Australia and its Region

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.

Australia and the regional terrorist threat

Bali Bombing Memorial, Kuta

Much has been written of late about the potential for Australian citizens to go to the Middle East and take up arms with one militant group or another. Recent commentary about an Is­lamic State fighter, who appears to be the sec­ond Aus­tralian to carry out a sui­cide bomb­ing in a Shia-dom­i­nated dis­trict near the cen­tre of Bagh­dad, is chilling. Instead of delivering long-desired enlightenment to the region, the Arab Spring has in part unleashed forces that contribute to the current spiral of violence and instability—with effects felt as far afield as the Asia-Pacific.

We need to respond—in a measured way—to the actions of Australian citizens who no longer feel they owe their first duty to Australia and its people. But, equally, we must guard against exaggerating and sensationalising this issue for three important reasons: first because the threat is in reality quite small; second because we don’t want to draw even more (usually) young hot heads to the cause; and finally, because we have relatively strong institutional structures to address the threat. Read more

It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of Australian immigrants of Middle-Eastern descent took a big risk to start anew in this country. They did so out of love, mostly because of the stability, moderation and the future it offered their children. As such, far from being radicalised, incendiary or reactionary, my wide circle of Middle Eastern friends (and I believe the vast majority of the Middle Eastern population in Australia) are a largely content, law-abiding, aspirational and contributing element of multicultural Australia. Far from constituting a threat they have embraced and now largely embody our national values. So, by all means, let’s address the unwelcome actions of a relatively small group of rogue radicals, but their wider communities mustn’t be tarnished in the process.

But that’s not the end of the matter, for there’s a real and much more significant threat which must inevitably be confronted. This one’s more nuanced, and equally more likely to fly under the radar, until it strikes quickly and dangerously. Its low profile is achieved, in part, because we are inclined to focus excessively on the relatively few ‘home grown’ would-be fighters just described.

This much greater threat is the risk posed by Southeast Asian fighters who go to Syria, and then return to regional transnational organisations like Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Given the relative weakness of institutional structures in some regional nations, the freedom of action that those committed and upskilled fighters enjoy is reason for great concern. In Australia’s case, that’s because of the enormous number of Australians and other Westerners who transit and/or holiday in our region each year.

So far, informed estimates suggest that there are approximately 50 Indonesian fighters in Syria. Almost certainly, that figure is conservative and growing—perhaps fast. Professional recruitment videos that call on Indonesia’s Muslim youth to answer the siren song of transnationalism are likely to stimulate further interest within disaffected communities in Indonesia and elsewhere in our region.

The key point is that the threat of regional separatists is an inter-regional dilemma, with known terrorists finding motivation, inspiration and training in the Middle East before returning to apply their skills at home. Such individuals can lie dormant within their home countries, but still possess the heightened potential and confidence to strike at soft civilian targets, including Western visitors and tourists. That’s a regional problem, requiring a regional solution for resolution, or, more realistically, practical long-term containment.

Australia has been fortunate to date, in being able to confront and successfully check would-be terrorist combatants on far distant foreign soil—and to do so with relatively few casualties. Regrettably, neither a distant battlefield, nor a low casualty toll, may always be possible in what we must remember is the Longest War—the all-too-conveniently-forgotten Global War on Terror. Because of its inchoate nature, it may seem at times to have simply gone away. But, that’s far from the truth. The problem is that in the foreseeable future it may again be waiting for us closer to home—in our own back yard as was the case in Bali—and re-emerge in a more dangerous and determined form.

Nor is it likely that the superb and recently well-proven counter-terror and combat capabilities of Australia’s special forces will get much of a rest in the foreseeable to middle terms.

But, one thing is certain. Now that the important Indonesian national election is done, it’ll be in the interests of both our nations to work to understand and cooperate more closely and consistently, toward the goal of a safe and stable region. To that end, our respective national self-interests—at times mismatched, misunderstood and even mismanaged—have never before been more closely aligned.

Andrew Nikolic is the Federal Member for Bass and a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. He is a former senior Australian Army officer and First Assistant Secretary in the Defence Department. Image courtesy of Flickr user Roger Price.

Is Indonesia’s next Marty Natalegawa … Marty Natalegawa?

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Marty Natalegawa hold a media conference at Gedung Pancasila in Jakarta, 5 December 2013

Indonesia has just had its third presidential debate in which both Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto outlined their respective foreign and defence policies (you can watch the English-dubbed version here). As Michael Bachelard has observed, Australia hasn’t featured in particularly favourable terms. While that might seem ominous for diplomatic relations, the president is just one part of Indonesia’s foreign policy machinery—other parts matter. How Australia fares, for example, will also depend on the kind of foreign minister the new president appoints. But who might that be?

The current minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, is an enthusiastic practitioner of Indonesia’s foreign policy objectives. The perfect wingman for President Yudhoyono’s ambitious agenda for Indonesia, he’s personally chased down agreements between ASEAN states, and by no means has he been a shrinking violet on Australia and spying. Marty will leave big shoes to fill. With a new Cabinet to be sworn in, who might replace him? Read more

The most obvious answer is Marty himself. Being a technocrat with no overt political affiliations, Natalegawa’s track record of success makes him an ideal candidate to bring experience and continuity to the role. That would suit either president, though lingering questions about Prabowo’s involvement in the kidnapping of student activists could undermine Indonesia’s ability to push human rights agendas. Natalegawa has been instrumental in positioning Indonesia as a partner for Myanmar and fostering the latter’s political changes. Under a Prabowo presidency Indonesia’s ability to act as a third party between Myanmar and other partners like the US, might be constrained. With a relatively sedate Vice President in Boediono, Natalegawa has emerged as one of the more prominent figures in Yudhoyono’s Cabinet (though a more active Vice President like Jusuf Kalla might change that dynamic).

Another option might be the former Indonesian Ambassador to the United States, Dino Patti Djalal. Djalal recently stepped down from his role in Washington in order to run as a presidential candidate for the incumbent’s Democrat Party. With the race now between Prabowo and Jokowi and the Democrats out of the running, Djalal could also be considered for the role of foreign minister. An old hand in foreign relations and son of influential international-law-of-the-sea expert and UNCLOS architect Hasjim Djalal, he was also President Yudhoyono’s speech writer for major international addresses in English. With his Washington stint commencing in August 2010, he’s been around for the US rebalance and has, arguably, a good understanding of Western states’ policies.

The last figure is Arif Havas Oegroseno, the current Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium. Instrumental in negotiations that led to the conclusion of a maritime agreement between Indonesia and the Philippines, Oegroseno has been actively writing about South China Sea issues in the media in recent months, even going so far as to clarify Indonesia’s position as a ‘claimant state’ (which makes him sound more like a foreign minister than ambassador).

Of course, there are other possible contenders (including Retno Marsudi, Mahendra Siregar and Rizal Sukma) but these are just some examples of the kind of foreign minister Australia might expect. An ideal Indonesian foreign minister from the Australian perspective would be one that shares our desire to strengthen ties with Jakarta and with ASEAN states across a number of realms. In an era of Snowden revelations, an ideal counterpart would be one that looks for creative ways to add ballast to the relationship, to better weather diplomatic shocks. Key to that would be the personal rapport between foreign ministers. Despite his posturing, Natalegawa has worked towards the Code of Conduct between Australia and Indonesia which provides the foundation for future crisis management.

Looking more broadly to Indonesia’s role in international affairs, the ideal candidate would maintain a commitment to consolidating Indonesia’s place as leader and third-party mediator in ASEAN; prioritise mechanisms to diffuse tension and mitigate conflict in the South China Seas through a negotiated Code of Conduct; and create opportunities for diplomacy and cooperation between major regional players, particularly, the US and China. Australia and Indonesia might also look to harmonise and reinforce the importance of international law in the resolution of South China Sea disputes.

Under SBY and Marty, Indonesia has shaped its reputation as a good international citizen and active diplomatic player. A successive administration would be hard-pressed to deviate from such a sound framework.

Personalities will be key to continuing that legacy. The three named above all come from a cohort known as ‘Hassan’s boys’, referring to a generation of Indonesia’s ‘youngest and brightest’ diplomats groomed by Hassan Wirajuda, who served as foreign minister from 2001 and 2009. If nothing else, that shows the influence of individuals on Indonesia’s foreign policy. It’ll be interesting to see who follows.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP.

Regional order building in the Indian Ocean Region – evolving opportunities, enduring challenges

Australia and IndiaNarendra Modi’s election as India’s Prime Minister has fired the hopes of Australian India-watchers keen to forge a stronger strategic partnership between Canberra and New Delhi. As Canberra has recast its strategic geography in Indo-Pacific terms, Australia’s interests in nurturing a stable regional order in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) have grown. And India’s unique combination of demographic weight, geographic centrality and gargantuan military and economic potential makes it the IOR’s natural fulcrum. Seen in that light, Modi’s aspirations for a more strategically extroverted India ostensibly auger well for an Australia keen to work with New Delhi to build a more robust Indian Ocean regional order. Read more

But boosters of the bilateral relationship must be careful not to downplay the obstacles that may yet frustrate collaborative efforts at regional order building. In particular, the IOR’s distinct historical evolution radically distinguishes it from East Asia, and presents correspondingly different challenges for aspiring regional order-builders. Likewise, Australia and India’s histories have bequeathed them different—even dissonant—order-building traditions. Those divergent traditions quash hopes of converging on a common vision of regional order any time soon.

Since 1945, Australia’s attention has overwhelmingly centered on the Asia-Pacific. That preoccupation is unsurprising, given the traumas of the Pacific War and the Cold War. But it’s worth recalling the distinctive features of the Asia-Pacific that distinguish it from the IOR.

For over six decades, American hegemony preserved regional order in the Asia-Pacific. Washington upheld the peace by maintaining a ‘hub-and-spokes’ alliance system and an extensive forward deployment of conventional (and at times, nuclear) forces. Economically, Washington’s sponsorship of export-oriented industrialisation meanwhile resuscitated erstwhile rivals (Japan and later the People’s Republic of China), while energising dependent allies. In brief, the United States constructed a deeply institutionalised hierarchical international order, which regional security multilateralism later supplemented rather than supplanted.

By contrast, America’s involvement in the IOR is far more recent, and has been markedly less multi-dimensional and institutionalised. Following Britain’s 1971 retreat from east of Suez, the US assumed Britain’s traditional responsibilities of maintaining the freedom of the seas, as well as successfully guarding against the threat of Soviet encroachment. But for all their importance, those achievements were the unilateral product of American naval supremacy, and didn’t rest on a bedrock of local collaboration. The epicentre of Third World non-alignment, the IOR never supported the dense networks of alliances, forward-deployed US troop concentrations, or globally integrated production networks that underpinned the US-dominated hierarchy in the Asia-Pacific. Bitter regional splits (most notably the Indo-Pakistani rivalry) moreover retarded the development of regional security multilateralism, both during and after the end of the Cold War. 

Having been engaged in starkly different primary strategic theatres, Australia and India have evolved radically divergent strategies of regional order building.

Australian traditions of order building have centered on two pillars—alignment and enmeshment. Since 1951, the ANZUS alliance has been the cornerstone of Australian security, underwriting everything from Australia’s preference for coalition expeditionary warfare, to its decision to forego nuclear weapons in return for promises of American extended nuclear deterrence.

More recently, as the region’s multilateral security architecture has matured over the last two decades, Australia has actively sought enmeshment in regional institutions, at times even embarrassingly over-reaching itself in its sponsorship of the rapidly orphaned ‘Asia-Pacific Community’.  

By contrast, India’s order building strategies have centered around two different pillars—non-alignment and exclusion. Historically a champion of Third World non-alignment, India has traditionally repudiated alliances as mechanisms of entrapment and escalation, rather than guarantors of regional stability. New Delhi’s allergy to alliances contrasts profoundly with Australia’s reflexive reliance on ‘great and powerful friends’.

India’s longstanding sponsorship of regionalism as a device aimed at insulating the region from superpower involvement provides a further contrast with the Australian experience. Whereas Australia has historically feared exclusion from its home region, and since the early 1990s has sought enmeshment in regional security architectures wherever possible, India has fretted more about the prospect of neo-colonial encroachment, and attempted to shape its immediate region primarily with that negative goal in mind. The result has been an anemic, under-developed and largely atrophied regional security architecture, which remains woefully unsuited to managing the security challenges IOR states now confront.

The foregoing differences by no means preclude meaningful Australia-India security cooperation. But recognition of the countries’ disparate order-building traditions is essential, both to manage expectations and also to guide policy-makers’ approach to strengthening IOR security.

To seek a convergent vision of regional order between Australia and India would be a Sisyphean enterprise. Instead, regional order building between Australia and India must occur from the bottom up, around an incrementally expanding web of cooperative habits focused around managing shared non-traditional security challenges. Such an enterprise will hardly fire the imaginations of anyone yearning for a super-sized Australian grand strategy to match its expanded Indo-Pacific outlook. But it recognises the real and enduring contrasts that differentiate the two regions—and promises a surer route to successful Australian-Indian strategic cooperation in future.  

Andrew Phillips is an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award fellow and senior lecturer in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. Image courtesy of iStock.

Supporting Australia’s Antarctic interests

Aurora Australis anchored off Macquarie Island.Earlier this year, I cited the case of the tourist expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy, which became entrapped near Commonwealth Bay in the waters of Australia’s Antarctic Territory, as showing up serious limitations of Australia’s weakening search-and-rescue capabilities down south: our one polar vessel couldn’t reach the Shokalskiy. Nor was it carrying helicopters that could.

In the recent federal budget, the government announced that it will request tenders for a new icebreaker to replace the ageing Aurora Australis. It’s a welcome move: Aurora Australis is approaching the end of its serviceable life. A decision was needed to commit to a replacement to ensure our ability to conduct marine research anywhere in the Southern Ocean at any time of year, and to provide a heavy-lift capability for efficient delivery of station cargo and refuelling.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said two Europe-based firms had been shortlisted to build the vessel, to be delivered by 2019. Hunt told reporters that it will cost ‘hundreds and hundreds of millions’, but he wouldn’t comment further due to an ongoing tender process. The new ship will be a significant capability enhancement over the Aurora Australis, in terms of its icebreaking and cargo capacities. Read more

In announcing the decision, Minister Hunt linked it directly to our polar sovereignty claim:

It is absolutely critical under international law for Australia to maintain an active presence in Antarctica so as to maintain our claims. We have about 42 percent of the Antarctic land mass which is covered by Australian claims and if we were to abandon that … then that would be a deeply irresponsible action for future generations.

But while the Minister’s decision to replace Aurora Australis is welcome, it’s only one part of the story when it comes to the maritime capabilities required for our southern backyard.

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is currently inquiring into Australia’s future activities and responsibilities in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. In a joint submission to the Committee, Sam Bateman and I argue that Australia requires ships capable of operating in the Southern Ocean and off the coast of Antarctica for surveillance, patrol and response (for sovereignty protection, law enforcement and search and rescue); marine scientific research; and the logistic support of Australia’s Antarctic program. In the longer term, a requirement may arise for warships with the necessary capabilities.

Response requires a surface vessel and that’s where we’re most seriously lacking at present. The requirement for the task will increase in the future: apart from our own national interests, the Southern Ocean contains valuable living resources including the largest underexploited fishery in the world, the Antarctic krill fishery.

Our current capability to respond to a safety-of-life-at-sea issue in southern waters is limited to three principal vessels: Ocean Protector, Ocean Shield, and Aurora Australis, and only the latter is ice-capable. RAN ships may be available, but none are ice-strengthened and only the fleet replenishment ships, HMAS Choules and the LHDs about to enter service, could undertake an extended search without the support of a tanker.

As noted above, in terms of marine research and logistics, with only one ageing Antarctic research vessel, we’re being left behind by other nations: China, Japan, the Russian Federation, South Korea and South Africa have each launched or announced new icebreakers.

And it’s over two years since we’ve had a patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean. We’ve relied on assistance from France, but that’s only available off the Territory of Heard and McDonald islands.

The concept of a ‘national fleet’ offers a possible approach to building the required capacity: rather than each agency doing its ‘own thing’ with blue water capabilities, there’s scope for a ‘whole of nation’ approach to address national requirements for those capabilities other than naval war-fighting. Along with the Senate Committee’s report, it might be useful to have an independent study into Australia’s requirements for blue-water capabilities for maritime policing, patrol and scientific research, including in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica.

The national fleet concept might be considered in both the project to replace the Aurora Australis and Defence Project SEA 1180 to provide a class of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels (OCVs). Regarding the OCVs, the 2013 Defence White paper noted (at paragraph 8.56): ‘in the shorter-term, Government will seek to replace the current Armidale Class patrol boats with a proven vessel to ensure that Defence can continue to provide a patrol capability’ while a longer-term solution is considered.

It’s probable that the Armidale Class replacement will be an updated version of the Cape Class vessels being acquired by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Such vessels would be unsuitable for operations in the Southern Ocean and off Antarctica. The requirement for operations in those waters should be considered in selecting the longer-term solution for the OCV.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Natalie Tapson.

Our gold-plated intervention in Solomon Islands: expensive but essential and unfinished

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) military personnel destroy weapons at a ceremony at Marua, south east of Honiara on the last day of the Solomon Island gun amnesty on the 21 August 2003. The weapons at Marau were destroyed in front of hundreds of locals as well as representatives from RAMSI.

A week after its publication, Jenny Hayward-Jones’ forensic and provocative Lowy paper Australia’s costly investment in Solomon Islands: the lessons of RAMSI has been widely reported but hardly stirred a peep from commentators I expected to leap to the mission’s defence. That’s a pity since Solomon Islands is approaching a critical period and RAMSI holds important lessons as the Australian government works through precisely what ‘better aligning our trade, aid and diplomacy to promote regional peace and prosperity’ means in practice.

Jenny’s analysis of Australia’s $2.643 billion spent on RAMSI from 2003-13 (two servicemen also died) leads her to conclude the price of success has been excessive. Notwithstanding its achievements, she assesses RAMSI’s lack of an exit strategy led to ‘mission drift’. She argues that our interests in the Solomons were insufficient to justify RAMSI’s cost and length; that the mission transformed Solomon Islands into one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries; that we must avoid building parallel bureaucracies while working with regional partners in future missions; and that we should’ve tried harder from the outset to promote genuine political change. As a result, our investment in regional stability and development—initially good—became ‘much more questionable’. Read more

Our national interests in the stability of nearby countries, however, are far from limited. True, the risks of organised criminals or terrorists setting-up in the Solomons were probably overstated in the post 9-11 / Bali-bombings atmosphere preceding the invasion of Iraq. But avoiding ungoverned spaces, or the possibility that others might intervene across our direct approaches, are enduring requirements. We rebuffed pleas to rescue Solomons for four years, during which 250 people were killed, so intervening was discretionary. Still, although our interests in Solomon Islands before the conflict were ‘similar to our stake in Vanuatu’, that changed once acute violence arose. Reputational and other interests were also engaged once we’d gone in. The decision by John Howard and Alexander Downer to act against official advice ‘with a spirit of state-building until the job was done, without any exit timetable’ reflected their conviction that there’s no exit strategy from our own region and that it’s worth paying some premium for regional leadership.

The ‘only thing all assessors agree on’ when evaluating RAMSI is that getting the guns off the streets of Honiara, Malaita and Guadalcanal was essential and well done. Yet it’s unlikely stabilisation would’ve been nearly as quick or durable without the prospect things would get better under a longer-term state-building program.  Even in the security realm, the unanticipated flare-up of serious violence in 2006 reinforced anxieties, long after calm returned, about drawing-down the security force precipitously. Jenny’s revelation that the security pillar accounted for 83% of the cost of RAMSI suggests less ambitious state-building pillars would’ve yielded only limited savings.

A key concern from the outset that RAMSI would create dependency, weaken the impetus for Solomons leaders to address challenges themselves, and introduce perverse incentives that entrench dysfunction, has been partly borne out—as seen in aid’s continuing importance to Honiara’s budget. But is that a valid criterion by which to judge RAMSI? Tobias Haque, among others, argues economic self-sufficiency ‘is not a useful goal’ given the Solomons’ immutable economic geography as a small and isolated market recovering from collapse. Dependency doesn’t diminish RAMSI but demands further innovation.

RAMSI established some unnecessary, duplicative administrative mechanisms that probably weakened Solomon Islands Government processes, and it missed opportunities to promote real political change. RAMSI’s state-building focused on rebuilding broken institutions via technocratic efforts to create economic and governance conditions conducive to growth. But its social licence to do so was built on an understanding—partly tacit, partly reflecting RAMSI’s mandate—that the mission wouldn’t interfere too much with unsustainable logging or associated localised, money politics.

If harvestable logs were inexhaustible, continuing that approach might be logical to buy time for the country’s political settlement to bed-down. But a crunch is approaching—logging’s contribution to the economy decreases about 8% per year, and income from mining will only slowly replace this, if it can at all. Mining can’t take logging’s place at the heart of the patronage state. Mining revenue will be more narrowly spread, obliging elites to scramble for new spoils, and introducing a fresh wave of social tensions Solomon Islanders have limited experience managing successfully. True, those disruptive effects might lead to good as well as ill, forcing a break with corrupt practices. But the World Bank and others warn we should ‘expect turbulence’ either way, as pressure on local patronage networks was a key ‘driver of conflict’ when logging cash dried up during the Asian Financial Crisis before the 1998-2003 troubles.

Australia retains both the motive and the capacity to promote positive Solomons responses to that political and economic transition. Honiara’s election preparations and response to last month’s floods (including unrest by residents of some evacuation centres and nearby settlements) show traditional capability-building efforts are still useful. Scholars are also designing innovative approaches to economic, migration, aid, land and other challenges likely to be intensified by the end of logging. Any successes will be relevant to fostering peace and prosperity both in and beyond the Solomons.

Karl Claxton is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Australia–Fiji defence cooperation can be ‘win-win’

Fijian Army Private Qiri desembarked from Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) at Canala Bay

In a recent op-ed I suggested that as we’re now normalising our relations with Fiji we shouldn’t just go back to the ‘same old, same old’ when it comes to defence cooperation.

The great advantage of military relationship-building is that much of it can be done without attracting too much political attention. The new Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Staff College, and he’ll likely be receptive to engagement with his Australian counterparts. Early resumption of places for Fijian officers at our training establishments, along with participation in joint exercises should be part of a normal Fiji–Australia relationship.

But I also suggested that one new idea we might consider would be ADF training courses in Fiji or Australia to prepare young Fijians to be, at the same time, Australian permanent residents and ADF recruits: after they’d performed sufficient loyal service, this would lead to Australian citizenship. Fiji would benefit from the remittances. Alternatively, if there were concerns we were ‘cherry- picking’ the best and brightest, they could go back under a return-of-service obligation and strengthen the RFMF (Fiji now allows dual citizenship). Read more

The rule now is that you have to be an Australian citizen before you can enlist, or—in certain circumstances for ‘high priority’ jobs—you can be a permanent resident nearing citizenship and your application can be fast-tracked. Most of our overseas military recruits and lateral transfers come from the UK, US, NZ and Canada.

We should be taking a closer look at the UK model of Commonwealth recruiting to see the justifications and modalities, and get away from any notion that this would be some kind of ‘guest worker’ scheme: Fijians serving in the UK armed forces aren’t called ‘guest workers’.

The UK’s Commonwealth recruitment scheme advertises vacancies in the relevant country, interviews in those states, and selection is based on skills.

Certainly equal conditions with Australian personnel would be essential, (as in the UK model). They’d not be in separate units and nor should navy and air force personnel be excluded.

Currently there’s no evidence that the ADF’s facing massive recruiting shortfalls. (The applicant-assessment-enlistment ratio’s around 10:3:1—that is ten applicants test for three to be assessed for one to enlist.) So the idea of incorporating Fijians into the ADF is an idea that can and should receive careful preparation to ensure its success.

Still, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a winning formula here. Fijians and Australians have a long history of getting along with each other through tourism, sport, education, and commerce. Moreover, Fijian military cooperation with Australia has a long and positive history.

If it was successful, such a scheme might be extended by bilateral agreement to other island states. But I’d guess that the overwhelming majority of recruitment would come from Fiji: the country’s long exported security personnel and Fijian expertise is highly-regarded in UN peacekeeping missions (Fiji’s now got over 500 troops in UNDOF’s delicate mission in the Golan). For every RFMF vacancy advertised in Fiji, there’s a huge response from would-be recruits.

If properly instituted the proposed scheme may well prove to be a positive strand in the ties that bind Australia and Fiji.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.