ASPI Publications

Cold calculations: a new ASPI report

A collection of Antarctica imagesToday ASPI released a new report, Cold Calculations: Australia’s Antarctic Challenges, with contributions from a range of Australian experts on Antarctic issues culled from a series of posts here on The Strategist.

It’s a timely report: just prior to the election the Coalition announced that, if elected, they’d develop a 20 year strategic vision for the Antarctic. Their plan would focus on extending Australia’s research and logistics capacity, as well as positioning Hobart as a gateway for Antarctica.

They also promised to extend the airport runway at Hobart. This would allow larger transport planes to fly to Antarctica. Some of the planes that currently fly for the US polar program could possibly fly out of Hobart, rather than Christchurch. Read more

Of course, the US is not the only nation active down south. Last month Tasmania signed an MOU with the Chinese Antarctic Research Expedition to use Hobart as a gateway for its activities. The Tasmanian Premier noted that the Antarctic sector was now worth more than $180 million to the Tasmanian economy.

The new ASPI report catalogues a number of areas in which Australia’s Antarctic investment is struggling, and where our research and logistic infrastructure is aging. Today we’re faced with critical decisions about our future access to and activities within Antarctica.

These decisions need to be made when acute budget pressures are diminishing our ability to maintain our Antarctic effort, at the very time other nations are rapidly building their presence and capabilities in the Australian Antarctic Territory. We’re running the risk of being left behind.

Cold Calculations considers our role down south and why it’s important, not just in a scientific sense, but also in a broader foreign policy and security sense. We have a clear interest in keeping the continent peaceful by being engaged in Antarctic affairs. The report supports our Antarctic territorial claim and suggests there’s no good reason why we should deviate from our position. Any upset to the current views of sovereign interests wouldn’t benefit Australia.

One such threats to Australia’s interests could come from destabilisation within the Antarctic treaty system. In a resource hungry world, there are reasons for some parties to propose a review of the treaty or its environmental protocol. That could turn the current approach to Antarctic management on its head, especially if it paved the way for serious interest in Antarctic continental or seabed mineral resources.

Cold Calculations notes that an important goal of Antarctic science is to retrieve an ice core containing ice over one million years old. This would shed much light on past climate. It’s likely that such ice can only be found within our territory. China, for example, expects to find it near Dome A in Australian territory.

The prospect of Australia extracting this million-plus year ice is remote when we can’t get far beyond our coastal stations. Finding this very old ice will be a game changer scientifically, because it’ll reveal past climate.  But it wouldn’t be a great political look for us if another nation’s superior presence and logistics means they’re the first to find the treasure buried in our patch.

Cold Calculations points out that we don’t really use Defence resources to support our Antarctic program. But many other nations use military personnel and equipment to support civilian logistics.

It’d be naive to assume that they discount the strategic potential of their Antarctic presence beyond science and possible future resources.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI. Image by Flickr user robynejay.

A lengthy list: Australia’s future foreign policy challenges

dfat-countries-signpostBut for the attention certain to be given to the issue of asylum seekers, it is unlikely that foreign policy will play much of a role in the forthcoming election campaign. That’s regrettable, as there are several international issues and relationships that could well be handled differently depending on who wins the approaching poll. The full extent of the differences is difficult to articulate as neither Labor nor the Coalition has yet released its policy platform, but already there’s been enough in various statements by the leaders, ministers and shadow ministers to indicate that there’s certain to be a measure of product differentiation.

While policy change is likely, there’s often strong continuity in the conduct of Australian foreign policy. Incoming governments inherit a policy legacy and are also successors to an Australian foreign policy tradition—a national style of acting in international relations. The legacy and the style can change over time, but initially they can act as constraints on policy innovation and reform. The style is by definition more enduring, so we can expect the incoming government to act in some wholly familiar ways. For example, it will remain committed to Australia’s strong tradition of alignment in international affairs; sustain a wide network of relationships across the globe and in multilateral organisations; emphasise the importance of engagement with the countries of the Asia–Pacific; and seek to address global and regional problems practically as a contribution to problem solving. It will also demonstrate, in JDB Miller’s rich morsel of a phrase, a certain ‘dogged low‑gear idealism’—in more recent parlance, good international citizenship in the conduct of our foreign relations. Read more

My chapter in ASPI’s new Strategy paper Agenda for change, however, is less about trying to predict the things an incoming government might do than seeking to explore the issues that arguably should receive priority on the foreign policy agenda. Central among them are:

  • restoring the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to organisational and budgetary health
  • consolidating key relationships in Asia
  • responding to change in the Pacific
  • advancing the stalled trade agenda
  • reconsidering priorities in AusAID.

I expand on each of these points in the new report. Here I’ll confine myself to the first of those points—the organisational and budgetary distress in which DFAT currently finds itself. Central to these problems has been a refusal on the part of successive governments to decide, other than by way of budgetary austerity, whether DFAT should continue its traditional role as the key policy agency in the conduct of Australia’s foreign policy. Holding back resources suggests a significant shift in sentiment, one that accepts DFAT playing a less influential, more marginal role in policymaking and largely assuming the status of a service delivery agency. Yet there’s been no formal decision to that effect, nor, it seems, any reduction in expectations that it will continue to provide all of the advice and service that it’s traditionally delivered.

This is unsustainable, certainly poor public policy, and a reform challenge the incoming government should confront. The government might consider producing a new foreign policy white paper—there have only ever been two, the last in 2003. This larger, more ambitious enterprise could look closely at DFAT’s resourcing and managerial challenges. It would also offer an opportunity to review the implications of over a decade of sustained change in international affairs and its impact on the conduct of our foreign relations. In particular, it would enable the incoming government to examine comprehensively all of Australia’s foreign policy interests, not merely those focused on the Asia–Pacific.  This is long overdue.

The foreign policy agenda set out above for the incoming government is lengthy and could easily be expanded further. For example, as Anthony Bergin and others have pointed out recently, our engagement in Antarctica, which has a rich heritage in Australian foreign policy, is being slowly degraded through declining investment and policy inattention. Our status at the forefront of efforts to build greater rigour into the nuclear nonproliferation regime, including through strengthening controls on the supply of materials, is certainly worthy of inclusion on the list. And the 2010 proposal for a treaty‑level bilateral Framework Agreement between Australia and the European Union to place the relationship on a new 21st century foundation, remains to be concluded and deserves to be pursued. Finally, the burgeoning expansion of Australia’s relations with the countries of South America shouldn’t be neglected.

Nevertheless, the agenda items listed above are the most important and most urgent.

If this looks like a challenging agenda before an election, it probably won’t become any easier afterwards. All these issues will need to be managed in the almost certain knowledge that however expertly the incoming government plans and approaches the challenges it faces, it will also need to prepare for the unexpected. Another global financial crisis may be unlikely, but unwelcome and unforeseen events and crises have a habit of confounding and subverting the best laid plans for the sound and orderly conduct of Australia’s foreign relations.

Professor Russell Trood is Adjunct Professor, Defence and Security Program, United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and a former ASPI Council member. Image courtesy of DFAT.

This article is excerpted from chapter 4 of ASPI’s new Strategy report Agenda for change: strategic choices for the next government.

Aid and building maritime capacity

As a country that’s acutely aware of its own interests in the oceans around it, you’d think that Australia would be playing a leading role in ocean management and development in the wider region.

But in a new Policy Analysis out today, Sam Bateman and I point out that maritime assistance doesn’t figure prominently in our international aid. We think that there’s real potential for our aid policy to focus on oceans management and development.

While it would be a new direction for them in many ways, this would be a good strategic goal for AusAID and, at a time when the Australian Government is committed to raising its international aid spending, this is a good opportunity to launch some new initiatives. Read more

Helping regional countries build their own maritime surveillance and constabulary capability would assist them with border and food security. As well, cooperative efforts between countries of the South Pacific would help build a shared maritime security framework where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This hasn’t previously been possible, but we’ve identified some steps that could start the process.

The principal intention of providing patrol boats in the Pacific islands is to ensure good law and order at sea. Building basic onshore civil policing qualifies as development assistance, and so should building civil policing at sea. Assistance in developing and protecting the economic potential of regional countries’ large EEZs would be a significant contribution to poverty alleviation in the region.

The first step is making sure that their hardware is up to the task. The Pacific Patrol Boat Program (PDF) has involved the transfer of 22 boats to the Pacific island countries between 1987 and 1995. The program is the largest component of the Defence Cooperation Program. But the patrol boats are near the end of their economic lives and, given Defence’s tight budgetary outlook, there’s a real risk that Defence will propose a least-cost solution that won’t be in the best interests of either Australia or the Pacific island countries.

We think that, as maritime security assistance for the Pacific island countries is an important part of nation-building, it should be seen as a whole-of-government activity by Australian agencies and funded within our international aid program. By our reading, patrol boats would count as aid as the relevant OECD guidelines state that whether spending qualifies as aid depends on the development intention underpinning assistance.

Under this mechanism AusAID could fund a Pacific air surveillance program and coastal patrol vessels. Defence might fund larger offshore patrol vessels to undertake regular patrols through the high seas and EEZs of the island countries and a regional maritime coordination centre.

And it’s not just about policing. Australia has a robust maritime scientific research community and is well placed to help developing countries to building their capacity in fields such as responding to climate change and managing coastal zones.

A dedicated focus in Australian aid across the spectrum of ocean management and development would support our aid priorities in fostering economic growth in neighbouring developing countries and help them to protect the marine environment.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

A new strategic partner in North Asia?

In an age of increasingly competitive multilateralism, success will go to those countries best able to diversify their interests and manage a wide range of bilateral relationships. This will be no small challenge for Australia. We have a small and dramatically over-stretched diplomatic service and a tendency to think we carry more impact in foreign capitals than is really the case. Imagine, though, if an opportunity arose to build closer ties with an Asian country that is substantially democratic, with a largely free press, has a close defence association with the United States and significant economic potential of interest to Australian resource companies. There is such a country: Mongolia. Tomorrow, September 15, will mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canberra and Ulaanbaatar. In an ASPI Policy Analysis published today, Mendee Jargalsaikhan—a PhD student in politics at the University of British Columbia and a fellow of the Mongolian Institute for Strategic Studies—makes the case for Australia and Mongolia to strengthen their ties.

On defence and security, Mendee argues that the two countries would benefit from a closer exchange on North Asian security, noting that Mongolia has particularly close relations with both North and South Korea. He argues that peacekeeping training should become a focus for defence cooperation, and points out that Mongolia has deployed more than 6000 personnel to international peacekeeping operations, with 400 currently deployed with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

When Mongolian Prime Minister Batbold visited Australia in February last year, a joint statement was issued saying that ‘Australia and Mongolia share common strategic interests and objectives in the Asia–Pacific region’. It makes sense to start exploring what can be made of these common interests and objectives. As Defence designs its own pivot to the region, it should establish a stronger connection with Mongolia. As a small first step towards closer strategic engagement, Defence should consider cross-accrediting its attaché in Seoul to Ulaanbaatar, as is already the case with Australia’s ambassador in South Korea.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

How are we educating our military?

Current CIA Director and retired US Army officer, General David Petraeus argues that the most powerful tool any soldier carries is not his weapon but his mind. According to Petraeus, promising officers should be sent to first-class universities to undertake PhDs and to learn from and mix with future civilian leaders. Indeed, civilian academics in US military academies and staff colleges have publicly criticised the anti-academic attitudes and policies of their institutions.

But what exactly what kind of professional military education (PME) is required to develop the mind of career military officers? What sort of war should PME prepare officers for? Is preparing our forces for ‘war among the people’ the order of the day or should war between conventional forces remain the cornerstone of defence preparations? For a new ASPI report, we took a look at these questions and more, in the Australian context.

So, how well is the ADF doing in developing the knowledge and expertise required by members of the profession of arms? The question is all the more important as Australia seeks to adjust its policies to both a complex and shifting global power balance and a potentially turbulent regional environment. The ADF needs the know-how to conduct both high-tech operations with top end platforms and low-tech conflicts which require military personnel to deal with local societies and cultures face-to-face. And the austerity surrounding the defence budget isn’t going to make it any easier to fund investment in PME—by definition, its pay-off will be well down the track. Read more

PME in Australia is in reasonably good shape, but there are further steps that could be taken. The Australian Defence College (ADC) is the key PME organisation which includes the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) for entrance level officer candidates, the Australian Command and Staff College (ACSC) for middle-ranking officers and the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies (CDSS) for senior officers. All three are tri-service and all three have important relationships with universities to provide input into their teaching.

ADFA has a long-established partnership with UNSW (since 1986) to provide bachelor degrees for officer candidates, while ACSC has just signed a 10-year contract with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU which includes masters degree offerings. CDSS has had a long relationship with Deakin University but is currently re-examining its academic input. The academic partners operate as service providers to the ADF.

While Australia has avoided the pitfalls created of putting independent civilian academics into a military hierarchy, more work could be done to close the civil-military gap. As well as bringing academics to the service personnel, as per Petraeus’ prescription, more ADF officers could be send to undertake research in a one- or two-year master’s degree at a civilian university. As well as their personal development, this will also equip some to teach at PME institutions themselves.

The demands of counterinsurgency and stability operations should also be reflected in officer training; PME could introduce the tools of the disciplines of behavioural science (psychology, sociology and anthropology) to provide officers with an understanding of how societies and cultures work—relevant both to operations in communities overseas and indeed to the ADF itself (whose own culture is undergoing close scrutiny at the present time). Other western military academies have long taught such disciplines. This could take the form of a compulsory one-semester behavioural science course as part of general education and a three-year program as an optional specialisation.

To help build a wider link between the ADF and the Australian community, it’s also important to promote military-related research at universities outside Canberra which at present enjoys a virtual monopoly in this field. Military-related behavioural science could be the focus of, say, three or four Defence-funded centres of excellence, perhaps located at universities near to major military bases.

The ADC also includes other ADF ‘centres of learning’ such as the Capability and Technology Management College and the Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics. It’s a good model that could be extended. The single services have their own think tanks, so why not the ADF as a whole? In addition to existing centres of learning, we could establish a centre for the study of contemporary warfare at the ADC.

Rethinking the delivery of PME isn’t restricted to full-time commissioned officers; ADF Reserves are playing an increasingly important role in ADF operations and senior non-commissioned officers are also taking on greater responsibilities and need to be catered for. PME should be more available to these groups.

At the moment the defence debate in Australia is largely carried by organisations outside of the ADF (including ASPI). That means that an important voice is missing, and we’d all benefit from contestability from ‘inside the tent’. One way for this to happen is for the Australian Defence Force Journal to be developed into a flagship journal for the profession of arms in Australia. As such it could provide a forum for serious debate about defence and the ADF by members of the profession as well as outside experts and demonstrate to the public the thoughtfulness that characterises many ADF officers.

The machinery is in place to ensure that the key elements of PME can be co-ordinated and that economies of scale, a critical mass of teaching and research staff and more integrated delivery of courses can be achieved.

The planned co-location of all ADC centres on a single site in Canberra should further help this process. But good leadership and adequate funding will be required to realise these goals.

The ADF ultimately depends on the intellect, expertise, ethical character and leadership qualities of its people. PME assists especially in developing expertise in the complex business of using force as an instrument of policy and in ensuring that members of the ADF have the intellectual ‘right stuff’.

Hugh Smith is an associate professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW, and Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Piracy: a solution is possible

In mid-June I chaired an international conference in Perth aimed at developing responses to piracy and related crimes at sea. The meeting was sponsored by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence, and a summary of the deliberations as well as some very useful background papers by Sam Bateman has been released by ASPI today.

Three separate regions accounted for the vast bulk of the 439 actual and attempted piracy attacks in 2011: Southeast Asia, in particular the eastern approaches to the Straits of Malacca; the Horn of Africa; and the Gulf of Guinea. In each region the causes of piracy differ. In Southeast Asia stealing and reselling tug boats is a major problem. Ships left idle and at anchor in the wake of the global financial crisis are easy targets for attacks. Off the Horn of Africa and deeper into the Indian Ocean, piracy is the by-product of political authority breaking down in Somalia. Fishing communities can turn to piracy for a livelihood and become vulnerable to more organised criminal elements looking to make money from ransoming ships and their crew. In the Gulf of Guinea, piracy frequently involves stealing oil from tankers in sophisticated operations built around avoiding tax payments and illegal bunkering.

The causes are varied but the solutions share some common features; tightening up the policing of harbours and ports, and boosting cooperation between national agencies and between regional navies and maritime enforcement bodies. The good news here is that collective action will work to reduce the problem. Close cooperation in Southeast Asia, for example, is reducing the number of serious acts of piracy (although ironically increased reporting of lower-scale incidents seems to obscure the scale of overall reduction). Read more

In a surprisingly low-key way, Australia has been making an important contribution to strengthening regional cooperation on counterpiracy. Apart from the regular deployment of a Royal Australian Navy major fleet unit to operations in the Gulf which include counterpiracy work, Australia has provided significant funding to the United Nations to strengthen anti-piracy legal frameworks in a number of Indian Ocean region countries. One obvious next step would be for Australia to further champion the issue at the United Nations Security Council. A number of UNSC resolutions have dealt with piracy in disparate regions. But the Perth conference shows that there is a lot of value in identifying global lessons by pooling experiences from different regions and identifying common elements and developing shared solutions.

Australia is well-placed to lead in developing a global consensus around counterpiracy strategies and we should further commit to strengthening that global view. Our investment thus far gives us the credibility to lead in such an effort at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.