Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

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German Chancellor Angela MerkelThis week’s wrap kicks off with an in-depth profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the New Yorker’s December edition. Pay attention to Merkel’s strategy for dealing with Vladimir Putin and her razor-sharp insights into his psychology: on his attempt to intimidate her with his black Labrador (Merkel is terrified of dogs), she said ‘I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man…He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.’

Meanwhile, Putin shared his thoughts (translated into English) with National State Television and Radio Company this week on the Minsk Protocol and the possibility of war between Russia and Ukraine.

Sadly, ISIS members in Mosul decided to express their artistic differences with ancient artefacts by taking to them with sledgehammers and power tools in an effort to destroy ‘false idols’. But The Atlantic’s David Graham offers a different take on the matter: ‘In reality, the relationship with icons in all three Abrahamic religions is rather more elaborate than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would want us to believe—but the tradition is there. Destroying traces of forebears, and even robbing and destroying tombs, has perhaps a longer tradition in civilization than preservation.’ Keep reading here. Read more

This week’s new reports include a SIPRI policy brief (PDF) by Tetsuo Kotani on crisis management in the East China Sea, the Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of US Military Strength (including essays on the role of special forces and the rebalance, check out the executive summary here), and Ahmed S. Hashim’s RSIS report on the impact of Islamic State in Asia.

Grab a cup of coffee and make time for this debate in three parts between James Fallows and Restrepo filmmaker Sebastian Junger on ‘the tragedy of the American military’. Part one by Fallows grapples with ‘careless spending and strategic follow’ which lure America into ‘endless wars it can’t win’. In part two, Sebastian Junger responds to Fallows, taking him up on his discussion of a draft and what that means for future US involvement in conflict. Part three (and several cups of coffee later), Fallows tries to set the record straight on whether 1% of the US population serving in the military is a problem. Time for some decaf.

What does the future of war look like? Douglas Ollivant has a think piece on CNN that charts some future trends of conflict which corresponds with the launch of New America’s Future of War project this week. Check out the #futureofwar Twitter hashtag as well for discussion on ideas and concepts from the launch.

Meanwhile, DARPA has joined the fight against human trafficking by developing a search engine that catches results on the ‘dark web’ including job postings, chat forums and other hidden services that support modern day slavery.


CSIS has brought the podcast goods this week. The latest episode of cogistAsia’s weekly podcast features discussion with Michael Kirby who passionately advocates upholding human rights in North Korea as well as Mira Rapp-Hooper and Gregory Poling on images of China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea (22mins).

As part of CSIS’ Smart Women Smart Power series, Nina Easton interviewed Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani on her country’s future, women, and how Afghan expats can help rebuild their nation (42mins).


Take a two-minute tour into Gaza through the eyes of well-known (but anonymous) graffiti artist Banksy. Filmed as a travel ad, the footage shows children playing in rubble and houses alleged to have been destroyed by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. ‘The locals like it so much they never leave’, states the film’s text sardonically.


Canberra: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will launch the foundation-formerly-known-as-Kokoda, now the Institute for Regional Security, at the IFRS Inaugural Address on Regional Stability and Prosperity at Gandel Hall on Tuesday 17 March at 7,30pm. Bookings essential.

Sydney: What’s gone wrong with the Jokowi presidency? The AIIA NSW is hosting David Reeve and Zulaika Chudori on this topic at an event held at Glover Cottages on Tuesday 3 March at 6pm.

Claire Corbett will be discussing Australia’s future submarine, delving into why the decision is so complex and difficult. The event will be held at the Mitchell Theatre on Tuesday 17 March at 12.30pm.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user European Council

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In this week’s collection of reads and podcasts, we’ve got Islamic State and sovereignty, Indonesian politics, China’s South China Sea policies, Nigeria and Boko Haram, drones and more.

Does ISIS believe in sovereignty? Richard A. Nielsen writes on Monkey Cage blog that ISIS’ ideology puts the group at odds with norms of Westphalian sovereignty. Demolishing political borders between Syria and Iraq appears to be in keeping with their jihad on the concepts of international relations.

On the other hand, Audrey Kurth Cronin argues that ISIS behaves more like a ‘proto-state’ and, in policy terms, that means counterterrorism frameworks are ‘ill-suited’. (And for those with a Foreign Affairs subscription, Kurth Cronin’s essay, ‘ISIS is not a terrorist group’, expands on the important differences between organisations like al-Qaeda and ISIS.) Cronin’s assessment is a counterpoint to that of the Obama Administration: on Tuesday the President emphasised the ‘t’-word in refererring to ISIS during this week’s Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in Washington. Read more

While the Chan–Sukumaran news dominates in Australia, there have been other concerning developments in Indonesia such as the ongoing battle between the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Read Jacqueline Hicks on what the POLRI–KPK stoush reveals about how Jokowi is handling transactional politics and the parliament.

CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has some striking before-and-after images of how China has been reclaiming and building on islands in the South China Sea. If you haven’t already, it’s worth subscribing to the AMTI Brief for updates.

But what do Chinese citizens think of the PRC’s policies in the East and South China Seas? UWA researcher Andrew Chubb’s new report (PDF) synthesises the results of a Chinese-language survey that explores how Chinese citizens receive information about territory troubles and how they think the PRC should behave. Interestingly, of the ten policy options presented, ‘international publicity’ received the most support, while ‘send in the troops’ was close to the bottom for both potential flashpoints. Keep reading here (or join us in Canberra for a panel discussion with Andrew Chubb, see Events below).

International Crisis Group has a useful Q&A on what the postponement of Nigeria’s general elections means for Africa and for the fight against Boko Haram. Meanwhile, Hilary Matfess looks at what’s next for Nigeria’s democracy.

Sticking with the African continent, have you ever heard of the ADF? The other ADF? an Islamist group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often overshadowed by Boko Haram, the Allied Democratic Forces was founded in Uganda 20 years ago. But a recent operation by the Congolese military made it possible for UN experts to interview fighters and analyse the organisation. In addition to implementing a form of sharia law, the ADF’s government ran, among other things, an internal security service and orphanage. For more, read Daniel Fahey’s overview here.

UAV enthusiasts, check out Robert Farley’s ‘The five most deadly drone powers in the world’ which features the capabilities of all the usual suspects but ends by asking which countries could potentially replace the ‘D5’.

Lastly, restrain yourselves, ladies, KJU has a new ‘do! Giving new meaning to a ‘high and tight’, one site wants to know, given the haircut’s obvious strength, should it be made a potential party to the six-party talks in its own right?


Over at Sinica, Kaiser Kuo and Jeremey Goldkorn interview Howard French to discuss the impact of Chinese development activities in Africa as well as the complications in China’s ‘win-win’ approach to investment in Africa (46mins).


Canberra: Next Tuesday 24 February, the Menzies Research Centre will holding the inaugural forum of the National Security Network at Parliament House at 5–6pm. This iteration grapples with options for the ANZUS alliance in light of changes to global power, featuring Michael L’Estrange and Ross Babbage. Stick around after for a networking event 6–7pm. Registration is essential and available here.

ASPI and the Perth USAsia Centre are jointly hosting a panel discussion on Chinese public opinion on maritime disputes and the implications of China’s actions for regional stability on Monday 2 March at 2pm. The event’s free and more details, including registration, are available here.

Calling nuclear wonks: ANU’s SDSC is hosting the US State Department’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, who’ll deliver a lecture on ‘Stemming the nuclear tide: the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at 45’, on Thursday 5 March at 6pm. Registration is required and available here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist

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Will the real Kim Jong Un please stand up?

We’re keeping your Black Friday screens bright with infographics of the conflict in Syria, private military security companies, China’s military, India and Australian uranium, Fatboy Kim and more.

The Institute for the Study of War has ‘maps on maps on maps’ with a useful series of situation reports and infographics on Syria showing the location and advance of the various groups involved in the conflict. ISW’s latest chart (PDF) shows ISIS continuing to lose ground in northeastern Aleppo, while their 9 February map (PDF) marks out areas controlled by the regime, ISIS, rebels, Kurds and others.

In case you missed it, here’s the full text of President Obama’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy. For a quick hit, check out this summary, but for those who want to dig a bit deeper, check out Thomas Fedyszyn’s wrap on The National Interest, Michael Krepon on Arms Control Wonk, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice as she takes questions at the 35-minute mark of this Brookings event. Read more

Hat tip to our friends over at CIMSEC for their first multi-authored report on the role of private military security companies (PMCs) in the maritime domain, available free for download here. Of particular interest to Strategist readers is the first chapter by Scott Cheney-Peters on PMCs in South and Southeast Asia.

Also on Southeast Asia, the jailing of former opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on sodomy charges isn’t just bad news for Malaysia’s democratic street cred, write Murray Hiebert and Nigel Cory, but it’s a challenge to the US’ project nurturing closer ties with Kuala Lumpur. Keep reading on the cogitASIA blog here.

Military wonks, RAND has a new report ‘China’s Incomplete Military Transformation’ (PDF) which assesses, among other things, the PLA’s weaknesses, the trajectory of modernisation from the mid-90s to 2025, and China’s defence industry. For a quick wrap of the report’s main findings, read this Breaking Defense post here.

Australia’s agreement to sell uranium to India is back in the news. Carnegie Endowment’s Mark Hibbs has a cautionary note about India’s attempts to weaken information-sharing provisions; he writes:

[Australian] Parliamentarians should consider that what Australia requires in its arrangement with India may have signal impact this May when the NPT’s 189 parties review the treaty. They might also consider that the international reputation of Australia’s uranium industry has increasingly depended upon transparent implementation of national policies, including on nonproliferation.

George Lekakis highlights the submissions of nuclear experts John Carlson and Ronald Walker to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, both of whom have said ‘nay’ to the current terms of the Australia–India deal.

For the IR nerds, Dan Trombly has a thoughtful response to John Mearsheimer’s suggestion that we ought to leave Ukraine as a buffer state.

Lastly, Fatboy Kim or tyrannical Fred Flintstone, will the real Kim Jong-un please stand up? If you wanted to know more about the ‘world’s most enigmatic and unpredictable dictator’ read Vanity Fair’s feature by Mark Bowden on the boy-king’s upbringing in Switzerland and his penchant for b-ball.


DARPA is lending a hand to prosthetics research with the DEKA Arm System (aka ‘Luke’ after Luke Skywalker) which was first developed to benefit wounded veterans. Watch as the system allows users to scale a rock wall or grip slippery objects like plastic water bottles (YouTube).


The latest episode of cogitASIA’s podcast features Bonnie Glaser on US–China military relations and crisis management mechanisms, and Zachary Abuza on a botched Philippines police raid in Mindanao and the MILF peace process (28mins).

Meanwhile, turning to Africa, the team at Loopcast have a new podcast on Nigeria and Boko Haram with guest Hilary Matfess (41mins).


Melbourne: The Women in Emergency Services, Enforcement and Defence Leadership Summit 2015 features a range of key speakers on strategies and skills for career progression to improving workplace cultures to encourage and sustain women’s leadership. The event is on 27 and 28 April at the Marriott Hotel. Flyer and registration details here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Kim.Jong.Tour.

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President Obama aboard Air Force One, 2015.‘If al Qaeda were a corporation today, it would be roughly equivalent to Microsoft: A big name but an aging brand, one now strikingly out of touch with the 18–35-year-old demographic.’ Over at Foreign Affairs, Clint Watts looks at how aQ is no longer king of the hill.

This week’s strategy pick is Chester A. Crocker’s essay ‘The strategic dilemma of a world adrift’ which seeks ‘to better understand today’s disorderly mixture of turbulence and drift in relationships among the leading powers and key regional states, and to reflect on its implications for statecraft.’ Read more

Turning now to Ukraine, Carnegie Endowment’s Eugeme Rumer and Thomas Graham warn that, if the US arms the country (as it’s currently considering) it risks another Black Hawk Down. Meanwhile, Ukraine is looking for a few good women: policymakers are considering calling up female citizens aged between 20 and 50 to fight pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk. According to a spokesperson for the Ukrainian armed forces, at the end of 2014, around 100 women were recruited for army services as an emergency provision.

Winter is coming, write IISS’ Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro on the looming Cold War and its consequences. The piece begins ominously with the line, ‘The Ukraine crisis poses vexing policy challenges for Washington.’

What educates a president about war? In answer to this question, The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe delicately interlaces snippets of President Obama’s visit to a mortuary affairs unit in Afghanistan with an assessment of his decisions to commit troops. It’s an evocative read on the balancing act between private emotion and policy imperative facing each leader (h/t Dan Smock). Building on Jaffe’s observations, Peter Feaver over at Foreign Policy discusses casualty-sensitivity and casualty-phobia to draw his conclusions about Obama’s character and decisionmaking.

Myanmar watchers, NBR interviewed Gum San NSang, the president of the Kachin Alliance, representing the interests of the Kachin ethnic nationality. The interview covers what he believes the Tatmadaw should do to help; the role for external actors like ASEAN, the US and China; and the potential impact of the upcoming 2015 elections. Meanwhile, CSIS’ Phuong Nguyan writes that the Tatmadaw remains a wild card as Myanmar’s elections loom.

Military capability: the gift that keeps on giving. Defence Minister Kevin Andrews announced last week that Australia would be donating two recently-decommissioned Landing Craft Heavy ships, HMAS Tarakan and Brunei, to the Philippines. IHS Jane’s 360 has more on the significance of the donation for the Philippines navy, while Armando J. Heredia over at USNI analyses this boost in the context of a broader Filipino defence build-up, especially in surveillance capabilities.

One for the metadata peeps: the transcripts from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security public hearings on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014, available here and here.

For the history buffs, the latest edition of the Sea Power Centre Australia’s newsletter Semaphore looks at the RAN’s role in connection with the ANZAC centenary and in other significant events, including the role of the submarine AE2 at Gallipoli.

Coral Bell’s life and legacy were celebrated this week with the opening of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the ANU. If you want to read more about her thoughts on the international system, download the book Power and International Relations: essays in honour of Coral Bell free from ANU Press here.

Lastly, for that special defence person in your life, consider gifting this t-shirt of a highly-stylised King Abdullah II of Jordan, who also once starred in an episode of Star Trek.

Late addition: CSIS has a new report on the impact of President Obama’s FY 2016 budget on the Department of Defense, which includes a chapter on the geopolitical risks of budget shortfalls and an outlook for US ground forces.


The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi sat down with Carnegie Endowment’s Dr Milan Vaishnav to talk about all-the-things you need to know about Obama’s trip to India, including defence agreements, climate change and security issues (10mins).


Steve Coll, the author of Ghost Wars and New Yorker staff writer, joined his colleagues John Cassidy and Dorothy Wickenden to talk about trends in terrorism and the use of secret warrants for surveillance under the Patriot Act (17mins).

As part of the only (and apparently leading) podcast series on disarmament and non-proliferation, Aaron Stein and Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk discuss when open sources goes wrong, delving into a North Korean paper that blew a Chinese missile training exercise out of proportion and a false report of an Iranian ICBM (31mins).


Canberra: author of Cyber Policy in China, Professor Greg Austin of the EastWest Institute (New York) will present on China’s diplomacy for the information age, hosted by AIIA ACT on Thursday 26 February at 6pm in Deakin. More info and registration here. (As a primer for the event, here’s a podcast of an expert panel discussion with Austin about China’s cyber policy at the Brookings Institution in December.)

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House

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Travels of badger - Berlin Holocaust MemorialThis week’s reading picks include US grand strategy, India’s Machiavelli, oversight in Afghanistan and China’s two silk roads, also Jokowi’s CNN interview, new podcasts and more.

If America is to assure its future security and prosperity, we need a new grand strategy that harnesses its peoples’ spirit, sense of optimism, and perseverance…

Those words belong to William C. Martel, associate professor in International Security Studies at The Fletcher School, who passed away on 12 January. The National Interest has published the final chapter of his bookGrand Strategy in Theory and Practice: The Need For an Effective American Foreign Policy, on the fundamental attributes of grand strategy and the role of alliances. It’s a long but useful read for students and practitioners of strategy. Read more

Is the Islamic State expanding into Libya and the Sinai? Aaron Zelin of looks at the Islamic State’s model in a new Washington Post article.

‘In light of the stunning failure that the collapse of the Iraqi forces represents, the last thing that the government ought to be doing is classifying the inputs and outputs regarding Afghan military training and assistance.’ That’s from Adam Elkus on the US’ decision to classify data usually presented to office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for reporting and oversight purposes.

In a new ISEAS report (PDF), David Arase examines the implications for Southeast Asia of Xi Jinping’s policies to restructure Eurasian economics with the development of two silk roads: Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

President Obama’s visit to India bore fruit in a number of areas of cooperation including on aircraft carrier technology. See here for USNI’s reporting on the agreement. For greater depth on US–India relations, Carnegie Endowment’s Ashley J. Tellis has a new report called Unity in Difference.

Also on India, Akhilesh Pillalamarri looks at the country’s answer to Machiavelli, the ancient minister Chanakya whose work Arthashastra on power and the international system was described by Henry Kissinger as containing a realist vision long before The Prince ever came into print. And if you’ve got a spare weekend (or two), you can find a translated version of all fifteen books online here.

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Altantic’s Cari Romm looks at why the results of an infamous psychology study, which have been often used to explain the Holocaust and other atrocities, are now disputed by psychologists. In the 1960s Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram proved, the use of a machine that delivered electric shocks, that ordinary people would obey orders from authority figures, even if they knew the shocks administered could kill the victim.

In his latest East Asia Forum post, Peter Drysdale asks, ‘If Abe wasn’t exactly wowing the Japanese electorate with confidence in his ability to deliver his agenda last time round, has anything changed now the election is done and dusted?’ Drysdale says there are good and bad signs. On the other hand, writing for the National Bureau of Asian Research, Tom Cutler has a new essay on how US energy exports to Japan under the terms of the TPP could potentially strengthen the trade relations.

ASPI’s Lisa Sharland has a new report ‘Building capacity for peace operations in response to diversified threats’ here. The report summarises discussions on the relationship between peacekeeping operations, terrorism and transnational organised crime, which took place during the Challenges Annual Forum 2014 in Beijing, last October.

This week’s photography pick is a series of striking images, taken in 1960 by then 22-year-old paratrooper James Speed Hensinger, that captures the unfolding of an assault by US troops on a Viet Cong sniper’s position near Da Nang.


It’s been a 100 days since Joko Widodo stepped into his new role as Indonesia’s president. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour spends a day hanging out with Jokowi, grilling him about his crackdown on corruption, his controversial police chief nomination and his view on illegal fishing.

The Women in Defence & Security (WDSN) team have produced a video of their last event in which Professor Gillian Triggs and Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer discuss their experiences in promoting human rights and international law, and how women can get ahead.


Last week I recorded a CIMSEC Sea Control podcast with ISEAS’s Malcolm Cook and ASPI’s Ben Schreer on the implications of Japan’s defence budget increases on capability, tensions with China, and relations with the US, Australia and Southeast Asia (32mins).

War on the Rocks’ Ryan Evans sat down with CSIS’ Mira-Rapp Hooper, the Hudson Institute’s Bryan McGrath, CNA’s RADM Mike McDevitt (ret), and CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters to discuss Asian maritime security, territorial disputes and a rising China (53mins).


Canberra: the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU, is hosting a war studies seminar by Dr Albert Palazzo on resource scarcity, climate change and the future character of war, Tuesday 10 February at 6pm. More details here.

Sydney: The Lowy Institute is hosting a talk by President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, on security and tectonic shifts in Asian geopolitics on Friday 20 February at 12.30pm. For more details, see here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user enigmabadger.

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Breaking BadIt’s a long weekend with Aussies preparing to celebrate their national day, Australia Day, on Monday 26 January, so here’s our pick of articles, podcasts and events for your defence fix.

No doubt many readers have seen or plan to see the movie American Sniper that looks at the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Alex Horton looks at why the the Clint Eastwood film might be distorting civilians’ understanding of combat duty. As a supplement, he recommends the book Redeployment by Phil Klay and writing workshops like Words After War which brings civilians and vets together to dispel misconceptions of ‘heroism’. Also worth reading is Alex’s older piece on what the TV show Breaking Bad teaches us about ‘moral injury’ which he explains is a state of mind often experienced by veterans where one’s internalised moral code is turned on its head.

With the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz on Friday, his half brother, the 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman, has now taken over the country’s leadership. But this still leaves questions open as to whether the next generation of princes will take over. The WaPo looks at the challenges of succession including a useful graphic showing the reigns of the Saudi monarchs, while Michael Herb writing for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre wrote back in August about succession and Saudi Arabia’s stability. Read more

Let’s turn now to Sri Lanka: while we don’t often focus on that Indo-Pacific state, Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Grare writes the country’s upcoming presidential election has important implications not only for domestic policy, but foreign relations with China and India. He advocates for Western countries to strike while the iron is hot to ensure Sri Lanka’s commitment to combating corruption and fostering postwar reconciliation are kept on track.

Sticking with the region, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict has a new report out on support for Islamic State in Indonesian prisons. It’s an important issue given the high number of inmates convicted of terrorism offences in Indonesia, including the prominent figures from groups like JAT, and the risks of radicalisation while incarcerated.

To this day, Winston Churchill remains a controversial figure. For the history and strategy wonks, BBC Magazine has rounded up the ten greatest debates surrounding his legacy.

While the Cold War ended decades ago, this week marked the end of another era: Russia formally ended its cooperation with the US on reducing its nuclear stockpiles. While it was expected (Russia gave a heads up back in November), American officials still described the development as ‘dismaying’. Both sides will continue cooperation on securing industrial sources of nuclear material (to prevent ‘dirty bombs’) and inspections on each other’s active nuclear arsenals as part of arms control treaties. For more on this issue, two nuclear scientists from Stanford University have an op-ed on why the US shouldn’t end nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Also related to the Cold War, Andrew Metrick looks at one of its legacies: the decline of stealth. Metrick writes, ‘the threats to stealth technology are shifting, as well—at a rate that is exceeding the pace of stealth technology development’ but keep reading here to find out why stealth isn’t dead.

How does history influence Chinese thought and behaviour today? Michael D. Swaine has a piece reposted on The Diplomat that provides nuance to how schools of thought in China respond to ideas of international order and hegemony.

Ebola no longer dominates global headlines but its continues to ravage parts of Africa with 21 689 reported cases and 8 641 deaths (as of 18 January). What Africa really needs to fight Ebola and other emerging diseases isn’t just reactive emergency health teams and plastic suits, but sustained anti-corruption efforts that begin well before the onset of a disease, writes Princeton’s Laura Kahn. Keep reading here for her policy recommendations. Another sobering (non-security) fact about Ebola: it has wiped out one third of the great apes since the 1990s, with a mortality rate among gorillas of 95% and 77% for chimpanzees, compared to just 50% for humans.

Turning to capability matters, US defence acquisition is in desperate need of reform, writes Alex Ward over on War on the Rocks. Ward looks at why, despite the dream team of Ash Carter, Robert Work, Frank Kendall, John McCain, and Mac Thornberry, world events and the final term agendas of key figures like McCain will throw obstacles in their way.

Each year the University of Pennsylvania ranks the world’s think tanks in a variety of fields as part of the Global Go To Think Tank Index. This year, we’re pleased to announce ASPI ranked has been ranked 16th in Top Defense and National Security Think Tanks in the world and 27th in Top Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks. Other honourable mentions include for Mark Thomson’s The Cost of Defence and for social media. To see how the world’s wonks went, including strong performances from other Aussie outfits like the Lowy Institute, the Strategic Defence Studies Centre and the Australian Institute of International Affairs, check out the full report here.


The team at Loopcast interview Mia Bloom, author of Bombshell: women and terrorism, on the role of women and children in the Islamic State (44mins).


Canberra: ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre are hosting a special book launch and workshop Power and International Relations: essays in honour of Coral Bell, edited by Des Ball and Sheryn Lee. The launch is Tuesday 3 February at 12.15pm, with the workshop commencing at 1pm, followed by a cocktail reception at the Hedley Bull Building. Details and registration here.

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese, will be discussing Australia’s foreign policy challenges, hosted by the AIIA ACT at its Deakin offices on Wednesday 4 February at 6pm. Registration here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user jaroh. 

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Edge of TomorrowWelcome back for the second 2015 round-up of new reports and recommended links.

Not to be outdone by the Army, the US Navy is now looking at Iron Man suits aka military exoskeletons (like the ones featured in the 2014 movie Edge of Tomorrow). To read more on the issue, check out a new CNAS report, ‘Between Iron Man and Aqua Man’, by Andrew Herr and Scott Cheney-Peters that gives a brief history of the exoskeleton before delving into its potential for maritime uses including HADR and amphibious ops scenarios.

While the Paris attacks dominated headlines last week, Boko Haram launched an attack on towns in Nigeria’s northeast in early January and was reported to have carried out ‘indiscriminate killing’. While the government and humanitarian organisations dispute death toll figures (which range from 150 to 2,000), Amnesty International has resorted to ‘before and after’ satellite images to show clearly the extent damage inflicted on the towns. Read more

Our colleagues at NBR have produced ’15 for 2015: forecasts for the Asia-Pacific’—15 essays that highlight things to watch in the year ahead, including what the Ukraine crisis means for Asia, Xi Jinping’s new foreign policy, changes to the global energy landscape, and cyber insecurity. See here for the full list of essays, all of which can be read online or downloaded for free.

Another forecast read is Vijay Sakhuja’s new CIMSEC piece that looks at maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean for 2015, which kicks off with analysis on the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s change of chair from Australia to Indonesia.

Sticking with the Asia Pacific, two pieces on defence budgets: the first is on Japan’s newly announced budget increase to US$42bn, with funds going towards new amphibious vehicles, surveillance aircraft and F-35 fighters. For more, see this VOA article for analysis on what this means for relations with China and coverage in The Diplomat and at the CATO Institute blog. The second from CogistAsia looks at the shift in Malaysia’s national security focus in the 2015 defence budget towards its eastern flank of Sabah which shares a porous maritime border with the Philippines.

Russia plans to build 10 more Arctic airfields in addition to the existing four by this year’s end, according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. This follows news in December that Russia’s new military command centre in the Arctic had become operational, which is part of an overall trend to exploit the new trade routes and potential oil reserves that melting ice have provided. For greater detail on Russia’s Arctic strategy, read this SIPRI report from September 2014 (PDF).

Turning to domestic capability, blogger Gregor Ferguson over at Rumour Control has a post on Australia’s defence industry which distills insights from his research on the projects that developed the Vickers Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane aircrafts into 12 lessons. One of those is ‘A group of people in overalls and a factory building with some machinery inside it do not an industry capability make unless and until they embody the technical, design and management skills and equipment necessary to design, develop and manufacture the product (or service) the market requires.’ Keep reading here.

On veterans’ issues, a magnetic resonance therapy (MRT) technique which ‘zaps’ the brains of veterans with PTSD appears to be working. Although unproven in the case of PTSD, the procedure has also been used for those with Alzheimer’s, anxiety, addiction and tinnitus, and works by ‘realign[ing] and synchroniz[ing] the firing of neurons in each patient’s brain depending on the condition’. For more on the story, keep reading here.

Two photoessays from around the world this week. In the first, BBC Indonesia shows powerful images of students in Peshawar returning to school after December’s shooting in which 133 students were killed. The second from We Are The Mighty showcases what it’s like to live on a US Navy nuclear submarine. Check out how submarines cook up a few snags on the barbie!


Monash University’s Andrew Zammit spoke to Lowy’s Sam Roggeveen this week on ISIS and al Qaeda involvement in the attacks in Paris last week, in which Zammit provides a bit of background on networks operating in Western countries and the nature of extremist violence (7mins).

CSIS’ blog CogitAsia has launched a new podcast series: in episode one, host Colm Quinn discusses key news stories in Asia including the impact of the AirAsia crash and MH370’s disappearance on Southeast Asia’s air travel infrastructure, and the US rebalance (31mins).


Canberra: Don’t forget, the results of the Global Go To Think Tank Index compiled annually by the University of Pennsylvania will be released on Friday 23 January at the AIIA’s national offices in Canberra. The event is co-hosted by AIIA, ASPI and the ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. For more info and registration, see here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Chris.

ASPI suggests

Show of solidarity in Madrid against the Charlie Hedbo shootingWelcome back for 2015! Of the news items and commentary surrounding this week’s Charlie Hebdo shooting, consider reading these thoughts by The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch on which is mightier: the pen or the gun.

Turning to Asia Pacific matters, CSIS has a new report ‘Pivot 2.0’ or, as I like to put it, ‘how the Administration and Congress learned to work together and love the rebalance’ in which a number of leading experts share their recommendations for bipartisan action on trade, China, defence and resourcing (for the Mark Thomson fans), Korea, India, and Southeast Asia.

If that isn’t enough pivot talk, Murray Hiebert and Gregory Poling also have a snappy summary here of how the Obama administration can ‘advance the rebalance’ in each ASEAN state. Read more

‘It’s difficult to say ISIS is winning by any objective measure’. That’s a quote from a new piece by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on how ISIS has ‘convinced us of its growing power while actually treading water’. For more on the jihad hype and whether ISIS can maintain its ‘slick, shocking PR’, keeping reading here.

The makers of ‘The Interview’ got a lot right about North Korea, writes DPRK-watcher Barbara Demick. And while the low-brow comedy has generally received tepid reviews, drawing on her extensive interviews with North Korean defectors (compiled into this book) Demick defends the accuracies of how the hermit kingdom is portrayed. Keep reading for Demick’s explanation of the psychology of North Korea.

The Australia–Japan strategic relationship is the subject of a newish piece by Malcolm Cook and Thomas S. Wilkins for The Tokyo Foundation, worth reading for its comprehensive look at both factors warming the relationship as well as areas for future cooperation.

If you’re following the Russian bear, Dmitri Trenin reviews Russia’s new military doctrine, signed by President Vladimir Putin in late December last year, and its implications. Add to that Trenin’s Global Times op-ed on why Russia’s got tougher economic times ahead.

Will China change its South China Sea approach in 2015? The Diplomat’s Prashanth Parameswaran looks at recent developments in the region to describe what he calls China’s strategy of ‘incremental assertiveness’. For more on that formula as well as the outlook for 2015 and beyond, keep reading here.

In Southeast Asian news, Indonesia plans to set up a national cyber agency. And good thing too, given the country was reported to be the world’s largest source of cyber crime attacks (38%) during the second quarter of 2013. In light of growing internet use in the country, current efforts to combat cyber attackers were deemed insufficient, according to the country’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno.

Finally, in central France sits the bedroom of Hubert Rochereau, a 22-year-old soldier who died in Belgium during World War I. His parents preserved his bedroom as he left it, with the wish that it remain so for 500 years, even in the event the house is sold. For a glimpse into Hubert’s world, see here.


Canberra: Which think tanks are at the top of their game? Find out when the results of the Global Go To Think Tank Index compiled annually by the University of Pennsylvania are released on Friday 23 January at the AIIA’s national offices in Canberra. For more info and registration, see here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Adolfo Lujan/DISO Press.

ASPI suggests: Christmas edition

Military Working Dogs

We’re kicking off the last round-up for 2014 with peek into the new year: our colleagues at CSIS have predicted five events that will shape Southeast Asia in 2015 including a ruling on the Philippines’ South China Sea case and the state of Thailand’s democracy (for more on Thailand, the International Crisis Group have a newish report on the country’s prospects of stability). While not an event per se, I’d add to that list social and political changes in Indonesia under President Jokowi as he pushes ahead with reforms such as reducing fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, is Indonesia turning away from ASEAN under Jokowi? Over at The Diplomat, Prasanth Parameswaran suggests, from statements made by Jokowi and his advisors, that Indonesia’s foreign policy will adopt a more bilateral than multilateral stance.

Winter is coming, warns the International Crisis Group in a report released just yesterday on the state of eastern Ukraine. The report evaluates the effect of winter on Ukraine’s separatists and their need for further Russian aid as well as discuss the conditions under which hostilities involving the Russian military could return. Read more

Sticking with the northern hemisphere, if you need a snapshot of British defence policy, here’s a speech by the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, delivered this week to RUSI that outlines the legacies of Iraq and Afghanistan, capability priority areas and how Britain sees the future.

In submarine news, last week Brazil’s president inaugurated a naval shipyard that will construct a nuclear-powered submarine. While keen to join the ‘nuclear subs club’, here’s a Defense Industry Daily overview that explains the vessels Brazil intends to construct, the deal with the French that started it all and a timeline of events. Meanwhile, India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine is ready to make its maiden voyage.

If you’re interested in broader international security, Thomas de Waal has a new piece that explores the politics of the word ‘genocide’. Looking at the Ottoman Empires actions towards Armenians, de Waal explains the history of the word and the angst it has caused US–Turkish–Armenian relations.

Speaking of US relations, Adam Tiffen over at Defense One looks at what the new Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, has in store for the Asia rebalance.

This week’s pick on future trends concerns the costs of antibiotic resistance. A new study by the RAND Corporation calculates the global economic costs of antimicrobial resistance out to 2050, and while there are no surprises in their findings—that is, lower population estimates, smaller global economy and so on—it’s worth thinking about the impact of this trend given the existence of strains of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis in the region.

For the humour pick of the week, the US Army has welcomed its first openly transgendered military working dogs. Paws Across the Rainbow, the US’ leading advocacy group for LGBT animals, called it a ‘landmark achievement for all military working animals, no matter what their sexuality.’

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user The US Army.

ASPI suggests

Guantanamo Jumpsuit Detainees

This week’s top story has been the detailed report dissecting the CIA’s justification of its ‘enhanced interrogation’ program. For a quick rundown, see this New York Times piece summarising the report’s findings on the major cases like the bin Laden raid where the CIA claimed torture provided actionable intelligence. (For an even snappier summary, see ‘7 key points from the CIA torture report’.)

For information on the CIA’s practices, Mother Jones rounds up some of the report findings on threats against detainees’ children, detention conditions and torture techniques.

Interrogations saved lives, write ex-CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden as well as their former deputies in the Wall Street Journal. Challenging the report’s findings, the authors admit the program was imperfect but justify its value in terms of the information received. Keep reading their case here. Meanwhile, in a throwback to 2011, Glenn Greenwald and David Frum debate on torture and prosecution during the Bush administration. Read more

The end of 2014 is fast approaching. Test yourself on the facts of this year’s major world event with this Carnegie Endowment quiz. For some analysis on what to expect in global security in 2015, see this piece by Carnegie experts on areas like the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, China, Ukraine, the global economy and more.

Turning now to Indonesia, TNI’s chief General Moeldoko and US Army Pacific’s General Vincent Brooks team up for a Military Times piece on furthering military bonds in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile here’s some analysis on Eurasia Review by Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge on the ongoing power struggle between the Indonesian military and police (see here for the latest flare-up), which includes some policy recommendations for President Jokowi. Meanwhile, the government tried to quell the latest police–military tensions by throwing a pop concert for soldiers and police officers in Riau province.

Subnational governments are some of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s new instruments for his country’s diplomacy. Once monopolised by the national government, states are being encouraged to build closer ties with sister states. Read more about India’s burgeoning diplomacy and its economic dividends here.

It’s really not the best week for the US and torture revelations. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, herself a former guerrilla fighter and victim of torture, wept as she read the findings of a Truth Commission investigation into systematic murder, torture and abuse, during the country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. One hundred and ninety-one people were killed and 243 others ‘disappeared’. According to The Guardian’s coverage, the US and UK ‘were found to have trained Brazilian interrogators in torture techniques.’

On capability, the US Navy has tested a new ship-based laser weapon system aboard the USS Ponce this week. The laser is expected to be used against threats like UAVs, slow-moving helicopters and fast patrol craft. For more on the laser’s development, USNI’s Sam LaGrone has a backgrounder here. Watch the video of the test here.

On Wednesday 17 December the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will hold the first of its public hearings for the Inquiry into the Telecommunications (Interception and Access Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014. Representatives from the Attorney-General’s Department, ASIO, AFP and the Crime Commission will appear before the committee at 9.10am. Further details here.

Got some extra reading time these holidays? Check out this list of the best texts to read for the strategy enthusiast, recommended by strategists and practitioners and compiled by David Andrews.


In this Smart Women, Smart Power podcast, Bonnie Glaser discusses President Xi Jinping’s vision for Asia Pacific security, the meaning of ‘that handshake’ between Xi and Shinzo Abe, her impressions of the PLA behaviour and its leadership, the Hong Kong protests and how she became interested in studying China (33mins).


VICE News interviews a former Air Force psychologist, James Mitchell, alleged to be the ‘architect’ of the CIA’s interrogation program. Although reluctant to answer some questions like whether he personally waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohamad, he discusses why he believed ‘enhanced interrogation’ would work (25mins).

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user

ASPI suggests

Henry Kissinger‘The warrior ethos is at risk!’ Headlining today’s round-up is a speech by the US Army’s Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster at a Veterans Day ceremony. Specifically, it’s worth reading the second half, which discusses the importance of the warrior ethos while ‘remaining connected to those in whose name we fight’.

Need the facts and figures behind the Asia Pacific’s most pressing maritime security issues? Check out the 18 maps assembled by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (an initiative conceived and designed by CSIS) that show major trade routes and straits, South China Sea LNG flows, the location of oil and gas reserves, membership of security forums and EEZs. The maps are accompanied by analysis and a searchable timeline spanning 175 years of Asia Pacific maritime affairs.

Also on regional order, Farish Ahmad-Noor has a new RSIS Commentary on how China sees itself and its role in Asia. Looking at Xi Jinping’s speeches, Ahmad-Noor’s piece is a useful insight into what the Communist Party of China thinks about Asia (spoiler alert: better without the West). Read more

Meanwhile, Paul Dibb and John Lee have a new Security Challenges article (PDF) on why China will not be the dominant power in Asia.

Turning now to Japan, CSIS has a quick primer on Shinzo Abe’s decisions to postpone a tax hike and hold a snap election in December this year, with analysis on the implications for Abenomics and relations with the US. Meanwhile, the Stimson Center’s Yuki Tatsumi asks, can Japan’s National Security Strategy outlive Abe?

Obama has a lot to learn from Kissinger’s book on foreign policy, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter. In an interesting but longer read, Slaughter identifies elements in Henry Kissinger’s conceptualisation of international order, including his interpretation of American exceptionalism and position on military intervention, that are instructive to the current administration.

Looking further beyond the Asia Pacific, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart Patrick offers four ways the African Union can stand on its own to better deliver peace and security. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting interview with Northwestern University’s Richard Joseph on why defeating Boko Haram is a global imperative.

In this week’s science and technology pick, DARPA is looking at synthetic biology in the fight against Ebola. As the name suggests, synthetic biology involves redesigning living organisms to carry out specific functions by creating new DNA (which kind of makes me think of this).

On capability, the Russian army will introduce a new family of armoured combat vehicles next year. Over at The National Interest, Dave Majumdar looks at the implications of the replacement vehicles, including the potential for Russia to operate them in the Arctic Circle.

Last but not least, there has been (more) debate overseas about women in combat. In Britain, a former Army officer has said women lack a ‘killer instinct’ (a position the two Strategist female editors would happily challenge). While in the States, War On the Rocks has published Anna Simons’, professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, post against moves to place women in combat units, drawing a pointed critique from blogger Gary Owen.


Listen to this CSIS Smart Women Smart Power podcast on the re-election of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff for the analysis on the country’s economic prospects but also for the impact Rousseff’s background as a Marxist guerrilla fighter has had on her political style.


Canberra: It’s back! Kokoda Next is on again next Friday 28 November, featuring seven future strategic leaders on national security. The event is at the Palace Electric Cinema, New Acton from 4.30pm. Tickets available here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user david son.

ASPI suggests

PredatorCSIS has just released its 2015 Global Forecast which examines the crises and opportunities likely to arise in the year ahead. But you’ll have to flick past chapters on Putin’s new Russia and US influence in the Middle East before you get to the section on Asia, which begins with an essay on Asian perceptions of the rebalance (PDF).

What would you do with a cool US$180 million? To put the price of the next generation aircraft in perspective, Defense One editor Patrick Tucker uses cost estimates generated by NASA’s chief scientist to find five things you can buy for the price of an F-35. Focusing on trade-offs in national security, Tucker’s list includes boosting literacy (and he explains why this is military-related) and building a robotic air force.

It’s been a year since the International Court of Justice revised its decision on who—Thailand or Cambodia—owned the disputed Preah Vihear temple but, as Greg Raymond notes, not a lot has happened on implementing the revised judgement. For more on the challenges in intra-ASEAN border issues, keep reading his explanation for the lag here. Also on Cambodia, with the ASEAN Economic Community set to be established in 2015 (but likely to be delayed), read Heng Pheakdey’s piece on how to unlock the country’s economic growth. Read more

Cash doesn’t rule everything around China, writes Joseph Nye. While the World Bank has announced China’s economy will surpass the US’ (in PPP terms) this year, Nye argues differences in structure and sophistication between the economies, not to mention an ageing work force, mean China won’t challenge US economic power for some time.

Next are two items from the Center for a New American Security: the first by Ely Ratner asks, can China make peace in the South China Sea? It’s part of a larger collection of essays penned by American and Chinese foreign policy experts that explores the different visions that the US and China have for Asia-Pacific security order.

The second is a brief piece by Michael Horowitz, Paul Scharre and Kelley Sayler on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and the United Nations. LAWS can select and engage targets without further human intervention, and while they don’t exist today, read why the authors argue it’s better to discuss the legal, policy, moral and ethical issues associated with them sooner rather than later.

Also on technology, the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has beamed back images of what comets look like, but what do they sound like? Like Predator, apparently. Although sound doesn’t travel in space, what you’ll hear are variations in the magnetic field around the comet converted into frequencies within the human hearing range. Keep reading here about what the scientists think are making the alien clicks and growls.

Wilfred Owen’s poetry, the New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary and the novel Trainspotting are among the books banned from detainees at Guantánamo Bay. VICE has published the thoughts of 14 writers, some of whom made the Gitmo blacklist, on why the Pentagon has beef with some of their books.

Lastly, if you need a quick primer on what ‘net neutrality’ means, look no further than this comic by The Oatmeal that breaks down the issue in simple yet colourful language.


Check out Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Rafaello Pantucci discussing China’s foreign policy in Afghanistan, hosted by Loopcast (42mins).


Canberra: How hierarchic was the historical East Asian system? Dr Feng Zhang looks back to ‘early modern’ East Asia (1368–1800) and China’s ties with Korea, Japan and the Mongols to answer this question. Head to ANU’s Hedley Bull Centre on Monday 17 November at 12.30pm, details here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user [White bear].