Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

ASPI suggests

We’re kicking off a bleak news day with some new reports, interesting reads, and videos from the defence and security world.

Who’s your greatest ally/threat? While you’d expect most respondents in Asian states to say the US is an ally and China is a threat, those in Indonesia said the US was both! Check out the newly-released results of a Pew Research Center poll on global public opinion on the US, China and the international balance of power. Unsurprisingly, territorial disputes with China were also high on the agenda, with the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan overwhelmingly concerned that disputes could lead to military conflict. For those stats and more, keep reading here.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict looks at Timor-Leste after Xanana Gusmão, a dominant figure in post-independence political life. With a highly personalised system of governance, the report notes it’ll be harder for the country’s weak institutions to develop, and the professionalisation of the security forces remains a work in progress. Nevertheless, Gusmão’s departure should expand opportunities for other members of the political elite and reduce political issues rooted in past feuds and rivalries. And that’s potentially good news for Australia’s neighbourhood. Read the full report here. Read more

Sticking with our north, Indonesia’s election is still without an official winner, though the good money’s still on Jokowi. If you’re unsure what the fuss about Prabowo is, watch this uncomfortable 10-minute BBC interview in which he repeats without flinching that he’s won. Props to BBC’s Babita Sharma for keeping her cool during his dummy spit on polls and dismissal of Jokowi’s clean and humble image as ‘just an act’.

So, why are some Indonesians voting for Prabowo? Some say they want a ‘strongman’, but writing on New Mandala, Roanne Van Voorst adds that, in other cases, it’s vote-buying but, particularly for poor Jakartans, a fear of losing their ‘Mr Fix-it’ governor, Jokowi.

What is ‘performance terrorism’? In The New Yorker this week, Jon Lee Anderson contemplates how the ubiquity of social media has allowed terrorists like IS to flaunt violence like executions and decapitations. Anderson says this kind of performance has led to the news becoming ‘a bulletin of cruelties too awful to contemplate’ and risks egging on copycat groups. Read his argument in full here.

In national security news, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh argues that reforms introduced into Australia’s Senate this week would grant ASIO enhanced powers to access data. She points out that the adjusted definition of ‘computer’ now means ‘all computers on a system or network’. She writes:

Warrants are the primary safeguard by which ASIO’s considerable and invasive powers are kept in check. The expansion of single-computer warrants to computer-network warrants arguably avoids this check in an important way.

For more on those reforms and their implications, keep reading here.

Forget guided missiles, DARPA’s Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordance (EXACTO) program has now developed a .50 caliber bullet that can change direction mid-flight. The bullet finds its target by riding a laser beam aimed by the sniper team at the target and manoeuvers using vanes and an onboard optical receiver. Watch the video here.

For this week’s podcast, listen to terrorism researcher J.M. Berger on the newly-declared Islamic State. He explains what a caliphate is, the significance of timing of the IS announcement, the growing cult of personality around Al-Baghdadi, and ‘jihadi catnip’ (duration 53mins).

On a lighter note, despite an awesome debut, the CIA has been copping flak recently for trying to be funny on Twitter:

The iconic African American rapper, Tupac Shakur died in 1996 after he was shot in Las Vegas, although conspiracy theories that he’s alive and well continue to thrive. On the CIA’s attempted humour, Business Insider’s Armin Rosen writes this highlights a broader problem:

And that’s exactly the kind of tone-deafness and deficient messaging — and the same cavalier attitude towards the American public it’s charged with protecting — that have hamstrung the U.S. intelligence community in the decade after the September 11th terrorist attacks, and especially after the Snowden leaks.

Meanwhile, HBO Connect’s Last Week Tonight decided to give the intelligence agency a hand with some suggestions, including:

And the Twitterverse weighed in with #betterCIAtweets:

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

ASPI suggests

This week’s big story was, of course, Indonesia’s presidential election on 9 July. For an excellent wrap of the day’s events as seen via social media, check out this AIYA post. So far from the quick count, it looks like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo has emerged the winner, but former Kopassus commander Prabowo Subianto has refused to concede defeat. The confusion has resulted partly from some polls that show the former general ahead, despite the majority of well-respected polling outlets giving the nod to Jokowi by a margin of 4–5%. The Electoral Commission (KPU) will hand down its ruling on 22 July, but the matter could still go to the constitutional courts.

If Jokowi secures the presidency, what can we expect from his foreign policy? Here’s a useful overview by Colin Brown in which he suggests that Jokowi’s ‘strong position on maritime matters generally in the region would sound warning bells [with China]’. On ABC’s special program The World: Indonesia Votes (watch it in full here or by topic here), I noted that Australia would be important to Indonesia, but ASEAN would always come first. Read more

Looking for some analysis on Japanese PM Abe’s visit to Australia this week? Over at East Asia Forum, Jim Rolfe explains that the warmth in the Japan–Australia relationship isn’t just about the regional security situation, rather ‘it is hard not to think that the energy behind recent defence and economic closeness derives more from political considerations than from substantive economic and security benefits’. Writing in The Age, Hugh White wonders whether PM Abbott has carefully considered whether Australia is more secure being tied more closely to Japan as the latter’s relationship with China worsens. If we aren’t going along with Japan to defend the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands from China, should our leader talk and act as if we would?

Turning to US–China relations, even New Zealand is trying to work out how to balance its relations with each of the Asia Pacific powers. Interviewed by Radio NZ’s Insight, Rob Ayson said Wellington needed to develop an Asia policy that was seen as ‘autonomous’ of its partners, while David Denoon said, New Zealand could play a role as a ‘useful interlocutor’. (Podcast available here.)

Laying down smoke to confound enemy gun laying is a time-honoured defensive technique for surface combatants. The USN recently trialled its 21st century equivalent: clouds of carbon fibre laced smoke to confuse missile seekers. Meanwhile, USN’s chief of naval operations and commander of Naval Reactors wrote to Congress this week warning that cuts have threatened their ability to provide a safe and reliable nuclear fleet. Their Letter to Congress is available in full here.

Happy first birthday to the War On The Rocks blog! This week, WOTR hosted another interesting infographic from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) on four decades of terrorist tactics around the world. Unsurprisingly, bombings are the method of choice for terrorists in 136 of the 201 countries that have experienced terrorism since 1970, while armed assaults are more prevalent in African states, Mexico, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and North Korea.

The US Marine Corps is looking for a few good (combat-ready) women, according to NPR. More than 160 women will take part in a training exercise that includes simulated combat exercises. Following a decision by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to lift a ban on women in combat roles by January 2016, all branches of the US military have until then to prove to the Defense Secretary why a specific job should not be opened to a woman.


The latest edition of CIMSEC’s Sea Control: Asia Pacific, features Andrew Zammit of the Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University, and Levi West of Charles Sturt University discussing the impact of foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria (duration 30mins). Meanwhile, over at Loopcast Aymenn Al-Tamimi discusses how the wars in Iraq and Syria are linked (duration 1hour).


This week CSIS hosted a panel Q&A, which included The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius and former CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes, on the terrorist organisation formerly known as ISIS. If you start watching from here, Kappes makes some interesting observations that the group has morphed into a ‘terrorist army’ which has shown an extraordinary understanding of the power of social media, putting them way ahead of al-Qaeda.

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

Jakarta courts Suva: less, and more, than meets the eye

Cynics will be tempted to dismiss President Yudhoyono’s appearance at last month’s Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) summit—the first visit by an Indonesian president to Fiji—as a combination of Jakarta’s seeking to neutralise Melanesian agitation about West Papua and Suva’s ‘I get along without you very well’ bravado directed at Australia and NZ. But while there’s something to that view, it disregards longer-term undercurrents at our peril.

Let’s start with a skeptical take on Suva’s ‘more Jakarta less Canberra claim’. Fiji created the PIDF, following Suva’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, to address perceptions that Australia and NZ have undue influence there, while civil society, private sector, and non-traditional external bodies are underrepresented. Yet only a handful of leaders from the Forum’s 16 states attended. Without greater funding, the PIDF has little potential to compete with the practical functions performed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s bureaucrats, let alone the vital fisheries, health, education and other services delivered by the Forum. Liked or not, Australia remains the region’s indispensable donor and security hub. The Bainimarama government’s detractors predict bodies such as the PIDF will fizzle out as soon as Fiji returns to democracy. Read more

But Suva’s unlikely simply to ‘return to the Forum’s fold’ after its September elections, and discontent with the established regional order extends well beyond Fiji. It’s easy to overstate that unhappiness: a degree of ‘perennial Pacific irritation’ at ANZAC dominance is inevitable—our economy’s nearly 400 times larger than Fiji’s—and isn’t necessarily disastrous. But it’d be imprudent to dismiss widespread and deep frustration. That dissatisfaction’s partly a legacy of Australia’s 2003–07 ‘more interventionist approach’, which stifled the region’s political voice, even though the Forum had been established precisely to provide the arena for debate (and soapbox) existing technocratic bodies lacked. Such a ‘tough love’ approach dispensed with the convention that Canberra and Wellington would leave island countries firmly in the driver’s seat. In light of 9/11 and the Bali bombings, that convention seemed to Australia and NZ to encourage frivolous grandstanding in the Forum and divert its focus on concrete outcomes—but hadn’t looked that way to many island leaders.

That divergence of view eased as a ‘partnerships’ narrative replaced interventionist discourse following Australia’s 2007 change of government, and may decrease further with the new government’s cooperative approach. But the way Pacific countries often now choose to caucus in blocs that exclude Australia and NZ, such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the UN’s Pacific Small Island Developing States Group, seems set to continue.

Indonesia’s attention to its South Pacific neighbours may have defused a spike in support for West Papuan self-determination for now, but Jakarta’s $20 million ‘look east’ policy isn’t an entirely rhetorical gesture either. As Lowy colleagues note, the outgoing president would hardly have taken a 90-person entourage to Fiji just to send a signal on West Papua. Rather, the visit was probably an example of Indonesia’s nascent but genuine diplomatic activism. After all, one of the key tenets of Yudhoyono’s foreign policy has been to foster a ‘million friends and zero enemies’. It’s also in Indonesia’s interests that its eastern flank remain stable and prosperous. To this end, Indonesia appears to be broadening the basis of cooperation with Pacific Island states across issues of mutual interest, including trade and investment, disaster management, sociocultural relations between Indonesia’s eastern province and Pacific Island peoples, and information sharing on developing connectivity between remote islands.

So what can we do to offer the new type of small-middle power relationship some neighbours want (and Fiji demands) to boost continuing followership of our leadership, when regional countries feel they have alternative partners?

For a start, we should recognise that new bodies such as the PIDF offer the region’s traditional metropolitan powers opportunities as well as challenges. It’s pointless to view as a threat Pacific countries’ desire to lead, generate ideas, and get irritations off their chest, on regional concerns such as climate change. Indeed, some such groups are more likely to formulate sensible policies for the Forum and others to implement if we aren’t around to moderate—and thus backhandedly prompt—adventurous positions.

We should also embrace the new framework for Pacific regionalism making more-than-cosmetic changes to the stalled 2005 Pacific Plan for integration when it’s discussed at the Forum summit later this month. (We could support Fiji’s candidate to head the Forum, if the MSG gets behind him, too.) On the trade front, although liberalisation should deliver long-term net benefits, including access to international markets and investment through WTO compliance, immediate-term pain adjusting could be high, particularly through the loss of tariff revenues. Our PACER Plus negotiators might do more to incorporate Pacific calls for labour mobility, and innovative approaches to co-producing development in remote economies, to help deliver agreement this year.

Finally, we could initiate ANZAC–Indonesia–Pacific Islands cooperation to reflect shared strategic interests, at a pace all participants would be comfortable with.

For Australia, there’s a security case for revitalising South Pacific regionalism and economic enmeshment to preserve strategic access, influence, denial, and warning across our increasingly congested approaches. For our neighbours, Canberra may nag and scold, but it doesn’t intimidate and coerce.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image credit: ASPI.

ASPI suggests

WASHINGTON (July 1, 2014) Adm. Michelle Howard lends a hand to Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus as he and Wayne Cowles, Howard's husband, put four-star shoulder boards on Howard's service white uniform during her promotion ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Howard is the first woman to be promoted to the rank of admiral in the history of the Navy and will assume the duties and responsibilities as the 38th Vice Chief of Naval Operations from Adm. Mark Ferguson. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

Happy Independence Day to our American friends! We’re kicking off today’s suggests with a celebration: congratulations to Admiral Michelle Howard who became the US Navy’s first female and African-American four-star admiral, when she was promoted earlier this week as vice chief of operations.

This week Japan’s Prime Minister announced that the country’s Self Defense Forces can now come to the aid of friendly countries under attack, including the United States. This comes as part of a reinterpretation Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which permits collective self-defence under certain conditions. But the reinterpretation didn’t go down without widespread public protest. Time’s Kirk Spitzer looks at what this change means for the country and its people.

Over at The Interpreter, Hugh White argues the move to collective self-defence won’t work any better to keep Japan secure, in light of the shift in relative power between the US and China. The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda also explores whether the move could be destabilising for regional security and further threaten China. Read more

It’s now less than a week to the Indonesian presidential election on 9 July. New Mandala continues to provide rigorous analysis, the latest of which includes this piece by Edward Aspinall and Marcus Mietzner that throws cold water on Prabowo’s promises not to dismantle elements of Indonesia’s political system. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Winters explains the rise of Jokowi and Prabowo: one word, SBY. Lastly on Indonesia, over on East Asia Forum, Pierre Marthinus and Isadora Happy Apsari write that a military build-up will be inevitable under a new president.

Moving to the South Pacific, CSIS’ Gregory Poling puts Fiji’s new forum, the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF), under the microscope. He notes that other Pacific state members didn’t just join the forum because of Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama’s dispute with Australia and New Zealand, rather, ‘they did so because his call for a more responsive, effective, and equal Pacific architecture—one encompassing civil society as well as governments—rang true’. For what that means for Australia, New Zealand and the US, keep reading here.

Welcome the Australian Army to the blogosphere! The Army’s Land Power Forum was launched this week and is ‘designed to facilitate vigorous debate and exchange of ideas about future conflicts and security challenges, capability development, the future of land forces, and the utility of land power beyond 2020′. To join the discussion, check out the submission guidelines here.

Earlier this week, our cyber team wrote that NATO’s collective defence clause, Article 5, now applies to cyberspace: a cyberattack against one means an attack against all. Over on The Bridge, Thomas Rid explains why this will actually have an escalatory, rather than deterrent, effect. Part of the problem, he writes, is that NATO hasn’t defined what constitutes an attack and that deterrence requires more capabilities and will than NATO might have. Keep reading here.


This week’s podcast links back to an earlier story about Japan’s collective self-defence. The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda, Zachary Keck and Clint Richards discuss the decision here.


Let’s not freak out about ISIS, says Robert Wright in a with Peter Beinart. They also cover Hillary Clinton’s ‘surprising cultural conservatism’ and Obama’s Iraq policy.

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

ASPI suggests

Head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous is visting Mali. He is seen here speaking to UN Peacekeepers from Chad at the site of the suicide attack that killed two peacekeepers in Tessalit on 23 October.

Welcome back for this week’s pick of resources, links and news in defence and security.

The Indonesian presidential election is now less than a fortnight away. Over at New Mandala, Yohanes Sulaiman wraps up the main points of the third election debate which focussed on foreign affairs and security issues. Sulaiman explains that the lack of vigour from both Jokowi and Prabowo was to avoid offending the current president whose party support, given the narrowing margin, could prove pivotal to either.

For more on the Australian dimension of the Indonesian presidential debate, check out this analysis by Michael Bachelard and this piece by WSJ’s Ben Otto and Andreas Ismar.

Turning now to the international security issue du jour, if you’re still unclear about the relationship between ISIS and al-Qaeda, Aaron Zelin’s new Washington Institute report looks at the history and evolution of relations between the groups and what that means for global jihadism. Read more

On the South China Sea, CNAS’ Patrick Cronin argues that the US should support Vietnam in countering China’s coercion (PDF). Among the measures, he recommends the joint development of cost-imposing strategies, larger and more frequent bilateral exercises, and for the US to end a ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam. In a longer piece over at War on The Rocks, Cronin examines whether the US approach of ‘engaging, binding and balancing’ China has been working, and asks, despite is assertiveness, can China be a responsible stakeholder?

‘Beheading the Hydra? Does Killing Terrorist or Insurgent Leaders Work?’ and ‘Towards Cultural Integration in Multinational Peace Operations’ are just some of articles new Defence Studies editor-in-chief, Professor David J. Galbreath, has made available upon assuming his role. For more, see here (h/t Evan Laksmana).

In UAV news, the Royal Navy has just flown the ScanEagle in maritime operations for the first time from the HMS Somerset. Meanwhile, the Task Force on United States Drone Policy, a bipartisan panel which includes a number of former Pentagon and CIA officials, has just concluded that the Obama administration’s use of drones in targeted killings sets a dangerous precedent for other countries. Read the report and its recommendations here (PDF). Lastly, UN peacekeepers in Mali will be getting UAVs to monitor and provide information about the north of the country. UAVs are already being used in PKO in Congo.

On the law enforcement side of the house, stop arming the police like a military, writes criminal justice expert Tom Nolan over at DefenseOne. While this is nothing new, he admits, there are more and more forces rushing to arm themselves with military-grade equipment and using SWAT teams for routine police work, particularly against African Americans and Latinos. In his opinion, the outcome is creeping militarisation of police forces and a warrior mindset which creates the feel of communities as warzones.


Two videos from CSIS this week. The first is a presentation by US Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Michael Vickers, on intelligence and national security. The second is a panel discussion (including Aaron Zelin) on the Syrian conflict and foreign fighters. Both links contain audio files, if you’d prefer to listen.

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

Is Indonesia’s next Marty Natalegawa … Marty Natalegawa?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Marty Natalegawa hold a media conference at Gedung Pancasila in Jakarta, 5 December 2013

Indonesia has just had its third presidential debate in which both Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto outlined their respective foreign and defence policies (you can watch the English-dubbed version here). As Michael Bachelard has observed, Australia hasn’t featured in particularly favourable terms. While that might seem ominous for diplomatic relations, the president is just one part of Indonesia’s foreign policy machinery—other parts matter. How Australia fares, for example, will also depend on the kind of foreign minister the new president appoints. But who might that be?

The current minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, is an enthusiastic practitioner of Indonesia’s foreign policy objectives. The perfect wingman for President Yudhoyono’s ambitious agenda for Indonesia, he’s personally chased down agreements between ASEAN states, and by no means has he been a shrinking violet on Australia and spying. Marty will leave big shoes to fill. With a new Cabinet to be sworn in, who might replace him? Read more

The most obvious answer is Marty himself. Being a technocrat with no overt political affiliations, Natalegawa’s track record of success makes him an ideal candidate to bring experience and continuity to the role. That would suit either president, though lingering questions about Prabowo’s involvement in the kidnapping of student activists could undermine Indonesia’s ability to push human rights agendas. Natalegawa has been instrumental in positioning Indonesia as a partner for Myanmar and fostering the latter’s political changes. Under a Prabowo presidency Indonesia’s ability to act as a third party between Myanmar and other partners like the US, might be constrained. With a relatively sedate Vice President in Boediono, Natalegawa has emerged as one of the more prominent figures in Yudhoyono’s Cabinet (though a more active Vice President like Jusuf Kalla might change that dynamic).

Another option might be the former Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal. Djalal recently stepped down from his role in Washington in order to run as a presidential candidate for the incumbent’s Democrat Party. With the race now between Prabowo and Jokowi and the Democrats out of the running, Djalal could also be considered for the role of foreign minister. An old hand in foreign relations and son of influential international-law-of-the-sea expert and UNCLOS architect Hasjim Djalal, he was also President Yudhoyono’s speech writer for major international addresses in English. With his Washington stint commencing in August 2010, he’s been around for the US rebalance and has, arguably, a good understanding of Western states’ policies.

The last figure is Arif Havas Oegroseno, the current Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium. Instrumental in negotiations that led to the conclusion of a maritime agreement between Indonesia and the Philippines, Oegroseno has been actively writing about South China Sea issues in the media in recent months, even going so far as to clarify Indonesia’s position as a ‘claimant state’ (which makes him sound more like a foreign minister than ambassador).

Of course, there are other possible contenders (including Retno Marsudi, Mahendra Siregar and Rizal Sukma) but these are just some examples of the kind of foreign minister Australia might expect. An ideal Indonesian foreign minister from the Australian perspective would be one that shares our desire to strengthen ties with Jakarta and with ASEAN states across a number of realms. In an era of Snowden revelations, an ideal counterpart would be one that looks for creative ways to add ballast to the relationship, to better weather diplomatic shocks. Key to that would be the personal rapport between foreign ministers. Despite his posturing, Natalegawa has worked towards the Code of Conduct between Australia and Indonesia which provides the foundation for future crisis management.

Looking more broadly to Indonesia’s role in international affairs, the ideal candidate would maintain a commitment to consolidating Indonesia’s place as leader and third-party mediator in ASEAN; prioritise mechanisms to diffuse tension and mitigate conflict in the South China Seas through a negotiated Code of Conduct; and create opportunities for diplomacy and cooperation between major regional players, particularly, the US and China. Australia and Indonesia might also look to harmonise and reinforce the importance of international law in the resolution of South China Sea disputes.

Under SBY and Marty, Indonesia has shaped its reputation as a good international citizen and active diplomatic player. A successive administration would be hard-pressed to deviate from such a sound framework.

Personalities will be key to continuing that legacy. The three named above all come from a cohort known as ‘Hassan’s boys’, referring to a generation of Indonesia’s ‘youngest and brightest’ diplomats groomed by Hassan Wirajuda, who served as foreign minister from 2001 and 2009. If nothing else, that shows the influence of individuals on Indonesia’s foreign policy. It’ll be interesting to see who follows.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP.

ASPI suggests

Map showing Syria and Iraq under ISIS control (grey areas).

You know the drill! Here are some new reports, links and other useful defence and security-related things.

This week news has been dominated by the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham aka ISIS (or is it ISIL? Even media outlets can’t agree, see here). To get up to speed on the extremist organisation, if you’ve got time, here’s a full bibliography on the history and evolution of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham complied by terrorism researcher and Jihadology blogger Aaron Zelin. For ISIS info on the fly, here’s a quick overview of the group’s origins, their links to al-Qaeda and what they want, and another on who’s fighting in Iraq and why. For those more visually oriented, the grey areas in the map above represent areas in Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS as of June 2014. For more info, see here.

Also on terrorism, here’s the latest infographic via War on the Rocks and National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) from the latter’s Global Terrorism Database that shows which countries experienced increases or decreases in levels of terrorism between 2012 and 2013. No prizes for the result in Iraq, but France/Corsica warrants a mention for the activities of the Corsican National Liberation Front which, apart from not being a jihadist organisation, committed 50 non-lethal bombings in 2012 but none in 2013. Read more

Turning now to our immediate region, what’s it like to be in the middle of a South China Sea dispute? Here’s the diary of ABC reporter Samantha Hawley who recently spent five days aboard a Vietnamese coast guard vessel traveling to a Chinese oil rig near the Paracel Islands to gain a first-hand view of the tension between regional states.

Meanwhile, Carl Thayer looks at why China, despite insisting on only bilateral solutions, took its dispute with Vietnam to the United Nations. Drawing on Timothy Walton’s study ‘China’s Three Warfares’, he explains that it’s part of an information warfare campaign that lets China ‘have it both ways’: relying on the UN to make its case while simultaneously rejecting UN arbitration.

Need to know who wants/owns what in the South China Sea? Check out this comprehensive 2013 report by CSIS’ Greg Poling (PDF) that lays out each country’s claim. It also contains a useful annex that defines the difference (for legal purposes) between an island and a rock.

As we’re hurtling towards the Indonesian presidential election on 9 July, there’s no shortage of interesting commentary on the future of the country. First is a must-read by ANU’s Ed Aspinall on why the outside world should be worried by the possibility that Prabowo Subianto could be the next president. Next is an RSIS Commentary by Emirza Adi Syailendra on the personalised nature of Indonesia’s post-election foreign policy, but also read Awidya Santikajaya on why there’ll be continuity despite the change in leadership.

Looking north, NBR has just released a new report on the sea change in Japanese foreign policy, in particular, constitutional reinterpretation of Article 9. Kenneth B. Pyle observes that post-Cold War administrations have steadily loosened self-binding policies that ensured Japan could avoid military and political involvement in the Cold War (these policies were known as the Yoshida Doctrine), and significantly:

Beijing’s bluster and bullying are foolishly making Abe’s agenda of sweeping away the remnants of the Yoshida Doctrine much easier. One sees Abe’s goals of a tighter U.S.-Japan alliance and an activist foreign policy in the recent establishment of a National Security Council, legislation to strengthen control of state secrets, repeal of restrictions on exporting weapons and sharing of military-related technology, formulation of long-term strategic priorities, and reworking of defense guidelines to enhance U.S.-Japan military cooperation and interoperability.

Lastly, CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters recently returned from a trip to India for conference on maritime security that also explored India’s role in the Indo-Pacific. Here’s his rundown of that conference in which China was raised on more than one occasion.


Do ISIS militants threaten the US? Bill Scher and Matt K. Lewis debate the topic de jour, including liberal and neocon perspectives of the Iraq War and whether partition of Iraq is an option.


Next week ANU is hosting a series of four short talks by scholars on the Thai coup followed by a Q/A session on Friday 27 June at 12pm. Speakers are Craig Reynolds, Nicholas Farrelly, Sarah Bishop and Tyrell Haberkorn. The event is free and open to the public, more details here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

ASPI suggests

TNI Army soldiers being reminded to remain neutral during this year's presidential election.For this week’s final instalment of suggests from Washington DC, I’ve rounded up a mix of expertise from both sides of the pond.

Kicking off this week is a Wall Street Journal piece by CNAS’ Ely Ratner on how to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. More specifically, he argues that there are policy steps the US can take in the near future. Those steps include providing regional partners with greater maritime domain awareness as well as reversing a previous position and declaring China’s occupation of the Scarborough Shoal illegal. Read more

Also from CNAS, you can follow the highlights from its eighth annual conference on national security on #CNAS2014 which covered topics like US leadership, Syria, China’s rise, robotics and veterans affairs. Speakers included Congressman Paul Ryan and National Security Adviser Susan Rise. Here are a few snippets:

Turning now to Southeast Asia and Indonesia’s upcoming presidential elections on 9 July, Evan Laksmana analyses Jokowi’s defence policy platform. He says Indonesia’s next president should look beyond just modernising TNI (pictured above):

The bottom line is that defense transformation is not about fulfilling material needs. It is about institutional and paradigmatic shifts on how the military views and structures itself, educates and trains its members, as well as how it equips itself and plans to fight.

North Korea has unexpectedly agreed to launch a reinvestigation into the abduction of Japanese citizens during the Cold War. On East Asia Forum, Owen Lindsay writes that, although considered to be a success on Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s behalf, the reinvestigation’s findings might not bring any closure to the matter due to public and political furore over specific cases.

War on The Rocks has partnered with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) to publish a series of infographics based on data from their Global Terrorism Database and related START projects. This week’s shows trends in global terrorism activity which, also highlighted in the comments thread, is not ‘uniformly global’. In our region, it’s concentrated in the Philippines and Southern Thailand.

This week we tip our hat to ANU’s Professors Hugh White and Desmond Ball who were included in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Order of Australia Honours for their individual contributions to Australian strategic and defence thinking. Read their citations here. We also offer our congratulations to the Royal Australian Navy on becoming the largest Australian organisation to achieve White Ribbon accreditation, given to workplaces that demonstrate a culture of zero tolerance of men’s violence against women.


Last week CSIS released a new report ‘Power and Order in Asia’ that polled regional strategy elites on Asia Pacific economic growth and community building and their implications for US policy. Among many things, the report found there was broad support for the rebalance but concern about implementation, and that regional economic crises were the greatest threat to national security. For the video and audio of the related panel discussion, see here.


Linking back to an earlier item on terrorism, Loopcast hosted an interesting discussion between J.M. Berger and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on the evolution of al-Qaeda.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist, and has recently completed a visiting fellowship at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Image courtesy of Twitter user TNI_AD.

ASPI suggests: Asia Pacific edition

President SBY and PM Tony Abbott met this week in Batam, Riau Islands.Welcome back for another instalment of ASPI suggests from Washington DC. I’ve found our region’s experts have a lot to offer our American colleagues when it comes to understanding the Asia Pacific, especially Southeast Asia. This week’s instalment showcases this regional expertise.

In time for PM Abbott’s visit to Batam this week, ANU’s Jacqueline Baker asks, can Australia avoid making the same old mistakes with Indonesia? She explains, even though Indonesia is now a democracy, that doesn’t make things any easier: ‘With Indonesia’s democratisation, suddenly the political terrain got a whole lot more complicated and Australia just doesn’t have the political skills, let alone the white paper to manage it.’ Read her recommendations here.

Meanwhile, Arif Havas Oegreseno says there’s much South China Sea claimants can learn from the recent Indonesia–Philippines maritime agreement (PDF). Former Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, Oegreseno highlights the centrality of UNCLOS and the need to find cooperation on public goods where there are no maritime boundaries. Read more

Over at East Asia Forum, Thuy T. Do analyses the implications of China’s oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 on Vietnam’s foreign policy. Although it’s building better ties with the US and Japan as a result of the oil rig incident, Do argues that ‘living next to China for two thousand years has taught Vietnam that nurturing Sinophobia and engaging in military alliances to balance China won’t serve its long term interests.’

Also on Southeast Asia–China relations, Leng Thearith explains why Cambodia can’t afford to be a Chinese proxy, despite the failure to produce a 2012 ASEAN Summit joint communiqué under its chairmanship.

Moving to other regional relations, David Brewster explores developments in the political, security and economic dimensions of Australia–India ties as well as future prospects under a Modi government. He notes, despite positive developments, there remain challenges including uranium sales, recognition of India’s ‘major power status’, differing ideas about multilateral security, and China.

Turning now to US alliances, ASPI’s Hayley Channer recently delivered a presentation at the East-West Center on how Australia, Japan and South Korea could contribute to the US rebalance. She concludes that US allies in Asia could assist by deepening their links with each other, increasing their interoperability, and by investing more in multilateral forums.

As authors of a recent paper on ballistic missile defence, ASPI’s Andrew Davies and Rod Lyon will be watching the test of the Ground Based Midcourse Defence system later this month with interest.

Also from an Australian think tank, John Perryman from the Navy’s Sea Power Centre has written about the Navy’s involvement in D-Day as part of the assault phase of Operation Overlord, codenamed Operation Nepture.


Sticking with the 70th anniversary of D-Day, 93-year old Jim ‘Pee Wee’ Martin boarded a C-47 and parachuted into Normandy as he did 70 years ago with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. When asked about the experience, his frank response was, ‘Everybody is scared all the time. Anybody who tells you he isn’t is full of crap. But you just do what you have to do, regardless. That’s the difference.’ Watch the interview and his jump here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist, and currently a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Image courtesy of the official website of the President of the Republic of Indonesia.

ASPI suggests: Washington, DC edition (II)

Members of the Royal Thai Naval Air Wing practice before the opening ceremony for exercise Cobra Gold 2010, on Utapao Royal Thai Naval Air Force Base, Thailand, Jan. 29, 2010. Still reporting from Washington DC, this week’s ‘Suggests’ is jam-packed with links, reports, podcasts and videos on strategy, security and defence.

I’m kicking off today with a general shout-out for a handful of stellar American defence blogs and sites you should be following: DefenseOne, The Bridge, War on the Rocks, CIMSEC’s Next War, RealClearDefense, Blogs of War, CogitASIA, The National Interest, Small Wars Journal and, of course, the Duffel Blog. Read more

Turning now to our immediate region, a spokesperson for the Defence Minister announced on Monday that Australia would suspend two activities with the Royal Thai Armed Forces in response to the recent military coup. On 22 May, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US was reviewing cooperation with the Thai military, in accordance with US law. A few days later, the US suspended $3.5m in military assistance and cancelled military exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2014 as well as a planned visit by US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Harry B. Harris to the country.

Sticking with Thailand, occasional Strategist contributor Geoff Wade explains in a new Parliamentary Library blog post that the US maintained as many links as allowed under American legislation with the Thai military after the 2006 coup in order to curb Beijing’s influence. In his opinion, this is one of the US administration’s concerns with the current coup. Wade also notes that uneasy ties between Bangkok and Phnom Penh might impact upon Australia’s plans to relocate asylum seekers in Cambodia.

In case you missed it, here’s the full text of President Obama’s West Point speech, articulating his foreign policy vision for the remainder of his term. Highlights include his pronouncement that the most direct threat to America’s security is terrorism (and therefore proposed a counterterrorism fund of up to $5bn), the importance of international institutions and American leadership, and the need for partners and friends to do more. CSIS’ Ernie Bower has a brief piece on how the West Point speech was heard in Southeast Asia.

What do closer US–China ties mean for Japan? In light of Prime Minister Abe’s controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine, the Tokyo Foundation’s Takashi Sekiyama argues the Japanese leader needs to adopt ‘smart diplomacy’, as:

Tokyo’s current course is a dangerous one. At a time when not only Washington but also the vast majority of European and Asian governments are keen to maintain stable ties with Beijing, Japan risks isolating itself by needlessly antagonizing the Chinese and then seeking validation from the international community.

The Bridge and CIMSEC are currently co-hosting a series of essays in which national security professionals were asked to provide their theory of power and its application (check out Rich Ganske’s intro essay here). The series covers the following domains: cognitive by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lyle (USAF), defence industry by Mikhail Grinberg, joint action by Rich Ganske, cyber power by Billy Pope, social choice by Adam Elkus, land power by Nathan Finney (aka The Barefoot Strategist), sea power by Benjamin Armstrong, and amphibious power by Brett Friedman. (Update 31 May: new entries include ‘A personal theory of strategy’ by Nick Prime and space power by Nathan Finney)

And on a lighter note, in case you were ever wondering, here’s everything you needed to know about the Pentagon’s plan for a zombie apocalypse via Foreign Affairs.


ASPI analyst Hayley Channer is also currently in DC as a visiting scholar at the East-West Center. She recently recorded a podcast for the Korea Economic Institute (KEIA) on the Australia–South Korea relationship as well as the recent trips by Prime Minister Abbott and President Obama to Northeast Asia.


This week’s video pick comes courtesy of Strategist editor Kristy Bryden. Sebasian Junger, who is well known for authoring the book War as well as co-directing the film ‘Restrepo’, has a new TED talk on why veterans miss war.

On the Obama Asia Pacific strategy, here’s the video of a CSIS-hosted event (audio as well) on the challenges and opportunities of the US Navy’s rebalance, featuring Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist, and currently a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Image courtesy of Flickr user US Department of Defense.

ASPI suggests: Washington, DC edition

Washington MonumentWelcome to our first edition of ‘suggests’ from Washington, DC. I’m currently located at the Center for a New American Security where I’m being kindly hosted as a visiting fellow focusing on Indonesia. You can find out more on their research programs here.

Being in the US, it’s soon apparent the different ways in which our alliance partner views the world, so this week I’ve rounded up new reports and multimedia on Asia Pacific matters from an American perspective.

First up, CSIS’ Ernie Bower and Brian Kraft see the upcoming Indonesian presidential election as a two-horse race between Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and former Kopassus head, Prabowo Subianto. According to the authors, expect less change in foreign policy but a more centralised management approach under Prabowo and a more personal style and technocrat filled foreign and economic policy team under Jokowi. Most importantly, they state: ‘For the United States, it is most important to focus on the mandate of the Indonesian people. Washington must embrace and work with whichever candidate is elected’—a not-so-subtle reference to allegations against Prabowo of human rights abuse. Read more

On Thailand’s coup, Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations looks at how this previously functional Southeast Asian democracy ‘got so screwed up’. According to Kurlantzick, Thailand has experienced a number of the same factors that have rolled back democracy in states like Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Venezuela. In Thailand’s case, Thaksin’s rise to power and the role of the King have also been key.

Sticking with Southeast Asia, Armando J. Heredia usefully summarises the situation in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China. He also lists the potential sites where American forces might be based under the enhanced US–Philippines defence pact signed during President Obama’s recent visit.

Dr Robert Farley, better known to Strategist readers for his case on abolishing the US Air Force, has a new Lowy Interpreter post on the impact of the F-35B on Asia Pacific security. Worth reading in full for the specific technical advantages an F-35B variant provides, Farley ultimately concludes:

… until Korea, Japan, or Australia decide to commit to a dedicated carrier similar in size and capability to those of the Royal Navy (or at the very least to the Italian Cavour), the biggest impact of the F-35B in the Asia Pacific will be on US capability.

Also on technology, CNAS’ Paul Scharre has just released a new paper on robotics on the battlefield. Scharre argues ‘the winner of the robotics revolution will not be who develops this technology first or even who has the best technology, but who figures out how best to use it’.

For something more philosophical, try US SOCOM Commander Admiral William McRaven’s address delivered at the University of Texas last weekend. Drawing on experiences from 36 years as a Navy SEAL (including being stuck neck-deep in mud and swimming with sharks), Admiral McRaven delivers life lessons such as, ‘If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed’.


Is it smart for the US to arrest Chinese cyber warriors? Robert Wright and James Traub over at debate this question and also look at whether Washington has learned any lessons from Iraq.

If you’ve watched the award-winning film Restrepo by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetheringon, check out the trailer to Junger’s new project Korengal. The film uses footage collected during Junger and Hetherington’s 15-month embed with a US Army platoon in the Korengal Vally, Afghanistan (read here on how they filmed it) but unlike Restrepo, it focuses on the backgrounds and stories of individual soldiers, rather than the war itself.


Closer to home, the ICRC Australia Mission is hosting a panel discussion on ‘New technologies and the future battlefield’, focusing on soldier enhancement. This free event is on Tuesday 27 May at Melbourne Law School, and features Asia Pacific military law experts who’ll grapple with both legal and ethical questions. For more info and registration, see here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist, and currently a visiting fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Image courtesy of Flickr user Francis Luong.

ASPI suggests

A Staff Sergeant with the Royal Army Medical Corps, currently serving with the Afghan Female Engagement Team attached to 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, talks to local civilians.

It was a big week for Defence with the Federal Budget handing down, on balance, a win for the portfolio. Check out Mark Thomson’s preliminary analysis of this year’s figures here. His always hotly anticipated Cost of Defence will be out on 29 May. For more on defence spending, see Peter Dean and Andrew Carr’s Centre of Gravity paper on why 2% of GDP isn’t the right formula for defence spending.

For watchers of the US defense spending, looming budget problems have once again been swept under the rug by the Congressional Armed Services Committee. In order to protect funding for future weapon systems, the US Air Force wanted to retire the U-2 and A-10 aircraft, while the US Navy wanted to mothball 11 surface combatants. But Congress was having none of it—which potentially makes the problem worse in coming years. Read more

How do we spy after Snowden? Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes’ article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs looks at what proposed reforms for the NSA mean for the American intelligence community.

In the South China Sea China has been showing increasing assertiveness towards Vietnam using oil-rig ‘diplomacy’. To get across the various overlapping claims in the region and implications for broader security, check out both Defense One’s pocket guide and this interactive tool by the Council on Foreign Relations which includes historical timelines, videos, charts and policy recommendations.

Sticking with Southeast Asia, Elina Noor’s latest East-West Center’s bulletin looks at US–Malaysia ties (PDF). While Indonesia is often seen as a key regional state, Noor notes that the President Obama’s recent visit might reflect ‘US recognition of Malaysia as a strategic pivot point in the US rebalance towards Asia’.

Turning now to capability matters, Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week suggests that modern submarines are becoming prohibitively difficult to detect, thus threatening the future of surface combatants. For a counter view, see Andrew Davies’ comments on Moore’s Law and ASW from last month.

Band of brothers … and sisters? The British Defence Secretary announced last week that a review into women’s service in ground combat is being brought forward from 2018 to 2014. RUSI’s Joanne Mackowski says this yet another potential transformation for the UK Armed Forces, but any change of policy must be ushered in gradually to meet operational needs rather than political whim.


The latest Asia Pacific edition of CIMSEC’s Sea Control features Rod Lyon, Daniel Grant and I discussing ‘gamechangers’ in the Asia Pacific region as well as Indonesia’s strategic significance to Australia (duration 18 minutes).


Don’t forget, there’s an opportunity to be part of the dynamic ASPI team. Interns are engaged for six months during which they develop their skills in strategic policy analysis, research and presentation. For more details and requirements, see here. Applications close Friday 23 May.

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