Australia and its Region

Revising the guidelines for US–Japan defence cooperation: a ‘global’ alliance?

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Takanami sails alongside the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell during a training event between the two ships in March 2014.Recently, the US and Japan released the Interim Report on the Revision of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation (PDF). The revision’s the first since 1997 and occurs in the context of Asia-Pacific power shifts. So countries in the region are watching closely just how much the USJapan alliance is changing, both practically and conceptually. That includes the Australian government, which has long been supportive of a more ‘active’ Japanese security and defence policy at both the regional and global level. It’s a line Japan’s current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been pushing.

Indeed, the five-page interim report points to the prospect of a USJapan alliance moving beyond a narrow focus on the territorial defence of Japan against major aggression (from China or North Korea, for example). Instead, it’s based on a ‘strategic vision for a more expansive partnership’ and the need to build the alliance as a ‘platform for international cooperation that would continue to make positive contributions to the region and beyond’. It stresses that among other things future bilateral defence cooperation would focus on:

  • ‘seamless, robust, flexible, and effective bilateral responses;
  • the global nature of the U.S.-Japan Alliance; and
  • cooperation with other regional partners’.

Moreover, the report’s interesting for what it doesn’t say: in recognition of the expanding scope of geographical cooperation, the report doesn’t mention ‘situations in areas surrounding Japan’, a phrase that underpinned the 1997 guidelines.

While the 5-page document isn’t specific on details, the report provides some ideas on what these three aforementioned headings might entail. When it comes to ‘seamlessly’ ensuring Japan’s peace and security, it observes that there could be ‘cases where swift and robust responses are required to secure the peace and security of Japan even when an armed attack against Japan is not involved [italics mine]’. In other words, in theory at least, Japan could be asked to provide protection for US forces in hostile environments beyond its immediate neighbourhood; for instance in the area of ship-based ballistic-missile defence.

Concerning increased ‘cooperation for regional and global peace and security’, the document notes that ‘areas of cooperation to be described may include, but are not limited to’: peacekeeping operations; international Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief; maritime security; capacity building; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; logistics support; and non-combatant evacuation operations. While the US continues to try to reassure Japan about its security commitments (for instance, the US Navy just announced plans to forward deploy three more ballistic-missile-defence-capable destroyers to Japan over the next three years), Washington also sees the revised guidelines as a chance to move the alliance beyond Tokyo’s preoccupation with the ‘China threat’.

How likely is the emergence of a more ‘global’ USJapan alliance? The good news is that Japanese officials involved in drafting the interim report agreed to the report’s language, probably in anticipation of the Abe government’s expectations. Moreover, Japan has been stepping up its Asia-Pacific defence engagement. For example, it agreed to provide both the Philippines and Vietnam with modern Coast Guard vessels. As well, Japan and India are in talks about the possible sale of Japanese amphibious aircraft. Lastly, there’s still the prospect of a submarine deal with Australia.

But serious obstacles stand in the way of a truly global—or even regionally more active—USJapan alliance. For a start, Japan’s new ‘three conditions for the “use of force” as measures for self-defense’ still impose significant restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces in the exercise of Japan’s right of collective self-defence. If Japan decides to support the US in a regional or global contingency, it’ll probably remain strictly limited to tasks such as logistical support or minesweeping outside the area of actual combat. Moreover, despite much talk about Japan’s ‘remilitarisation’, in reality there’s no such thing. As Brad Glosserman and David Kang have observed:

Japan’s defense policies are evolving to keep pace with a changing regional environment, but the idea that Tokyo will be able to threaten its neighbors is just not credible. There is no will, nor the capability to do so.

As I’ve argued (here and here), Japan’s defence policy remains fundamentally defensive in nature. As Alessio Patalano has shown (paywalled), Japan’s naval modernisation reflects a ‘targeted enhancement’ of capabilities required for the protection of its sea lanes, particularly in the area of anti-submarine warfare and basic expeditionary capabilities to safeguard its many islands. Moreover, security reform in Japan remains a cumbersome process (PDF)—and there are already signs that attempts to flesh out at the legislative level what exactly the JSDF could or couldn’t do in support of the US in a conflict mightn’t come to fruition any time soon. Lastly, the Japanese side’s apparently frustrated that the interim report emphasises the alliance’s global role but makes no mention of China.

We’ll have to see what the final guidelines bring. But in any case, it’s prudent to expect evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes in the USJapan alliance—and in Japan’s defence policy in particular.

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Pacific Command.

The Australia–Indonesia bilateral relationship: strategic design or muddling through?

Le Monstre RollercoasterLate last year, as the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia struggled with the revelations of the spying scandal, Colin Brown, an adjunct professor at the Griffith Asia Institute, described the history of the relationship in a carnival metaphor:

For anyone interested in Australia–Indonesia relations, nothing so characterises the phenomenon as a car on a roller-coaster. Any rise is followed inevitably by a fall. The ride is never boring, and in a bizarre kind of way it is quite predictable. But sometimes you might hope for a little more stability, a few more moments of calm.

That image of the roller-coaster is an old one—Brown himself has used it before. Indeed, it’s been around long enough (and been true long enough) to induce a weariness in even the most determined optimist. But in this post I’m hoping to convince readers that, strategically, there’s still much to play for here. Read more

Let’s start by looking at Southeast Asia. The table below, constructed from the publicly-available data in the CIA World Factbook, provides a quick economic snapshot of the ASEAN countries based on 2013 estimates. I’ve appended Australia at the bottom of the list just to give a sense of relative economic size.

If we look at the ASEAN figures first, it’s obvious that ASEAN isn’t a collection of evenly-sized economies. If we focus on the purchasing-power-parity measurement of GDP, we see in ASEAN one large economy (Indonesia), five middle-sized economies (Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam), and four dwarves (Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei and Laos).

GDP (US$)(PPP) GDP (US$)(Official Exchange Rate) Real growth rate Per capita (US$)(PPP)
Brunei $22.25bn $16.56bn 1.4% $54,800
Cambodia $39.64bn $15.64bn 7% $2,600
Indonesia $1,285bn $867.5bn 5.3% $5,200
Laos $20.78bn $10.1bn 8.3% $3,100
Malaysia $525bn $312.4bn 4.7% $17,500
Myanmar/Burma $111.1bn $59.43bn 6.8% $1,700
Philippines $454.3bn $272.2bn 6.8% $4,700
Singapore $339bn $295.7bn 4.1% $62,400
Thailand $673bn $400.9bn 2.9% $9,900
Vietnam   $358.9bn $170bn 5.3% $4,000
Australia $998.3bn $1,488bn 2.5% $43,000

Compared with the ASEAN countries, Australia’s economy is poised between Indonesia’s and Thailand’s. It’s not really like Thailand’s, though, and we can see that by looking at the GDP estimates based on official exchange rates, where’s Australia’s economy is three-and-a-half times the size of Thailand’s. So the two dominant economies in Southeast Asia are Indonesia’s and ours. Between us, we have the first requirement for a meaningful partnership: shared economic strength.

We also have something else that might empower a strategic partnership—a set of complementarities. Analysts often say the relationship has no ‘ballast’; that it’s all sail and no rudder, regularly blown off course by the winds of public opinion. Turning the issue around, though, we have an opportunity to nurture a set of complementarities with Jakarta: we’re a developed economy with a small population and good contacts in the Western world; they’re a developing economy with a large population and good contacts in the Islamic and non-aligned worlds. Those complementarities could form the basis for a genuine partnership—if will exists in both capitals to pursue one.

A third driver of a strategic partnership is a shared sense of strategic transformation: we both live in a region that’s having strategic significance thrust upon it. That’s important. Previously we’ve had plenty of scope to rehearse our differences at the regional level. But with more great powers wanting to play in Southeast Asia’s space these days, we share an interest in nurturing what the Indonesians would call ‘regional resilience’ and what we might call ‘a Southeast Asian power core’.

So far, I’ve put a positive spin on a future partnership. So why don’t we have one? Three reasons. First, the drivers I’ve pointed to above are all abstract. In the reality of everyday events—like boat people, live cattle exports, spying scandals, and drug trafficking incidents—abstract similarities get lost. Second, the complementarities that I identify arise because we’re so different. As Gareth Evans and Bruce Grant observed in their work Australia’s Foreign Relations, ‘No two neighbours anywhere in the world are as comprehensively unalike as Australia and Indonesia’. And third, there’s the issue of priorities. Neither of us prizes a partnership highly enough to make it work. That might be changing. In 2013 we had a conservative political leader campaigning on the slogan of ‘more Jakarta, less Geneva’—but then again Geneva’s never ranked that highly in Australian strategic policy.

So where does that leave us? It means we’ll have a stronger strategic partnership in the future, but it’s as likely to grow from a policy of muddling through as it is from a policy of strategic design. If we want to push a particular design of a partnership, we’re going to have to put heavyweight political muscle behind it. On occasion, the Abbott government does signal that it’s prepared to do that. Still, others have been here before. Paul Keating made a serious effort to improve a relationship he saw as ‘a thin foreign policy crust covering a disappointingly hollow core’. The important difference this time round is Asian transformation: if that doesn’t drive us to work more closely together, I suspect nothing will. It’s do-or-die time for the Australian–Indonesian strategic partnership.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Alexis Gravel.

Is Australia’s influence over Papua New Guinea declining?

Peter O'Neill Papua New GuineaAustralian Defence white papers have long identified the strategic import of ‘a secure South Pacific and Timor-Leste’. As renowned strategic thinker T.B. Millar once reflected, Papua New Guinea is an ‘an exposed and vulnerable front door’, as if it was in ‘hostile hands’ it would ‘make attacks on our east coast much easier—Port Moresby, after all, is closer to Sydney than Darwin is’.

Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest aid and military donor (primarily via the Defence Cooperation Program and the Pacific Patrol Boat program), and trade  and investment  partner. Australia also effectively gave PNG a security guarantee under the 1987 Joint Declaration of Principles, as reaffirmed in the 2000 Defence White Paper (PDF). Consequently, Australia has been able to exercise considerable influence over Papua New Guinea for much of the period since its independence.

This situation is changing. Papua New Guinea now has new opportunities which are eroding Australia’s influence. Read more

First, changes to the broader Asia-Pacific power structure have generated geopolitical opportunities. The ‘rise’ of China has motivated the United States to ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to the Asia-Pacific. While there is only a minimal risk that China and the United States will engage in zero-sum competition for military influence, both powers have engaged more extensively with Papua New Guinea in the diplomatic, aid and economic realms. Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia, Iran, Cuba, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are also becoming involved as aid donors and diplomatic partners. As Papua New Guinea has more choice of external partners, it no longer necessarily needs to identify itself as falling within an uncontested Australia and New Zealand sphere of influence.

Second, that increased choice has opened up regional opportunities. Since 1971, the dominant regional political institution has been the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), comprising all independent regional states, along with Australia and New Zealand. Empowered by their greater choice of partners and encouraged by an emboldened Fiji, Papua New Guinea and other regional states are creating, or strengthening, alternative regional and sub-regional institutions and organisations such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group and Pacific Islands Development Forum that exclude Australia, New Zealand and other traditional partners.

Papua New Guinea is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and is seeking full membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which it currently has observer status. Papua New Guinea, along with Fiji and Vanuatu, has also joined the Non-Aligned Movement. Fiji has encouraged South Pacific states to form an alternative caucus grouping at the United Nations, the ‘Pacific Small Island Developing States’ (PSIDS) group, which has effectively replaced the PIF in this role.

Papua New Guinea’s growing confidence has been enhanced by its economic opportunities. Its Southern Highlands are home to the massive Exxon-Mobil LNG project, which it is predicted will generate total revenue for the government of about US$31bn to 2040.  It also receives revenue from several other natural resource projects, including the $1.5bn Ramu nickel mine, in which Chinese companies have invested, and has the potential for deep-sea mining.

As a result of its opportunities, Papua New Guinea is less likely to be susceptible to Australian influence in the future.

The most notable recent example of Australia’s declining influence are the circumstances surrounding the arrangements to process and resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea. These arrangements have their antecedents in the 2001 ‘Pacific Solution’, which introduced processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru (it ended in 2008). In exchange, Australia made no additional development assistance payments to Papua New Guinea.

In contrast, under the 2013 arrangements, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill demanded—and received—a total re-alignment of Australia’s aid program to support his government’s priorities. Australia has agreed to provide an extra $420m of development assistance, on top of the projected $507.2m in assistance budgeted for Papua New Guinea in 2013–14.

Moreover, when the arrangement was agreed, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd indicated his understanding that most refugees would be resettled in Papua New Guinea. This belief was shared by Tony Abbott. In March 2014, O’Neill contradicted both Rudd and Abbott by announcing that Papua New Guinea will only resettle ‘some’ people whose claims are recognised. While O’Neill recanted that statement in April 2014, the fact that he felt empowered to openly contradict two Australian prime ministers suggests a growing degree of confidence in Papua New Guinea’s attitude to Australia.

Australia may find itself with less influence over its relationship with Papua New Guinea in the future, which will have important strategic implications. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear that the Australian government has come to this realisation.

Joanne Wallis is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where she also convenes the Asia-Pacific Security program. The journal article on which this post is based was recently published in Security Challenges and is available here. Image courtesy of Flickr user Global Panorama.

Australia–Indonesia relations under Jokowi

GarudaThe first thing that Joko Widodo will think about when he wakes up today, the day of his inauguration as president, won’t be Indonesia’s relationship with Australia. Nor, for that matter, with the other countries represented at his inauguration. By contrast, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott prepares for his day in Jakarta, he’ll be especially conscious of the importance of a good first contact with the new president.

Abbott’s gesture of attending the inauguration, as his predecessors John Howard and Kevin Rudd did in 2004 and 2009, will make its own statement, while any exchange they might have during the day’s crowded agenda will necessarily be focused on delivering some key impressions, and if possible some key messages. It’s good that, thanks to effective work by Australian ministers and officials, and a certain degree of indulgence by outgoing President Yudhoyono, the two leaders don’t have immediate contentious issues to bring to their first encounter (as Rudd brought the Oceanic Viking asylum-seekers issue to his Inauguration Day encounter with Yudhoyono). Read more

Too often, there has been a tendency on both sides to view the relationship through the lens of challenges in the relationship, and that can overshadow some enduring positive trends and attitudes. Those are worth reiterating, but a preliminary cautionary note is called for.

In recent months, comments on prospects for Jokowi’s handling of foreign relations have, rightly, pointed to his lack of experience in the international environment. More recently, in a range of contacts between Jokowi and foreign visitors and diplomats, he hasn’t shown any great level of interest in international issues, except to the extent that those might affect things with which he’s familiar, such as Indonesia’s investment and business environment. Given that he’ll have an understandable preoccupation with getting his domestic political arrangements in order, the prospect seems to be for a new president who’ll take some time to develop his own approach to foreign dealings. And a real factor will be that his command of English isn’t yet such as to make him comfortable in meetings, like those in ASEAN, which are conducted in English. Putting those considerations together, there must be a question whether he will attend all the various summits (APEC, G20, East Asia Summit/ASEAN) scheduled in the near future.

It’s probably true to say that the new president has less experience or knowledge of Australia than any of his predecessors. He would have at the most only the sketchiest view of the extent of Australia–Indonesia relations, nor would he have more than the beginning of an idea for how the relationship might be approached in future. He may not announce his cabinet and other appointments for some days, and many of those will have particular significance for Australia, including foreign affairs, trade, defence, agriculture, mining, police, customs and immigration. He has announced his intention to appoint technocrats rather than politicians to some of the key areas and that will bring some collective memory of dealings with Australia into the new administration.

Some of those memories will be positive. These include effective cooperation between the two countries in counterterrorism; their joint promotion of regional initiatives in areas like disaster preparedness, counterterrorism and sustainable fisheries; long-standing defence and development relationships; and extensive assistance to Indonesian agencies dealing with issues including transport safety and security, immigration and finance. But on the other hand, there’ll be memories of issues, including relatively recent issues, where the two countries have had highly-visible fallings-out, notably on boats and spying allegations.

For its part, the Australian government will have clear ideas about where it’ll want to develop the relationship with Indonesia, both for the long term and in the immediate future. Those will include some familiar security and development agendas; and working to expand the currently undercooked trade, investment and people-to-people relationships. The government’s well aware of the nationalistic and protectionist sentiments which have been evident across the political spectrum in Indonesia during the election campaign and since; and of the potential for such sentiments to affect Australian commercial interests in areas like agricultural exports and mining, as well as the negotiation of the mooted Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

For the next few months at least, Australia will be dealing with a president, and an administration, working their way into the job and not primarily focused on external relations. On past experience, we may see a tendency to activism from Australia in the form of ministerial contacts with the new government. That may also be a testing period if issues arise that press nationalistic buttons on the Indonesian side, and a resurgence of the boats issue would be perhaps the most worrying of any such prospect, given the Australian government’s political imperatives.

Bill Farmer is a former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user hadi.

Jokowi and Australia–Indonesia relations

Will Australia-Indonesia relations take further flight?
On Monday 20 October Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will be inaugurated as Indonesia’s seventh president. Australia–Indonesia relations will shift to a new and more mature plane due to differences in character between Jokowi and his predecessor, highly contested domestic politics, and Indonesia’s potential economic ascent. The certainties of the past will be shaken as a more engaged President seeks to show that a civilian can command respect as home and abroad. At the same, the Prabowo-led opposition coalition will seek to diminish his standing and achievements in the eyes of the electorate.

Despite much speculation, little is known of Jokowi’s foreign and defence policy except that he’s a pragmatist with few political debts to limit or distort his policy options. Even so, his options will be anchored by history and geopolitical realities. There’ll be no fundamental change in Indonesia’s ‘free and active’ foreign policy. And geographic imperatives will tie Indonesia’s primary focus to the region, despite inclinations in some quarters for Indonesia to take a more assertive global role. Nevertheless, within those boundaries there’s considerable scope for innovation in style and substance. Read more

Australia’s interests in the region largely coincide with Indonesia’s; we both want to take advantage of China’s economic growth and prosperity without having China use force or the threat of force—physical or non-physical—to dictate inter-state relations or the terms of trade. Both countries also want to preserve the sovereignty of national borders while acknowledging that cooperation across them is essential for their preservation and mutual security in the broadest sense.

No civilian president since Sukarno has been a great achiever so Jokowi will want to demonstrate that he can protect and advance the national interest in a dynamic and competitive global environment. He’ll have to respond vigorously to any incursions of Indonesia’s borders or slights to its rising regional and global status both to demonstrate his competence and to neutralise his political opponents. Nevertheless, his primary focus will be on stimulating economic growth without which his standing and chance of a second term will be severely undermined.

Jokowi will have many regional and global suitors eager to take advantage of the potential economic opportunities in Indonesia or to influence its foreign policy. Australia will have to move quickly and adroitly both to preserve its current standing and cooperative endeavours and to promote its relatively small and concentrated share of investment and trade.

The Australia–Indonesia defence relationship is long standing but only one of many to engage Indonesia’s attention. Its biggest relationship is with the US but Indonesia has diversified its foreign relations to minimize the potential for its defence and security options to be dictated by external players either individually or in combination. Australia’s advantage is that it doesn’t have much leverage over Indonesian policy—but it’s here to stay and no threat to its neighbour. Consequently, there’s scope for a strong and genuine partnership unencumbered by fundamental conflicts of interest, despite the occasional friction generated by non-state actors, cross-border activities, economic competition, media criticism and terrorism.

If Jokowi can achieve his economic growth target of 7% or more, Indonesia will have the resources to deepen bilateral engagement across the range of established programs, from education to public sector reform and defence and security. As a recent article by Edward Aspinall in Strategic Review has highlighted, the only question is whether Jokowi will succeed in implementing the fundamental reforms needed if Indonesia is to maximise its economic potential, given the destructive opposition that an attack on endemic corruption and rent-seeking will inevitably incite?

Meanwhile, Australia should concentrate on establishing personal relationships across the new administration without being too pushy. The aim should be to seek support for existing cooperative measures and activities and to offer to adapt those to the Jokowi government’ priorities. We could also offer to assist in areas that might be of greater priority to the new administration.

For example, Jokowi has already expressed great interest in making better use of Indonesia’s maritime endowment for transport and resource exploitation as well as stopping its unauthorised exploitation by domestic and foreign actors. That will require improved surveillance and reconnaissance, the capacity to intercept suspected interlopers and basic research about the nature of resources found in the maritime domain. Australia has skills and capabilities in both the public and private sectors in all those areas which could be engaged to the advantage of both countries. Likewise, Indonesia’s aerospace domain is also being revolutionised by both dramatic increases in air transport and the use of space for communications, and mapping and surveillance. Australia again has expertise and capabilities in those areas and they could be employed for the benefit of both parties.

There are many other common security interests where Australia and Indonesia could cooperate, from the resolution of border disputes to counter-terrorism. But the key is to identify and prioritise those areas of common interest and to seek a genuine long-term partnership—one that’ll endure the normal ups and downs of neighbourly relations and the stresses engendered by the demands and priorities of the big powers.

Bob Lowry is an adjunct lecturer at the UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Yamanaka Tamaki.

Australia–PNG police cooperation needs a long-term approach

Wok wantaim2In an ASPI Special Report launched today, we explore options for future police engagement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

In July 2013, during negotiations to reopen the Manus Island detention centre, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill asked Canberra to provide a significant Australian Federal Police contingent to work in publicly-visible roles alongside the Royal PNG Constabulary (RPNGC). In late 2013, fifty Australian Federal Police officers joined the 23 uniformed and civilian members already in PNG.

But just nine months into the new AFP deployment, PNG’s Police Minister, Robert Atiyafa, flagged a review, with a view to making major changes and potentially even winding it down. The visible policing aspect of the partnership appeared unable to meet community expectations made unrealistic by the AFP’s lack of legal protections and powers to make arrests, conduct investigations, or direct junior RPNGC counterparts. Given the current political turbulence surrounding allegations about O’Neill’s own links to a possibly corrupt law firm, he seems unlikely to risk political capital by mounting an uncertain and unpopular bid to change the PNG Constitution just to provide the AFP with greater immunities and powers. Read more

Although we see much advantage in bringing forward the major progress review originally scheduled for late next year, we doubt it’ll find grounds to end the partnership. Rather, there are reasons to increase Australian investment in a program that’s starting to show benefits and which, with some reconfiguration, could have enormous value.

Already difficult law-and-order challenges in PNG are likely to deepen over the coming decade as socio-economic change continues apace. Pressures such as urbanisation, population growth, rising inequality, and a gap between galloping GDP growth and slowing street-level economic activity (as LNG revenue kicks in but construction trails off) signal welcome development but come with medium-term downsides.

This situation isn’t bad only for PNG; it also poses risks for our interests. Australia is served by a prosperous and successful PNG, given its proximity and location across our direct approaches, historical and personal bonds, trade and investment links, and international expectations we’d assist Port Moresby if it requested our help with instability. But the country’s enormous potential is undercut by poor governance, crime and corruption. Those factors impose high transactional and enforcement costs, but their indirect impacts are what limit companies from operating to their potential: a reputation for violence reinforces a vicious cycle whereby unemployment and crime harm the whole society. Violence has a human cost too. Proud, successful, Papua New Guineans told us they hoped their children wouldn’t return from studying overseas. If people like that feel under siege in their own streets, it’s hardly surprising less scrupulous neighbours plunder what they can and stash it overseas.

Improved law and order is, thus, one of PNG’s four crucial development ‘pillars’. And for us the increasing volume of legitimate traffic through PNG’s ports, airports and banks could cover transnational crime, trafficking, and money-laundering into Australia.

However, the main institution charged with fighting crime, the RPNGC, is poorly placed and insufficiently resourced to address PNG’s needs. Major reviews in 1984, 1993, and 2004 identified serious capability problems that have grown since. But while the long-term need is for large numbers of capable PNG—not Aussie—cops, simply churning out more Police College recruits might have little effect. Even if the force receives a promised funding boost, improvement will be tough to achieve without experienced supervisors, accommodation to house them, or the corporate support to perform their duties.

So what makes us think Australia can help when previous assistance has had such mixed results? Three reasons for that limited impact stand out: our fluctuating level of engagement, the scale of the task compared to the resources assigned, and the challenges of capacity-building in PNG. As the task of creating the police force required is a generational one, we recommend establishing an enduring strategic partnership able to deliver the sustainable progress intermittent collaborations haven’t provided. Although it’s imperative to strengthen other parts of PNG’s formal justice sector, and harness community-based customary restorative justice mechanisms too, a more capable, professional and responsive RPNGC is necessary for improved justice outcomes—even if it won’t be sufficient.

We present five options that can be tailored to suit Port Moresby’s appetite and Canberra’s pockets. While a model with executive powers, akin to the 2004/05 Enhanced Cooperation Program, remains the gold standard, we doubt it’s viable currently. Instead, we should increase assistance but focus more on training and organisational strengthening (in areas such as budget management) than on frontline duties. We also suggest six modernisation principles to help regardless of the size of the package.

Enhanced police cooperation is in the interests of both countries. What would help now is a clear statement of political support from both governments.

David Connery is a senior analyst and Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPIImage courtesy of Australian Federal Police.

Hard news and soft power in the South Pacific

Australia has sent forth many outstanding journalists to spend their careers reporting on Asia. Sean Dorney stands with those correspondents but, uniquely, he devoted his life to covering Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific.

Because of Australia’s recurring capacity to forget the Islands, only a handful of Oz hacks will ever approach Dorney’s lifetime of Pacific reporting. His retirement from the ABC after 40 years completes a long journey.

Dorney did dual service—reporting the South Pacific to Australia and the region to itself. His stories were broadcast to PNG and the Islands on Radio Australia shortwave and retransmitted on local FM transmitters in Island capitals. Then he added pictures by becoming Pacific correspondent for the ABC’s international TV service. He truly was a South Pacific correspondent as well as an Australian reporter. Read more

The citation for Dorney’s Order of Australia in 2000 read: ‘For service to journalism as a foreign correspondent.’ And that gets it right, because his service was to journalism in the South Pacific as well as in Australia.

Sean started out as PNG was just beginning the nation-building job bequeathed it at independence. Australia did a reasonable job administering PNG but until the last moment paid no attention to preparing for nationhood; the creation of the sense of a nation had to be done by PNG.

Dorney’s journalism contributed to the understanding PNG developed of itself. He did the same for South Pacific regionalism—the idea that these newly independent island states could have a collective South Pacific identity. Quite an achievement for one man with a microphone.

As a young ABC hack, he went to Port Moresby on secondment in 1974 and spent three years working with PNG’s new NBC radio service. He met and married Pauline, the first female journalist/broadcaster from Manus Province, in late 1976. One of the many things Pauline made him do was pay the proper bride price so Dorney would have status with the village—and he’s been learning ever since. This was a reporter who embraced PNG in every sense.

The family returned to Port Moresby in 1979 when Sean became the ABC correspondent and his Pacific career was set. Correspondents Report has devoted a program to Dorney’s work so let’s cut to the anecdotes.

Start with a Port Moresby demonstration by soldiers angry at poor pay. Troops broke branches off trees and hit parked cars as they marched on parliament. As Dorney was recording this one soldier tried to rip the recorder out of his hands. There was good audio of the scuffle as Dorney grappled to keep his machine. Then the next lot of soldiers came by and the mood turned friendly. ‘Hi, Sean!’ they called with a wave; all the contrasts of covering PNG in one morning.

We’d like to say the recognition was due to his journalism—but Dorney also played for the PNG Rugby League team and captained it in 1976. In one Moresby match, he threw a wayward pass that resulted in a try to a visiting NSW side. The PNG crowd vigorously abused Dorney until a loud voice proclaimed: ‘Leave Sean alone. He’s just helping his wontoks!’ Pauline’s father was at that game, carrying a small axe in his bilum (string bag). When Dorney got heavily tackled, Dad had to be restrained from joining the action with the axe.

The Dorney recognition factor affected Australia’s Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock, when he landed at a Highlands airport to be greeted by several thousand people. Peacock’s greeting as he emerged from the plane was reasonably enthusiastic. But as the Foreign Minister walked across the tarmac, Dorney came into view at the top of the stairs, and the crowd erupted in cheers. On his return to Canberra, Peacock said one thing he’d discovered in PNG was never to travel with Sean—it was bad for the ego.

Long-time New Caledonia correspodent Helen Fraser said her memory of Dorney is being stuck between the French riot police and right-wing demonstrators —rocks were flying from one direction and tear gas from the other. In the midst of this mayhem, there was Dorney in long socks and shorts, dashing around with a microphone having the time of his life. Helen describes Dorney grabbing her by the hand and pulling her through the riot, recording as he went. Helen’s advice: If you’re ever trapped in a riot, make sure you’re with Sean— he can be very reassuring.

Dorney was expelled by PNG in 1984 as punishment for an ABC Four Corners program on the PNG–Indonesia border. The following year, I interviewed PNG’s Prime Minister, Michael Somare, and during the chat afterwards said to the Chief: ‘How could you throw out your old footy captain?’

‘Ah, it’s not Sean, it’s the bloody ABC’, Somare said.

I replied it was surprising how often I’d heard such blasphemy about my beloved broadcasting service from Australian leaders—not least Bob Hawke.

Somare broke into a broad grin and said: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get Sean back. He’s one of ours.’ That’s Dorney’s achievement. Australia can claim him; and so can the South Pacific.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow.

Reader response: what Indonesia and Australia share

Last week, Graeme Dobell wrote that ‘Australia has had no influence on the course of events since Suharto fell’. Not so. Although the decision to hold a referendum in East Timor in 1999 was made by Indonesia, the widespread—and I fear, unshakeable—view then and now is that President Habibie was pushed by Australia and the vote was hugely influenced by Australia. Right or wrong, those perceptions are powerful and reinforced by our prominent role in supporting the new nation. The TNI has been greatly influenced by those events.

We are undoubtedly better off with Jokowi as President, if only because he isn’t Prabowo. However we know next to nothing about Jokowi’s foreign affairs policy—and at this stage he probably doesn’t either as domestic issues are more pressing. Much will depend on who he appoints as Foreign Minister. We could end up with someone who’s indifferent or even hostile to us. Consider the impact if former intelligence head A.M. Hendropriyono (an advisor on multinational issues) gets the job. His position on Jokowi’s team has already been attacked by human rights groups worried by his alleged links to the assassination of activist Munir in 2004.

Having a democratic neighbour is important indeed, but we do democracy differently. So far, the Indonesian version depends heavily on what Indonesians call ‘money politics’ and patronage.

Duncan Graham is currently a blogger on Indonesian affairs. 

Oz and Indonesia

Australia and Indonesia

When Australia thinks strategy, it quickly comes to Indonesia.

So it was when the Howard Government was mulling the 2000 Defence White Paper. The National Security Committee of Cabinet was grilling the defenceniks: ‘If Indonesia can’t invade us, why should we buy all these military toys?’

One official produced a map, pointed to the archipelago and island chain arcing across Australia’s north, and asked: ‘What do you see?’

‘That’s Indonesia.’

‘Yes, sir, today it’s Indonesia. Just think what it’d mean if Indonesia broke up and instead this map showed three new Bangladeshes and a couple of new oil-rich Bruneis.’ Read more

I’ve heard various versions of this yarn, but having asked some who should have been there when it supposedly happened, I get no confirmation. It’s a tale yet to achieve the truth it deserves, illustrating how Indonesia directs Australia’s regional dreams or dominates its nightmares.

The vision of a splintering Indonesia goes to the nightmare side of current Australian imaginings. On Suharto’s fall, the horror was of Indonesia succumbing to centrifugal forces as Yugoslavia did after Tito. Instead of that nightmare, Indonesia conjured up a dream experiment—one of the world’s most ambitious efforts at political devolution and regional autonomy.

The doomsayers in Jakarta see little more than a devolution of corruption, setting a course to splinter the Republic. Joko Widodo’s arrival is an extraordinarily positive answer to that lament. Devolution meant an engineer who created a furniture business could become mayor of Solo in 2005, then step up to be elected Jakarta’s governor in 2012, and next month will be sworn in as Indonesia’s seventh president. Indonesians have elected ‘one of us’ as their leader; that democratic expression of the idea of ‘us’ is a powerful unifying force.

As the previous column noted, add a great caveat to the statement that Indonesia and Australia are neighbours with absolutely nothing in common. We now share something vital and defining—democracy. Add to that a further fundamental point—both agree on the regional and strategic importance of a unified and strong Indonesia. Indeed, the fact of a democratic Indonesia should help Australia accept its relative decline—stress relative—compared to the growing wealth and power of its giant neighbour.

Stressing Australia’s belief in a unified Indonesia is a point worth making. It ain’t always been so. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Canberra would have been happy with bits of Indonesia splitting away: because of fears about Indonesia turning to communism; when the CIA was shipping arms to support regional rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi; during Konfrontasi when British and Australian soldiers were fighting Indonesian troops; and when the Dutch were trying to hang on to West Papua.

Australia’s leading role in the one successful bit of splitism—the creation of East Timor— doesn’t fit with the mindset of the 1950s and 60s. Right up to the moment that East Timor voted for independence, Australia was sincere—in statement and belief—in calling for East Timor to remain within the Republic. The great irony is that Jakarta’s elite is convinced Australia was always plotting against it in Timor; that conviction misreads the clash between popular sentiment in Oz and Canberra’s judgement of national interest.

Australia’s commitment to a coherent rather than a fractured Indonesia is expressed in one phrase that is pregnant with meaning for Canberra strategists. That’s the statement that any military threat to Australia will come ‘from or through’ Indonesia. The idea has a long history in Australian thinking, dating from that moment of existential fright delivered by Japan in WWII. It’s a powerful idea that can shift in shape and colour. Thus, the 1947 Strategic Appreciation noted:

Having established herself in Indonesia, Russia could attack the mainland of Australia under cover of land based aircraft. Hence, it follows that Australia is vitally interested in this line of approach.

The most famous expression of ‘from or through’ was Paul Dibb’s 1986 Review of Australian Defence:

In defence terms, Indonesia is our most important neighbour. The Indonesian archipelago forms a protective barrier to Australia’s northern approaches. We have a common interest in regional stability, free from interference by potentially hostile external powers. At the same time, we must recognise that, because of its proximity, the archipelago to our north is the area from or through which a military threat to Australia could most easily be posed.

Australia wants an Indonesia strong enough not to be porous or splitable​, but uninterested in using its strength for ​anything nasty.

The Oz dream is to go beyond ‘from or through’ to find ‘a shield to Australia’s north.’ Australia will stand with ASEAN in the fervent wish for Jokowi’s huge success.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Juan Manuel Garcia.

Fragilities in the French Pacific: New Caledonia broaches its future

Noumea awaits its future

New Caledonia, our French neighbour, sits just off the Queensland coast, but well off our strategic radar screen. Our Defence White Paper 2013 doesn’t mention it, nor even France’s role in the South Pacific. However, France’s 2013 Defence White Paper refers to its political and maritime power deriving from its Pacific ‘collectivities’ (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, Clipperton) and to strategic collaboration with Australia. It’s worth evaluating how, and to what degree, France’s Pacific role intersects with Australia’s strategic interests.

France has kept its Pacific collectivities out of the news for decades, implementing measures to improve its regional image after stopping nuclear testing in French Polynesia and negotiating an end to bloodshed over New Caledonian independence demands.

In New Caledonia, the 1988 Matignon and 1998 Noumea Accords deferred a long-promised independence referendum, and scheduled transfers of some responsibilities, underpinned bybetter sharing of economic (mainly nickel) revenues. France hoped to buy time and economic prosperity, increasing local stakes in, and support for, its continued sovereignty. Read more

Well, time’s up. In May 2014, the last local elections were held under the Accords. The resultant Congress will decide whether to initiate an independence referendum process by 2018—if three-fifths of members can agree. If not, France must do so. Agreement isn’t a foregone conclusion. New Caledonia’s politics centre on staying with France or independence. Although the local government is collegial, the pro-France groups have held the notional majority since the 1970s when France deliberately imported French citizens to outnumber the generally pro-independence Kanaks. But neither group holds three-fifths of the seats. Indeed, the 2014 election saw the pro-France majority narrow (to 29 of the 54 seats) as the pro-independence group increased support (to 25). So some collaboration has to occur.

The path isn’t at all clear for early agreement on the timing and subject of a referendum process. The process raises sensitive identity and constitutional considerations.

Two papers have been developed to focus discussion on the post-Accord future. Two senior French lawyers wrote the October 2013 Institutional Future of New Caledonia which, unsurprisingly, favours staying with France, but sets out fairly dispassionately the legalities under each of four options (full sovereignty, partnership, extended autonomy and continued autonomy). In April 2014, the Customary Senate, a Noumea Accord institution of Kanak chiefs who advise on matters touching Kanak custom, published the Charter of the Kanak People, describing Kanak identity and victimisation under colonisation, and identifying minimal requirements for the future, mainly respect and equality. Interestingly, few pro-independence players (either the chiefs, or the key Kanak political leaders) use the ‘i’ word in broad public messages: they speak of ‘sovereignty’, ‘emancipation’, and ‘self-determination’ rather than ‘independence’, suggesting scope for compromise. The Charter refers to ‘shared sovereignty’ with ‘no effect on the territorial integrity of the State’.

But that doesn’t mean independence aspirations don’t remain. In June, a Kanak protest against environmental degradation from nickel development resulted in the shooting of two policemen. Pro-independence groups can’t agree on allocating the lucrative nickel portfolio in local government. One group came to blows over a boozy lunch in June, when a political adviser was murdered.

The pro-France side has its problems too. France’s most senior representative in Noumea, High Commissioner Jean-Jacques Brot, resigned on 19 July in the middle of a visit by the ‘Overseas France’ Minister, when the Minister announced a mission to prepare for post-Accord discussions. The resignation followed months of controversy, including suggestions that Brot was too close to a conservative pro-France group.

Australia has tended to stand apart from internal developments in the French Pacific collectivities, tacitly supporting the French state. After all, it’s useful having a now constructive, well-resourced partner in the region that’s a G20 Member, a Permanent Member of the Security Council and NATO, leader of the EU’s useful regional presence, and host to the Secretariat for the Pacific Community headquarters (in Noumea). France also participates in defence exercises and the FRANZ arrangement of fisheries surveillance and emergency assistance, and is beginning to share its maritime and environmental expertise. Moreover, France generously bankrolls its collectivities, to the tune of at least US$ 2 billion each for New Caledonia and French Polynesia each year. If France’s hold were to be shaken substantially, Australia would have to meet some of the shortfall.

Regionally, pro-independence groups draw on the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights for inspiration and support—the Kanak Charter specifically calls for regional country support for the Kanak people in asserting their right to sovereignty on this basis. The timing of outcomes for the future of New Caledonia will have implications for French Polynesia on past form, but also for Papua New Guinea, when the Bougainville Agreement, itself partly based on the Noumea Accord, reaches a turning point around 2016; for Solomon Islands now operating without RAMSI; for a fragile Fiji; and for neighbouring Vanuatu.

Those interconnections mean we should be more aware of what’s happening in our French neighbourhood, particularly in New Caledonia.

Denise Fisher, author of France in the South Pacific: power and politics (ANU Press 2013), is a former senior DFAT officer who has served as Australian’s Consul General in Noumea. She is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University Centre for European Studies. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Meaden.

What Indonesia and Australia share

Democracy in action

Indonesia can direct Australia’s regional dreams or dominate its nightmares. Just as Papua New Guinea shapes the way Australia thinks about the South Pacific, Indonesia frames Australia’s view of Southeast Asia.

In those key regional relationships, Australia’s strategists, diplomats and journos get plenty of mileage from the nightmares. Yet often things work out better than feared. The sun breaks through and the politicians can follow the natural inclination of the business types to gaze on the bright side.

Jokowi’s election is a fine moment to turn from the dark side to contemplate the dreams. As Natalie Sambhi argued, a Jokowin is a win for Australia. For all the nightmares Australia has had, this is another moment of great good fortune. Read more

Donald Horne’s Lucky Country moniker holds truths beyond irony: Australia has had no influence on the course of events since Suharto fell, but Indonesia’s political evolution has delivered Australia great benefit—a fine example of luck.

The luck held in this election. Indonesia avoided the offer to turn back to some strange conjuring of a Suharto past adorned with Sukarno nationalist symbolism. Australia would have striven mightily to work with a President Prabowo Subianto, but this former general had only just been removed from Canberra’s visa black list over human rights violations. Embracing Prabowo would mean grimacing and dusting off old Suharto languageabout Australia’s many interests with Indonesia and the vital need to deal with whoever is in power. Thank our lucky stars and Indonesia’s voters for not having to relive that experience, where limiting damage also meant limiting what could be asked or aspired for.

Indonesia’s fascinating election further entrenches one great caveat in the statement that Indonesia and Australia are two neighbours with absolutely nothing in common. We now share something vital and defining—both are democracies.

Sharing democracy is a major change in what Australia and Indonesia can imagine about each other—or what Australia can understand about Indonesia. Such a shared view of how politics and society best operate can balance all the differences between these two most dissimilar of neighbours.

Democracy produces all manner of clamour and discontents, but also offers energy and opportunity that could never be had from the disciplined silences of Suharto’s order. The big political and social belief Australia and Indonesia now share will be useful in dealing with the most secret of topics.

Australia’s abiding, intense intelligence focus on Indonesia got a public showing last year. Indonesian outrage at the revelation that Australian intelligence targeted the phones of President SBY, his wife and inner circle saw Jakarta recall its ambassador from Canberra in November, and put a freeze on military, police and intelligence cooperation.

The storm unleashed by Edward Snowden forced Australia to adopt the stalker’s defence: ‘I love you so much I want to know everything about you.’

Australia’s intelligence obsession expresses something else Oz shares with Indonesia. Both nations agree on Indonesia’s geostrategic importance and Jakarta’s role as a regional leader; thus, as noted, Australia’s desperation ‘to know everything about you.’

In a detailed reading of what the Snowden’s revelations say about the relationship, Richard Tanter argues that power is shifting remorselessly to Indonesia:

The fundamental discovery—painful for the new [Abbott] government—is that, while on some measures, the two countries have grown a little closer in recent years, the fundamental relationship between Indonesia and Australia is an asymmetrical one. Indonesia is far more important to Australia’s security concerns than is Australia to Indonesia’s.

The asymmetric image recalls a Jakarta epigram that the late Jamie Mackie told me he first heard 30 or 40 years ago: ‘Australia is like your appendix, you only think about it when it hurts.’ Given all the problems Indonesia confronts, this is as it should be. There are worse things than having a big and burgeoning neighbour that doesn’t think about you that much. More luck for Oz. The challenge is always to turn up as a friend offering help and a fresh perspective, not the painful southern ache demanding something.

The Snowden storm produced a call from Indonesia for a new accord on intelligence. Getting that is deeply difficult. Australia is having a discussion on intelligence boundaries with Indonesia similar to the conversation the US is having with Germany; the Snowden effect abounds. Espionage is always about potential nightmares, but democracy offers a shared belief that can be the basis for some level of trust. And a new Indonesian president offers Australia a new chance to build.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Helping outside the spotlight: the AFP mission in PNG

Police officers Peter and Malen look after the cases at the Family and Sexual Violence Unit at Waigani Police Station, Port Moresby PNG.

While the nation’s attention is on the difficult operation being undertaken by Australian Federal Police officers in the Ukraine, it’s worth reflecting on the other major international missions that our police are performing overseas today.

Those missions usually bubble along without much attention—which is good in a way, but the work deserves more than that.

Karl Claxton and I have recently spent two weeks with such a mission in Papua New Guinea. Around 50 additional AFP officers from the International Deployment Group were deployed here late last year, and they’re now working in front-line policing positions with their counterparts in the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) as advisors, mentors and planners. Read more

Prime Ministers Rudd and O’Neill conceived the AFP’s current mission—an extension of a program running since 2008—in July 2013.

Naturally, there’s something in the enhanced arrangement for both sides. For PNG, it’s visible action against crime—a priority for their government. For Australia, it’s about long-term engagement in a country of particular importance to its interests—and the small matter of an immigration-detention facility on Manus Island.

Regardless whether that facility is required into the future, there’s certainly going to be a need to attend to our core interests for a long time to come.

That’s because the challenges faced by police in PNG are systemic, formidable and confronting (PDF). But key officers in the RPNGC know this, and they’ve told us of their desire to become more effective.

The Commissioner, along with the senior officers and officials interviewed for this project, uniformly singled out the need for improved police discipline early in our discussions. They explained that their constables lack some of the basic skills and equipment required for community policing and investigations. They want to improve their relationships with the community. They want to see corruption beaten, and they want to be part of that challenge. Those we’ve met are also all supportive of the AFP’s presence.

The RPNGC demonstrate a willingness to embrace new innovations. One example is a new cell-management system in PNG’s second largest city Lae, which has been built with some AFP funding and support from the local university. It’s a testament to what can be done. I met the constable managing it, Nimrod, during my visit to the Lae Metro Police Station last week. He uses the system with ease and he’s clearly proud of it. So AFP efforts are having an effect—but the depth and sustainability of that effect is hard to estimate at present.

Managing expectations is another challenge for the AFP mission: the expat community longs for responses to crimes against their businesses; all families want violence reduced; and locals want the excesses of their countrymen—whether police or civilian—brought under control.

But the AFP has neither the mandate nor numbers to address all of those community concerns in the short term. That’s undoubtedly a source of frustration for all, but that’s the reality. The AFP don’t have executive powers here—they can’t make arrests or direct RPNGC officers—due to a 2005 PNG Supreme Court case that ruled aspects of an earlier police partnership unconstitutional (PDF). They advise, influence and provide material support where they can. The early indicators of the AFP’s impact are positive, although definitive metrics are hard to provide, and there are several areas where modest additional effort appear likely to yield large benefits.

Based on our research, Karl and I will now produce a report on the future of AFP’s cooperation and engagement in PNG. We don’t intend to evaluate the current operation—we don’t have the data or resources. Instead, we want to think hard about the trajectory of the crime and order situation in PNG, and how that’s going to challenge PNG and Australian interests over the next 5–10 years. From what we’ve seen over the last two weeks, meeting that challenge and returning PNG’s situation to a positive long-term trend will require a sustained commitment and constant reassessment of the mission and its resources. But more on that later.

David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.