepared by the previous Labor government last year stated: ‘Corrupt practices have the potential to undermine Australia’s reputation for high standards of governance, robust law and justice institutions, equitable delivery of services, democratic and electoral accountability, and transparent and fair markets.’ But the national ability to prosecute such complex cases like corruption and fraud has attracted criticism in the past.

While Australia’s ranked by Transparency International as one of the world’s least corrupt countries, it’s naive to assume that federal politicians, ministerial advisers, former politicians, lobbyists, and members of Commonwealth departments or agencies are immune to the temptations of corruption. (Indeed, more than 100 allegations are being made each month of crime, corruption or serious incompetence by Commonwealth government officials under new whistle blower protections laws.) The same point applies to large corporates, where the stakes are high and their behaviours are cloistered far from the scrutiny of state anti-corruption bodies.

No government can afford complacency when it comes to fighting corruption. There’ll always be those who seek to influence public-sector decision-making for personal gain. At the national level in recent years we’ve seen scandals such as the AWB and the UN’s oil-for-food program and the bribery scandal that rocked the Reserve Bank. While there are various state mechanisms in place, like the NSW Independent Commission on Corruption, we’ve had a blind spot when it comes to establishing an anti-corruption body at the national level.

Instead, the responsibility for reporting corrupt or inappropriate activity has rested with various parliamentary inquiries, investigative journalists and whistle blowers. The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office is one of administrative review and oversight, rather than corruption investigation. The Australian Commission on Law Enforcement Integrity provides scrutiny of six federal law-enforcement agencies, but it excludes companies and has few investigators. The corporate watchdog, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, doesn’t have jurisdiction in relation to foreign bribery, although it’s prepared to run civil proceedings alongside the AFP’s criminal ones.

This new Centre is a welcome step. It follows an increasing trend for government departments to work closely together in the law-enforcement space, which has included focused task forces, the Criminal Intelligence Fusion Capability, and the National Anti-Gangs Squad initiatives. It will pool resources and expertise, always important in highly technical areas such as these. And placing it within the AFP likely increases the chances of effective collaboration with the Criminal Assets Confiscation Task Force. This task force itself should receive a boost once the Commonwealth government’s legislation on unexplained wealth is put into operation.

So while the creation of the new federal Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre is a positive development, it will need to be properly resourced and linked to other efforts. On the first point, there’s cause for concern: while other areas of national security expenditure are set to expand, the Commonwealth contribution to the AFP’s budget in four years time will likely be about 16 per cent smaller than it is now.

Effective cooperation with existing, state-based anti-corruption bodies will also be essential. Establishing jurisdiction in those cases may be an issue for prosecutors, so close cooperation with the state governments and their police will be vital.

That last point’s especially important because the new Centre falls short of previous public calls for an independent federal anti-corruption agency that would have the potency of a Royal Commission and a full armoury of special powers: intercept, undercover operations, and surveillance.

Corruption by its nature is hidden and persistent. We need a Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre sufficiently resourced to go looking for it.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Alan Light.

A stark warning on regional marine resources

Yellowfin tuna

This week, leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Palau received a clear warning on the state of the region’s fisheries.

Fisheries are one of the key issues on the minds of Pacific Island leaders: they’re keenly aware of the importance of this industry to their countries and the wider region. Indeed, Palau’s President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has declared the theme of this year’s forum to be ‘The Ocean: Life & Future’.

In an earlier post, I argued that effective management of the fish stocks in the Pacific is important for food security, healthy ocean ecosystems and livelihood security. I even suggested that, in many ways, sustainable fisheries help to underpin regional political stability. Read more

The head of Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Glenn Hurry, pointed out yesterday at the Forum meeting that the total catch of the key tuna species is valued at around $US6 billion. From that, the income to Pacific island countries is estimated to be in the order of $350–400 million.

But Hurry noted that we don’t know the impacts of the last two years of fishing. So there remains a ‘level of uncertainty about what our world really looks like but indications are that catches have not reduced’. He warned that Pacific bigeye tuna is overfished and requires urgent management action and that yellowfin tuna is at 38% of the original stock biomass and requires stabilisation.

Regional leaders were told that there’s an urgent need to agree and implement a target reference point (i.e. where you’d like the fish-stock level to be to ensure the maximum and most profitable catch levels) for skipjack to retain the stock at optimal levels.

Island leaders were told there are simply too many boats in this fishery and more are coming in: ‘We must agree on arrangements to restrict fishing effort and boats to a more sustainable level and do it now and not tomorrow.’

There’s now 300 large-scale, purse seine vessels fishing in the tuna fishery, up from 225 vessels in 2004 and with 37 new purse seiners under construction in Asian ship yards. Seventeen will enter the regional fishery over the next 12–24 months.

One of the challenges here is that, as the Pacific tuna fishery becomes more valuable, it’ll become harder to manage as both the companies and the countries are profiting from both income and employment (working in processing plants, canneries, on vessels and in regional agencies). But the stark message to the Forum leaders this week was that if the region doesn’t adjust early then the pain will be greater later on.

Australia will need to play its part in assisting the island countries to manage their tuna stocks to provide the long-term sustainability of the fishery for future generations of Pacific Island people. That will require our long-term investment in the islands to enhance fisheries management and work with regional fisheries bodies in areas such as negotiating fisheries’ access arrangements.

We often fail to grasp here that retaining strong healthy Pacific fish stocks is critical for island income, investment, food security and generating some degree of economic hope for island peoples.

Regional leaders at the Forum were left in no doubt this week that the Pacific can’t continue to fish at current levels and expect the resource to last. The day the Pacific loses its fish, we’ll not only have food security issues on our doorstep, but significant adverse income and employment impacts on our neighbours. And if that happens it’ll most likely be Australia that picks up the tab.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user r36ariadne.

Pacific maritime security—from quad to hexagon

Solomon Islands Police Vessel Lata departs from Honiara as part of Operation Kuru Kuru, a regional maritime surveillance operation in September 2008, as part of the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.

In the joint statement following Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Abe’s meeting, titled Special Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century’, one of the action items listed was tasking officials to develop a ‘coordinated strategy to strengthen cooperation in the Pacific region, commencing with consultations to identify priorities’. The two leaders stated that the strategy would ‘support economic prosperity, peace and stability in the Pacific region’.

To get the ball rolling, both countries should now be talking about cooperation on maritime security in the South Pacific. The timing couldn’t be better. It’d not only build on the goodwill from the Abe visit but also on changes to Japan’s aid policy that could strengthen defence and security cooperation.

Late last month, recommendations for changes to Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) policy were sent to the Minister for Foreign Affairs by an expert committee. The committee suggested relaxing the ODA ban on military-related projects, arguing that, as military capacity can assist in non-military areas, such as disaster relief, Japan shouldn’t exclude all military activities from its ODA. Read more

Australia should now be working with Japan on the Australian Pacific Patrol Boat replacement program. It’s now, and will remain in the future, the central component of our defence cooperation program in the Pacific islands region. Twenty-two boats have been given to 12 island countries. But the fleet is now approaching its end of service.

The Australian government has recently decided to continue the Pacific Patrol Boat program within a different framework and has just approved almost $600 million in purchase costs and $1.38 billion in sustainment and personnel costs over the next thirty years. Timor-Leste is to be added to the new program, with Defence being lead agency on the project.

The Pacific patrol boats are the only real capability that can protect the EEZs of the island countries. Even under the previous Japanese ODA policy, Japan could have cooperated with the ADF in respect of the patrol boats (although the sponsorship of the project by Australia’s Defence department might have been a complication.)

As I’ve argued before (with Sam Bateman), the Pacific Patrol Boat project isn’t really about supporting warfighting missions: its aim is to provide capabilities for good order at sea in the region.

But if the recommended changes to Japan’s ODA policy flow through, that would mean the JMSDF might be able to cooperate with the three countries that run their Pacific patrol boats as part of a military force (Fiji, Tonga and PNG). In all those countries (and the other island countries where the boats are under police control), they’re focused on fisheries surveillance, disaster relief and search and rescue.

Japan is already working on maritime capacity-building in Micronesia, with the initiative of two NGOs, the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Peace Foundation. They’ve provided small boats to several Micronesian islands, with Japan’s Coast Guard also assisting in capacity building. And Japan has been willing to cooperate there with RAN maritime advisers in Micronesia.

Apart from the Micronesian project, Japan has also been supplying patrol boats to both the Philippines and Vietnam. It was even instrumental in getting the Vietnamese to separate their Coast Guard from the military to facilitate that assistance.

There are opportunities to work closely on Pacific maritime security not only with MSDF, but also with Japan’s Coast Guard and its Fisheries Agency. Indeed, we could encourage Japan to become part of Quad arrangements, where we coordinate surveillance patrols and flights in the Pacific with New Zealand, France and the US.

Following Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Australia, China didn’t criticise the intensification of Australia’s defence ties with Japan. China’s foreign affairs ministry said only that ‘we hope that cooperation among relevant countries can contribute positively to regional peace and stability, instead of the opposite, let alone harming the third country.’

There’s no reason why we couldn’t consider inviting China into cooperative Pacific maritime security arrangements as well as Japan. Protecting the marine living resources of the region and strong Pacific oceans governance should be a common goal of all the major players of the region. Let’s talk to our quad partners about rebadging the arrangement as a hexagon, engaging both Japan and China.

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

Colombia: back from the brink

Colombian National Police seized large quantities of FARC materiel.

In an op-ed published yesterday, I highlighted how, with the right resources and strategies, a country could turn its security problems around.

I was referring to Colombia. I made a recent visit there with a small group of African political leaders and military commanders, arriving shortly after President Juan Manuel Santos’ re-election for another four years. And I found the security situation much improved.

Rewind to the late 1990s and Colombia was on the verge of being a failed state. In 2002, the government controlled just half of Colombia’s countryside. Ten years later, the figure’s over 90%. According to the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ index, Colombia ranks third in Latin America. This year, according to government projections, the economy could grow at 5%. Read more

Part of that success is this: the Colombians have built an incredibly impressive military force, (we visited military bases and spent a day with Colombian Special Forces), and allocated resources to their armed forces and police (around 480,000 strong). The country’s defence budget has doubled over the last ten years.

The military is seen as the most respected institution in the country, even above the church, and the quality of the officer corps was evident. They’ve developed an efficient intelligence capability which has allowed the Colombians to conduct aerial attacks against the FARC in their jungle strongholds, resulting in high casualty rates for senior FARC leaders. The number of FARC combatants has dropped from around 20,000 in 2002 to between 7,000 and 10,000 fighters.

Our group was given extensive briefings on the country’s two flagship security strategies: ‘Sword of Honour’ and ‘Plan Green Heart’. The first is an integrated military and police effort which has launched simultaneous offensives across Colombia focusing on a dozen ‘hot zones’ where the guerrillas are active and have significant economic interests which overlap with those of the state, such as oil pipelines.

‘Plan Green Heart’ is the national police strategy aimed at combatting organised crime and crimes affecting citizen security. It’s focused on land reform, rural security, cybercrime, road security and urban security. It’s targeting drug trafficking, terrorism, criminal mining, kidnapping and extortion, smuggling, and mobile phone robbery.

I saw first-hand in La Macarena, a town about 280km south of Bogota and formerly a FARC stronghold, how the military has worked to improve service and infrastructure delivery at the community level across an extraordinarily rugged countryside. As one Colombian military officer explained to us: ‘the problem is rural, so the solution is rural’.

Colombia has benefited from strong and consistent political leadership over the last decade that’s focused on confronting drugs and guerrillas, and not just political spin. The CEO of the Colombian subsidiary of a major multinational company (that’s operated in Colombia for years) summed it up in a statement to our group: ‘The political leaders here work 24/7 for the country’. Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told us that ten years ago, ‘we’d lost our country, and now we’ve got it back’.

Colombia’s lessons are of relevance to other states facing armed challenges: my African travelling companions told me at the end of our visit they’d learnt a lot from Colombia in addressing some of their own internal security problems such as insecurity in eastern Congo, Boko Haram in Nigeria, insurgents in Mali, and Al-Shabab across east Africa.

Building military-military ties to facilitate information sharing and lessons learnt could be fruitful for both the ADF and Colombian military. That could begin with a visit by the new Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, to scope practical defence engagement, including for strategic dialogue, training and staff college exchanges and defence trade.

In particular, it would be useful to visit Buenaventura, a town of 400,000 and a major drug-trafficking node on Colombia’s Pacific coast, to see how Colombian’s navy is dealing with the problems of drugs and crime. Of interest too would be looking at the Colombia’s practical approach to force structure. Colombians are buying useful equipment such as turbo-prop aircraft for counter insurgency, transports and Blackhawks. Colombia has a long history of riverine warfare and they’ve got a large fleet of effective riverine combatants.

Australian Customs and the AFP would benefit from strengthening information exchange on the drug trade and trends in serious and organised crime.

A great highlight of my visit was cheering a Colombian victory in the World Cup, watching the match with the bravest of the brave—soldiers who’d lost limbs to FARC mines. With the remaining time left on the UNSC, we might consider offering Colombia help in dealing with the IED and de-mining problems the country faces. I’ll never forget those soldiers, or the staunchly patriotic Colombians I met.

Things are really changing for the better in the country. The tourism promotion says it all: ‘Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay’.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. He travelled to Colombia courtesy of the Brenthurst Foundation. Image courtesy of Flickr user Colombian National Police.