Articles by " Anthony Bergin"

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.

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.

Search and rescue: a growing responsibility

Regional search and rescue (SAR) issues have stolen a lot of international headlines lately. The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in March, and the subsequent multinational search effort, revealed substantial cracks in the region’s surveillance and SAR arrangements. But the issue of regional SAR was large and growing even before MH370. The rescue of passengers on board the ship Akademik Shokalskiy in the Southern Ocean earlier this year was watched by an estimated 32 million people world-wide. As Australia and other Antarctic nations enhance their polar programs, with more personnel and greater coverage of land and marine activities, the risk of SAR incidences will increase. This month, ASPI held a workshop to discuss issues surrounding the coordination of search and rescue operations in Australia’s area of responsibility. These are some of the key points from the discussions.

Australia has the largest search and rescue zone in the world, stretching through parts of the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans, and amounting to roughly 12% of the Earth’s surface. Looking south, Australia’s SAR region is vast. It extends east and west of Australia’s land mass and penetrates through the Australian Antarctic Territory to the South Pole. In the Antarctic region, our SAR area adjoins those of New Zealand and South Africa. Figure 1 below shows Australia’s Antarctic SAR region (source: Australian Maritime Safety Authority).

Australia’s Antarctic SAR region

Read more

As Asia’s air- and water-ways become more congested with commercial and other traffic, and as wealthier citizens seek ever more exotic tourist destinations, pressures on the regional search and rescue arrangements are growing. Active in our SAR region are both legal and illegal fishers, and a growing number of independent visitors and sailors. In recent years, we’ve seen an escalation in confrontations between the Japanese whaling fleet and anti-whaling protestors. Figure 2 shows SAR activities in our southern backyard both in recent years and earlier.

SAR activities south of Australia

Close coordination between the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Australian Antarctic Division, and the Department of Defence, the effective transfer of information about the availability of shipping and aircraft assets, and the availability of suitably-trained personnel to undertake SAR response, will all be critical for future SAR operations. Of equal importance will be coordinating with other national Antarctic programs active in our SAR region and the Southern Ocean.

The trend toward more non-government operators travelling through the Southern Ocean and to Antarctica will continue. Privately-funded voyages—like that of the Akademik Shokalskiy—fishing operations, tourist operations and independent travellers are expected to increase over time.

The entry into force of the IMO’s Polar Code will provide some additional safeguards, although universal coverage of vessels isn’t assured: many fishing vessels undertaking illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities in the Southern Ocean, for example, are unstable and poorly crewed.

It’s likely that there’ll be increased fly-in/fly-out tourism over the next two decades. That will have significant environmental and safety considerations and require the revision of arrangements for air traffic management, emergency accommodation, medical facilities and medivac capability.

As the relevant SAR coordinator for much of east Antarctica, we could project an expected increase in SAR incidences into our strategic planning. SAR planning offers an opportunity for us to work with China, India, Korea, Japan, France, South Africa and New Zealand to foster good relations and sound SAR practices.

As new technologies develop in unmanned aerial vehicles, those will offer additional resource capability in SAR operations. At present, much of that technological development sits within the Department of Defence. There’s potential for enhanced cooperation between the Australian Antarctic Division and Department of Defence in the use of unmanned assets, not only for SAR purposes, but also for general operational support in the region.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Defence Minister Johnston proposed that 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’. The proposal highlights the fact that while search and rescue operations are important in themselves, they also serve an important political purpose; they build patterns of peaceful interaction between countries with limited experience of each other, and so help generate strategic trust.

That’s a good idea: there are clearly gaps in regional SAR arrangements in Asia. (See here and here.) At the same time, we should be conducting Southern Ocean and Antarctic search and rescue exercises to strengthen cooperation amongst Australian and other Antarctic states.

 Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Daniel Grant is an intern at ASPI. Maps courtesy of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

New online CVE studies—lessons for Australia

In discussing the foreign fighter issue in Australia last month, I noted that the Syrian civil war is being broadcast live over social media. Some call it the first YouTube war.

That live feed of information is useful to Australians who have family in Syria and surrounding countries, but social media platforms are also recruitment and propaganda tools for extremist groups involved in the conflict, and their supporters overseas.  So any campaign undertaken by authorities here to discourage Australians from fighting in Syria should include a strong online effort to counter extremist recruiters.

 Last month the UK’s Quilliam Foundation published a report on online extremism. The study found that the vast majority of radicalised individuals come into contact with extremist ideology through offline socialisation prior to being indoctrinated online. The report found that relying on censorship and filtering methods to counter online extremism was ineffective. It advocated developing counter-extremist efforts through online content and popularising online initiatives that fight against extremism. The report found that there weren’t enough materials that counter extremist content online, allowing extremists to dominate the conversation on many topics. Read more

The report makes several useful recommendations that warrant study in Australia by those responsible for implementing countering violent extremism programs:

  • establish a forum that deals with online extremism and brings stakeholders from key sectors together in order to do so
  • improve digital literacy and critical consumption skills in schools and communities
  • encourage the establishment of a social media outlet that clarifies government policies and debunks propaganda
  • undertake a mapping exercise that explores current efforts to tackle extremism online and identifies partners that could be given support to develop an effective online presence
  • establish a central body that offers seed funding and training for grassroots online counter‐extremism initiatives.

The last suggestion is particularly relevant to Australia. Quilliam suggests grants ranging between A$900 and A$3600 that would go ‘towards helping existing initiatives improve their online presence and further develop their social media outreach … [S]pecific online initiatives could include fully fledged websites, social media campaigns, a series of videos hosted on videosharing platforms such as YouTube, and forums that discuss pertinent topics related to extremism’.

Quilliam suggests the initiatives could be run by individuals, small community groups, student societies and other small- to medium-sized networks. Initiatives in Australia to counter online extremism should, as the Quilliam Foundation suggests, help grassroots initiatives that are already trying to tackle extremism to make better use of online tools.

But a word of warning: a recent report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the UK makes clear that in developing a counter-messaging campaign on the foreign fighter issue, many of the most credible messengers have poor online skills, so they aren’t able to use social media platforms. It found that many counter-messengers don’t have even the basic skills that would allow them to take and upload photos or create and share basic videos using smart phones.

The Australian government through its countering violent extremism program will have an important role to play here in building technical capacity with those individuals and groups best placed to deliver counter-narrative campaigns.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Supporting Australia’s Antarctic interests

Aurora Australis anchored off Macquarie Island.Earlier this year, I cited the case of the tourist expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which became entrapped near Commonwealth Bay in the waters of Australia’s Antarctic Territory, as showing up serious limitations of Australia’s weakening search-and-rescue capabilities down south: our one polar vessel couldn’t reach the Shokalskiy. Nor was it carrying helicopters that could.

In the recent federal budget, the government announced that it will request tenders for a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis. It’s a welcome move: Aurora Australis is approaching the end of its serviceable life. A decision was needed to commit to a replacement to ensure our ability to conduct marine research anywhere in the Southern Ocean at any time of year, and to provide a heavy-lift capability for efficient delivery of station cargo and refuelling.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said two Europe-based firms had been shortlisted to build the vessel, to be delivered by 2019. Hunt told reporters that it will cost ‘hundreds and hundreds of millions’, but he wouldn’t comment further due to an ongoing tender process. The new ship will be a significant capability enhancement over the Aurora Australis, in terms of its icebreaking and cargo capacities. Read more

In announcing the decision, Minister Hunt linked it directly to our polar sovereignty claim:

It is absolutely critical under international law for Australia to maintain an active presence in Antarctica so as to maintain our claims. We have about 42 percent of the Antarctic land mass which is covered by Australian claims and if we were to abandon that … then that would be a deeply irresponsible action for future generations.

But while the Minister’s decision to replace Aurora Australis is welcome, it’s only one part of the story when it comes to the maritime capabilities required for our southern backyard.

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is currently inquiring into Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. In a joint submission to the Committee, Sam Bateman and I argue that Australia requires ships capable of operating in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Antarctica for surveillance, patrol and response (for sovereignty protection, law enforcement and search and rescue); marine scientific research; and the logistic support of Australia’s Antarctic program. In the longer term, a requirement may arise for warships with the necessary capabilities.

Response requires a surface vessel and that’s where we’re most seriously lacking at present. The requirement for the task will increase in the future: apart from our own national interests, the Southern Ocean contains valuable living resources including the largest underexploited fishery in the world, the Antarctic krill fishery.

Our current capability to respond to a safety-of-life-at-sea issue in southern waters is limited to three principal vessels: Ocean Protector, Ocean Shield, and Aurora Australis, and only the latter is ice-capable. RAN ships may be available, but none are ice-strengthened and only the fleet replenishment ships, HMAS Choules and the LHDs about to enter service, could undertake an extended search without the support of a tanker.

As noted above, in terms of marine research and logistics, with only one ageing Antarctic research vessel, we’re being left behind by other nations: China, Japan, the Russian Federation, South Korea and South Africa have each launched or announced new icebreakers.

And it’s over two years since we’ve had a patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean. We’ve relied on assistance from France, but that’s only available off the Territory of Heard and McDonald islands.

The concept of a ‘national fleet’ offers a possible approach to building the required capacity: rather than each agency doing its ‘own thing’ with blue water capabilities, there’s scope for a ‘whole of nation’ approach to address national requirements for those capabilities other than naval war-fighting. Along with the Senate Committee’s report, it might be useful to have an independent study into Australia’s requirements for blue-water capabilities for maritime policing, patrol and scientific research, including in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica.

The national fleet concept might be considered in both the project to replace the Aurora Australis and Defence Project SEA 1180 to provide a class of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels (OCVs). Regarding the OCVs, the 2013 Defence White paper noted (at paragraph 8.56): ‘in the shorter-term, Government will seek to replace the current Armidale Class patrol boats with a proven vessel to ensure that Defence can continue to provide a patrol capability’ while a longer-term solution is considered.

It’s probable that the Armidale Class replacement will be an updated version of the Cape Class vessels being acquired by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Such vessels would be unsuitable for operations in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica. The requirement for operations in those waters should be considered in selecting the longer-term solution for the OCV.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Natalie Tapson.

Foreign Affairs and the strategy business

I found Brendan Taylor’s view that Foreign Affairs shouldn’t do strategy because they don’t have a ‘few battalions hidden away in the bowels of ‘Gareth’s Gazebo’ somewhat bizarre. Along with the Defence Minister, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sits on the National Security Committee of Cabinet, which considers the major national security issues facing this country. So too does the Treasurer, the Attorney General and the Immigration Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister, who’s the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development is also a member and the Finance Minister is co-opted as required.

Apart from Defence, none of those ministers have a ‘few battalions hidden away in the bowels’ of their departmental offices. But all are expected to be across the delicate business of strategy for key decision-making purposes—and it’s not unreasonable for them to expect their departmental staff to be able to advise them in that regard. So perhaps we should be thinking about strategy in a broader rather than a narrower sense. Read more

Rather than just focusing on the use of military force, it’d be useful to see how business thinks about strategy. After all, if a company doesn’t have a sound strategy it won’t stay in business for long. I concur here with Lance Beath  that one of the more useful strategy texts is Richard Rumelt’s book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.

Rumelt holds a chair in business and society at UCLA Anderson School of Management. His book argues that the core of good strategy is discovering ‘the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors’; that bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision, and values; and that a strategy that fails to define a variety of plausible and feasible immediate actions misses a critical component.

Rumelt argues that for corporate strategic planning purposes leaders must identify the ‘critical obstacles to forward progress and then develop a coherent approach to overcoming them’. Indeed he notes that most strategic plans have little to do with strategy: they’re ‘three-year or five-year rolling resource budgets, and they coordinate deployment of resources—but that’s not strategy’.

Rumelt points out that strategy starts with identifying changes and that strategic thinking ‘helps us take positions in a world that is confusing and uncertain’.’ A lot of strategy work, he says, isn’t just deciding what to do, but a more basic problem of ‘comprehending the situation’. He emphasises that a good strategy is, in the end, a ‘hypothesis about what will work. Not a wild theory, but an educated judgment’.

I think many of us who’ve read ‘strategy’ documents would agree with Rumelt’s observation that: ‘Bad strategy is vacuous and superficial, has internal contradictions, and doesn’t define or address the problem. Bad strategy generates a feeling of dull annoyance when you have to listen to it or read it’.

Lance Beath is correct that business schools can teach both military organisations and diplomats how to do strategy. The Strategic and Defence Studies Centre might even consider adding some business strategy readings to their course guides.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Foreign fighters in Syria and the challenges of reintegration

Last week I suggested that Australia takes two steps with regard to those Australians fighting in the Syrian conflict, who’ve been trained by extremist groups and gained battlefield experience.

First, our government should release a comprehensive statement outlining its position on the Syrian foreign fighter issue. There’s no one place for people to find out exactly what Australia’s approach is— what the applicable laws are, the government’s reasons for being concerned about Australian involvement in the conflict, what the government’s strategy is, and what people can do if they have concerns.

Secondly, to get the message through we should have a national awareness campaign about the dangers of citizens travelling to Syria. It should be led by the police working with relevant community-based organisations. Read more

On Friday, the Home Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons released a useful report on counter terrorism. It’s worth reading for the sensible suggestions it makes on de-radicalisation, and how to engage with citizens who are vulnerable to extremist ideologies.

But what caught my eye was a recommendation on a rehabilitation program for British foreign fighters returning from Syria. The Commons Committee cited the work of Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, who found that a substantial number of foreign fighters move on to international terrorism: on average, one in nine foreign fighters returned home to take part in a domestic terror plot.

The threat posed by British citizens or residents fighting in Syria was set out to the Committee by Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism: ‘Some of those people may pose a threat when they get to Syria and they may, from their base in Syria, plot attacks back in the UK. Others may pose a threat to us when they travel back from Syria themselves and they plan attacks here, either under the instruction of people outside this country or at their own initiative’.

The UK Home Affairs Committee made this recommendation:

The Government needs a clear strategy for dealing with foreign fighters on their return, which may include help to come to terms with the violence they have witnessed and participated in, as well as counter-radicalisation interventions. We are concerned that their experiences may well make them vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder thereby increasing their vulnerability to radicalisation. We recommend that the Government implement a programme … for everyone returning to Britain where there is evidence that they have fought in Syria. The engagement in this strategy should be linked to any legal penalties imposed on their return. In developing the strategy the Government must work with mental health practitioners and academia to ensure that the programme best integrates those returning from conflict zones such as Syria.

Those responsible for countering violent extremism in Australia might usefully study the kinds of rehabilitation programs developed for British foreign fighters returning from Syria. We should ensure that those Australians who’ve been exposed to jihadism are reintegrated back into mainstream Australian society. Given the one-in-nine figure cited above, such a program should be developed now: as Attorney General George Brandis pointed out last month to a Washington audience, ‘I am sorry to have to tell you that per capita, Australia is one of the largest sources of foreign war fighters to the Syrian conflict from countries outside the region’.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. 

Partnering with the Philippines

President Barack Obama greets troops after he delivers remarks at Fort Bonifacio in Manila, Philippines, April 29, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In 1992 the United States left its naval facility at Subic Bay and its air force base at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. An active volcano, Mt Pinatubo, and a restless Philippines Senate opposed to the US military presence, had between them brought an end to US access to the facilities. But last week the two countries signed a ten year Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

The agreement will allow US armed forces regular access to Philippine military bases. It’s a framework agreement, with the details, such as how many US troops will rotate through the Philippines and when, to be negotiated and announced later.

The EDCA does not authorise the establishment of permanent bases, which is prohibited by the Philippine constitution, but permits US military access to agreed locations. This will allow the US to pre-position supplies, equipment and materiel (excluding nuclear weapons) in the Philippines. Read more

President Obama said the deal would see more US troops rotate through the country for joint military training exercises and give US forces greater access to Filipino facilities, airfields and ports. But there’d be no return of American bases.

President Obama stated that the US remained committed to supporting the Philippines, referring to the two nations’ 1951 mutual defence treaty. But he made no mention of the hotspots in the South China Sea when speaking about the mutual defence pact, instead calling on China not to use intimidation to assert its claims.

The Philippines signed the EDCA at least in part to increase its leverage in dealing with China. With EDCA, there’ll be more joint military exercises which Manila hopes will help keep China at bay. The Philippines needs EDCA to level-up its military capabilities to better protect its ocean territory: maritime security and maritime domain awareness are two of the essential objectives of EDCA.

Through EDCA the Philippines expects greater access to Excess Defence Articles, International Military Education and Training, and the US Military Assistance Fund. It expects an annual assistance of $50 million from the US(compared to its current annual $25 million). 

In Australia, we sometimes forget that the Philippines occupies an important geostrategic location between the Americas, Oceania and Asia; it serves as a bridge between Southeast and Northeast Asia. Important shipping routes between Australia and China pass through the Philippines archipelago, including through the Sulu Sea, the site of considerable illegal activity.

We should be supporting the Philippines strengthening its capacity to protect its maritime interests, although without engaging in activities that could appear to support Manila’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. At times, that’s likely to prove a delicate balancing act for both the US and Australia: it’ll sometimes be hard to separate our common interest in freedom of navigation from the Philippines’ interest in the islands in the South China Sea. Already China thinks that whatever the Philippines is doing is simply part of US strategy.

Fortunately Australian and Philippine interests converge more in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. That provides us greater leeway in terms of the kind and levels of assistance we can give to the Philippines to improve their maritime domain awareness and maritime security capabilities.

The Philippines’ planned defence transformation program is intended primarily to meet external maritime security threats, with its navy and coast guard getting new ships and maritime surveillance aircraft. Last year it was announced that ten vessels from Japan are to be sent to Manila as part of Prime Minister Abe’s promise to beef up the capability of the Philippine Coast Guard. The cutters are being provided as part of Japan’s official development assistance program.

The Philippines’ National Coast Watch System (NCWS) is also being developed to enhance interagency coordination and maritime security across the Philippines archipelago. It builds on the Coast Watch South System established by the Philippines with the assistance of Australia and the US in the tri-border area in the Sulu and Celebes Seas between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

We should be providing support for the NCWS, which will be a multi-agency arrangement. The US has already offered to help the Philippines establish a coast watch centre to enhance its maritime border security and promote enhanced maritime information-sharing between the Philippines, Japan and Australia.

Australia’s 2012 Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines also opens up the possibility of more training opportunities and more advanced exercises, as well as assisting the Philippines armed forces with training in procurement processes. Both countries should now work to enhance security cooperation, especially in the maritime domain, in the years to come.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of the White House.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian Ocean regionalism – picking up the pattern of connectivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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