Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

ASPI suggests

Night ops

For something non-ISIS related, David Envall argues that if Japan continues to overextend national security reforms, it could undermine the government’s ability to undertake economic changes. Also on Japan, Koichi Nakano writes on East Asia Forum that the ghosts of historical revisionism in contemporary Japan will continue to haunt East Asia and ‘jeopardise a cool-headed approach to diplomacy and security’.

Turning to the Middle East, the US announced earlier this week it conducted airstrikes not just against ISIS but also the Khorasan group. The what? If you’ve never heard of them, here are some useful BBC and Washington Post primers on their members, aims and ties to al-Qaeda. Read more

Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) has just released a report on the origins and development of ISIS support networks in Indonesia. The report also examines how a new military unit of Indonesian and Malaysian foreign-fighters might have formed in Syria, whether the current government’s response to ISIS has been adequate, and why convicted terrorists are still able to post translations of ISIS pronouncements while incarcerated. For a quick summary, here’s a Lowy Institute podcast in which IPAC’s director Sidney Jones discusses different groups of Indonesians who have pledged allegiance to ISIS and the significance of loyalty-pledge ceremonies in Indonesia (6mins).

Looking more broadly at Indonesia, Marcus Mietzner summarises the mixed legacy of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over at New Mandala. While SBY created a decade of relative stability, he dodged a number of riskier reforms and now handballs to Jokowi a country bedevilled by high-level political corruption, the erosion of minority rights, uneven economic growth and underdeveloped infrastructure.

Over at Carnegie Endowment, Ashley J. Tellis looks at how India’s Prime Minister Modi can kickstart the relationship between India and the United States. Among his recommendations, he says ‘Modi must build personal relationships with key interlocutors’ and ‘co-opt American civil society to support India’s development’.

This week’s capability pick is on Australia’s Jindalee radar system. Bradley Perrett takes a detailed look at how the seldom-discussed over-the-horizon radar system works, as well as some of the recent upgrades. Quoted in the article, Andrew Davies says ‘Jindalee’s key advantage is that it allows Australia to better deploy its limited number of aircraft and ships’.

The Land Forces 2014 conference was held earlier this week. ASPI’s Peter Jennings presented an eight-point framework for thinking about the future Defence Force at the conference’s dinner which included the question, can Army make asymmetry something that it applies to our opponents, rather than see asymmetry as primarily something that is done to us?


Arms Control Wonk’s Jeffrey Lewis interviewed Dr Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, on the group’s monitoring system and the prospects of the entry-into-force of the CTBT (30mins).

Last week I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with LTGEN (rtd) Agus Widjojo, BRIG (rtd) Gary Hogan (who was the former Defence Attache in Jakarta) and Jim Della-Giacoma as part of CIMSEC’s Sea Control Asia Pacific series. It covers Indonesia’s security priorities, naval modernisation, Asia Pacific cooperation on the South China Sea, and US–Indonesia relations (35mins).


Do drones work? Georgetown University’s Daniel Byman, Christine Fair and Christopher Swift discuss the US’ drone program as part of the war on terrorism (80mins).

Over at, Robert Farley and Ed Carpenter get stuck into the topic of women serving in the infantry as well as Carpenter’s new book on the ‘warrior ethos’ in the military services.


Canberra: Hosted by the Kokoda Foundation, former Secretary General of the Indonesian Ministry of Defence, Air Marshal (rtd) Eris Herryanto will discuss Indonesian defence industry and self-reliance, Spender Theatre, Australian Defence College on Tuesday 30 September at 5.45pm. Registration is free.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of leg0fenris.

ASPI suggests

Out of the sunWelcome back for another serve of new reports, podcasts and events to attend for the defence and security enthusiast.

Kicking off today is Trevor Wilson on East Asia Forum who provocatively argues that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is an absent policy behind meaningless words. In his view, it’s unlikely to be endorsed by China or Japan, and the ‘absence of substantial strategic, economic or other interests along the western rim of the Indian Ocean means that ‘Indo-Pacific’ cannot serve as a more logical or plausible term’.

If you need to get your head around President Obama’s ISIS strategy, here’s a straightforward military assessment by IISS’s Ben Barry. But, as part of that strategy, can Arab state militaries help? Bobby Ghosh looks at the relative capabilities of militaries in the region and how they’d fare against the militants. After all, Bashar al-Assad’s forces, despite their superior arms, have taken quite a beating from ISIS and ceded large parts of Syria to it. Read more

As the US and its partners step up military activity in the region, China is adopting a long-term approach to consolidating its relationships with its Middle Eastern partners and securing access to resources, writes James M. Dorsey for RSIS. That would allow China to cooperate with the US but on Chinese terms. For more on the challenges in that approach, keep reading here.

Sticking with China, Euan Graham finds that, despite a heightened focus on energy exploration and security of oil and gas resources, political and strategic considerations are more important drivers in the country’s South China Sea policy. For instance, China’s stationing of an oil rig west of the Paracel Islands (and near the Vietnamese coast) in May, was driven by strategic imperatives. Nevertheless, according to Graham, Vietnam and the Philippines are concerned that the presence of Chinese vessels further south in the South China Sea is partly due to the oil and gas resources in the area.

Over at cogitASIA, Zachary Abuza looks at the impact of Vietnamese naval upgrades—including Russian Kilo-class submarines, Gepard-class light frigates, Molniya-class corvettes, and two Sigma-class corvettes. Although Vietnam is forecast to have the most modern submarine fleet in Southeast Asia by 2016, Abuza argues the deterrent capability of the naval upgrades against China is mixed.

What’s budget politics doing to the US Air Force? In the words of retiring chief of Air Combat Command, General Mike Hostage: ‘Our industrial base has eroded and we’re reducing our military down to a skeletal size at a time when the world is looking crazier by the day’. It’s worth reading his full speech for Hostage’s take on American air-power priorities and the impact of sequestration.

In today’s technology pick, we ask, where’s my flying car and jet pack? Flying cars will have to wait, but jet-propelled movement could be a reality for US military. Arizona State University’s ‘4MM’ project (which stands for ‘four-minute-mile’) funded by DARPA is currently developing a jet-powered backpack that can assist soldiers in combat zones get somewhere in a jiffy. Watch the video here.


The Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) in the US recorded this podcast with Popular Science blogger Kelsey Atherton back in May on the future of drones. They discuss the use of drones in real life and science fiction, where drone technology is headed over the horizon and how they might have changed the Civil War (35mins).


Canberra: The ICRC and Australian Red Cross will host a panel discussion on ways to improve the security and delivery of health care in armed conflict and other emergencies. The event launches a new publication, Promoting Military Operational Practice that ensures safe access to and delivery of health care, and is on Wednesday 24 September, Finkel Lecture Theatre, JCSMR, ANU, 5.45 to 7pm. Register here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Penelope Czyzewska is currently completing a degree in national security, and is undertaking work experience at ASPI through the University of Canberra. Image courtesy of leg0fenris.

ASPI suggests

Lego in space

Today’s first pick is a piece on The Bridge by Australian Army officer Jason Logue on how to effectively counter ISIS’ strategic communications and stem recruitment of Australian fighters. He writes,

Playing the counter-propaganda game in this era of instantaneous global reach is for the most part pointless unless it is nested within a wider and comprehensive anti-propaganda concept designed to partially inoculate our own populations and persuade those who are yet to enter [terrorist organisations].

Logue recommends that counter-narratives employ language that deliberately avoids giving further legitimacy to the Islamic ‘State’. Keep reading here. Read more

And ICYMI here’s President Obama’s statement on ISIL: read the text or watch the video (14mins). Emphasising Logue’s approach above, the President stated: ‘Now let’s make two things clear: ‘ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state.’

Turning closer to our region, are there ties between the Philippines’ militant groups and ISIS? In a new RSIS commentary, Joseph Franco argues the links are tenuous—they’re normative rather than operational given the ideological dissonance between Mindanao rebels and ISIS.

Here’s a longer piece by Carnegie Endowment’s James L. Schoff on what Myanmar means for the US–Japan alliance. Schoff explores the opportunities in Myanmar’s reform from both American and Japanese perspectives and discusses the potential for policy coordination in trade, intergovernmental assistance, and military engagement. In a rush? Watch the three-minute video of Schoff outlining the strategic opportunities arising from Myanmar’s reform.

Are China and Taiwan about to become BFFs? Justine Doody over at East Asia Forum examines recent developments towards rapprochement but notes that while political and business circles have welcomed closer trade and economic ties, not all of Taiwan’s citizens want to embrace the mainland with open arms.

CNAS’ Patrick Cronin has a new working paper on how to respond to maritime coercion. He argues that cost-imposing strategies are a critical component alongside engagement and binding, and recommends a range of diplomatic, informational, military and economic measures that could raise the cost of assertive actions in the Indo-Pacific.

Over at Arms Control Wonk, Michael Krepon looks at how to establish norms in outer space, pointing in particular to a need for stronger norms in relation to debris, harmful interference and traffic management. Krepon discusses which of three options—an ambitious treaty, a narrow treaty, or an international code of conduct—the US, China, Russia and India each prefer. Russia and China favour the first option but, in his view, ‘The Russian and Chinese draft treaty is not a serious diplomatic initiative; it’s a dodge.’ Keep reading here.

Lastly, and on a lighter note, what happens when think tanks receive foreign money? Robin Davies on DevPolicy looks at what happened when the US-based Center for Global Development got a wad of cash from the Norwegian Government to advocate that wealthier countries should spend to combat global warming. (Full disclosure: ASPI did not receive money from the Norwegian Government to publish this post.)

Update: on the anniversary of 9/11, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted a stream of recollections and images from 11 September 2001:


Bill Scher and Matt Lewis debate the long-term consistency of President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy in a new video (56mins). They also discuss whether Obama dithered on Syria and if, given his recent speech, he can continue his brand as the ‘ender of wars’.


Canberra: former ASPI director Prof Hugh White is giving a talk on what’s wrong with defence policy and how to fix it, Molonglo Theatre, ANU on Monday 15 September at 5.30pm. Registration essential.

If you haven’t already, sign up for the ANU’s annual Indonesia Update. This year’s iteration casts a spotlight on the Yudhoyono years and feature the world’s top Indonesia scholars at the Coombs Lecture Theatre, ANU Friday 19 and Saturday 20 September. Registration and program details here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of leg0fenris.

ASPI suggests

We’re kicking off today in the Asia Pacific region with this East Asia Forum post by TJ Pempel on why Japan’s collective self-defence is so politicised. The piece explains Japan’s recent developments as more than a mere ‘shift to the right’ and looks at the implications of collective self-defence for grand security strategy.

What should the US do about the challenges posed by China in South China Sea? In a new Brookings Foreign Policy Brief, Jeffrey Bader, Kenneth Lieberthal and Michael McDevitt argue that the US must clearly define its interests in the area and pursue actions such as ‘lowering the volume of US government rhetoric over unilateral actions in the South China Sea that produce minor alterations in the status quo’. Read the full report here (10 pages).

Also on China and the South China Sea, Lim Kheng Swe at RSIS looks at whether maritime disputes can be isolated from other elements of China–ASEAN relations like trade and investment. Read more

Meanwhile, over at CIMSEC Armando J. Heredia looks at what the attempted capture of Filipino peacekeepers by the al Nusra Front near the Israeli–Syrian border last week tells us about the Syrian government. According to Heredia: ‘What was notable is that the Al-Assad Syrian Army fired artillery rounds during the Outpost 68 firefight to help suppress the rebel assault… Additionally, this is a strong indicator that the Assad regime is not as unstable as the popular media narrative would indicate. The ability to quickly and effectively deliver indirect fire into the Area of Separation speaks to the existence of intact and professional Syrian Army elements despite the widespread Civil War.’ Keep reading here.

Unlike their Filipino colleagues who escaped, Fijian peacekeepers were captured by the militants, and ASPI’s Lisa Sharland talks with Radio Australia about the challenges facing UN peacekeeping operations in light of these developments.

Despite ISIS dominating international security news, al Qaeda hasn’t faded into the background: the group has apparently established a new branch on the Indian subcontinent. Current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the news in a 55-minute video which was viewed by some analysts as an effort to rival ISIS’ recruitment. Over at DefenseOne, Bobby Ghosh says the announcement ‘emits a strong odor of desperation’ and questions the success of Zawahiri securing men and money from local militant groups looking for the same. Daveed Gartenstein Ross has expressed a different view:

His subsequent tweet references his earlier work, which explores how al Qaeda’s absence from the Arab Spring was misread as its demise, and its relevance to ‘expert discussion’ on aQ today.

Representatives from all 28 NATO member states have met in Wales this week for what’s being described as the ‘largest gathering ever of international leaders in the UK’. Here are some resources to help you get up to speed on the summit and its main outcomes:

NATO has reinvented itself in less than six months, moving from crisis management to a fundamentally new defence posture, writes Carnegie Europe’s director Jan Techau. Techau explains Russia’s actions in Ukraine have spurred the development of a Readiness Action Plan that allows NATO troops to rotate in and out of the eastern flank. Rather than focusing on expeditionary tasks, the original core business of the group—territorial defence—is ‘back at the heart of the alliance’. For more on why that matters, keep reading here.

How do humans respond to robots? Heather Knight explores this question in the second Brookings pick for this week. In her words, her report describes a series of important choices humans face in designing robots. With the increased use of unmanned platforms in defence forces worldwide, her work explores important questions surrounding human–robot relations in both military and civilian contexts and across different cultures.


What are the drivers behind Japan’s remilitarisation and what are its implications for regional relations and stability? In a new CIMSEC Sea Control podcast, I interview Dr Tomohiko Satako, a fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo and visiting fellow at ASPI, and ASPI’s Ben Schreer on Japan’s constitutional reinterpretation, its new white paper, and relations with China and Australia (27mins).

Meanwhile, Loopcast’s Chelsea Daymon interviews Dr.Krypt3ia on how jihadis use encryption software and their broader OPSEC methods (57mins). According to Loopcast, his work in this area is available here, here and here.


Land Forces 2014 is a four-day land defence exhibition and forum for Australia, Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, held on 22–25 September at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Brisbane. Full program available here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of leg0fenris.

ASPI suggests

President SBY witnessed the signing by Ministers Bishop and Natalegawa of the Code of Conduct in Bali yesterday.

Fairfax’s Michael Bachelard kicks off this week’s recommended readings and podcasts with this op-ed on how Australia ‘won’ the spying row with Indonesia. He argues that the language of the Code of Conduct, signed yesterday by Ministers Bishop and Natalegawa, hardly alters the position PM Abbott adopted when the spying scandal broke in November last year: we’ll keep spying but we promise not to use it against you. Keep reading here.

Also on Southeast Asia, two pieces on Thailand’s politics. The first by Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang on New Mandala examines how the newly-appointed National Legislative Assembly works and what impact it’ll have on democratisation. The second by Panida Pananond on East Asia Forum looks at why high economic growth in Thailand will continue to be challenging as long as the junta’s in power.

On Northeast Asia, Pacific Forum’s Brad Glosserman has a newish Washington Quarterly piece that paints a picture of a smaller Japan as the most likely future—a view that might differ from that held by Australia’s political leadership. Glosserman’s assessment turns upon the attitudinal constraints in Japanese society. Read more

Turning now to an interesting question in contemporary civil-military affairs: do millennials fit into military culture? The US Coast Guard’s Commander Darcie Cunningham argued that the more lax work ethic of millennials and their expectataion of accelerated promotion, among other concerns, grated against the military’s more traditional, hierarchical and time-in-rank system. Unsurprisingly, some millennials service members objected to the Commander’s near monodimensional depiction of their generation, notably CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters who argued many millennial members of the all-volunteer force joined in part for the ideals the military embodied.

For our technology picks of the week, China is developing a supersonic submarine that can travel to Shanghai to San Franscisco in ‘100 minutes’. And lastly, in keeping with my weekly Lego inclusion, here’s a working replica of a W134D Vulcan minigun. It doesn’t fire Lego rounds but spits out ‘spent cartridges’ (Thanks David Andrews).


What the psychological effects of firepower? In his podcast interview with CIMSEC, US Army General Robert H. Scales (ret.) noted that more research needs to be done on relationship between human factors and the effectiveness of munitions. He also discussed the historical basis for American’s fascination for explosions. (duration 39mins)

For an American perspective on the recent AUSMIN talks, see this CSIS interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amy Searight on importance of the signing of the Force Posture Agreement framework including leveraging the Marines’ Darwin presence for further cooperation initiatives in the region. (duration 5mins)

Following Rosalyn Turner’s piece this morning on drones, check out the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell’s interview with CNAS’ Paul Scharre the difference between the Army’s approach to using unmanned aircraft vs the Air Force’s and how the US will get the most out of its drones. (duration 53mins)


Canberra: LSE’s Dr Jude Howell will discuss how the securitisation of aid after 9/11 has impacted on its delivery and the security of NGO workers as well as broader questions about the purpose of aid in civil society, at ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, Tuesday 2 September at 12.30pm.

Melbourne: ‘The winner takes all? Lessons from the Afghan election’ is a panel discussion hosted by University of Melbourne. Panel members include Prof William Maley, Dr Susan Schmeidl, Dr Astri Suhrke and Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Wednesday 3 September at 6pm.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of the official website of the President of the Republic of Indonesia.

ASPI suggests

US and Australian World War II soldiers with protype BrickArms weapons.I’m kicking off today’s round-up with some good news: yesterday Indonesia’s Constitutional Court upheld the 9 July election result, reaffirming Joko Widodo would become the country’s seventh president. But before we get carried away with high expectations of Jokowi, David Henley cautions that his vision for Indonesia might be flawed. Also check out this NBR interview in which Gunawan Wicaksono soberly examines the economic challenges ahead including slower GDP growth, nationalism and integration with ASEAN.

Meanwhile, Lowy’s The Interpreter has been running a series on sea-based nuclear weapons and strategic stability. Check out this post arguing SSBNs are unnecessary and destabilising and one by Strategist executive editor Rod Lyon who says even noisy submarines can be stabilising—if they’re deployed with a supporting architecture.

Speaking of strategic stability, we recently hosted a blog series on how to meet the challenge of a rising China. You can also watch Peter Jennings and Hugh White discuss the ‘China Choice’ on our YouTube channel. Read more

For more on China’s rise and its impact on Australia, Australia’s Defence: towards a new era? is a collection of essays edited by Peter Dean, Brendan Taylor and Stephan Frühling that examines the challenges and opportunities posed by emerging powers as well as economic and military transformation in the region. Peter also has a piece today in The Diplomat on Australia’s emerging amphibious warfare capabilities.

Turning to national security, Charles Sturt University’s Patrick Walsh sheds some light on the proposed changes to counterterrorism legislation, including changes to mandatory data retention.

This week, the Islamic State released a graphic video of the gruesome beheading of American journalist James Foley, which was then rapidly disseminated via social media platforms. Think Progress’ Hayes Brown interviews researchers J.M. Berger, Mokhtar Awad and Will McCants for their views on the social media strategy behind the Foley video.

Meanwhile, former commander ISAF General John Allen has called for IS to be ‘destroyed’, stating: ‘The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing IS throughout the depth of its holdings, and we should do it now…’

The National Interest has also published two related articles, ‘The master plan: how to stop ISIS’ and ‘A five-step plan to destroy the Islamic State’.

Lastly, this photoessay from The Atlantic comes highly recommended by several ASPI staff. Photographers Peter Macdiarmid (Getty) and Chris Helgren (Reuters) collected 21 photos taken from the D-Day allied invasion of Europe in WWII then travelled to France to capture the same sites today. Click on each for the haunting then and tranquil now shots.


Canberra: former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan will be in town next week at the ANU, discussing his decision to steer Japan away from nuclear energy, on Tuesday 26 August at 6.30pm, details here.

The Australian War Memorial is holding a film screening on official war artists who’ll talk about their work and art, Friday 29 August at 11am in the BAE Systems Theatre. Details here.

Brisbane: Women in Technology is hosting a panel of speakers on the medical applications of 3D printing, Thursday 28 August at 5.30pm at the State Library of Queensland. Details here.

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

ASPI suggests

I’m kicking off today’s list with a piece by ANU’s Dr Mathew Davies who cogently argues that the anti-IS and pro-Iraq strategy of the US needs to consider a post-Iraq Middle East. Systematically outlining the history of the Iraqi state as a construct with external backing and authoritarian government, he notes, ‘Central government, in the absence of open authoritarian repression and at least the benign neglect of Western powers, has never exerted political authority across Iraq organically. Yet the US strategy rests entirely on the vain hope that this time will be different.’ Instead, the US is sowing the seeds of more violence and trauma to come. Keep reading here.

‘Ukraine raises at least two issues that may inspire new thinking on strategic theory. One is the problem of recognizing success when it involves something less than victory.’ This observation comes from Joshua Rovner, writing on the Washington Post blog, Monkey Cage, on what Ukraine means for how we study war. It’s worth reading for its ideas on identifying success, and how the relationship between strategy and grand strategy means the Asia pivot has constrained US action over Ukraine. Sticking with Ukraine, here’s a new Loopcast podcast on the latest events with Dr Andrew Michta.

The latest issue of Security Challenges contains several articles of interest to our readers, particularly one by David Schaefer on the impact of the information revolution on Australia’s foreign intelligence assessment process, and another by Shandon Harris-Hogan on the influence of family on the recruitment and retention of Australian jihadists. Read more

Also on Australian jihadists, Andrew Zammit examines why not all proposed new changes to national security legislation are necessary or justified. While many of the reforms stemmed from separate inquiries highlighting legislative shortcomings, he notes that the proposed reversal of the burden of proof—requiring Australians returning to Iraq and Syria to provide they weren’t involved in terrorism—departs from our legal traditions, is unlikely to address the threat effectively, and risks delegitimising necessary counter-terrorism efforts.

Turning now to one of Australia’s key security partners in Northeast Asia, Tsjeng Zhizaho Henrick has an RSIS Commentary on the limits of Prime Minister Abe’s ambitions in reinterpreting Japan’s constitution. He challenges the idea of Japan’s ‘right-wing drift’ and argues that public protests against ‘remilitarisation’ and a drop in Abe’s popularity may well constrain passage of further legislation.

For this week’s technology pick, here’s a self-assembling, walking robot designed by a team of Harvard engineers. Inspired by origami and the folding of insects’ wings, the robot can build itself in four minutes. But it’s not a true transformer: once the robot folds into its desired shape via internal heating elements, the joints cool and harden. The long-term goal is for the durable origami-bot to be used on the battlefield or in space.


For alliance wonks, CSIS recently hosted Dr Park Jin who delivered a Korean perspective on US–South Korea–Japan cooperation. Audio available here (duration: 1 hour 24mins).


Canberra: Professor Andrei Lankov will tackle the myth that North Korea is the world’s ‘last Stalinist economy’. He’ll discuss the DPRK’s private economy and its impact, Hedley Bull Centre ANU, Thursday 21 August at 3pm.

AIIA ACT will host Dr Marcus Mietzner who’ll present on Indonesia’s recent presidential elections and how democracy survived, Thursday 21 August at 6pm.

Melbourne: What’s the future of the US–Australian alliance? Hosted by AIIA VIC, ASPI Chair Stephen Loosley will discuss the changing strategic environment and its consequences for ANZUS, Wednesday 20 August at 6pm.

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

ASPI suggests

Male and female squads

Welcome back for another round-up of new reports, videos and podcasts in defence and international security!

US President Barack Obama has announced the authorisation of two operations in Iraq: targeted airstrikes against IS convoys to protect American personnel in the city of Erbil and a humanitarian effort to assist Iraqi civilians. Of note to partners like Australia, no American combat troops will be returning to Iraq. Watch the video here or read the full transcript here. Meanwhile, Stephen Walt argues in a piece entitled ‘Do No (More) Harm’ that it’s time for the US to walk away from the Middle East. (update: an earlier version stated the title of Walt’s piece as ‘Let It Bleed’)

Al-Qaeda, not Islamic State, is likely to pose the top jihadist threat to Western countries in three to five years. That’s the assessment of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross who explores why none of al-Qaeda’s branches have pledged allegiance to IS and what the implications are for global security of AQ’s tenacity. He notes: ‘Baghdadi and IS have attracted a large number of followers, but the A-list jihadist talent remains in al Qaeda’s camp.’ Keep reading here. Read more

Missed this week’s Foreign Correspondent on the Norwegian military’s progressive gender experiment? Watch the full episode (including transcript) on the show’s site here. The episode explored the co-habitation of male and female border guards as part of a broader vision to create a cohesive unisex defence force. For more on what’s driving Norway’s defence gender agenda, see this Deutsche Welle reporting on the Norwegian Armed Forces’ plans to introduce female conscription by 2015.

RSIS’ Euan Graham has a report on maritime hotlines in East Asia. He argues that although they’ve been of limited use in the region, there’s growing policy interest given China’s coercive behaviour towards ASEAN states in the South China Sea. For more on their use in crisis management, keep reading here.

Sticking with maritime issues, Sam Bateman has a new commentary on how the resolution of the Bangladesh-India maritime boundary could be a model for the South China Sea.

With the release of Japan’s new defence white paper, here are some useful readings on Japan’s strategic circumstances. The first by University of Sydney’s Thomas Wilkins looks at Japan’s grand strategy and new strategic partnerships, including ‘intra-spoke’ cooperation (of course, referencing the ‘hub and spokes’ model of the San Francisco system). The second by Tokyo Foundation senior fellow Akiko Fukushima focuses on the National Security Strategy’s pledge to make a ‘proactive contribution to international peace’.

For this week’s audio offering, here’s my latest CIMSEC Sea Control podcast with the ANU’s Peter McCawley and Ross Tapsell on what the latest election means for Indonesia’s regional and global role. On the domestic side, check out this New Mandala video with Ross Tapsell, Ed Aspinall and Ariel Heryanto discussing what it means for Indonesia’s democracy and the use of soft power during the election.


Strategy buffs, come watch Professor Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University speak on the strategic utility of land power in the Australian context at a free ASPI event in Canberra, Tuesday 12 August at 5.30pm. For more details see here.

If you’re interested in energy security, the United Nations Association of Australia is holding a seminar on security Australia’s energy future in Melbourne, Friday 15 August. For more details and registration, see here.

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

ASPI suggests

String-like Ebola virus particles are shedding from an infected cell in this electron micrograph. Credit: NIAID

I’m kicking off today with biosecurity: Ebola outbreaks in West Africa have raised fears it might spread to other continents. In a new video interview (7mins), CSIS Senior Vice President and Director, Global Health Policy Center, Dr J. Stephen Morrison says ‘this is far and away the worst [outbreak] we’ve ever seen’. He explains that it’s the scale and scope of this outbreak that’s concerning and discusses the capacity challenges in African states that undermine attempts to keep the spread under control. Keep watching here.

The Strategist has featured an ongoing debate about power shifts in the Asia Pacific and a potential ‘choice’ between China and the US. If you’re looking to read more on this strategic competition, over at Inside Story, Graeme Dobell reviews the contributions of three authors, Geoff Dyer, Robert D. Kaplan and Malcom Fraser, and concludes that ‘this will be more a nineteenth- than a twentieth-century struggle – a contest over power rather than ideology. Australia’s opt-out options are limited’. Read more

This year’s Aspen Security Forum focused on WMD, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the future of warfare, intelligence oversight and more. Featuring a stellar cast of national security practitioners and ambassadors, you can watch the highlights here, including US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey on Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), retired CIA and National Security Agency Director General Michael Hayden on intelligence and transparency, and Pakistani Ambassador to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani addresses the topic of US drone strikes in his country. For full videos, check out the Aspen Security Forum 2014 list on YouTube.

Moving to Northeast Asia, the Ilmin International Relations Institute, a research institute in Seoul, has just released this report (PDF) on the future of North Korea. Surveying 135 experts, the report probes regime stability (interestingly, 42% of Chinese experts surveyed believe it’ll last more than 20 years), the causes of domestic purges, nuclear and foreign policy, the economy, unification and the role of international society.

Turning to military matters, here’s an interesting, if not controversial, read on the army’s next enemy: peace. Writing in the Washington Post, US Army Lieutenant General David W. Barno (rtd) grapples with challenges the transition from high-tempo combat to peacetime will bring. He recalls concepts like ‘selection disobedience’ were introduced after Vietnam in order to ‘empower junior leaders in the face of stultifying Army bureaucracy’. Relevant to our context with the Australian Army set to experience a similar transition, keep reading Barno’s argument here.

Violence in Gaza continued this week. For those wondering how the anti-missile system used by the Israel Defense Forces known as Iron Dome works, check out this primer by Raoul Heinrichs. Although it has achieved a success rate of 80–90% in intercepting rockets from Gaza, Heinrichs argues the system provides ‘incomplete protection’. Keep reading here.


Military History and Heritage Victoria are holding a conference in Melbourne on the fifteenth anniversary of the intervention in East Timor (INTERFET). The keynote speaker will be current Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. Other speakers include the current Governor General Peter Cosgrove (rtd) and Indonesia’s Lieutenant General Kiki Syahnakri (rtd). Held on 20–21 September, for more details and registration info see here.

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

ASPI suggests

Are killer humanoid robots around the corner?Headlining today’s wrap-up is a new International Crisis Group report on evolving tensions between China and Japan. The report looks at mutual perceptions and canvasses opportunities for building better ties. No surprise, its first recommendation to both China and Japan is to refrain from escalatory actions near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which includes giving clear instructions to their respective coast guards to avoid collisions and conflict.

Sticking with China and Japan, Evelyn Goh weighs into the China Choice debate, arguing that the Abbott government has swung to the extreme in its embrace of Japan. In her view, ‘There is a world of difference between being forthright with China and creating the basis for a counter-veiling [sic] coalition with Japan to contain China.’ Keep reading here.

Indonesia has elected the ‘everyday man’, Joko Widodo, to be its next president. But opponent Prabowo Subianto is ready to launch a Constitutional Court challenge, demanding a revote in areas where massive fraud is alleged to have happened. New Mandala’s Liam Gammon has a useful rundown of why this is happening and how this might unfold for the retired military general. Read more

If you’re interested in how Myanmar’s reforms are panning out, read this NBR commentary on the country’s economic integration. Koji Kubo outlines some of how Myanmar’s formal and informal economy works and how external players like the US can facilitate further reforms in order to stimulate both military and non-military businesses.

The Islamic State continues to be a violent force in the Middle East. To understand more about its leadership, read this David Ignatius profile on Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the group’s leader, whom, Ignatius suggests may be more violent than his mentors, Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq: ‘The ISIS leader, in sum, is a clever, disciplined, violent and charismatic man—with an eye for manipulating Muslim public opinion.’

In House of Cards Season Two, the US-China relationship is woven through the storyline via a number of diplomatic and commercial threads. But what does this tell us about the way America sees China? Discussing the hit political drama, Ben Coulson observes: ‘The show presents a nuanced (even if in hyperbolized terms) understanding of China and circulates growing American concerns with China through a financialized orientalism.’

Brain scans could help prevent insider attacks, according to applied neuroscience company, Veritas Scientific. The Virginia-based outfit have a new truth-detection system called HandShake which monitors changes in the brain. Developed by a US Army counterintelligence agent, the system, relies on the presumption of a connection between the brain and criminality but is still years away from application to complex environments like Afghanistan and Iraq, reports Defense One. Read more about it how it works here.

DARPA’s humanoid robot plan is going too well, apparently. According to Roll Call, teams who are designing robots for disaster missions as part of the Robotic Challenge are exceeding expectations. DARPA has extended the deadline and raised the requirements to get the most out of the brain pool. Read the developments here. (Meanwhile, Robert Farley and Charli Carpenter talk killer robots over at here.)


Does credibility in international politics matter? Robert Farley and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross grapple with the broader question of reputation before turning to Obama’s infamous ‘red line’ remarks and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Check out the discussion on growing tensions between China and North Korea with Yong Kwon and Steven Denney.


Canberra: Lieutenant General David Morrison AO, Chief of Army, Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer, Director of Studies at the ANU Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, and Ms Veronica Fynn, a PhD scholar at the ANU College of Law, will discuss the protection of women in conflict on Thursday 31 July at 5.30pm, registration and details here.

Are we sleepwalking into a catastrophe? Prof Joan Beaumont, Dr John Moses and Prof Hugh White will discuss whether, in light of escalating strategic rivalry in the Asia Pacific, there are parallels between 1914 and today. Hosted by the AIIA ACT, the event is on Wednesday, 6 August at 6pm, registration and details here.

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

A ‘Jokowin’ is a win for Australia


It’s official, Joko Widodo has been elected Indonesia’s new president. Last night, hours after Prabowo’s dramatic announcement that he was quitting the election, Indonesia’s General Election Commission (KPU) declared Jokowi and his running mate Jusuf Kalla (together known as Jokowi-JK) the winners with 53.15% of the votes. And that’s a good thing for Australia.

For one, Jokowi’s looking to strengthen Indonesia’s state capacities as well as its economy. If you look at the ‘Vision Mission’ statement (PDF) of Jokowi-JK (summary in English here), many of its policies relate to improving governance and law enforcement, reducing inequality, boosting the economy via productivity and competitiveness, and raising the quality of life. It’s early days and Jokowi remains inexperienced at the national level, yet the combination of his positive track record coupled with his commitment to transparency and efficiency give cause for modest optimism. And here’s why: a strong and stable Indonesia is an Indonesia that can do more in international affairs.

Team Jokowi has already indicated that it intends to pursue greater middle-power diplomacy as well as expand engagement among Indo-Pacific partners, especially ASEAN. A strong and confident Indonesia can continue to act both as the de facto head of the Southeast Asian grouping as well as a mediator role amongst the region’s more powerful actors. If you take, for instance, Jokowi’s commitment to protecting Indonesian migrant workers abroad, he’ll need good working relations with Malaysia, a country with which Indonesia also has its diplomatic ups and downs yet hosts a significant number of Indonesian maids. Read more

Jokowi intends to boost Indonesia’s maritime interests as well and says he will increase the military budget to 1.5% of GDP within five years. Given the volume of trade passing through archipelagic waters, Australia’s economic interests are also served by a stronger Indonesian naval presence. I would note, as my colleague Ben Schreer argues, Indonesia’s military modernisation is by no means going to be easy to achieve.

Jokowi also has a pragmatic and level-headed approach in negotiating which will be desirable during diplomatic shocks such as Snowden revelations. He sees a lack of trust in bilateral relations, but he’s keen to build better government, business and community ties with Australia. A more capricious figure, egged on by domestic outrage and nationalistic fervour, may have compounded the challenges in a diplomatic relationship already marked by highs and lows.

All of that bodes well for Australia’s relations with Indonesia and its interests in the region. In particular, we would do well to see Jokowi as a problem-solving president. That means there’s an opportunity to think about what we want to do together in the medium to longer-term, given Jokowi’s five-year (possibly, decade-long) tenure. For one, that would add more ballast to our relationship, insulating it somewhat from diplomatic shocks. Also, Australia-Indonesia cooperation could form the axis around which more regional involvement on key defence and security issues could rotate.

These are only preliminary thoughts for now as there are a number of ‘unknown unknowns’ along the way. Of course, Australia can help this process along by showing a willingness to be transparent and communicative on some of the pricklier issues. It’s a long road ahead that starts with Jokowi’s inauguration in October, but for now, Australia, along with Indonesia, can celebrate.

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

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.