Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.