Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

ASPI suggests: Christmas edition

Military Working Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASPI suggests

Guantanamo Jumpsuit Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

ASPI suggests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

ASPI suggests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

ASPI suggests

Spying in China is easier than you might think ...

Why isn’t the Pentagon using supply drones to move medical goods in the fight against Ebola? Over at Defense One, Michael Auerbach argues that US military-grade drones could and should be deployed as part of Operation United Assistance to overcome logistics issues, including the disruption of supply chains by corrupt local warloards. Read his case for drones here.

It’s not as hard as you’d think to operate as a spy in heavily-surveillanced China, writes Adam Brookes. Over at Foreign Policy, Brookes discusses some of the success stories and limitations of foreign, particularly American, espionage on Chinese targets.

Malaysia’s Elina Noor explains why Malaysia can and will maintain good ties with both the United States and China. Rejecting a zero-sum approach to foreign relations, Noor says pragmatism and multilateralism are among the factors shaping Malaysia’s stance. Keep reading her arguments here. Read more

Can ASEAN develop a robust nuclear energy regime? Writing for Singapore’s RSIS, Mely Caballero-Anthony, Alistair D.B. Cook, Julius Cesar Imperial Trajano and Margareth Sembiring look at the implications of Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia planning to diversify their respective energy sources, as well as the lessons of Fukushima for Southeast Asia.

For Myanmar/Burma watchers, Trevor Wilson presents a relatively positive assessment of the country’s reform program on the New Mandala blog. In his view, the trajectory and extent of reforms are driven, in large measure, by the level and quality of public discourse as well as greater opposition participation in public policy reviews. Keep reading his assessment and take on the role of external actors here.

Writing under a pseudonym on the UK-based blog Kings of War, a serving British Army officer introduces an American audience to the UK experience of training and war. The post doubles as an insight for Australian observers into British military affairs.

It’s time for India to punch above its weight with Japan, write Keshav Kelkar and Marc McCrum on East Asia Forum. In addition to the bilateral trade potential, the authors argue that the absence of serious historical tensions bode well for expanding ties.

Writing for the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) in India, here’s a piece by Lieutenant General (rtd) Prakash Katoch worth reading for an Indian’s view of US-led military operations against ISIS and the role of social media, but also for his call for the private sector to be involved in counterterrorism in cyberspace.

For the humorous pick for the week, The Economist rounds up some of the best campaign ads from the US mid-term elections.


Over at, Robert Wright and Jonanthan Kay discuss the recent lone-wolf attacks in Canada, asking whether Canadians believe they’re blowback and how we can make ISIS a less effective brand (42mins).


Canberra: SDSC’s Charles Miller delves into what the latest techniques can tell us about how Australians view major foreign policy challenges. His talk is on at the ANU’s Coombs Extension Building on Wednesday 19 November at 5.30pm. Register here.

Meanwhile, SDSC’s Brendan Taylor and John Blaxland are joined by Nick Bisley (La Trobe) and Peter Leahy (University of Canberra) for a talk on defence diplomacy to launch a Centre of Gravity paper on the same topic. The panel discussion is on Thursday 20 November at the Hedley Bull Centre at 5.30pm. Register here.

Hobart: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek, will discuss the Australia–India relationship in a changing world. Hosted by the AIIA Tasmania and University of Tasmania, it’s on Thursday 20 November at 1.45pm. Register here.

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

ASPI suggests

Under a high magnification of 15549x, this colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicted some of the ultrastructural details seen in the cell wall configuration of a number of Gram-positive Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria.

Kicking off today is Russia’s attempt to cosy up to Indonesia. A week after President Joko Widodo was inaugurated, the Russian government announced it’ll support Jokowi’s maritime policies and offer Indonesia ‘various types of ships, multi-level intelligence systems, as well as establish a ship service center and a production center for spare parts.’ The president of the United Shipbuilding Corporation, established by President Putin, will be in Jakarta next week. That development was reported after the US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, expressed interest in boosting maritime cooperation with, you guessed it, Indonesia.

Also on Indonesia, CNAS’ Alexander Sullivan has a new report on strengthening US–Indonesia defence ties which recommends Indonesia ensure its goal of 1.5% GDP defence spending is met within Jokowi’s first term. Keep reading here. Read more

Underwater drones with microphones are being used to listen for Chinese nuclear submarines. US and Singaporean researchers are testing this technology as part of an operation, Project Mission, to link Singapore underwater surveillance systems to an American one designed to track submarines. The article notes that Singapore has made ‘significant advances in underwater acoustics’, and this resonates with some of Andrew Davies’ thinking, that (now for Chinese submarines) there are limits to being stealthy.

Medical researchers are warning of a looming co-epidemic where higher rates of diabetes among developing countries, particularly in Asia, renders the population two to three times more susceptible to contracting active tuberculosis (TB). One third of the global population harbours the dormant TB germ. In our region, countries at risk include China, India and Indonesia, where white sugar is increasingly consumed, but industrialised countries could also be affected.

What did we learn from the ‘Kim Jong-un has disappeared’ hysteria? Writing on Lowy Interpreter, Robert E. Kelly drew three conclusions, which included the observations that the Kims are the Korean version of the Corleones and that there’s far too much focus on them. ICYMI, here’s The Onion’s speculation on why KJU was MIA.

China has extended its deadline for Australia to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, after originally only offering a two-day deadline. China is seemingly desperate for Australia to join. Opposition from Washington is partly responsible for the reluctance to sign up, along with division within the cabinet. Will this damage Sino-Australia relations, especially as free trade deals are being finalised?

A new interactive game ‘1000 Days of Syria’ helps you get inside the mind of a Syrian and face ethical decisions between self preservation and societal demands. The creator believes that the game will incite moral questions regarding different scenarios the player encounters in the game, and hopefully will raise greater understanding of the Syrian conflict.


Loopcast’s latest podcast features Dr John Horgan who discusses terrorism behaviour and deradicalisation (46mins).

Following the launch of the Women in Defence & Security Network, here’s a CSIS-hosted podcast series called Smart Women, Smart Power featuring leading women from national security and the private sector discussing international issues, including ISIS, sexual slavery and radical Islam; commercial diplomacy; and politics in Putin’s Russia.


Canberra: Xunchao Zhang explores a hypothetical scenario of a US energy blockage against China and the counter-strategies China is likely to employ. The talk is at the ANU on Tuesday 4 November at 11.50am.

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 Flickr user Microbe World.

ASPI suggests

Robot wars!Could future wars be fought between robots? CNAS’ Paul Scharre has a new report that examines how swarms of ‘cooperative, autonomous, robotic systems have the potential to bring greater mass, intelligence, coordination, and speed to the battlefield.’ Part II of his Robotics on the Battlefield report sees Scharre delve into each of those attributes as well as swarm C2 models and countermeasures. For more on unmanned systems, Scharre and Daniel Burg look at how they can save costs over at War On The Rocks.

We haven’t heard much in world news about Myanmar lately … CSIS has compiled the observations of a delegation that travelled to Myanmar to assess health and development, political reform and governance, and conflict resolution with the country’s minority groups. The resultant report concludes that active US engagement is critical to supporting further transition. Meanwhile, New Mandala features a two-part series by Josh Wood on Myanmar’s Special Economic Zones.

Also from New Mandala, a round-up of their blog posts on Indonesia’s newly inaugurated President Joko Widodo as well as the performance of Yudhoyono’s administration, the state of Indonesia’s democracy, economic challenges and political reform. Read more

For those interested in landpower, RAND has a new report out on improving strategic competence, drawing on the lessons from the US Army’s 13 years in war. Based on a workshop that collected the views of policymakers and academics involved in national-level strategy making, the report finds that land warfare has increasing relied on special operations forces and that Army often struggles to incorporate broader strategic lessons. For a useful overview of the findings, lessons and recommendations, see this summary. Download the eBook for free here (PDF).

The US and Russia aren’t always at loggerheads with one another. They’ve teamed up against a Swiss plan to increase the resilience of nuclear reactors against natural disasters. Both countries oppose plans that would force greater investment in safety, but China and India have lent their support to the initiative.

As China’s economic and military clout increases, so too does its role in regional affairs, including in Central Asia. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Daniel Trombly and Nathaniel Barr look at China’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan (PDF). Interestingly, the paper examines China–Pakistan–Afghanistan relations, observing that Pakistan’s support of Islamist proxies in Afghanistan is having a destabilising effect on the country, and is increasingly at odds with China’s interests. That’s prompted China to seek cooperation with India on stabilising the central Asian country. For more on those dynamics, keep reading here.

Add to that Lowy Institute’s Dirk van der Kley who also has a new report out on China’s foreign policy in Afghanistan which notes that ‘China’s main interest is ensuring instability doesn’t spread to Xinjiang.’

Imagine working at an all-male university where students spied on each other and were guarded only by female soldiers. American journalist Suki Kim worked as an English teacher at the elite, all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. She has compiled six months’ worth of secret notes into a book, Without You, There is No Us. Read/listen to Kim’s interview with NPR, which includes this insight:

And once I began talking about [democracy], I got very nervous because the students were all watching each other and reporting on each other. After we discussed democracy at the table, later, another student, who’s a roommate of that student, told me that he’s with me. Meaning, he thinks like me. And that really scared me because I thought, then, some of them are questioning the system.


Covert Contact is a new podcast series brought to you from the Blogs of War creator John Little. The latest episode is on what the attack in Ottawa teaches us about terrorists—and ourselves (7mins).

The Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly has some useful insights into Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s future administration (7mins).


For more on that CSIS report on Myanmar, here’s the video of the report’s launch featuring reflections by delegation members and a panel discussion on political and health developments (audio here).

Military drum battle time! For a bit of frivolity today, check out the US III Marine Expeditionary Force band go head to head with the Republic of Korea Army band. Bangnam style!


Canberra: This year’s Vietnam Update will be held Monday 1 – Tuesday 2 December at the ANU, featuring presentations by 16 scholars on political, economic, development and social issues. Register for this free event here.

Don’t forget to register for the Kokoda Foundation’s Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress, ANU’s coast campus at Kioloa, 7 – 9 November. This iteration’s theme is Australia’s role in addressing global nuclear security challenges and Professor Gareth Evans will deliver the keynote speech. Applications for Kokoda Next to be held on 28 November are due Friday 31 October, register here.

Sydney: One of Japan’s leading experts, Dr Ken Jimbo, will discuss maritime security challenges in Asia and their implications for Japan and Australia followed by a panel discussion with Rory Medcalf and Murray McLean. Hosted by the Lowy Institute, it’s on Thursday 30 October at 12.30pm.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Evert Haasdijk.

ASPI suggests

President SBY will hand over the presidency to Joko Widodo on Monday.

On Monday, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will hand over the keys to the world’s fourth most populous country and Southeast Asia’s largest state to the president-elect, Joko Widodo aka Jokowi. To find out what that means for Australia, the Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly has a new paper on Indonesia’s foreign policy under President Jokowi. With useful backgrounders on key figures in Jokowi’s inner advisory circle, the paper examines the impact they may have on the country’s global outlook and Indonesia’s bilateral relations with its southern neighbour.

According to Dutch law, it’s not illegal for Dutch bikies to fight with the Kurds against Islamic State. It is illegal, however, if they want to join a fight against the Netherlands or join the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Keep reading here.

With the world currently gripped with the biosecurity risk associated with the Ebola virus, you wouldn’t think genetic engineering would be the next big global security threat. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Jamie Metzl argues that the time has come to debate the ‘national security implications of the human genetic revolution … to prevent dangerous future conflict and abuse’. Closer to home, he writes:

And what would the United States do if it learned that China had an effective human genetic enhancement initiative that would give China an insurmountable competitive advantage in a few decades?

While a bit alarmist, the piece raises some interesting points about the implications of combining human and animal genes, unequal global access to genetic engineering and the policy approach to this issue. Keep reading here. Read more

If running operations in the Middle East and responding to Ebola in West Africa—among other things—weren’t enough, the Pentagon released a report (PDF) this week that states climate change ‘poses immediate risks to US national security’. While climate change preparedness for the military isn’t new (it began with the last Bush administration), this is the first time the threat has been framed as a challenge for today, rather than in the future. Mother Jones has a useful run-down on the Pentagon’s report here.

Turning to the Asia-Pacific, Alexei Arbatov of Carnegie’s Moscow Center, argues that cooperation and competition between the US, China and Russia will determine the region’s nuclear outlook. The piece discusses at length China’s strategic posture, missile systems and nuclear arms limitations. He suggests Beijing’s nuclear arsenal might be bigger than expected which will challenge the nuclear disarmament process.

Former Army officer and Soldier On CEO, John Bale, has written (PDF) that the Australian Army exhibits higher levels of stigma towards PTSD and higher barriers to care when compared to Navy or Air Force. Beginning with an overview of PTSD, his paper examines initiatives by the Canadian, British and American militaries to de-stigmatise the condition, including the use of ‘operational stress injury’ to better describe psychological difficulties resulting from service.

Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (also known affectionately as ‘Uncle Leon’ on Twitter) has released his book, Worthy Fights: a memoir of leadership in war and peace. Adding to the library of recent political memoirs taking aim at the Obama government, Panetta describes the White House as unwilling to devolve power to its Cabinet and that the power vacuum left after its failure to secure a Status of Forces Agreement with Nouri al-Maliki contributed to the rise of ISIS. For a frank assessment, read David Ignatius’ review in the New York Times.

Lastly, and on a lighter note, dogs have played a faithful role by soldiers’ sides in many conflicts. Building on her weekly war dog column in Foreign Policy, a new book by Rebecca Fraenkel shares her insights into the furry world of the military working dog, from deployments in Vietnam to Iraq to their use in PTSD (or operational stress injury) treatment today.


For a thought-provoking look at the human condition, psychology professor and expert witness on Abu Ghraib, Philip Zimbardo has a TED talk on why good people do bad things (part 1 of an NPR series on The Violence Within Us). He reflects on the results of his notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, funded by the US Office of Naval Research, and how its lessons in authority and institutions can help us understand the acts of torture and abuse committed at Abu Ghraib.


The Kokoda Foundation is currently recruiting future strategic leaders to speak at its next round of Kokoda Next, where they’ll present to an audience of Defence and national security leaders. If you’ve got a fresh idea on Australia’s security thinking, apply by Monday 31 October. Register here.

Australia is involved in the early stages of a long conflict in the Middle East against extremism. Join us for a panel discussion with Peter Leahy, Peter Jennings and Tobias Feakin, moderated by Cath McGrath on the three fronts of this conflict (between Sunnis and Shias, between radicals against regional governments, and between groups of radicals against the West and the West) and Australia’s response. The event is free and will be held on Tuesday 21 October at ASPI offices at 5.30pm. Register here.

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


We’re kicking off today with an interesting question: can diplomats be interdicted as part of new screening measures to detect Ebola? This is just one issue of many raised by Lawfare blog’s Paul Rosenzweig on the law and policy of Ebola interdiction.

Kobane, a Kurdish town on Syria’s northern border, is under attack by Islamic State militants. Although airstrikes alone are unlikely to save the city, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has stated ‘It’s not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own.’ The New Republic examines the Islamic State’s challenge to Turkey’s multiculturalism, as well as the relationship between the ruling Justice and Development Party and the Turkish Kurds.

CNAS’ Alexander Sullivan has a new report on US–Malaysia security cooperation. Read Sullivan’s work for its useful overview of Malaysian interests and defence policy as well as its discussion on how US cooperation can address the country’s priorities in an evolving security environment. Read more

There’s been keen interest in the US decision to sell arms to its historical foe, Vietnam—proof that Asian strategic relations aren’t always prisoners of history. Still, Vietnam’s future depends more on domestic reform than international change. Over on cogitASIA, Jonathan London explores Vietnam’s domestic agenda including how the country will cope with China and whether political reform will improve the overall wellbeing of the economy and the Vietnamese people.

All aboard! Here’s an infographic of China’s vision for a high-speed rail that extends to Europe, Central Asia, India, North America and down to Southeast Asia, including graphs that measure the terrain between China and planned destinations. Geographic let alone diplomatic challenges mean this won’t be happening in a hurry. Nevertheless, it’s an insight into how extensive China’s ambitions are.

For those researching counterterrorism issues, read how Australia is debating issues like ‘subversion’, intelligence oversight and foreign fighters from the transcripts of last and this week’s public hearings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and security on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014.

IISS’ Mark Fitzpatrick makes a contribution to discussions on nuclear latency and nuclear hedging by looking at Iran’s case. He argues that, although Iran has a more primitive nuclear program than a nuclear latent state like Japan, the reality of its track record renders it a nuclear hedger. In his view, this is why we shouldn’t be in a hurry to lift limits on Iran’s nuclear program. And although a bit older, an interesting post by Shashank Joshi that asks, when, exactly, did India get a nuclear weapon?

It seems like challenges to building a local defence industry aren’t country specific. Although Brazil’s defence industry is experiencing a mini-comeback, if it’s to remain competitive, it’ll face similar challenges ahead as domestic defence programs in Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea, writes RSIS’ Richard Bitzinger.

Lastly, the Indonesian military (TNI) celebrated its 69th birthday on Tuesday with an annual parade in front of President Yudhoyono and President-elect Widodo (photoessay). For more on the celebrations, watch this naval warship display, TNI’s martial arts demo (start from 2:25) and female soldiers kicking some serious butt.


Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, Pham Binh Minh, discusses the current state of affairs in his country and the relationship with the United States. His remarks are followed by a roundtable discussion hosted by CSIS (37mins).


Two videos from the Wilson Center; the first with author Aaron David Miller who previews his new book on why American can’t have, and apparently doesn’t want, another ‘great president’ (10mins). The second with Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, on the complex relationship between China and Hong Kong (7mins).

The Council on Foreign Relation’s John Campbell brings you three things to know about Ebola and West Africa (3mins).

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

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Headlining today’s round-up is a CTC Sentinel post by Andrew Zammit on new developments in Australian foreign fighter activity. Among the key changes, he notes that since November 2013 Australian fighters have preferred to fight with ISIS rather than with Jabat al-Nusra or other Free Syrian Army groups, and that Australian jihadists are now playing leadership roles. He also outlines changes in the domestic threat situation and state responses.

Over at The Bridge, Brandee Leon sheds more light on women and the Islamic State. While many women in the captured territory have been kidnapped and then married off, given as rewards or raped, she notes not all are victims: at least two female brigades in the Islamic State enforce sharia law and reports say over 50 British women have joined them.

Missed ANU’s Indonesia Update? New Mandala has uploaded ten YouTube videos of the conference, with our pick being session 8 with IPAC’s Sidney Jones discussing security developments in the country. Read more

Turning now to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day visit to the US. Meeting with many US political figures including aspiring presidential candidates, business and community leaders and delivering no less than seven speeches, the German Marshall Fund’s Dhruva Jaishankar says Modi’s visit has set the stage for a reset of US–India ties. On developments, he noted:

The most eye-catching related to counterterrorism, with specific commitment by India and the US to a joint effort to disrupt and dismantle terrorist and criminal networks such as al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis. This goes well beyond what the US has been publicly willing to commit to in the past.

Keep reading about Modi’s gains with US relations here.

Sticking with the subcontinent, David Brewster says that despite the burgeoning bromance between Japan and India, Japan might not be such an easy pushover on a nuclear deal. His East Asia Forum piece explains the ups and downs in bilateral relations due to political, institutional and cultural obstacles, particularly where nuclear-issues are concerned.

For an American perspective on army engagement in the Asia-Pacific, check out this speech by Commanding General of the US Army Pacific General Vincent Brooks (PDF) delivered at the Chief of Army’s exercise last week. In the speech, he emphasised that regional engagement makes it possible for armies to know the territory better, helps consolidate gains made in responding to crises, drives the US military to be present where it matters most, makes it possible to know about each other’s’ capabilities, and counters US isolationism. (Thanks to USARPAC for making this speech available to The Strategist.)

Lastly, for something quirkier, here’s a War on The Rocks piece by Adam Elkus on why the popular video game Call of Duty might not help us predict future wars, and an Al Jazeera app in which you, the player, accepts an assignment to track and combat African piracy.


CIMSEC’s Matthew Hipple discusses how the US military could use drones as countermeasures and decoys to protect ships and aircraft. He argues that drones provide more options as decoys and, being light and compact, save space in ship storage.

How do you rebuild a broken state? In 2005, while Chancellor of Kabul University, Afghanistan’s President-elect Dr Ashraf Ghani gave a TED talk on the necessity of economic investment and design ingenuity to rebuild broken states, and much of what he discussed can be applied to Afghanistan. It’ll be interesting to see how his views have evolved now that he’s in power (10mins).


Canberra: The Australian Institute of International Affairs will hold its National Conference at the Hyatt Hotel on Monday 27 October. Further information here. (If you’re 40 or under, you can also apply for one of six masterclasses to be led by AIIA Fellows. Applications close Thursday 9 October.)

The Kokoda Foundation’s Future Strategic Leaders’ Congress is coming up 7–9 November at ANU’s Kioloa campus. This iteration’s theme is Australia’s role in addressing global nuclear security challenges, with Prof Gareth Evans headlining the event. For more details and registration, see here.

Melbourne: Dr Swati Parashar will discuss how women participate in and experience insurgencies, with specific reference to the Sri Lankan Tami Tigers insurgency and the armed militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir. Her talk is at the Australian India Institute, University of Melbourne, on Thursday 9 October at 1pm.

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 Flickr user leg0fenris.

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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.

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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.