ASPI suggests: ANZAC Day edition

Bugler Corporal James Duquemin from the Band of the Royal Military College Duntroon plays the Last Post during the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Multi National Base – Tarin Kot.It’s ANZAC Day today, when our nation commemorates those who have given their lives or suffered in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. The day itself—25 April—marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand Forces during the First World War. ANZAC Day begins with a Dawn Service at war memorials around the country, which serves as a reminder of the dawn landing on Gallipoli in 1915.

If you’re interested in Australia’s more recent commitments to conflict zones overseas, the Australian War Memorial’s collection includes a recently-unveiled Afghanistan exhibition that blends traditional items like military equipment with other media like sketches, artwork and video. There’s more information on the AWM site as well as 28 video interviews with mostly ADF personnel, sharing their experiences with Afghanistan.

For a more detailed analysis of how Gallipoli became one of the bloodiest catastrophes, check out Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch’s book Military Misfortunes: the anatomy of failure in war which has a chapter on WWI.

Shifting now to broader strategic trends, this RSIS Commentary by Sofiah Jamil (PDF) explores the future of nuclear energy in Southeast Asia. If nuclear energy has a future in the region, governments need to encourage a culture of nuclear safety backed up by improved governance structures, argues Jamil.

Sticking with Southeast Asia, here’s part II of Scott Cheney-Peters work on private maritime security companies (PMSCs) over at CIMSEC. This time Scott looks at regional factors that have or could lessen the maritime security threats—including government action, capacity building, and legal regimes—and the outlook for PMSCs in the region.

Also on maritime issues, Strategist contributor Scott Bentley argues that Indonesia’s South China Sea policy is on a razor’s edge. In his view, there’s a tension between publicly acknowledging there’s an overlap between China’s nine-dash line map and Indonesia’s claimed EEZ off Natuna Islands and officially recognising that a dispute exists.


With US President Obama currently touring the Asia-Pacific, CSIS have produced this press briefing comprising their Asia experts (Victor Cha, Matthew P. Goodman, Michael Green and Murray Hiebert) who discuss what this means for rebalance credibility and American strategy. Prefer to read? Check out the transcript here (PDF).

Over at’s Foreign Entanglements segment, Kelsey Atherton and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross discuss what drones can and can’t do in places like Yemen and the state of al-Qaeda’s strength.


Canberra: John Blaxland will present on the role of the ADF in Australia diplomacy, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Hosted by the Australian Institute for International Affairs, the talk is at their Deakin offices, Tuesday 29 April at 6pm, details here.

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

Britain not a player in Asia?

HMS Daring's Lynx helicopter arrives on the typhoon stricken Philippine island of Binuluanguan.  Sailors from HMS Daring have continued their efforts to deliver aid to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Nowadays it’s easy to wonder why there’s a Great in Great Britain. But I’m not sure Harry White’s Canberra Times opinion piece, ‘Britain not a player in Asia’, is entirely on the money.

It’s true that Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his then Secretary of State for Defence Dennis Healey were driven in part by financial considerations when they decided to retreat from East of Suez (see Saki Dockrill on this). But in the same Cabinet Minutes that endorsed that decision (PDF), on 6 July 1967, the Foreign Secretary also reported that ‘…his statement to the Ministerial Council of the Western European Union (WEU)… about the United Kingdom’s applications for membership of the European Communities had been very well received’. So the shift was driven not only by financial circumstance, but was a deliberate policy decision to begin the process of alignment with Europe. Yes, Britain’s economy was at that point larger than China’s, and the opposite is now true. But does it follow that ‘Britain lacks the strategic weight to be America’s best friend in Asia’, or indeed that Britain even wants to be?

So the first and obvious question is ‘why is Britain back in Asia?’ is it ‘driven by the shift in American interests and by Britain’s role in supporting Washington’, or is there more to it than that? Geography aside, a reasonable starting point might be to ask just how ‘Asian’ Britain is when compared with an Asian country like, say, Australia. The 2011 UK Census found 4,373,339 Britons or 7% of the population identified themselves as Asian (including India 2.3%, Pakistan 1.9%, Bangladesh 0.7% China 0.7%). The equivalent Australian Census showed 4.3% of Australians claiming Chinese and 2% claiming Indian ethnicity. The size of the British Indian population alone, 1.45 million people, is greater than the combined Asian ethnic population of Australia. And the linkages between those ethnic populations and Asia aren’t just historical and cultural. The estimated value of financial remittances (PDF) both to and from Britain is substantial. Britain represents 7% of the flow of remittances to Bangladesh (GBP626m) and 14% to Pakistan (GBP1.22bn) and the value of remittances has been growing steadily at an average rate of 3% per annum since 1989.

Foreign Secretary William Hague noted in a speech in July 2010 that ‘economic power and…opportunity are shifting to the countries of the East and South; to the emerging powers…other parts of Asia and to increasingly significant economies such as Turkey and Indonesia. It is estimated that by 2050 emerging economies will be up to 50% larger than those of the current G7, including of course the United Kingdom’. Despite post-imperial decline, Britain is still the world’s sixth largest economy ranked by GDP. Yes, China’s economy is now about four times larger, but according to the WTO (PDF) Britain is the world’s fifth largest importer and 11th largest exporter of goods and the second largest exporter and fifth largest importer of commercial services. And where’s all this trade going? Putting it simply, Britain’s shift to Asia is being driven by the same factors that drove it in the late 16th and 17th centuries to compete with first Portugal and then the Netherlands and France for control of trade to Asia. To quote Bill Clinton’s 1992 election maxim, it’s ‘the economy, stupid’.

So what about Britain’s relationship with the USA? Is it fair to assert that ‘the more America focuses on Asia, the less Britain will be able to support Washington’s strategic interests’. What’s to say that Britain has any ambition to be America’s best friend in Asia; surely that’s a role that Australia has reserved for itself? The more Washington focuses on Asia, the more important it’ll be for Britain and other European nations to pick up the weight in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

But that doesn’t mean Britain has no strategic interest in Asian security; it does. William Hague acknowledged that ‘the resources Britain has available for the projection of its influence overseas are constrained…’, but that didn’t prevent London from deploying first HMS DARING (Lynx helicopter from which is pictured above) and then HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Likewise, the deployment of HMS ECHO and HMS TIRELESS to the Southern Indian Ocean to support the search for MH 370 demonstrates an understanding of the strategic value of the deployment of credible military capability. How could it be that HMS ILLUSTRIOUS sailing from a deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf could be on station in the Philippines two days before HMAS TOBRUK? What does that say about Britain’s ability ‘to deploy sufficient military force in Asia to make more than marginal impact’? Surely the important point is that a strategic adversary must consider the possibility not only that Britain might deploy a Queen Elizabeth Class carrier to a conflict half a world away, but to do so in the knowledge that it can, and when it’s in its interests, will.

Then there are the residual commitments of Empire. Britain is a signatory to the Five Powers Defence Arrangement and a member of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission in Korea. The British Indian Ocean Territories in Diego Garcia play a genuinely strategic role in the deployment of US maritime and air power projection in Asia. So Harry, you’re right that Britain isn’t going to come riding over the horizon with a military contribution that’ll shift the balance in a high-intensity war in Asia. But neither is Australia. Does that mean ‘Britain’s not a player in Asia’? I’m not so sure. One thing is certain—Australia mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that Britain is strategically irrelevant in Asia. And perhaps in the coming decades Australia might learn something about the strategic value to wider security of credible, capable and sustainable ‘symbolic contributions’.

Will Taylor is the former Defence Attaché to Australia, British High Commission and is now with QinetiQ Australia. Image courtesy of UK Minister of Defence.

Syria: a fractured opposition and Australian consequences

A Syrian flag flutters outside a militar

Over the past two years, a significant number of Australians have become involved with armed opposition groups in Syria. Some (see here and here) have joined two jihadist organisations proscribed under Australia’s counter terrorism legislation, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which make up a small but prominent element of the Syrian rebellion.

This involvement has occurred despite Australian government counter-measures that include criminal charges, passport confiscations, bank account restrictions and coercive questioning, as well as public messaging (PDF) and community engagement initiatives.

The situation within Syria is changing rapidly, with open conflict breaking out between the competing opposition groups. What impact will the fratricide among those groups have on the involvement of Australians in the Syrian conflict?

The tensions behind the current intra-jihadist turmoil first became public in April 2013. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which had formed from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq, had released an audio message asserting authority over Jabhat al-Nusra, which was al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. ISI declared that it had created Jabhat al-Nusra, and that they were unifying under the new name of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

Jabhat al-Nusra refused to concede this, and released an audio message disputing that it was created by the ISI, rejecting the new name and re-affirming allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. That led to a situation where ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra were both claiming leadership within Syria.

At first those tensions were held in check, as the groups shared the common enemies of the Assad regime and rival opposition groups. But when Zawahiri made clear (PDF) that he considered Jabhat al-Nusra to be al-Qaeda’s only legitimate representative in Syria, and that ISIS should restrict its activities to Iraq, ISIS began increasingly to reject al-Qaeda’s authority.

ISIS and its supporters argued that ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had never pledged allegiance to Zawahiri; that, as ISIS constituted an Islamic State, it had greater authority than al-Qaeda; and that by ordering ISIS to restrict its activities to Iraq, al-Qaeda was acquiescing to Western-created (Sykes-Picot) borders.

In February 2014, as the dispute continued, Zawahiri publicly disowned ISIS. At this time ISIS was already fighting against other Syrian rebel forces (the Free Syrian Army and the Saudi-backed Islamic Front), and soon was in open violent conflict with Jabhat al-Nusra as well.

ISIS has also been attempting to convince al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadist groups across the world to switch sides, with some success (see here, here and here). What began as a dispute over authority within Syria has become a struggle for leadership of the entire global jihadist movement.

This division has affected Australia’s small jihadist scene, prompting key ideologues to take sides.

One example is former Sydney preacher Abu Sulayman, now described by Jabhat al-Nusra as a member of their General Islamic Council. He has appeared in several Jabhat al-Nusra videos, and become their most prominent English speaking member to address the dispute.

In a video on 17 March he stated he’d been appointed to mediate between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Along with several other jihadist ideologues, he then publicly called on Ayman al Zawahiri to provide more compelling responses to ISIS’ criticisms. Days later he appeared in a 45-minute Jabhat al-Nusra video, making a detailed condemnation of ISIS and defence of al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Abu Sulayman argued that al-Baghdadi had indeed pledged allegiance to Zawahiri and that al-Baghdadi had no authority to claim that ISIS constituted an actual state. He also argued that restricting ISIS’ authority to Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra’s to Syria was done for strategic reasons and didn’t mean that al-Qaeda was accepting colonial borders. Being in English, the video was likely directed at Western jihadists, with whom Jabhat al-Nusra has been struggling for support against ISIS’ competition.

But Abu Sulayman’s high-level role doesn’t mean that Jabhat al-Nusra dominates Australian jihadism. A former Melbourne preacher, Musa Cerantonio, has been vocal on social media defending ISIS’ version of the dispute. A recent ICSR report notes that ‘although he insists he is not a tribal loyalist who is committed to the group in all circumstances’ he tends to support ISIS over Jabhat al-Nusra, and has an extensive following among jihadists worldwide.

What impact the infighting will have on Australian jihadism is unclear. For the preachers, whoever sides with the winning faction will likely prove more influential afterwards. For the footsoldiers, the more recent Australian deaths in Syria have been associated with ISIS, which could indicate that ISIS has been winning out over Jabhat al-Nusra in attracting Australian recruits, but the information currently available is limited. It might be that aspiring footsoldiers are more concerned about the battle against Assad than which group they join.

There are also signs that infighting is disillusioning some foreign fighters. If so, the fratricidal conflict could end up having a greater impact on reducing the appeal of the Syrian jihad than the counter-measures currently being implemented.

Andrew Zammit is a researcher at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre and blogs at The Murphy Raid. Image courtesy of Flickr user Freedom House.

Edward Snowden, the media and the Pulitzer

The Washington Post

The decision last week to award a Pulitzer Prize to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers for their coverage of classified material leaked by Edward Snowden has refocused attention on the pros and cons of both Snowden’s and the newspapers’ actions.

Some have praised the decision and have hailed the newspapers for being both ‘judicious and brave’ in their handling of the material. Others, including one of my ASPI colleagues, see little value in awarding the prize for what amounts to an unauthorised release of state secrets.

In truth, there’s merit in both positions. Unlike Wikileaks before it, which largely released material that was embarrassing to governments and militaries but has been of little lasting security harm, the Snowden case involves extremely sensitive material that has the potential to cause deep and lasting harm to the ability of America’s intelligence agencies—and, because of the five eyes relationship, Australia’s—to perform their roles. Making public some of the access points for interception of material, and the technological tricks required to exploit it, will play to the advantage of those trying to keep their communications out of the hands of American and allied agencies. And the nature of the intelligence business is that it’ll be difficult to know what’s been lost—it’s hard to quantify intercepts that don’t happen. Read more

In some cases that won’t be such a bad thing. I’ve argued before that intelligence collection against European allies didn’t pass the cost–benefit test that should’ve been applied. Losing those information channels probably won’t do the West’s security interests any harm. But taking a black and white view and painting American intelligence as the bad guys in all this makes little sense. In some cases, such as Snowden’s release of information about methods used to intercept al-Qaeda communications in their Mosul network, that clearly isn’t the case. Some of those aided by Snowden are clearly in the ‘black hat’ camp by any reasonable measure, and both terrorist groups and authoritarian states will benefit from knowing the ‘tricks of the trade’ used by the US and its allies.

The fact that Snowden himself is now ensconced in Russia and is offering himself up as an asker of Dorothy Dixers to Mr Putin suggests that he’s somehow managed some prodigious mental gymnastics of self-justification. That said, some good will also come of Snowden’s actions. Some of the NSA’s activities that were disclosed weren’t consistent with stated practice. The subsequent investigations by the press and civil liberty groups have uncovered material that makes the initial release reasonably fall into the whistle-blowing category. It seems clear that oversight wasn’t working as designed, and that the NSA wasn’t even working especially cooperatively within that system. The New York Times reported on a ruling from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—a body set up to oversee the NSA’s collection activities on US soil. It was sharply critical of both the NSA’s ‘repeatedly inaccurate statements’ to the court and of some of its collection and analysis activities, which it judged to be unconstitutional and misleadingly reported to oversight bodies.

It’s hard to argue that it’s not in the public interest to have an open discussion of the matters raised in the NY Times article. That’s especially the case when the efficacy of the oversight mechanism itself is called into question by the judge charged with administering it:

“Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, N.S.A. had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the standard for querying,” Judge Bates recounted. He cited a 2009 ruling that concluded that the requirement had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively.”

Similarly, it’s a principle of good government that the expenditure of taxpayer’s funds should be done as transparently as possible. The post-9/11 ‘black hole’ that was the US intelligence budget violated that principle for no good purpose. It’s hard to see how the Washington Post imperilled anyone’s security by a selective release of the FY2013 budget papers. For example, knowing that 33% of the budget was going to countering violent extremism while only 8% was being spent on enhancing cybersecurity can only help inform a debate on the relative priority of those issues.

When assessing Snowden’s behaviour, the good outcomes (which are relatively easy to identify) have to be weighed against the bad (which mightn’t be so obvious) and I think he’s done more harm than good. But I can’t be similarly critical of the press. A robust liberal democracy depends on both an informed population and a fractious and difficult press that’s prepared to follow the dictum that ‘news is something that someone doesn’t want printed ‘. That’s certainly been the case here.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user Max Borge.

A tough week in Asia for Obama

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Republic of Korea, 26  March 2012.  President Obama will visit South Korea again this week, as well as Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines.United States President Barack Obama kicks off a visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines today, during which he’ll seek to convey strong US support for allies and commitment to the Asia Pacific without derailing the US–China relationship.

That’s a big ask, given the anxiety and scepticism about the strength of US engagement, and the array of tensions in the region at present. Of the countries he’s visiting, Japan and the Philippines now have particularly thorny relations with China. Beijing recently charged that both states are emboldened in their respective territorial disputes with China because they’re US allies; conversely, some in Washington worry that Tokyo’s and Manila’s concerns about US reliability could lead them to act unilaterally to shore up their security. 

Tokyo is especially nervous about US steadfastness, and is looking for a strong avowal of the US commitment to its treaty obligations. For its part, Seoul wants the US to maintain wartime operational control on the Korean peninsula beyond the agreed 2015. Some South Korean officials fear that transfer of control to South Korea, which the US seeks, might herald a lesser US commitment and encourage North Korean aggression. Read more

Meanwhile, Japan-South Korea relations have become neuralgic, with deep-seated historic grievances playing out at the leaders’ level. While Washington has worked hard to promote a slight thaw, the icy relationship between two of its allies has inhibited US efforts to mount a trilateral front on North Asian security issues. 

Even in Malaysia, where Obama will highlight the deepened US–Malaysia economic relationship and US focus on Southeast Asia, he’ll face the diplomatic complexity of the Malaysian aircraft search, including the strained China-Malaysia relationship.

The President will seek to demonstrate that the rebalance is alive and well by pointing to closer ties with allies, including the striking turnaround in the US-Philippines relationship, from the US being kicked out of Subic Bay in the 1990s to now nearing agreement on an expanded US military presence.

He can also point to strengthened engagement with other Southeast Asian states, including Singapore and Vietnam, and heightened support for regional institutions such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus. The Pentagon has expanded its regional military training and exercise program to involve more countries, with a focus on increasing cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has been particularly active having just made his fourth visit in a year to the region. He has also just hosted the inaugural US–ASEAN Defense Forum, a meeting of the defence ministers of all 11 nations. And Hagel’s tour of the Chinese aircraft carrier while in China only reaffirmed the extraordinary capability edge the US maintains over all other militaries in the region.

So President Obama has more to tout on this trip than some skeptics allow. Nevertheless, throughout the visit he’ll have to contend with a growing discussion about US weakness and possible retrenchment from the region. One part of this discussion involves the US response to global crises. Syria has highlighted a US reluctance to act, and Ukraine has reinforced the contention that the US is distracted by pressing events elsewhere.  Certainly, Secretary of State John Kerry has spent more time hewing at the rocks of Iran and the Middle East peace process than he has visiting Asia.

Another part is domestic, namely a polarised Congress and its dysfunctional relationship with the executive branch, which is limiting Obama’s ability to further the national interest abroad. This Asia trip itself is a revised version of a visit planned for last October that was cancelled due to the US government shutdown. The President missed last year’s APEC and East Asia Summit as a result, and US credibility as a regional leader was damaged. 

The Administration had hoped to showcase its regional leadership on this upcoming trip with a near complete Trans-Pacific Partnership, the economic centrepiece of the rebalance. But the TPP has stalled: Congress has been unwilling to grant the President fast-track negotiating authority in a congressional election year, depriving US negotiators of leverage needed in tough bilateral negotiations, such as those with Japan. 

Finally, Congress has presided over the remarkably blunt instrument to cut spending that is sequestration. The defence spending cuts are damaging force readiness and the US military’s ability to meet the demands of the rebalance, as well as the full suite of US global responsibilities. While a number on both sides of Congress now acknowledge sequestration is hurting national security, they haven’t been able to agree on repealing or ameliorating it. 

President Obama will be working hard to counter this narrative of US weakness, reassert authority, and reassure allies while not rattling China. It’s a complex set of messages. All eyes will be on the President to see how he calibrates them. 

Elsina Wainwright is a visiting senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. Image courtesy of White House.

The ultimate aim: an Australia with more independent capacities

Southwestern Australia (NASA, International Space Station, 04/01/13)  The sun is about to set in this scene showing parts of southwestern Australia, which was photographed by one of the Expedition 35 crew members aboard the International Space Station on April 1, 2013. Several of the orbital outpost's solar array panels are seen in the foreground.

Michael Fullilove’s address to the National Press Club urging a ‘larger Australia’ engages directly with the vital question of Australia’s future. A subsequent query by his colleague Sam Roggeveen—‘What should Australia aim to achieve with this increased power and influence?’—goes to the nub of the issue and deserves exploration.

The most fitting answer is that a larger Australia would enable an increasingly independent and sovereign nation. Dependence on the United Kingdom and the United States has marked Australia’s evolution to nationhood. But is such dependence on external powers necessarily an element of a future Australia? Shouldn’t a larger Australia aim at achieving a greater capacity for independent action in both domestic and international affairs?

If we accept that Australia should and could aim for greater independence in both domestic and international affairs, we might start by exploring the ways in which this vision can be realised. Read more

Let’s examine a few of the key issues. First is population size. Our present population density of 3 persons per square kilometre (as compared to the US at 32, France 118 and Germany 262) is the lowest globally. This continent could support 60–80 million people (PDF), and this greater human capital would underpin a larger economy, a wealthier nation, and—perhaps more importantly—the economies of scale that would permit those communication and transport facilities (national broadband, super highways and high-speed railways) that the current population couldn’t sustain.

Still, Australia needs not merely a larger economy but a higher one. The recent closure of the car industry’s basic manufacturing facilities sounds a clarion call for Australia to push its economy further up the technology chain.

Developing and growing high-technology skills and industries requires the establishment of a range of major high-tech education-industrial bases. Across the globe, strong states—the US, Russia, China, Japan, India, France and Germany—are marked by a number of major high-tech industrial capacities that underpin their capacity for independent action. In particular, they all possess aerospace, IT and nuclear industries. Perhaps through an initial concentration on those three spheres Australia could gradually—over decades, or perhaps centuries—attain a domestic capacity that would allow greater options for our future.

The aerospace industry might be a fruitful initial foray into the sphere of high technologies precisely because of our existing links to the US. Australia hosts a range of tracking stations that provide the US a southern hemisphere base for space research, satellite communication and the monitoring of global communications and missile use. Yet Australia remains a junior partner in those nominally joint activities. Such dependence, where we have no need to pursue our own capacities in these fields, needs to be addressed in any pursuit of a larger Australia.

We could urge the US to join us in funding a major Australian academy aimed at developing domestic skills in aerospace theory and practice. That would eventually aid Australia in establishing aerospace and space industries, and would have intellectual and industrial spin-offs in many areas of the Australian economy. Further funding for such an enterprise could involve inserting a condition in all future aerospace procurement documents that requires successful tenderers to contribute a stipulated volume of skills or funding to that academy.

A similar pattern could be pursued in respect of an IT teaching–research–industry complex, that could be modelled upon Stanford–Palo Alto–Silicon Valley in California, where academic and industrial IT expertise comes together. While accepting there’s only so much that government planning and execution can achieve in such spheres, the creation of such an academy would provide Australia with the tools necessary to enhance virtually all aspects of social existence. A recent Ditchley Park conference underlined how important IT capacities will be as a key driver of future growth.

Then there’s the nuclear industry. While the export of uranium and the development of a nuclear industry have long been contentious issues in Australia, a larger Australia would need to make use of its ready access to uranium to develop a nuclear industry that could provide for its needs. Australia holds over 30%of the world’s uranium resources. While the ANSTO researches and applies small-scale uses of nuclear technology, the larger opportunities are still being discussed. The 2006 Switkowski report and its recommendations have gone nowhere. By providing the country with a generous supply of electricity, and reducing the many problems of fossil fuels, the nuclear option could provide the energy baseload for a larger Australia.

To ensure Australia has the skills and capacities to utilise its nuclear resources fully and safely, we would need to develop a research-educational-industrial complex engaging with everything from nuclear physics to power generation, including medical applications, materials engineering and the plethora of other uses of nuclear science. The funding of such a complex could be met in part from government funding, in part through income from the uranium industry, and subsequently through commercial applications of technology.

This proposed troika of research and industrial centres will be key to creating a richer, more powerful and more high-tech Australia. They’ll allow Australia to move into what Brynjolfsson and McAfee term the Second Machine Age.

Two points are worth reiterating in conclusion. First, without these industries and the skills that flow from them, Australia will remain limited in its capacity to pursue its own domestic and foreign policy agendas. The other point is that the greater independence of a larger Australia can’t be achieved quickly. Population growth is naturally incremental and it’ll take decades or centuries to realise the necessary industrial capacities. What’s key is recognition of the direction that Australia must travel if it’s to achieve an increased capacity for independent action and self-determination. A larger Australia with a higher economy is very much a part of this agenda.

Geoff Wade is a visiting fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University. Image courtesy of Flickr user NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Cyber wrap

‘Catastrophic is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11’, says Bruce Schneier of the Heartbleed bug that emerged since our last cyberwrap. Heartbleed has been revealed as a flaw in the OpenSSL code that, under normal conditions, encrypts and protects Internet traffic, like usernames, passwords, digital certificates, cookies and credit card numbers. The faulty code has been in place since March 2012 and affects a huge swathe of the Internet including big names like Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox and Twitter. The bottom line seems to be change your passwords now and then again once the websites you use have patched the flaw. Mashable have put together a list of popular sites where password changes might be necessary. You can do your own searches here.

While Heartbleed has been kicking around for over two years, the fallout is as yet —and could remain— unknown. Aside from spurring fear and a flurry of password changes, the discovery shines a light on areas of the web that aren’t usually given much thought. OpenSSL code isn’t maintained by an esoteric tech business in Silicon Valley, but rather, by a handful of volunteers scattered across the globe. Recriminations have started as to the Australian government’s response to Heartbleed, with fingerpointing directed at the Attorney General’s Department for not equipping CERT Australia with a solid public response. Read more

Over to the US, and the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was awarded last week to The Guardian and The Washington Post for their stories on NSA surveillance. Peter W. Singer of Brookings believes that the accolade amounts to the first ‘cyber Pulitzer’, recognising that all issues are ‘being reshaped by the cyber realm, whether it’s communications, commerce, critical infrastructure, or conflict…’. As the scandal du jour, the NSA revelations have provided a backdrop for seemingly any public conversation on intelligence or surveillance since June 2013. On Heartbleed, for example, it wasn’t long before some outlets were reporting that the NSA knew about— and exploited— the vulnerability for intelligence collection purposes. While the NSA and the White House both issued denials, it may be difficult for some to accept the official line in a post-Snowden era.

On the Aussie cyber front, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) has  released a consultation paper, the responses from which will inform the development of a national security science and technology (S&T) policy. The program will focus on ‘aiding, enhancing and future-proofing the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) capability; advanced tools and techniques particularly for ACSC transition of technology and processes to national networks; and establishing national S&T workforce and skills that are relevant and responsive to operational cyber security needs’. Consultations will conclude 1 May. Take a look at the paper here (PDF).

There’s been some interesting research out in the past week. The prowess of the Syrian Electronic Army, Iran’s role as an increasingly potent cyber player and China’s expansive data theft campaigns were all key elements of the evolving cyber threat landscape identified in the Mandiant’s M-Threats paper. Pew Research Centre polls show that 18% of American adults have had important personal information stolen online, up from 11% in July 2013. While we can look to increasing technical sophistication or malware proliferation to explain that jump, the only way to turn the tide is by replacing inaction with ownership when it comes to personal cyber security.

Finally, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull was on hand last Tuesday to help ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre launch its inaugural Cyber Maturity in the Asia-Pacific 2014 report and interactive map. The report looks beyond rhetoric of cyberwar and cybercrime, using the rubric of maturity to study the presence, implementation and operation of cyber-related structures, policies, legislation and organisations. The report looks at a spectrum of issue areas to build a more comprehensive understanding of the field and spur discussion and debate around how the region can constructively engage in cyberspace.

With the hope that the report will be ‘suitably controversial’, the International Cyber Policy Centre team welcomes your input, comments, and criticisms. Join the discussion @ASPI_ICPC using #cybermaturity.

David Lang is an intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre.

The Canberra officer (4): taming the service chiefs

"GEN Sir Phillip Bennett, royal governor of Tasmania, prepares to place a wreath at a memorial during a service, part of ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea." (May 1982)

When the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force make a combined visit to the Prime Minister, it can mean coup, revolution or war. So when the three service chiefs met John Howard, in Sydney on Friday 4 April 1997, elements of all three were in the air. The conflict was all inside the Defence Force. The Chief of the Defence Force had staged a coup over the previous two decades as he’d been slowly absorbing the powers of the service chiefs. Within a week, the government was scheduled to release the Defence Efficiency Review, tipped as the most important reorganisation of Defence in nearly a quarter of a century. As a result the war over lines of command and power flared into open revolt.

The review marked another phase in the evolution of jointery, the taming of the service tribes and elevation of the Defence Force chief so his power matched his title. As the military shifted from the Old to the New Testament it created new names and identities—crucially, the Australian Defence Force and CDF (wonderful examples of the invention of tradition).

In this evolution, the Chief of Defence Force Staff in 1976 replaced the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. From chairman to chief was a shift that mattered. Under the changes, the service chiefs were responsible to the Defence Minister, through the CDFS, for command of their services, but service chiefs still had the right of direct access to the Minister. Read more

In 1984, the CDFS became Chief of the Defence Force (CDF)—a recommendation of the Utz report that the top military job had to have clear authority to match its responsibilities. The first CDF, Sir Phillip Bennett (pictured), built substance into the new name and continued the fight to get staff to go with it. Mobilising the symbols, he had the sign ‘Headquarters Australian Defence Force’ placed outside his Russell office and the number plate ‘ADF 1’ placed on his official car.

Horner judged that the expanding role of the CDF and the creation of joint commands meant that, by 1988, the service chiefs had been ‘removed from the chain of command for operations, much as they had been in World War 2.’

The tribal battles still raged. Horner noted that in 1996, the CDF, General John Baker, announced significant changes to the command and control arrangements because he ‘believed that the 1974-76 reorganisation had left the ADF without a command structure above the tactical level, and that the services had been slow to rectify this shortcoming…Baker knew that he did not have the staff to command the ADF adequately.’

All this brings us to the service chiefs who fronted the Prime Minister in 1997 to ask for more time to implement the Review; their argument wasn’t to turn back the tide but to slow its  pace. They got a good hearing but little sympathy.

A week after that meeting, the Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan, made the Review public; at the press conference, the flags of the Army, Navy and Air Force were in the room, but the service chiefs weren’t. McLachlan was flanked by General Baker and the secretary of Defence, Tony Ayers. The service chiefs’ no-show said what had to be said about the revolt. That fortnight ranks as the last major pitched battle at the top of the ADF over the principles of jointery and the CDF’s role in giving advice to the government.

In May 1997, as the dust settled, Baker claimed that the new command arrangements ‘are probably at the forefront of military thinking in the world’ while admitting there was ‘still a degree of rivalry between the services and there always will be.’

Looking at the first century of federation, Horner concluded: ‘By 2000 the ADF had developed a uniquely Australian command structure… The ADF now had a single commander, the CDF, who could both advise the government on military matters and exercise strategic command of the ADF.’

The service chiefs still matter hugely as tribal heads and as elite examples of the skills required to be a Canberra officer. Indeed, part of the mandate of the chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force is to foster a cadre of officers who can step up to operate in the Canberra system. The service chiefs run the system to produce a CDF to reign over them. The taming of the service chiefs over 40 years was necessary not just to establish that hallowed military goal, unity of command. It was vital so the military could produce one man—the passenger in ADF 1—who could drive the ADF’s interests.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Australia’s strategic policy after the northern tour

Prime Minister Tony Abbott in China

In its first few months in office, a combination of rookie errors and challenging circumstances gave the Abbott government’s international policy a shaky start. The PM’s declaration that Japan was Australia’s best friend in Asia showed a lack of diplomatic finesse, while the government’s handling of the Snowden leaks made something of a mockery of the Coalition’s intentions to prioritise good relations with its near neighbours. Critics who’d labelled Abbott out of his depth in foreign and strategic policy seemed to be on to something.

After nearly seven months in office, the Coalition’s foreign and strategic policy is beginning to coalesce. Abbott’s remarkably successful three-country tour of Northeast Asia shows the government’s approach to Asia is beginning to take firmer shape. In particular, we can now see clearly the course it’s trying to navigate in its dealings with Asia’s major powers. Read more

One of the big themes of the Abbott government’s strategic policy is to signal clearly where Australia stands in relation to the fundamental underpinnings of Asia’s regional order. Australia thinks the basic parameters of the strategic status quo are the best means to secure and advance Australian and regional interests. Those centre around continued American primacy, a stable military balance, a relatively open economic system and the international rule of law. While both sides of Australian politics share that belief, they’ve not always been clear about their commitment, mindful of the ways it might upset China.

In contrast to the clumsy declarations and curt press releases of the first few months, the set-pieces of the Northern Tour allowed a more sophisticated approach to that signalling. In the prime minister attending the newly established National Security Council in Tokyo, his personal audience with Emperor Akihito, and in the signature of various trade and defence agreements, Australia made clear the depth of its ties to Japan. Moreover, the visit reinforced Australia’s commitment to the American-dominated regional setting, albeit in ways China would find it difficult to complain about.

The set piece dramas for the trip were the three trade agreements and the substantial business delegation to China. Concluding a deal with Japan, signing an already finalised text with South Korea and giving the long-stalled China agreement a prime ministerial heave were the most publicised achievements. While the politics of the trade agreements were mainly domestic—it’s the use of the agreements as fundamentally political devices that’s especially notable. The decision to conclude what are remarkably constrained preferential trade deals was driven by a clear strategic calculus. Indeed, good friends like the US and New Zealand have been privately critical of the knock-on consequences for regional trade liberalisation. But the Japan agreement does more than advance two-way trade and investment; it signals longer-term commitment. Similarly, the desire to build a stronger strategic link with Seoul and to strengthen relations among US allies underpinned more overt aims of improving access to agricultural and services markets. The China deal is perhaps the most political of all and sends two messages to Beijing: first, Australia sees a mature economic relationship with China as compatible with its strategic link to Washington; and second, Australia can’t be interested in containing China if it seeks closer trade relations with Beijing. The Abbott government has little time for those who argue that the strategic and the economic are inextricably intertwined; the strategic is separable from and more important than economic questions.

During the election campaign the Coalition sensibly avoided spelling out how it was going to manage Australia’s relations with Beijing and Washington. The Abbott government has now made clear that in its handling of China it’s dusting off the Howard playbook of compartmentalisation. Australia is seeking to focus squarely on its shared economic interests with China, being clear about its strategic relationship with the US, and keeping questions of democracy, human rights and other issues off the table. Over the longer run, that strategy is likely to be tested. As the two economies become more intertwined, and as the relationship matures, keeping the economic separate from the political and strategic will become harder.

Abbott’s first major diplomatic foray was strikingly effective. Notwithstanding a few clunky speeches, there were no major gaffes. The government brought home a raft of ‘wins’ that it’ll use to thump the ALP at home. At the strategic level, the trip signals how Australia is going to try to navigate the Asian Century. Clearly, the government believes the order established by US primacy must be retained. Equally, it recognises that the rise of China challenges key aspects of that order. The Northern Tour continues the heavy emphasis Australia has traditionally put on its relations with Japan. That reflects not only the long and deep relationship between the two US allies but also a larger strategic ambition. Australia is trying to assist Japan take on a strategic role in the region commensurate with its size. If Japan can become a strong autonomous strategic power, closely linked to the US via an alliance, the basic regional order established over the past thirty years is likely to prevail over the medium term. If it doesn’t, a more unstable future likely awaits us. Much depends on what path Japan takes, and the Abbott government is intent on shaping that development to the best of its ability.

Nick Bisley is executive director of La Trobe Asia and professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Australia. Image courtesy of Twitter user @TonyAbbottMHR.

Governing the Net: From Bondi to Copacabana

With the NETmundial multi-stakeholder governance meeting on the horizon, Australia needs to take stock of its position and choose which weightclass to contest in the international Internet governance arena. As we showed last week, the clash of the heavyweights will likely remain deadlocked, and it’ll be the creative middle powers, along with the business, technical, academic, civil society and nongovernmental communities, that’ll determine the nuances of Internet governance.

Australia’s in a prime position to take on a leadership role in defining the future of Internet governance. With its history of leadership on issues such as chemical weapons and nuclear testing and its chairing of the UN Group of Government Experts on cyber security, Australia has a solid foundation upon which to bring together a community of like-minded states. While the Snowden revelations have surely shaken perceptions, it’s important Australia—a member of the UN Security Council and chair of the G20—live up to the expectations held of it. Read more

The first step in establishing Australia’s place in the discussion is to develop a consistent strategy for international governance. At the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop presented Australia’s position clearly. She advocated multi-stakeholderism, emphasised individual privacy and freedom of expression, backed the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, and endorsed international efforts such as ASEAN Regional Forum as key to building confidence and preventing conflict. That was a great step towards a clear Australian position on cyber issues.

Minister for Communications Malcom Turnbull has further reinforced that perspective, presenting a well-crafted narrative at the Australian National University, following the US IANA decision, and at the launch of ASPI ICPC’s Cybermaturity in the Asia-Pacific Region 2014 report this week. He made clear that Australia didn’t want to see a group of governments replacing the historical US oversight role. Australia has flown the flag for multi-stakeholderism as the best way to support a free, stable and resilient Internet. Now it’s time to move the discussion forward with concrete policies and inclusive, progressive actions.

A formal Australian international cyber strategy, similar to those issued by the United States or Japan, would demonstrate Australian commitment and help to coordinate whole-of-government work. CERT-to-CERT dialogue can take place even in cases where official foreign ministry relations are weak or non-existent. Communications and Defence bring different tones and tools to the table, each of which can appeal to partner states. The key is to build a solid framework for all those departments to deploy their expertise under the guidance of a common, clear mission.

Integrating cyber into bilateral relations would allow Australia to shape thinking on pressing developments in the cyber common. During his recent trip to Japan and South Korea, Prime Minister Abbott agreed to strengthen regional and international cooperation as well as further develop cyber rules and norms. Those focus areas lay the groundwork for cyber cooperation, leaving the door open on a wide range of cyber issues where Australia might guide the conversation. Such cyber efforts should be extended to India, Malaysia and others, as well as through ASEAN and other regional fora.

As a leader in the Asia-Pacific, Australia must help build regional capacity and confidence. Its efforts in conjunction with Malaysia earlier this month show how regional engagement, matched with practical confidence building, can help strengthen cyber cooperation. Backing those measures with solid capacity-building on the technical level can help increase connectivity, boost regional digital economies, and increase civil engagement. On the policy side, engagement and sharing of best practices can help states harness the cyber domain as a positive tool for growth rather than viewing it as a threat. It’s that view of cyber as a threat that pushes governments to impose strict government regulation and control that splinters the Internet. By opening dialogue and building partnerships with other states to build policy capacity in this regard, Australia can help enshrine norms that promote openness while giving national governments the confidence that well-crafted policy can replace overbearing control in managing this new domain.

Australia alone can’t tip the balance of debate in favour of bottom-up, open Internet governance. But as a regional node in a global network of likeminded states, it’s a respected regional actor with the capacity to engage fence-sitters. Australia must step forward with a consistent and concise position on Internet governance, one that soothes demands for internationalisation without compromising the tenets of multi-stakeholder governance. The US has reinvigorated ICANN as the forum for discussion and done much to quell the rising tide of statist opposition. It’s time that states like Australia, Japan, Canada and the European Union, work to build a community of likeminded states, develop a common roadmap forward and present a clear and concise position at this month’s NETmundial and other upcoming forums.

Klée Aiken is an analyst and David Lang is an intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image credit: Luke Wilson, ASPI.

Central Africa: pushing UN peacekeeping to its limits

This photo shows peacekeepers from Thailand on patrol at the camp for refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) in Muhkjar (West Darfur). They are showing the children how to greet in according to Thai tradition.

Last week the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2149 (PDF), authorising the deployment of a peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic. As a current non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Australia has been directly engaged in negotiations to deploy a UN peacekeeping mission to protect the civilian population from the atrocities that have been taking place. The UN Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic—or ‘MINUSCA’ as it’s referred to in UN circles—is now set to join the growing number of complex, multidimensional peacekeeping missions currently managed by the international body.

The adoption of resolution 2149 authorising MINUSCA is a welcome development. Inter-communal violence has increased in the Central African Republic (CAR) since the overthrow of the former President Bozizé in March 2013, and despite the presence of the African Union-led peacekeeping mission and French military forces, atrocities against the civilian population have continued to escalate. In January 2014, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of CAR asked the UN to deploy a peacekeeping mission, but it has taken several months for the UN Security Council to provide authorisation. Read more

Concerns about ‘peacekeeping overstretch’ partly explains this delay. Demand for UN peacekeepers continues to outweigh the supply from member states. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), established in April 2013, is still only at less than 60% of its authorised strength of 12,640 uniformed personnel (military and police). Similarly, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is currently operating with less than 70% of its recently increased deployment ceiling of 13,823 uniformed personnel. Existing peacekeeping missions don’t have the required number of personnel to effectively carry out their mandates.

MINUSCA will further increase the demands on UN peacekeeping. Resolution 2149 authorised the deployment of 10,000 military personnel, 1,800 police and an appropriate civilian component (drawn from the existing UN political mission) in the CAR, with the military and police components to deploy as part of MINUSCA from 15 September 2014. Even with the 6,000 uniformed African Union peacekeepers that will be ‘re-hatted’ to form part of the mission, the UN will still need to find thousands more personnel by September. Barring any unexpected drawdowns in existing peacekeeping missions, the UN could be attempting to generate enough personnel to raise UN peacekeeping to its highest level of deployment in its 65-year history.

The UN will also need to ensure the personnel have the right skill sets to carry out the demands of MINUSCA’s complex mandate. Resolution 2149 authorises MINUSCA to, among other tasks, protect the civilian population, support the political transition process, facilitate the immediate and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, support reform of the security sector, and monitor the implementation of arms embargoes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon foreshadowed a broad range of capabilities that MINUSCA would require to deliver on its mandate in his most recent report (PDF). These include expertise in civil–military coordination, training assistance for the security sector, military observers (particularly females) who can liaise with local communities, technology platforms for surveillance operations, and experts on arms, natural resources and customs to support the monitoring of the sanctions regime. The right mix of military, police and civilian personnel who can operate in a coordinated and integrated manner will be essential to the success of the mission.

The creation of yet another UN peacekeeping mission (bringing the total number of concurrent UN peacekeeping missions to 16) demonstrates that UN peacekeeping remains an essential tool to address threats to international peace and security. This is unlikely to change in the near future—UN peacekeeping inevitably brings to bear international legitimacy, sustained political engagement and financial support. But the pool of resources, capabilities and expertise the UN can draw on isn’t endless. It relies on the political will and engagement of member states to take it forward.

The lengthy 14-page mandate for MINUSCA is testament to the complexity of modern-day UN peacekeeping which demands a longer-term, coordinated and sustained approach among member states. Regardless of whether Australia decides to deploy personnel to MINUSCA (which is quite unlikely), we still have an interest in the developments that are taking place in the CAR and the implications that the authorisation of MINUSCA will have for the future of UN peacekeeping. Australia continues to engage in a range of areas in support of UN peacekeeping—we supply personnel to missions in South Sudan, the Middle East and Cyprus, and we participate in the ongoing development of UN peacekeeping policy and delivery of peacekeeping training programs with a range of countries. But many of these efforts across government remain ad hoc and reactive.

As UN peacekeeping is set to reach historically high levels, we should be thinking about a whole of government approach to peacekeeping that will ensure Australia understands the implications of these emerging challenges in UN peacekeeping—and remains well positioned to respond to them.

Lisa Sharland is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Peacekeeping.

Using Coles to make Defence more effective and efficient?

Mr John Coles CB RCNC, author of the Coles Review, speaking at ASPI's International Conference 'The Submarine Choice' in April 2014.

The successful 2012 Coles review could be noteworthy for more than just advising on submarine sustainment. It might also suggest a different model to consider for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of Defence.

Some will ask why bother? With promises of a 2% GDP defence budget, monetary pressures could be expected to gradually recede. But John Coles gave us something money couldn’t buy: his report made the submarine force more effective. There’s no reason to believe simply throwing more money at the force would’ve addressed its problems. As Coles reported, some 30% of the Navy’s sustainment budget was going into generating a steadily diminishing number of operational submarines. In late 2009, out of six submarines, only a single boat was usually available. Reinforcing failure by spending more would’ve been imprudent.

Coles found that the lack of online submarines wasn’t from lack of money but principally from internally-generated management difficulties. Coles’ worthy predecessor, the Rizzo review, had a similar finding about the amphibious ships. Coles, though, in following up his review in a just-released report has verified that the changes he recommended are actually delivering the desired outcomes. Hard data suggest he was right. Read more

So the big lesson from Coles (and Rizzo) could be that the contemporary Defence organisation can’t reform itself through its normal internal processes. There might be many reasons why the organisation is unable to be self-critical: complacency, groupthink, a bias against innovation, confused lines of responsibility, an inability to hold anybody to account or simply a lack of internal devil’s advocates. The underlying reasons are less important than the success of the Coles model in cutting through the internally-generated bureaucratic and Service inertia.

Defence of course has had many reviews and reform programs. Indeed the submarine sustainment system that Coles improved was a product of more than two decades of well-intentioned reform programs. But many of those were high-level, cross-enterprise examinations that advocated general solutions for application across all parts of the organisation.
Such an approach may be well suited for uncomplicated, homogenous organisations but perhaps less so for complex, heterogeneous organisations like Defence. In the latter case, one-size-fits-all solutions might not work. . Compounding that problem, traditional, large-scale reform programs are deliberately long-running with outcomes both uncertain and distant. It seems people lose interest over time.

Coles offers a different approach to those enterprise-wide, broad-brush, managerially-based reviews and reform. His model suggests taking a technocratic approach, in which subject-matter experts examine the issues in depth within a strictly limited area of concern.
And the model might be particularly suited to issues of high political interest. In this case, intense ministerial interest helped motivate Defence to solve the problem and not simply to bury it. Indeed, there’s little to suggest Defence would’ve addressed this issue without direct ministerial intervention, just as the earlier problems with amphibious ships that Rizzo reviewed were seemingly overlooked. Both cases involved quantifiable problems that both ministers and taxpayers could see needed fixing and there was a set of metrics for measuring the success rate in addressing those problems.

But if Coles worked, why not simply repeat it using in-house staff? Consultants, so sceptics say, are simply people who borrow your watch to tell you the time. Defence has many smart people—surely they could do the same, or better? Well, Defence demonstrably can’t, or else they would’ve done it. Moreover, Defence doesn’t necessarily have a lot of spare subject-matter experts waiting around to undertake reviews. They all have day jobs. The ADF’s submariners are arguably some of the smartest people in Defence. If they found it impossible to address their own problems, it suggests insiders can’t.

Could the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) undertake this function? The ANAO produces excellent reports that frequently delve into areas many departments wish they didn’t. However, ANAO staff are not subject-matter, technical experts in the esoteric disciplines found within Defence. Moreover, ANAO reports often focus on determining whether money was spent in the approved manner rather than whether it was well spent. Such reports highlight important issues but—again—if ANAO could do what Coles did they would surely have done it earlier.

The Coles model seems worthwhile instituting as a permanent series of continuous, rolling reviews into particularly worrying areas within Defence. But that would run the risk of diluting the impact of such enquiries and might simply become part of the landscape. Still. it doesn’t seem right to have to wait for major capabilities to fall over before getting serious, so a compromise needs to be found. One solution might be to extend the DMO gate review process into the post-delivery phase, with capability managers drawing on external expertise and, when necessary, commissioning out-sourced reviews which would aim at practical solutions to problems, with later follow-up studies to credibly verify if the reforms have worked. Even so, achieving success would need ministers to be interested and Defence to be motivated.

The impressive operational effectiveness gains and efficiency improvements the Coles review has brought are surely worth bringing to other areas of Defence.

Peter Layton is an independent researcher completing a PhD on grand strategy at UNSW. He has been an associate professor at the US National Defense University.