Articles by " Natalie Sambhi"

ASPI suggests: Easter edition

Marines with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin form up around Brig. Gen. John Frewen, 1st Brigade commanding general and senior Australian Defence Force officer for Robertson Barracks, to listen to him speak about expectations with the rotation, April 11. Frewen said the rotation is a tangible sign of the strength between Australia and the United States.

It’s a long weekend in Australia with Easter public holidays so regular blogging will resume Tuesday 22 April. Until then, here are ASPI’s picks in new reports and other interesting things to read, view or listen to.

Let’s kick off with a futuristic piece by Patrick Tucker over at Defense One on why there will be a robot uprising. Tucker explores research by computer scientist and entrepreneur Steven Omohundro that says artificial intelligence will be ‘anti-social’ unless design changes are made today. Essentially, robots are ‘utility function junkies’ which means that they’ll obsessively refine their primary task without worrying about ‘costs in terms of relationships, discomfort to others, etc., unless those costs present clear barriers to more primary function. This sort of computer behavior is anti-social, not fully logical, but not entirely illogical either.’ Keep reading here.

For policymakers working on how to deepen defence cooperation between states, this Clingendael report examines the interactions between sovereignty and defence cooperation in the case of the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Although it relies on a European case study, some of the key findings are useful in contemplating the challenges of expanding defence cooperation and building trust in our region.

If you’re interested in what has happened to the US rebalance, this longer WaPo article explores how President Obama intends to reinvigorate his Asia strategy. It’s also a useful overview of the rebalance’s genesis and how it has responded to some of the region’s challenges like the announcement of China’s ADIZ.

Speaking of American ties to the region, the US and South Korea have just announced that they’ve agreed to bolster efforts to deter North Korean provocations. Of note is a joint statement (full text here) that includes the line ‘The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the combined defense posture to defend the Republic of Korea and to deter North Korean aggression by enhancing combined Alliance capabilities, and continuing combined exercises.’ This development follows the end of Exercise SsangYong, a bilateral amphibious assault exercise between the US Navy and Marines with South Korea Marines as well as a small contingent of Australian forces.

If you’re interested in private military contractors, check out CIMSEC’s special series that includes part I of Scott Cheney-Peters’ work on private maritime security companies (PMSCs) in South and Southeast Asia. It’s worth reading for a rundown of the historical trade context and threats like piracy that give rise to PMSCs.

For defence capability, our pick is an RSIS commentary by Wu Shang-su (PDF) that looks at the viability of Taiwan’s indigenous submarine program. In addition to establishing a domestic ship-building industry, Wu argues that Taiwan will also face political challenges in its bilateral relations with both the US and China as well as technological ones if it pursued a diesel (SSK) design.


In the first episode of a New Mandala video series (approx 12 minutes in length), ANU’s Ross Tapsell interviews his colleague Greg Fealy and prominent Indonesian activist and political analyst Usman Hamid on the implications of the recent Indonesian legislative elections for Jokowi and the presidency.

It’s been two years since the first 250 US Marines touched down in Darwin as part of a rotational force designed to further strengthen the alliance through training and working with the ADF. The latest contingent to arrive in Darwin a few weeks ago is now 1,150 personnel in size. This video is a brief behind-the-scenes glimpse of their arrival, including a look at the kinds of additional air assets the Marines have brought with them to support their rotation. For an insight on how the forces are sharing knowledge and building interoperability, this short video captures some weapons training and impressions of both the American and Australian personnel.


Lastly, listen to the first Asia Pacific segment in CIMSEC’s Sea Control podcast series, featuring interviews with ASPI analysts. This week, I interviewed Rosalyn Turner on her recent research on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) including the type being used now in the MH370 aircraft search. The podcast also features Mark Thomson on the challenges of picking Australia’s future submarine.

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

ASPI suggests

Commander Submarine Forces, US Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Phillip Sawyer. Image credit: Luke Wilson, ASPI

It was submarine-mania at ASPI this week with our international conference ‘The Submarine Choice’ held 9–10 April. And we’d like to extend a big thanks to all—speakers, sponsors, participants and venue staff—who made it a big success. Our speakers included the Minister for Defence Senator David Johnston (full speech here), Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs (full speech here), Commander US Pacific Fleet Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr (full speech here) and Commander Submarine Force US Pacific Fleet Rear Admiral Phillip G. Sawyer (pictured), who said:

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One of the main headlines from the event was the Defence Minister’s announcement to re-examine the previous government’s plan to build 12 submarines. In this blog post, Andrew Davies and Mark Thomson argue there are reasons to think 12 still might be the number. Earlier in the week, ASPI Chairman Stephen Loosley argued that, with a more constrained defence budget, it was time for Australia to back away from the 12-submarine commitment, and that six would achieve our strategic objectives.

For other Strategist posts that break down the big issues from the conference, visit ‘The Submarine Choice’ section on the blog, and for updates and images from the event, see Twitter hashtag #SubCon14.

In Indonesia, it’s been a tougher ride than expected for presidential hopeful Joko Widodo’s political party, PDI-P, in this week’s legislative election. With only 19% of votes (they needed 20% of seats in the legislature or 25% of the popular votes to nominate a presidential candidate), the party might have to cut a deal with others to ensure a shot for Jokowi at the July election. Over at New Mandala’s Indonesia Votes section, Marcus Mietzner, Edward Aspinall, Wimar Witoelar and David Willis share their post-election analysis on PDI-P and the limited ‘Jokowi effect’.

Shifting to broader strategy-related items, this week’s podcasts are courtesy of the ANU. First, a recent public lecture by Professor Sir Hew Strachan in which he made the argument that an emphasis on national interests, defined in terms of geopolitics, can run counter to our ideological commitments. Second, a panel discussion featuring some of Australia and Asia’s leading scholars on whether East Asia risks being brought to the brink of war as Europe was in 1914.

Sticking with the Asia Pacific, Japan has pushed ahead with plans to stockpile plutonium, although not of a grade most desirable for bombs. The stockpile is being used for a nuclear recycling program designed to reuse plutonium as part of an overall plan to reduce Japan’s dependence on external energy sources. The Americans are reportedly unhappy with Tokyo’s stockpiling intentions, for fear of the material being stolen and used by terrorists. For more on the controversy around the plan and Japan’s history of nuclear energy, read this New York Times piece.

Moving to the Middle East, with Iran entering a third round of nuclear talks with world powers this week, CSIS has produced a 3-minute animated video explaining Iran’s missile capabilities, with analysis and narration by Anthony Cordesman.

Turning now to technology and conflict, there’s a new exhibit at the United Nations that simulates walking around landmines. It uses a low-energy Bluetooth technology to find a phone’s location and transmitters hidden throughout the exhibit. When a person comes too close to a transmitter, it acts as a landmine and detonates, filling the user’s headphones with a jarring, visceral explosion followed by an audio testimony of someone’s actual experience.

Lastly, if you’re in Perth, there’s a special art exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) ‘Out of the Shadows’ on display at the Western Australia Museum. ‘Out of the Shadows’ runs from Saturday 12 April to Sunday 1 June and offers a glimpse into the world of Australia’s special forces. For more details visit here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image credit: Luke Wilson, ASPI.

ASPI suggests

Jokowi for President

We’re kicking off this week with a suggestion to look at the testimonies of a range of US Asia experts for the US–China Economic and Security Review Commission. Of interest to Strategist readers are testimonies on China and evolving security dynamics in East Asia, China’s military modernisation and its implications for the US, and US–China cybersecurity issues, available as transcript or audio file.

Indonesia’s legislative election is on next Wednesday 9 April, the outcome of which will have some bearing on the future of Australia–Indonesia diplomatic relations. Here’s a quick ABC primer on how these elections work and an Economist piece on what they’ll mean for the presidency. For more in-depth analysis, check out New Mandala’s ‘Indonesia Votes’ feature with stories on the latest polls on the July presidential race and a profile on Jokowi, the man tipped to be Indonesia’s new leader.

Our podcast partners over at the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) have released the inaugural edition of Sea Control’s ‘East Atlantic’ series (ASPI being the lead for their ‘Asia Pacific’ segments). For this episode, Alexander Clarke from the UK’s Phoenix Think Tank discusses the challenges and misconceptions of the F-35 program with Steve George, a former engineer with the F-35 program and Royal Navy veteran. For more Sea Control podcasts, see here. Read more

Our next pick is a Wall Street Journal column penned by former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in which he outlines how to deal with Russia. According to Gates, the only way to deal with Putin’s ambitions is for the ‘West also to play a strategic long game’. There’ll be costs to a hardened stance towards Russia, he argues, but ‘[t]acit acceptance of settling old revanchist scores by force is a formula for ongoing crises and potential armed conflict, whether in Europe, Asia or elsewhere.’

If you’re interested in North Korea, here’s the video of a panel discussion on new thinking on diplomacy towards DPRK. Shin-wha Lee (Korea University), Feng Zhu (Peking University) and Mark Fitzpatrick (International Institute for Strategic Studies) discuss South Korean, Chinese and American approaches, respectively. Of note to alliance scholars is Fitzpatrick’s presentation on alliance coordination and US–Republic of Korea cooperation on North Korea policy, starting from 1:00:17 (YouTube).

Reminder: the Future Strategic Writers Competition is on again this year. Sponsored by Australian Defence Business Review and run by the journal Security Challenges, the competition invites young scholars or professionals under 35 to submit articles or comments by Friday 1 August on security challenges facing Australia and the region. Winners are awarded AUD$2,500 so get writing! More details here.

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

Police cooperation can help restart the relationship

Indonesia's police

While the political relationship between Australia and Indonesia is going through a tough time, the close relationship between their two police forces continues. That’s good for Australia and Indonesia because this relationship supports both countries’ national interests in promoting the rule of law and practical cooperation against crime and terrorism.

As our recently released report, ‘A return on investment: the future of police cooperation between Australia and Indonesia’, explains, the relationship between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian National Police (POLRI) would benefit from some new thinking. That’s because their relationship is at an inflection point: in addition to the freeze in cooperation on cyber crime and people smuggling caused by the current rift, a number of joint initiatives have either matured (and require revision) or are becoming less relevant. Some others—like people smuggling—mightn’t be as relevant in the future either. The rift might have also created a trust deficit in intelligence sharing and the cyberdomain.

The close police relationship can help Australia and Indonesia navigate their way to the ‘new normal’—a new state of bilateral relations that the foreign ministers are in the process of negotiating. Both countries can leverage the past achievements and current, low-key collaboration of the two police forces in some new ways. This will also help shift the focus onto less politically-charged issues like cooperation on transnational crime. Read more

One golden opportunity to mark the success of this relationship will be upon us soon. July 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the highly-successful Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC). This small school located in Central Java has seen over 15,000 law enforcement officers attend over 600 training activities in the last decade. It’s also bought a number of regional police force officers to Indonesia to discuss common threats like terrorism, people smuggling and organised crime. It’s been an outstanding success that should be marked, and used to promote the clear benefits of Australia–Indonesia cooperation.

Another opportunity might be to address absent parts of the bilateral cooperation. Currently, there’s no counterpart meeting for Australia’s Justice Minister, who’s responsible for the AFP. This is partly because the Indonesian system is differs to Australia’s, with the POLRI Chief reporting straight to the President. Still, a broad-membership forum focused on law enforcement could bring ministers and officials together to discuss cooperation and future capacity building projects. Its broad membership could also encourage a whole of government perspective among Indonesian law enforcers.

The Australian government could also request the Indonesian government to provide some policing experts for the G20 conference in November 2014. This conference will require Australia’s police forces to pool much of their specialist capabilities for a short period, and to hold more on stand-by in case of an incident. It’s a good time to recoup some of the investment Australia’s made in POLRI over the last decade by inviting some of their specialists to work in Canberra during this time. It’s also a great way to demonstrate the partnership between Australia and Indonesia, which are both G20 states.

Turning to medium-term opportunities, the next Commonwealth budget needs to restore the Law Enforcement Development Program (LEDP). This program provides the AFP with an ability to fund small cooperation projects with its partners, such as training courses, visits and gifts of equipment. In effect, the LEDP allows the AFP to respond quickly to new opportunities as they emerge. This level of flexibility will be needed as the ‘new normal’ for the bilateral relationship won’t emerge for some time yet, unless political conditions change for the better.

Beyond that, it’s also time to think about the longer-term police-to-police relationship. This will be important because an increasingly wealthy Indonesia, and increased links between the two countries, will likely be accompanied by an increase in transnational crime. Both forces should be thinking about how the investment of the last decade can be leveraged for mutual benefit. Building stronger people-to-people links through a police alumni organisation and new capability initiatives against cybercrime will help.

Finally, both forces could do more to spread the focus of cooperation beyond Indonesia by encouraging more activities in Australia and in the broader Southeast Asian region. This should include some long-term attachments for POLRI officers in Australia.

There’s also a great opportunity for the AFP and POLRI to work together in Myanmar, where its police force is emerging from military control and is in need of professional training. Such cooperation would promote both Australia and Indonesia’s interests in promoting democracy and change in Myanmar, and provide a tangible demonstration of the benefits of international police cooperation.

David Connery and Natalie Sambhi are analysts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Michael McKenzie is a PhD scholar at the Australian National University. Their report, ‘A return on investment: the future of police cooperation between Australia and Indonesia’ was published by ASPI and is available for download here. Image courtesy of Flickr user Luther Bailey.

Jokowi and the defence realm

Then Ambassador Marciel joined Governor Joko Widodo for Kampung Visit, June 2013.

No doubt by now most Australian readers would have heard that the popular Jakarta governor, Joko Widodo, also known as ‘Jokowi’, is the frontrunner for Indonesia’s upcoming presidential election. His meteoric rise from humble furniture entrepreneur in Solo to what could be the Presidential Palace is best explained simply by his genuine push for effective governance and a crackdown on corruption as well as his grassroots, ‘Mr Fix-it’ image. In short, he’s riding an Obama-like wave of hope and change in Indonesia—most importantly, hope that change is possible and that politics need not be dominated by stale and self-serving elites.

Nearly 32% of Indonesians recently polled by CSIS Jakarta have thrown their support behind Jokowi (Prabowo, the next preferred candidate, trails behind with 14.3%). While it’s not a fait accompli, it’s time to consider what a Jokowi administration might look like. How Indonesia views its strategic environment and how it chooses to manage its diplomatic relations is of great interest to Australia. As the past six months have shown, diplomatic disruptions to the relationship, for one, could harm our defence and security cooperation. Read more

Without making predictions about who’ll fill a Jokowi cabinet, it’s fair to say there’ll be a period of settling in after the elections. As Gary Hogan points out, ‘If the new Indonesian president is allowed to form a cabinet of clean, capable, technocratic ministers, able to implement sensible fiscal and economic policy, the stake of Australian business in Indonesia’s future looks promising’. The same roughly applies to those who fill the roles of defence minister and coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs. As always, people matter.

Looking to the bigger strategic picture, Jokowi will have to contend with challenges posed by the increasingly complex relationship between China and ASEAN states, exacerbated by a raft of territorial disputes. For its part, after years of maintaining its neutrality, Indonesia formally announced in early March its own dispute with China’s claim over parts of its territory in the South China Sea. As Ann Marie Murphy notes in today’s PacNet newsletter, this is ‘likely to heighten tensions on an issue that is already fraught with them’. Indonesia will have to work harder to maintain regional stability—and in an environment less conducive to the norms of peaceful settlement of disputes and non-interference from external actors. Jokowi has dipped his toe into ASEAN matters hosting a meeting with governors and mayors of ASEAN capital cities, but it’s not the same as strong Indonesian leadership of ASEAN in the face of a more provocative China.

And that’s where a good VP will help. An experienced hand will help bolster what Jokowi lacks in foreign policy street cred. So far, the serious talk has been of former Vice President to SBY, Jusuf Kalla (who also served in Megawati’s cabinet), running with Jokowi. Kalla’s proven credentials in conflict resolution would be of value: he helped solve inter-religious violence in Sulawesi in 2001 and steered Aceh’s rehabilitation after the 2004 tsunami. Of all potential VP candidates, Kalla can best ease Jokowi into the realm of international politics. The same goes for having a vibrant and experienced foreign minister.

In terms of defence policy, many of the current drivers for Indonesia’s military modernisation—including a focus on maintaining territorial sovereignty and protecting its EEZ—will continue to shape decision-making during a Jokowi term in office. Defence spending will largely depend on economic performance, so we’ll have to see how the Indonesian economy fares first under the new administration before we can expect announcements to increase the defence budget. TNI’s modernisation program aims to develop a ‘Minimum Essential Force’ (MEF) by 2024 which entails major upgrades of naval, land and air capabilities as well as the development of a local defence industry. While many of those developments were driven by SBY, some have made their way into legislation, which a new president might find hard to alter. Indonesia also has a number of capability development projects and acquisition deals on the go with partner countries. Defence officials recently announced that the first batch of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets as part of a US grant are due to arrive in country in October.

Turning finally to how Jokowi will deal with the military itself, there’s been some chatter about current TNI chief General Moeldoko as Jokowi’s running mate. But most opinion polls suggest the public would oppose such a degree of military involvement in politics. Irrespective of historical preferences for a ‘strong man’, Indonesians have indicated that a civilian is up to the top job. At a time when anti-corruption and clean governance are the dominant political flavours, Moeldoko has made all the right noises about reform and professionalism. Hopefully this translates into a continuation of Indonesia’s reformasi project.

For Australia, a changing of the presidential guard is an opportunity to rebuild the defence and security relationship. It’s not possible that all military exercises suspended by SBY last year will automatically and immediately resume. But a few encouraging initiatives—both from Canberra and Jakarta—early in a new administration would provide positive signs for the future. In strategic terms, with growing ambiguity in Indonesia–China relations over territory, it’s timely and appropriate for Australia and other partners to warm the relationship with Jakarta.

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

ASPI suggests

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Montez, with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, speaks with local kids during a patrol through the Mashtal area of East Baghdad, Iraq, March 13, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Davis Pridgen)

Yesterday, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution, proposed by Ukraine and backed by the United States and European Union, to affirm its commitment to Ukraine’s internationally-recognised borders and to dismiss the Crimean referendum as ‘having no validity’. One hundred states voted in favour (including Australia), 11 against and 58 abstained (results here). Unsurprisingly, Russia—which was not named in the resolution—voted ‘no’.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace asked an expert panel ‘what are the global implications of the Ukraine crisis?‘ The panellists, Eugene Rumer, Andrew S. Weiss, Ulrich Speck, Lina Khatib, George Perkovich and Douglas H. Paal also answered other questions on the impact of the situation on US strategy, China, Syria and global strategic affairs.

Turning to the implications for our region, Brad Glosserman of Pacific Forum CSIS has a National Interest piece on why Crimea matters to the US and Asia. He argues there are more subtle lessons to learn; he asserts that realism remains a feature of foreign policy and is characterised by ‘more subtle uses of force: scalpels, not cleavers’. Keep reading here. Read more

Similarly, Sean Kay argues on War on The Rocks that Russia’s actions prove the case for the US pivot to Asia. He says the US should ask its NATO allies to do more while it carries on ‘with a calibrated and careful pivot to Asia which remains America’s most important strategic priority’. Read more here.

CNAS held a Google Hangout this week, bringing together experts on three continents to discuss maritime security in Asia through the prism of US alliances. Speakers included Admiral Gary Roughead, Dr Patrick M. Cronin, Commander Paul Giarra, Former Minister of Defense of Japan Satoshi Morimoto, the Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf and CNAS President Richard Fontaine. You can watch the video of the event here.

The CNAS event follows the publication of a new multi-authored report ‘Tailored coercion: competition and risk in maritime Asia’ which explores questions on how to ‘encourage China to move toward compromise and cooperation in the maritime domain, as well as how to respond should Beijing choose to follow a different path’.

Sticking with maritime security, US PACOM commander Admiral Samuel Locklear stated that China would likely have submarines equipped with long-range nuclear missiles. Speaking before a Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week, the Admiral was referring to China’s JIN-class nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine and the new JL-2 missile on board the vessel.

If you’re interested in submarine matters, head down to ASPI’s International Submarine Conference, 8–10 April. But hurry, registration closes next Thursday 3 April. More information, including the speaker line-up and program, is available here. You can also follow updates and live-tweets on the day via Twitter hashtag #SubCon14.

Lastly, if you haven’t read The Good Soldiers (2009) by Pulitzer prize winner David Finkel, I recommend it. The book describes Finkel’s time embedded with US Army infantry soldiers known as the ‘2-16 Rangers’ (one pictured above), during the 2007 troop surge in Iraq. Finkel provides a raw account of ‘good soldiers’, everyday men and women who have been thrust into life-changing experiences and explores the ground-level effects of political decisions concerning modern combat. Journalist Martha Raddatz also has this interview with Finkel on his new book Thank You for Your Service (2013) in which he follows the lives of 2-16 soldiers back home, chronicling their recoveries as well as the experiences of their families.

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

ASPI suggests

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia continues to generate the top international security stories for this week. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his actions in Crimea in an impassioned speech to the Parliament (the official translation available here). Amidst a narrative of Crimea in Russian history and nationalist sentiments, Putin remarked:

In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. This firm conviction is based on truth and justice and was passed from generation to generation, over time, under any circumstances, despite all the dramatic changes our country went through during the entire 20th century… Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.

Putin also takes shot at what he sees as weak international institutions and the preference of western partners led by the US to ignore international law. It’s certainly an insight into how the historical narrative is being shaped within Russia, and worth reading in full. For other views on the speech, here’s the New Yorker, The Nation and a useful Washington Post fact check. Read more

In related news, US President Obama has announced the expansion of sanctions against Russia to include figures like Putin’s chief of staff, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel told her Parliament yesterday that the EU will impose economic sanctions as well. Merkel noted all G8 meetings have also been suspended until the political situation changes. And the fallout from Russian actions continues to reverberate across the EU, with Poland announcing it will speed up its plan for a missile defence system. Lastly, has Putin handed the Pentagon a rationale for new nuclear weapons? And here’s the British perspective.

Australia–Indonesia defence relations seem to be thawing, with a recent visit by Defence Minister David Johnston to the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue this week. Delivering a speech at the event, Minister Johnston set out his vision for bilateral ties:

Australia and Indonesia are at our best when we cooperate. Whatever the momentary fluctuations in our relationship, we will be better off if we commit to help bring out the best in each other. That is a far better legacy to leave for future generations.

Another positive sign reported by The Australian has been Indonesian Defense Vice-Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin’s proposal to upgrade military exchanges at colonel and brigadier levels to major generals and lieutenant generals.

Sticking with Indonesia, the US grant of F-16 fighter jets are expected to arrive in the country in October. The aircraft—eight in the first instance—will be located in the Indonesia’s west and will boost TNI-AU’s current F-16 fleet of only one squadron based in East Java.

It’s been 11 years since US forces arrived in Iraq to dislodge Saddam Hussein from power. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon argues in this DefenseOne piece that the war has been a ‘ghost’ hanging over every American decision to act—and more importantly, not act in places such Syria. Meanwhile, check out this 2013 video of a Lowy Institute-hosted lecture by former Prime Minister John Howard (who officially opened ASPI’s new offices last night) on the tenth anniversary of the war.

Lastly, for this week’s military music video, here’s Metallica’s ‘Fuel’: US Navy style.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

ASPI suggests

Senator Dianne Feinstein discusses the U.S. operation that killed Usama bin Laden.

This week, Chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (pictured above), made a bold speech that accused the CIA of hacking into a stand-alone network used for an investigation into the agency’s Bush-era rendition, detention and interrogation program (Senator Feinstein’s full statement is available here, with video here). This is the latest development in an ongoing feud between the CIA and the Senate over a report that demonstrates the CIA misled Congress, the White House and the Justice Department and overstated the program’s success. The CIA believes the Senate Committee took secret documents without permission, prompting the search of the network without the committee’s knowledge. CIA director John Brennan has defended his organisation, stating ‘nothing could be further from the truth. I mean we wouldn’t do that.’ Meanwhile, political satirist Jon Stewart has weighed into the controversy, ridiculing what he sees as Senator Feinstein’s hypocrisy as in the past she has defended the NSA’s surveillance programs and poking holes in Director Brennan’s defence in light of the CIA’s history.

IISS’ Mark Fitzpatrick is calling out what he sees is China’s hypocrisy in objecting to Japan’s stockpile of plutonium, 331 kg of which is weapons-grade. Japan has planned to return the weapons-grade material to the US (an announcement of the repatriation was to be made at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit) yet China accuses Japan of holding onto the material as a nuclear hedge. The irony, Fitzpatrick notes, is that, Japan is compliant with IAEA verification measures but:

China possesses about 200 nuclear weapons and is cagey about nuclear transparency. There are valid reasons to criticise Japan’s stockpile of plutonium, but China’s exaggerations in this regard undermine its own arguments for pursuing plutonium reprocessing.

Read more here.

Read more

Sticking with Japan, the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) in Tokyo and the ANU have released a joint study on security relations between Australia and Japan. Available free to download, the report explores how the two countries can work together to ensure peace, stability and a desirable future development in the region. It covers emerging regional threats, national and regional order, maritime security and capacity-building, Australia–Japan defence cooperation and more.

Turning now to Southeast Asia, Indonesian officials (finally) acknowledge that China’s maritime claims include Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, an area with strategic significance for the archipelagic state. The acknowledgement is important as Indonesia has long claimed to be a neutral party in disputes between China and other ASEAN states over maritime claims. In late February, TNI chief General Moeldoko travelled to China to meet with his counterpart yet few details about his meetings were announced—except plans to strengthen Indonesian presence in the Natunas.

Worried about shrinkage? The USN has solved the problem with some new accounting rules for hull numbers. But in the long run, it won’t defeat the apparently inevitable trend.

Lastly, the NSA has an advice columnist: Zelda. According to The Intercept, an NSA official serving for approximately 20 years as ‘a first-line and mid-level Agency supervisor’ has been passing on anonymous advice to fellow employees on a range of issues from office body odour to supervisors not responding to emails. Read more here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy United States Senator for California.

ASPI suggests

Royal Marines of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando during a ground domination patrol in Afghanistan in 2009.

Headlining today is the news that the code of conduct on intelligence activities (also called a ‘code of ethics’) between Australia and Indonesia hasn’t shown much progress of late. The Indonesian President proposed the CoC last year (first via Twitter) as a means to rebuilding diplomatic ties in the wake of spying allegations. Australia has provided its draft of the CoC to Indonesia but is yet to receive a response. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is concerned that Indonesia’s Parliamentary election, scheduled for April, will hold things up further. While cooperation in a number of other areas like trade remains intact, the signing of a CoC will be an important signal that bilateral ties have ‘normalised’ and is a pre-condition for the resumption of some forms of suspended cooperation like military exercises.

This week, the United States released its Quadrennial Defense Review, a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities, as well as the FY2015 Defense budget. For the main points, here’s a quick fact sheet (PDF). At a glance, the QDR seems to emphasise science, technology and R&D into cyber capabilities. CNAS adjunct fellow Travis Sharp looks at the impact on ground forces of high-tech modernisation given the QDR/FY2015 budget’s prioritising of technology. Meanwhile, CSBA’s Todd Harrison scrutinises the FY2015 budget, finding:

The FY 2015 FYDP only funds Army active end strength at 420,000, Marine Corps active end strength at 175,000, and does not fully fund the refueling and overhaul of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, which would leave the Navy at 10 carriers.

Read more

Turning now to Northeast Asia, Scott Snyder and Brad Glosserman argue that political solutions to tension in Japan–South Korea relations will fail if each country’s national identity continues to be pitted against the other. As an example of unhelpful behaviour, the authors point to the opening of a memorial hall in South Korea, named in honour of Ahn Jung-geun, an independence activist who in 1909 assassinated a Japanese colonial governor of Korea. Ahn is seen as a ‘terrorist’ in Japan, yet ‘freedom fighter’ in Korea. The authors also propose four steps Tokyo and Seoul could adopt to build a better understanding between the sides; these include the establishing of a day (other than 15 August) for both Japan and South Korea to commemorate the historical events of the 20th century as equals.

Can too much cultural affinity cause war? Over at The Monkey Cage, Akos Lada argues, contrary to what Huntington says about a ‘clash of civilisations’, what’s striking about Ukraine and Russia is the cultural similarities between them, rather than differences. Lada explains:

Elites in repressive regimes are threatened by a culturally-similar country where citizens are becoming empowered. The example of the two Koreas illustrates such a conflict vividly. North Korean citizens are most likely to push for change when they are inspired by a culturally-similar democracy such as South Korea. As a result, North Korean dictators work to prevent their citizens from learning about South Korean democracy. They even use force against South Korea to ensure that North Korean citizens see their Southern brothers as an enemy rather than a model.

The full research paper on cultural affinity and war can be found here.

Lastly, back in 2010, photographer Lalage Snow captured portraits of British soldiers before, during and after their deployments to Afghanistan. Taken over a series of eight months, the triptychs document the physical transformation of men and women at war. In this interview, Snow says ‘This project was about making the Afghan war personal, I guess, and not just about numbers’. Snow’s work follows in the footsteps of others such as Claire Felicie’s 2009–10 project Marked which similarly depicts the before, during and after-deployment faces of Marines in Afghanistan.

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

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Indonesian President Yudhoyono receiving new ambassadors, 30 January 2014.

‘As things stand, Indonesia’s relationship with Australia is unlikely to become a foreign policy priority in coming years.’ That’s one of the assessments from the Lowy Institute’s Dave McRae in a new report on Indonesia as a foreign policy actor. Dave concludes that, despite its size, Indonesia won’t emerge as a significantly more influential actor in ways that set it apart from other middle powers. If that’s the case, Australian policymakers take note: rather than assuming our future in the Asia Pacific is too heavily dependent on Indonesia, we might look for more cooperative and collaborative efforts on a peer-to-peer basis.

Sticking with the region, the team at New Mandala look at Thailand’s and Singapore’s respective bilateral relationships with Malaysia in 2014. Also, check out CogitASIA’s ‘By the Numbers’ this week, which features some key stats on the Aquino government’s plan to allocate more resources to upgrading the Philippine military.

Want some essential reading for the Apocalypse? War on the Rocks has you covered, with recommendations from Elbridge Colby, William Rosenau, Usha Sahay and Robert Zarate on books essential for understanding nuclear issues. Read more

Watch Professor Sir Hew Strachan (video) at a recent IISS meeting discuss key elements from his new book, The Direction of War. He argues that the failure of the west’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from a fundamental misreading and misapplication of strategy itself.

The folks over at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) have summarised the case for why aircraft carriers are still important and hence why the Pentagon should develop a new unmanned carrier-based aircraft. Some think tank analysts support the idea of a stealthy unmanned combat aircraft system (UCAS), in preference to the current Pentagon program to development an unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) one—the difference being the relative emphasis on strike and surveillance. In their opinion:

A long-range, stealthy UCAS operating from the Navy’s carriers would complement the Air Force’s fleet of land-based, long-range bombers and surveillance aircraft to project power globally and rapidly redeploy or “swing” between theaters to deter or fight multiple aggressors.

Keep reading here.

With the US set to end its involvement in Afghanistan 2014, the push for exploring unmanned systems is diminishing. CSIS has a new report that looks at sustaining the US lead in unmanned systems, paying attention to the increasing prominence of these platforms in homeland and law enforcement contexts.

Finally, how much does it cost to not buy an aircraft carrier? About A$327 million, according to France’s national audit office.

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

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U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Solberg with Engineer Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, controls a Talon explosive ordinance disposal robot from inside an armored vehicle to destroy an improvised explosive device during pre-deployment training Feb. 20, 2013 at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. The Troop used Husky Metal Detecting and Marking Vehicles, RG-31 Mk3a armored fighting vehicles and Buffalo Mine Protected Clearance Vehicles to conduct counter-IED training. U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards

We’re kicking off today’s round-up with an interesting article on the complex relationship between military robots and their soldiers. Here’s an excerpt:

From holding elaborate funerals for robots, complete with 21-gun salutes, valor medals, and memorial markers, to identifying with them as “an extension of our own personality,” as Simon, a Marine sergeant, says, soldiers are now working effectively with robots on a more intimate level than in perhaps any other field, saving human lives in the process.

These anecdotes above derive from new research at the University of Washington on human-robot interactions. And given the prevalence of machines on the battlefield (like counter-IED robots like TALON operated in the image above) and new projects like humanoid robots in the pipeline, understanding feelings they evoke in soldiers, whether creativity or distrust, is crucial. Read more

If you’re into research, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has a useful database, Facts on International Relations and Security Trends (or FIRST), which provides statistics and information on the world’s armed forces, country indicators like education and population, and nuclear weapons, to name a few.

In case you missed it, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (headed by Australia’s Justice Michael Kirby) released its report on Monday. Earlier in the week, ASPI’s Hayley Channer wrote about the report’s potential impact on the country’s humanitarian conditions, arguing that it places further pressure on the regime and on China to do more about refugees.

Sticking with the UN report on North Korea’s human rights abuses, Stephen Haggard at the Peterson Institute for International Economics asks ‘if this is not a circumstance in which to invoke the responsibility to protect, what is?’

Fans of the US rebalance will be watching the development of the FY 2015 budget submission with interest. Defense News is reporting that the centrepiece of US power projection—a nuclear aircraft carrier and its embarked air wing—might still be in the negotiating mix.

Season two of the wildly popular US political drama House of Cards began last week. Over at Defense One, Harry Kazianis looks at how a fictional East China Sea crisis in the show reflects the real world challenge America may face in projecting power near China. For more, keep reading here.

Lastly, what do armies eat? The Guardian sampled Army ration packs from 11 countries to see which was the most palatable. The winning ‘rat pack’ came from Italy.

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

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Simultaneous application of A2/AD keeps the U.S. out, and the Chinese inWe’re kicking off today’s round-up with a useful primer from the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) on five strategic architectures that can be applied to the case of US–China confrontation. For an illustration of one of the concepts, check out the map above (click to enlarge, source: via CIMSEC).

Also on CIMSEC, Zachary Keck has just published a piece on the limits of AirSea Battle (ASB) and what this means for the United States. He argues that China’s recent successes in expanding influence in the South and East China Seas (known as ‘small-stick diplomacy’) using non-naval assets renders ASB inadequate. Read more here.

What’s it like to be an ‘alliance manager’? Over at War on the Rocks, Patrick Cronin from CNAS takes a look at a day in the life of Japan’s Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, who also has the unenviable task of managing US–Japan relations amidst diplomatic challenges that include Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to Yasukuni shrine. Read more

Indonesia’s defence industry has made gains in recent years. According to this New York Times piece, this is the result of a boost to the defence budget by the current President as well as a 2012 law that stipulates TNI must buy all its weaponry, with some exceptions, from domestic contractors. For more on these developments, keep reading here.

Sticking with Southeast Asia, Trevor Wilson has a lengthy piece over at New Mandala that explores China’s reaction to Myanmar’s reforms. The piece sheds further light on the complexity of the relationship between China and Myanmar and is useful for those contemplating the extent of US influence in the region and the implications of developments in Myanmar.

This week on The Diplomat, Robert Farley asked, how much do strategic thinkers affect US policy anyway? While Farley breaks down the case of Stephen Walt and President Obama, his broader point is pertinent to those thinking about strategy in the Australian case:

… it remains difficult to draw clear lines between strategic thinkers and actual policy, especially in the short term.  No theory of foreign policy can long survive contact with the messy mechanisms of diplomatic statecraft.

Strategist contributor Scott Bentley also has a new piece in The Diplomat on a Chinese documentary on a 2007 incident between Chinese and Vietnamese government vessels in the South China Sea. Bentley notes:

… this incident provides conclusive evidence that the impetus for the collisions originated with very specific orders from the upper levels of the organization’s central leadership back on the Chinese mainland.

For more detail on this documentary and its implications, keep reading here.

And lastly, military working dogs are apparently smarter than junior Army officers (courtesy of the rather irreverent Duffel Blog – don’t believe anything here unless it also appears in a reputable source like The Onion).


Canberra: Dr Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, will be speaking about US foreign policy, arguing America should de-emphasise the Middle East but concentrate on Asia and North America. Hosted by the ANU, it’s on Wednesday 26 February at 4pm. Register here.

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