Australia and its Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gough’s remaking of foreign policy

Gough Whitlam 1973Gough Whitlam helped Australia think about finding its security in Asia, not to seek security from Asia.

Not least of Whitlam’s achievements was to make Australia colour-blind, in both word and deed. Harold Holt’s government, in 1966, started a quiet—almost covert—dismantling of the White Australia policy with camouflage language about ‘flexibility’. Whitlam’s government used trumpets and drums to kill the White Australia policy as loudly as possible. To the enduring chagrin of Liberals, Labor has claimed the policy honours, based on Whitlam’s characteristically emphatic and emotionally-charged embrace of non-discriminatory immigration.

As the Vietnam War edged to its bloody end, Whitlam’s thinking didn’t retreat from the region along with Australia’s troops. He wrote in his memoirs that ‘forward defence’ was based on the ‘xenophobic belief that Australia was best defended from Asia’. That ‘defended from Asia’ line reflected several layers of Oz nightmare. Read more

Whitlam’s dismantling of immigration xenophobia was mirrored in his language on defence:

We do not see Southeast Asia as a frontier where we might fight nameless Asian enemies as far to the north of our own shores as possible—in other people’s backyards.

In his policy speech for the 1972 election, Whitlam committed to diplomatic recognition of China, an end to military conscription and the maintenance of the alliance with the US as one of Australia’s ‘two great associations’ (the other was the Commonwealth). Whitlam made four foreign policy commitments ‘commensurate to our power and resources’:

  1. National security—the defence-of-Australia doctrine discussed in the previous post
  2. A secure, united and friendly Papua New Guinea—PNG became independent in 1975
  3. Closer relations with our nearest and largest neighbour, Indonesia
  4. Promoting peace and prosperity in our neighbourhood: ‘We should be the natural leaders of the South Pacific’.

Whitlam set a pattern for Australian commitment to the region and Australian support for regionalism that has been sustained by every subsequent government. No less an authority than John Howard nominates Whitlam as the foundational leader for the Great Asia Project that has united every leader since 1972.

Whitlam’s regionalist wins were minor (Australia as ASEAN’s first dialogue partner) compared to later achievements, especially the Hawke government’s creation of APEC and the Howard government’s seat at the East Asia Summit.

But the language and the orientation Hawke used and Howard utilised drew directly from Whitlam’s effort in his first days in office to create an Asia Pacific forum. That forum idea was quickly killed off by Indonesia, in an early demonstration of the veto ASEAN could wield over regional initiatives from Canberra.

Outlining his Asia forum idea in January, 1973, Whitlam said he didn’t want to change and enlarge ASEAN, but to create a broader regional association for Asia and the Pacific, to develop ‘a truly representative regional community’. That grouping should include all of ASEAN and, in line with ASEAN language, Whitlam said it would ‘insulate the region against ideological interference from the great powers’.

The following month, Whitlam flew to Jakarta ‘to demonstrate the political and economic interest that Australia would now take in the region’. Whitlam later remarked that Suharto was ‘frank’; indeed he was. Indonesia’s President said there weren’t enough common interests within Asia for Whitlam’s forum to be practicable. The Australian record quoted Suharto as doubting the ‘usefulness of a formal conference or organisation. This would only aggravate conflicting interests. ASEAN also needed to be consolidated beforehand’. Suharto said he wouldn’t want India as a member of an Asia Pacific grouping and there’d be questions about Chinese participation. We’ve all come a long way since then, and the journey has reflected Whitlam’s vision, not Suharto’s fears.

Whitlam’s final-and-forever embedding of a non-discriminatory immigration policy stands as a supreme achievement, domestically and internationally. It was as foundational in its meaning for Australian foreign policy as the opening to China, so well described by Ross Terrill.

Whitlam’s embrace of Indonesia was equally fundamental; Tony Abbott’s presence at the inauguration of Indonesia’s President testifies to the continuing strength of this policy strand. Ironically, Whitlam’s successful embrace of Suharto became his foreign policy nemesis—East Timor.

Whitlam put two points to Suharto in September, 1974. First, East Timor should become part of Indonesia. Second, incorporation ‘should happen in accordance with the properly expressed wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor’. As the head of Foreign Affairs, Alan Renouf, later wrote, Whitlam changed Australia’s position to a two-pronged policy when the two points were irreconcilable. Suharto embraced Whitlam’s first point and ignored the second. It took 25 years to undo the damage to Australia-Indonesia relations and the deadly costs for East Timor.

Whitlam’s East Timor blunder stemmed from his ambitions for Australia in Asia. The Timor stain touches the edge of the Whitlam toga, but it doesn’t gainsay that he was a big man who dreamed big dreams of Australia’s role in its own region. Gough Whitlam did much to launch Australia’s Great Asia Project and much that he dreamed has come to pass.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Carl Guderian.

South Australian defence industry summit

Start lineI was pleased to be invited to speak at the South Australian Government’s Defence Industry Policy Summit (PDF) earlier this week. I was invited in my role as a member of the Defence White Paper Expert Panel, and was asked to help set the scene for the discussion that followed. Here’s what I told the meeting.

Thanks for the opportunity to be here today. My topic is the Defence White Paper process, but I’m not able to say much about that as it’s still very much a work in progress. So let me give you the response I give everyone who asks me how it’s going. ‘It’s everything I expected it to be’.

In terms of this gathering, I’m not sure that the DWP is the most germane document. There are several important pieces of policy work going on in parallel, some of which will have at least as large an impact, particularly the development of a Defence Industry Policy Statement (DIPS), a shipbuilding plan and the First Principles Review of Defence’s organisation. Development of the DIPS is something that I and my Expert Panel colleague Mike Kalms were asked to take on by the Defence Minister here in Adelaide back in June. Read more

As a result of that, we’ve been touring the country to consult with industry groups and making site visits. We’ve heard some clear and consistent messages along the way from industry, and I’ve found some of the visits to be real eye-openers. I’ve been impressed with the industry capability and capacity I’ve seen in various places. That will all help inform the DIPS.

As for the DWP, I think it’s important that the discussion that ensues today takes into account the environment in which work is proceeding. Firstly, the federal government has made it clear that it’s going to continue to make major capability decisions. It has committed something like $20 billion to acquisitions such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the Triton surveillance drones. By doing so it’s avoiding the bottleneck in projects that’s accompanied previous DWPs—sometimes as much as 18 months of deferred decisions, which has a flow-on effect to ADF capability and to industry work-flow.

Second, it’s possible that major decisions will be made about shipbuilding and submarines prior to the DWP release. It’s also possible that they won’t, and I can say with high confidence that no decisions have been made to date. I think it’s fair to say that there are inclinations, but there’s still time for the sort of submission that will come from this meeting to influence the process.

Third, there’s the budget situation. In its first budget the government made good on its promise to increase defence spending. If it sticks to its pledge to reach 2% of GDP by 2023/24, Treasury forecasts suggest that the budget that year will be around $45 billion in today’s terms. That compares to this year’s $29 billion, amounting to an additional $16 billion to invest. That’s a lot of additional capability that can be acquired, and a lot of industry support to be purchased. There should be plenty of opportunity for industry. Not so much in the first few years, as there’s a shortfall from the underfunding of the 2009 DWP that has to be made up, but in the years to come there’ll be lots of new investment.

Finally, but possibly most importantly, there’s a whole-of-government policy environment that has to be taken into account. That’s worth studying for clues about government thinking on industry and innovation. A good place to start is the new Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda (PDF) released last week. It had several policy objectives of relevance here, most notably boosting competitiveness and fostering ‘excellence, not dependence’. It also identified five growth sectors, which represent areas of comparative advantage in the Australian economy. The one of most relevance to defence is ‘advanced manufacturing’,

The Agenda observes that Asian countries are increasingly reducing trade barriers, reducing inefficient public spending, reducing taxes and improving competitiveness. In that environment, Australian industry will have to be innovative, be working at world’s best practice standards, nimble and—in the defence space—provide a capability-edge for the ADF. When putting forward business cases for defence industry investment, they’ll need to be couched in terms of competitive advantage and capability edge, not just ‘net benefit’, however calculated.

Finally, let me swap hats and become an ASPI commentator for a minute. As those of you who read The Strategist—which should be required reading—would know, I was much impressed by the productivity gains I saw in local shipyards recently. The touch labour productivity on the AWD is showing a learning of about 20% between vessels one and two, with a projection of between 10 and 15% from vessels two to three. That’s close to world standard.

Similarly, the Collins availability is much improved, suggesting that the Collins story is more about lack of resources than poor industry performance. Actually, it’s probably a combination of both, but increasing resources has enabled better performance. ASC has some way to go to be world’s best practice standard, but the trend is good.

One final comment. When I read today’s press clippings, I saw the call for a competition for the design and construction of the future submarines. As I’ve said before, that’s the way to do it.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of Andi Sidwell.

Gough’s remaking of Defence policy

Phuoc Tuy Province, Vietnam. 10 October 1966. Gough Whitlam, then Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition, has a laugh during a talk with Private Wayne Weldon of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.Gough Whitlam was a physical giant with an intellect to match. His flaws were pretty sizeable, too, and the pygmies who beset him were often from his own party. His self-mocking humour was immensely appealing, and could only be carried off by someone with giant status: ‘I’ve never said I’m immortal. I do believe in correct language. I’m eternal; I’m not immortal’.

The Strategist is the right place to appreciate the bigness of the man’s ambitions—and significant achievements in foreign and defence policy. This post will consider Defence.

During his three years in government, from 1972 to 1975, in the agony of the final days of the Vietnam War, Whitlam delivered Australia two immensely valuable strategic benefits that are still central today. He held on to the US alliance and he helped give birth to an understanding that Australia could defend itself. The two thoughts aren’t truly opposed and Whitlam’s achievement was to embrace them both in ways that made it possible for them to become the heart of Australian defence policy, strongly supported by both sides of politics. Read more

Whitlam’s coming to power was the moment when Australia could’ve turned away from the US alliance. In the dark days of Opposition, Jim Cairns went close to beating Whitlam in a close-run caucus leadership ballot. The vote was all about an acid question aimed at their giant leader—‘Whose party is it, his or ours?’ Luckily, Labor decided it was Whitlam’s party.

A Cairns leadership—or merely a post-Whitlam leadership—could’ve seen Labor go down the road David Lange took New Zealand. The bitterness and disillusion of Vietnam would’ve been the context and the cause would’ve been ALP opposition to US bases in Australia. Nixon’s intense displeasure at the critical comments about Vietnam coming from the new Australian government would’ve meant there was no mood of compromise in Washington.

Whitlam preserved the core structure of ANZUS and fought off the efforts of the ALP Left to close the US intelligence and communications bases. Hanging on to the alliance was an important call, and Whitlam made it. Part of the trick was the rhetoric about a new and more confident Australia that shifted beyond a subservient dependence on the US. After Nixon’s ‘Guam doctrine’ moment in 1969—allies would have ‘primary responsibility’ for their own defence—Australia had started to grapple with the implications of the demise of ‘forward defence’ in Southeast Asia and what a Defence-of-Australia policy might look like.

Under Whitlam, the Arthur Tange revolution was launched upon the Defence Department, amalgamating five departments and giving birth to the term ‘Australian Defence Force’. The conceptual changes that swept through Canberra meant that it was the Fraser government in 1976 that brought down an accurate rendering of the new defence policy Tange had created for Whitlam.

After the bitter political division over Vietnam, conscription and the alliance, the Whitlam Labor and Fraser Liberal governments enshrined a bipartisan defence consensus that has lasted more than 40 years. Australia could create an independent capability for its own defence and action in its own region that reinforced rather than weakened the US alliance.

To see Whitlam’s role in that achievement, see that first Australian Defence White Paper in 1976 (PDF) as a joint Whitlam-Fraser achievement, delivered by Fraser but built by Whitlam. At its core were Whitlam’s thoughts about the need for Australia’s ‘new role’ and the stress on the need for Australia to be self-reliant:

We no longer base our policy on the expectation that Australia’s Navy or Army or Air Force will be sent abroad as part of some other nation’s force, supported by it. We do not rule out an Australian contribution to operations elsewhere if the requirement arose … But we believe that any operations are much more likely to be in our own neighbourhood than in some distant or forward theatre, and that our Armed Services will be conducting joint operations together as the Australian Defence Force.

The battle over what those thoughts mean for the ADF still rages in Canberra, but Whitlam’s role in putting them at the heart of Australian policy (and quickly moving on from the trauma of Vietnam) is unarguable.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Reflections on Whitlam

Gough Whitlam by Clifton Pugh

In memory of Gough Whitlam (1916–2014) and his contribution to Australian foreign policy, we republish here a brief excerpt from Ross Terrill’s ASPI Strategy paper, Facing the dragon, on Whitlam’s 1971 visit to China:

Zhou Enlai welcomed Whitlam to the East Chamber of the Great Hall of the People, with its leaping murals and crimson carpets. Present also were Chinese Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei and Trade Minister Bai Xiangguo. Zhou, a slight, handsome man with a theatrical manner, was all in grey except for a red ‘Serve the People’ badge, black socks inside his sandals, and black hair flecking the grey.

Whitlam gave Zhou a good account of Australia’s foreign policy, but showed little understanding of the impact of the split between Beijing and Moscow on Chinese and American thinking. The premier spent minutes criticising former US secretary of state John Foster Dulles for his policies of ‘encircling China’. He reached for his tea mug, sipped, and went on, ‘Today, Dulles has a successor in our northern neighbour’. Whitlam said ‘You mean Japan?’ Zhou was curt in response: ‘Japan is to the east of us—I said to the north’.

Read more

No doubt it was hard for a leader on the Australian left to accept that Mao’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might think of the Soviet Union as an enemy. In the exchanges about Dulles, the encircling of China and the Vietnam War, Whitlam unwisely volunteered that ‘The American people will never allow an American president to again send troops to another country’. Of course, they’ve done so numerous times since 1971, often without Chinese opposition.

If Zhou was tough on the Soviet Union, he was almost as tough on Japan. He feared that the Nixon Doctrine, asking for self-reliance on the part of US allies in Asia, would turn Japan into America’s ‘vanguard in East Asia’. He called it ‘the spirit of using Asians to fight Asians’ or, coining a new term, ‘using Austral-Asians to fight Asians’.

One of his strongest criticisms of Moscow, indeed, was its failure to oppose ‘Japanese militarism’. He feared that Japan would develop nuclear weapons. ‘Look at our so-called ally’, Zhou said to Whitlam of the Soviet Union. ‘They are in warm relations with the Sato government of Japan and also engaged in warm discussions on so-called ‘nuclear disarmament’ with the Nixon government, while China, their ally, is threatened by both of these.’

‘Is your own ally so very reliable?’ the Chinese premier challenged Whitlam. ‘They have succeeded in dragging you onto the Vietnam battlefield. How is that defensive? That is aggression.’ To his credit, Whitlam defended ANZUS. Later, Whitlam told me that he was surprised Zhou hadn’t attacked the American intelligence facilities in Australia. In fact, the omission was a sign that Mao was no longer as worried about the US as about the Soviet Union. However, the Chinese Foreign Minister did raise with Whitlam China’s unease that Australia had troops stationed in Singapore and Malaysia.

When the Labor leader expressed acceptance of the ‘One China’ principle that Beijing asked of foreign partners, the premier said crisply, ‘So far this is only words. When you return to Australia and become prime minister you will be able to carry out actions’.

And this reflection:

In December 1972, Prime Minister Whitlam, taking streamlined steps generally impossible in Washington, within a month of taking office reached agreement with Beijing on diplomatic relations, cut relations with Taiwan, and appointed the first Australian ambassador to the PRC. There were critics of the haste. Hugh Dunn (later the only Australian diplomat to be ambassador in both Taiwan and Beijing) was told by Chinese ambassador Huang Zhen, who negotiated with Australian ambassador Alan Renouf in Paris, that ‘Australia’s was the easiest’ of all negotiations over recognition he had handled. Observed Dunn, ‘The Chinese knew we wished to reach agreement quickly … one should never negotiate against a unilaterally self-imposed deadline’. Still, most Australians felt the step was overdue.

Ross Terrill is an associate of Harvard’s Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies. Image courtesy of Flickr user Bobby Graham.

No to backburner, yes to a two-track strategy

Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the general debate of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly. President Rouhani  indicated in his speech that Iran would co-operate on 'very important regional issues, such as combating violence and extremism', while demanding concessions in the P5+1 nuclear talks.Iran’s securing nuclear weapons would destabilise a region already suffering from mass upheaval, in addition to having dire security implications for the rest of the world. Multilateral efforts to deter the sadistic actions of ISIS, a crucial priority, seem to have distracted from international efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. As identified in the recent post by Andrew Nikolic, a nuclear Iran remains a broader strategic priority and potentially worse threat.

Those multilateral efforts have been further complicated by Iran’s promise to fight ISIS, with President Rouhani indicating to the UN General Assembly last month that Iran would co-operate on ‘very important regional issues, such as combating violence and extremism’, while demanding concessions in the P5+1 nuclear talks. With reports over the past months of Iran sending Guards in to wage a conflict already being fought by the US, ‘both sides will have an interest in not allowing a confrontation or increased tension over the nuclear issue to interfere with the campaign against ISIS’, as noted by Gary Samore, former White House Co-ordinator for Arms Control. Read more

Ostensible co-operation between the US and Iran on a common threat changes the dynamics of the talks. Complicating the situation even further are different messages coming from each power, with Susan Rice insisting the US held some ‘informal consultations’ with Iran about regional issues, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has claimed that the US approached Iran to seek assistance in combating ISIS.

There are limited prospects for the P5+1 achieving a sustainable outcome from their negotiations with Tehran while world powers are simultaneously distracted by the need to combat an urgent and highly-visible threat. The supposed alignment of objectives between the US and Iran has seemingly eroded both the sense of urgency about an effective agreement and ability to achieve one. As noted by Clifford D. May in the Washington Times:

The Islamic State’s flamboyant barbarism has been consuming the oxygen, making it easy to forget that Iran has long been, according to the US State Department, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

The ISIS threat, while theoretically facilitating short-term co-operation between the US and Iran, in the longer-term may well strengthen Iran’s resolve to further its long-standing nuclear ambitions. As former US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey pointed out (paywalled):

It (ISIS) can destabilise neighbouring states, including Jordan and even Saudi Arabia, drawing on networks of sympathisers in these countries. This could lead to an even greater threat to regional stability… and encourage Iran and other states to seek (and possibly use) nuclear weapons.

Further, AIJAC Executive Director Colin Rubenstein writing in The Australian recently commented:

A significant concern is that the critical efforts to stop an Iranian bomb will be sidelined—or, worse still, Iran and its proxies will be empowered as a result… There is reportedly little progress on the two key issues essential for any nuclear deal… greatly reducing the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges… and stopping construction of the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor, which will produce easily-weaponised plutonium.

The focus on ISIS is important not only for the fate of nuclear proliferation in Iran but, as Nikolic identified, relevant to other states, including North Korea. The Six-Party Talks are still in a hiatus, despite China and Russia suggesting they could soon resume.

With the talks in Vienna facing a November deadline, it remains a strategic imperative that the international focus on ISIS not distract from ensuring Iran can neither secure nuclear weapons, nor produce them on demand. The only solution is for the West to pursue a two-track strategy: combating ISIS in a way that doesn’t undermine the effectiveness of the P5+1 talks, whilst ensuring that the negotiations don’t allow Iran’s actions against ISIS to distract from the necessity of a viable outcome.

Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Image courtesy of the United Nations.

FPDA—not fade away

Echidna on the RunThree years ago the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) celebrated its 40th birthday, an anniversary that sparked a flutter of international curiosity about this most eclectic of regional security frameworks. By way of animal analogy, the FPDA is an echidna among defence accords: shy, long-lived, unassuming—somewhat odd-looking. Since 2011, it has arguably reverted to type, humbly re-occupying its niche as a sub-treaty legacy agreement, on a separate track to the region’s fast-evolving security architecture. As noted by Tim Huxley in 2012, the FPDA’s ‘anachronistic’ image has tended to obscure its advantages as a unique, evolving tool in Australia’s defence diplomacy. Subsequent developments have borne out that potential, although the FPDA—in its unspectacular way—struggles to compete for attention within a menagerie of competing, ‘alpha’ strategic priorities.

Dubbed the ‘quiet achiever’ by Carl Thayer, the FPDA’s low profile belies a brisk tempo of multinational air, naval, land and command-post exercises held regularly under its auspices among Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Boilerplate-text aside, Australia’s 2013 White Paper was surprisingly effusive on the Five Power arrangements, noting that membership ‘provides Australia with a strategically important presence in Southeast Asia that augments bilateral and other multilateral engagement’. Despite this there’s little public awareness of what the FPDA is for, or the prominent role that Australia plays within it: for instance the fact that a two-star Australian Air Vice-Marshal commands the peninsula-wide Integrated Area Defence System (IADS) from the Malaysian air base at Butterworth—more than a quarter century after the last RAAF squadron was withdrawn from there. Read more

Indonesia’s still the most important external factor bearing upon the FPDA. Although not officially acknowledged, the FPDA was created in the shadow of Confrontation as the successor to the Anglo-Malayan Defence Agreement, to provide a non-binding level of deterrence to Malaysia and Singapore against the return of Indonesian demagoguery (the arrangement obliges parties simply to consult in case of external attack on the Peninsula). As Canberra has embraced Indonesia’s post-Soeharto democratisation, and pursued a bilateral compact with Jakarta as its strategic priority in Southeast Asia, so the FPDA has lost some of its lustre for Australia. Singapore and Malaysia view their larger neighbour with continuing caution and are less sanguine about the prospects for defence engagement. That explains the continuing strong support for the FPDA in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, even as their own improving relationship has rendered the arrangements less important as a conduit for managing cross-Causeway tensions.

Improving strategic relations with Indonesia is likely to remain Australia’s most important security objective in Southeast Asia, for obvious reasons. However, Jakarta’s abrupt, prolonged freeze on security cooperation, in retaliation for the Snowden revelations, has brought home the vicissitudes in the bilateral relationship—and the dangers of overloading the Indonesian basket when it comes to Australia’s defence engagement in Southeast Asia. By contrast, the FPDA has continued to accumulate quiet achievements. If Canberra doesn’t share quite the same perceptions of Indonesia as its Southeast Asian partners, its difficulties with Jakarta over the past year nonetheless underscore the value of FPDA dependability—and the risks of over-reliance upon a single partner within the region.

Unlike the echidna, the FPDA has at least adjusted its gait to move with the times, re-badging IADS from integrated air defence to area defence as far back as 2001. Exercise and interoperability themes have since been broadened from conventional defence to HADR and maritime security. FPDA was not publicly invoked during the search for MH 370, but the disaster has focused an operational spotlight on the need for integrated air surveillance and SAR coordination across Southeast Asia and beyond. The apparent failure to track the airliner as it passed north of Butterworth was not IADS’ finest hour. But the continuing multinational search operation has unquestionably benefited from the institutionalised trust built up between Malaysia and its fellow FPDA members. With Singapore recently unveiling a new Regional Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre, HADR collaboration within FPDA is probably set to expand further.

With an eye to more strategic concerns, while the geographical purview of FPDA is limited to the Malay Peninsula and its maritime approaches, naval and air exercises are held in the southerly reaches of the South China Sea. Extending those to East Malaysia on an ad hoc basis would send an important, non-provocative signal of the Five Powers’ commitment to freedom of navigation and overflight.

Although the perception that the UK no longer pulls its military weight within FPDA is a common source of complaint, the de facto senior external partner status that confers on Australia is a net plus. The FPDA is unique as a multilateral defence framework in the western Pacific, and one of the few fora where Australia’s present and America absent. Diplomatically, that’s surely advantageous for a country that struggles to shake off the ‘deputy-sheriff’ moniker in Southeast Asia. From a military point of view, the major limitation on the FPDA going forward may in fact be Malaysia’s laggard level of defence capability. As a consequence, Singapore and Australia may be led to exercise bilaterally on a more regular basis. The FPDA’s flexible enough to accommodate that, though it’ll require careful diplomatic management.

With the White Paper pending, Australia could start by giving fresh consideration to the FPDA, not as a legacy throwback to forward defence or a deviation from partnership with Indonesia, but as a flexible, proven platform to serve its security interests in Southeast Asia.

Euan Graham is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Wong

Canberra’s unholy trinity

APH facadeHere’s Canberra lore—or three rules of an Unholy Trinity—explaining how politicians operate. When nothing makes sense, rely on the Trinity pulsing beneath the surface of party, parliament and government:

  1. It’s always personal
  2. There’s always a deal
  3. Follow the money.

I claim no custody of this lore. Spend four decades in the company of politicians in this town and the Unholy Trinity becomes a trusty guide. The rules have general application. Thucydides would have jotted them down if only he’d spent more time in the press gallery. Machiavelli penned a version for princes. Read more

When the Trinity parades in public, the rules appear as power, politics and policy. Rule one, the personal, is the power dimension. Rule two, the deal, is the politics. And money is ever a synonym for policy. In this discussion, other fundamentals of passion, principle and purpose sit on a different mountain—one at the other end of the range, shrouded in cloud.

To jargonise, the rules describe crucial inputs; the outputs are government and legislation. Government and law are done in writing while the Trinity operates an oral culture. The personal calculations and deals are done face to face. Talking comes first. The write-up happens later to dress the deal as policy. The Canberra press gallery reports politics as high-gossip-with-added-facts-and-figures to hint at what goes on in the big building under the giant flag, home to the three rules, two Houses and one government:

1. It’s always personal
The ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘How could this hurt me?’ questions are only part of the rule, although never to be discounted. As Jack Lang taught Paul Keating; ‘Bet on self-interest, it’s a horse that’s always trying’. Beyond glory and greed, render ‘always personal’ as the ‘will to power’, with all the personality baggage loaded onto that one phrase—ambition, ego, hatred, fear. Only driven personalities apply. The terrain is treacherous, the rewards as great as the risks. More fall off the mountain than reach the peak.

Isaiah Berlin catches the first two rules in Political Judgement when arguing that the politician’s art has few ‘laws’ and little ‘science’. Instead, personal instinct and skills are decisive. The skilled politician grasps ‘the unique combination of characteristics that constitute this particular situation—this and no other…the character of a particular moment, of a particular individual, of a unique state of affairs, of a unique atmosphere, of some particular combination of economic, political, personal factors’.

The ‘always personal’ rule is about the individual politician’s mix of experience, imagination, intuition and luck. Then the rule broadens to encompass the personalities of all the other politicians in the tribe (party), because the best allies and worst enemies sit beside you. Skill is about seizing the emerging pattern or surviving the crisis, making the call or doing the deal, building for a win or swerving to minimise loss. At the peak, this is Bismarck’s statesman able to hear the footsteps of history; down on the lower slopes it’s doing the numbers and judging the mood of caucus. While no qualification is needed to be a politician, a lot of qualities are needed to be good at it.

2. There’s always a deal
If to govern is to choose, then to politic is to deal. Australians want good government and law but aren’t keen on the politics that produce those fine sausages. Barry Humphries, comic genius, national treasure, and creator of snout-in-the-trough-supremo Sir Les Patterson, delivers a verdict from the heart of Oz, mocking Canberra’s dramas as ‘the battle of the dwarves’. A more understanding but equally ironic version was that of a wonderful old press gallery hack who used to proclaim in the non-members bar: ‘I’m shocked, shocked to discover that base and grubby politics is being played here in the heart of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia’.

The oral culture of the deal can burst into spectacular view: the Kirribilli agreement when Hawke promised Keating the succession in front of two witnesses and the similar moment when Howard promised to hand over to Costello because ‘one-and-a-half terms would be enough’. Both leaders reneged, which points you straight back to rule one on power and personality.

3. The golden rule is that gold rules.
When you can’t decipher the personalities, and the deals are safely secret, the money trail points the way up the mountain.

With the rules as aid, turn to the memoir by Australia’s 27th Prime Minister. My Story is a good and revealing work, although often in ways Julia Gillard might not intend. She writes how her eyes were set on the far peak where purpose and principle reside, but the Real Story is the struggle on the mountain where the Unholy Trinity rules.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Dave Sutherland.

Graph of the week

Graph - salary increase comparatorsThe government’s offer of a 1.5% p.a. pay rise for each of the next three years in exchange for a reduction in leave entitlements and other allowances has been met with dismay. This is one of those issues where the facts speak for themselves. So here are some facts:

According to the government’s own figures, inflation is projected to be 2.25% in 2014-15 and 2.5% for the three years after. With a little arithmetic, this means that the government’s offer of 1.5% per annum would result in a cumulative reduction of 2.66% in real terms over the next 36 months. Compared with the remainder of the labour force, the picture is worse still. The government projects that the Wage Price Index will run at 3% over the next two years.

Two things are noteworthy in this regard. First, the Defence budget is indexed at 2.5% per annum to take account of inflation. Second, the ADF workforce has been quarantined from efficiency dividends under the current and previous governments. It follows that an inflation-matching salary increase of 2.5% per annum could be afforded from within existing funding without redirection from other programs (consistent with the government’s 2014 Public Sector Workplace Bargaining Policy). Read more

Current ADF salary rates and allowances can be found here. For those without the time to work through the labyrinth of numbers, a benchmark is as a follows. The salary plus service allowance for a sergeant in the army roughly equates with average adult full-time earnings in Australia (~$78,000). Higher ranks get paid more, lower ranks less—though specialist skills can make a significant difference.

Looking over time (see chart above), ADF salary increases have consistently outpaced inflation; and growth in average weekly full-time ordinary earnings has done the same, but by a wider margin. The latter is presumably a reflection of a structural shift in the Australian economy to higher productivity jobs.  Defence APS salaries and ADF salaries are bootstrapped onto each other, thereby explaining their overlapping trajectories.

Finally some context is worth taking into account. The government has frozen the pay of parliamentarians and senior public servants as of July 1 2014, so they’ll experience an even higher percentage real loss of salary than ADF members if the present offer goes through. However, this needs to be seen in the context of the 31% pay increase awarded to parliamentarians in 2012 (along with the 27% increase in remuneration awarded to the Chief and the Defence Force and a similar rise for departmental secretaries over the period 2012 to 2014).

As I said, the facts speak for themselves.

Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI. Image (c) ASPI 2014.

Good Barack, bad Bibi

Obama NetanyahuWhen it comes to cutting a nuclear deal, Tehran has to be convinced that Iran will be punished if it reneges on a deal and rewarded if it complies. The solution to that problem rests in the currently troubled US–Israeli alliance.

The ability to determine if Iran is complying with a deal hinges upon both the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ability to monitor Iran’s progress towards denuclearisation and reliable intelligence—neither of which is foolproof. Many skeptics fear that as Iran’s economy recovers from years of mismanagement and isolation, the hardliners will use their country’s newfound largesse to refuel their nuclear program. They rightly point out that once the sanctions regime is unwound it will be harder to put back together again. International businesses benefiting from access to Iranian markets will lobby hard against sanctions being reimposed even if Iran is caught cheating.

The instruments that the most significant actors in the region have at their disposal vis-à-vis Iran allow them to take different parts in the same play. Many continue to believe—mistakenly—that any settlement rests upon the Americans doling out sticks while the French and the Russians serve up the carrots. However, one Great Recession and two quagmires later it’s time for a change in roles. Read more

A bad cop working with an even worse cop leads criminals to ‘lawyer up’. In the context of the ongoing negotiations with Iran, such a combination compels Tehran to race for the bomb harder than before. The accused can easily exploit two good cops. But a (moderately) bad cop paired with a (moderately) good cop can be a potent combination for coercive diplomacy.

The most effective bad cop is one that can credibly commit to the use of force. As pointed out in Leon Panetta’s recent memoir, Barack Obama damaged the US’s credibility when he drew a red line in relation to Syria’s chemical weapons attacks, then erased it. But that’s not a problem for Benjamin Netanyahu. When the latter makes a threat, he keeps it (for example, Israeli strikes in Syria). If we assume for the moment that Israel carried out a strike on the Parchin facility, that further demonstrates Bibi is perfectly positioned to dispense punishments. Although several hawkish figures in the governing coalition openly criticised his handling of last summer’s Gaza War, Netanyahu does not currently face a serious challenger within or outside his government. Even if he were to withdraw from politics, a conservative constellation of forces is likely to remain in power in Israel for some time, meaning that whoever succeeds him would be equally likely to strike Iran should it attempt to cross the nuclear Rubicon.

The US is still wary of using force after its gruelling experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration certainly can’t be accused of having knocked ISIS off its feet. But that puts it in a stronger position to play the good cop. The US can offer Iran sanctions relief and access to world markets; Israel cannot. Furthermore, the US can provide Iran with an ‘exit option’ vis-à-vis Russia. During the November 2013 talks in Vienna, an Iranian negotiator bluntly stated, ‘We don’t want to be dependent on Russia for the lifetime of Bushehr’.

There are many reasons to be skeptical that a deal will be reached in November. It may prove an irony of history that in order for one of Barack Obama’s primary foreign policy goals to succeed, he will need to rely on Benjamin Netanyahu.

Albert Wolf is an Israel Institute Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Edited image courtesy of Flickr user Barack Obama.

Time to start thinking about land-based anti-ship missiles

HY-1 launch vehicle in the Beijing military museum. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed an impressive array of land-based anti-ship missile systems, which are part of a robust sea-denial capability. That growing capability is forcing the United States (US) and Australia to rethink Pacific strategy. Some are now asking why the US, and Australia for that matter, have no land-based anti-ship missile systems in their inventory. After all, we want to be able to do sea denial in Asia as well. So, should we be developing our own?

Both the US and Australia have other anti-ship systems in their arsenal of air and sea-launched weapons. But there’s a real prospect that land-based systems would pay operational and strategic dividends. That’s a view that has also been recently expressed by members of the US Congress, think tanks, and scholars. Read more

Some definitions are helpful here: sea denial is the ability to deny or prevent an adversary from operating in an area of the sea. On the other hand, sea control is the ability to operate freely in a maritime area while preventing adversaries from doing the same. Sea control requires that you have sea denial, but also that you can prevent an adversary from exercising effective sea denial over the same area. For years, sea control has required the integration of air and sea power. Though land-based systems alone can provide only sea denial and not sea control, the joint integration of land-, sea-, and air-based systems would be a powerful tool in gaining and maintaining sea control, especially in littoral regions.

The development of China’s maritime-denial missile capabilities puts enormous pressure on the US and its allies in the Western Pacific. Gone are the days of having the capability to impose sea control just about anywhere. Furthermore, China’s carrier, aircraft, and submarine programs suggest a desire in Beijing for some measure of sea control and power projection in the future—in the current context of strategic rivalry, that indicates a serious challenge to the US in the Asia-Pacific region. Whether this challenge manifests itself peacefully or violently will depend in part on how the US and its allies employ military power across all domains.

The three strongest arguments for land-based systems can be categorised as lower escalation risk, strategic flexibility, and mitigation of platform vulnerability.

Land-based systems, especially if they are mobile, deployable and of limited range, (like Japan’s type 88s) will provide leaders with a denial option that is less threatening and so less prone to escalation. That point is made effectively by naval strategists Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Simply put, deploying a carrier group or air assets in response to actions involving territorial disputes may threaten the sovereign territory and vital interests of an adversary. Using anti-ship missiles to impose only sea-denial in a disputed area of operations is inherently defensive and less threatening, which gives leaders the option to demonstrate resolve in protecting economic exclusion zones and littoral regions without directly threatening undisputed sovereign territory. Choosing land-based anti-ship systems as a flexible deterrent option increases opportunities for peaceful resolution.

Deployable and non-deployable (fixed) land-based systems also would allow the US and Australia to maximise the power of their existing sea-control assets in a conflict by providing strategic and operational flexibility. By using deployable land-based systems in littoral regions and fixed systems at key choke points along sea lines of communication, allied leaders could then surge air and sea power to more critical and decisive regions.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is that it’s becoming harder to ensure the survivability of platforms (with the relative exception of submarines) against a capable adversary. Air-Sea Battle, with all the risks that it entails, appears in part intended to provide an environment where US carriers can survive in a conflict in the Western Pacific. The high cost per unit of fifth-generation aircraft (the F-22 and to a lesser extent the F-35) is also a result of the great challenge of keeping them flying till they can successfully launch their weapons, and hopefully return home. By contrast, hardening fixed missile sites is likely to provide inexpensive survivability for a land-based systems.

There are still many questions ahead in the research concerning ground-based systems. For example, developing those weapons may require withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That treaty limits ground-based missile systems to a range of less than 499km, or more than 5,500. But the US alleges Russia has already violated the treaty. And, of course China was never a signatory, so its current systems are unhindered by the treaty’s provisions. Additionally, the defence community must weigh the advantages of hardened and fixed systems versus mobile and deployable ones. Finally, other characteristics, including speed, range, and targeting systems, require consideration and analysis.

While there are challenges, any capability which preserves or enhances allied capacity to deny the Western Pacific and reduces the risks to (and our dependence on) carrier-based air-power would have to be extremely expensive not to merit further investigation. (ASPI has initiated research on the subject so watch this space for further publications and analysis.) Land-based anti-ship missiles could easily have a larger role in underpinning America’s position in Asia, and that means they’re important to Australia’s strategists and policymakers.

Lieutenant Colonel Jan K. Gleiman is an active duty US Army officer and a visiting fellow at ASPI from United States Pacific Command. The views expressed in this post are his own. Harry White is an analyst at ASPI. Image of courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association: a progress report

HMAS Perth transits through the Southern Indian Ocean as an Orion P-3K of the Royal New Zealand Air Force searches for debris as part of Operation SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN.

The Indian Ocean littoral region’s resources and economic growth are attracting greater political attention. So it’s surprising there wasn’t more press coverage of last week’s meeting in Perth of the 20 member-states of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. IORA aims to spearhead future regional integration as the Indian Ocean grows in economic importance.

Australia is chairing the Association—until next year, when we hand over the role to the current vice chair, Indonesia. IORA’s the only pan-regional forum in the Indian Ocean that tries to address challenges faced by the more than 2 billion people who live around the Indian Ocean rim. Its priority issues include maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk-management, and academic, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchanges. Read more

Membership of IORA is in demand. Somalia’s in the queue to join the association, although there are still a few formalities before that’s finalised. Myanmar and Maldives are also applying to join. But Somalia’s application signifies a new and constructive development: IORA members recognise that the international community has made significant investments in the area adjacent to its 1700-kilometre coastline, and Somalia needs to be constructively engaged (presumably IORA would do that once Somalia’s membership begins.)

A key outcome from the Perth meeting was a greater focus on business: for the first time there was an IORA Business Week that looked at increasing trade and investment flows in the region.

The grouping issued an IORA Economic Declaration (PDF) issued that centred on the so-called ‘blue economy': creating oceans industries such as port development, fisheries, aquaculture, renewable energy, mineral exploration, and marine-based tourism. The Declaration picks up on the key message of last year’s IORA declaration on the principles for peaceful, productive and sustainable use of the Indian Ocean and its resources.

If there’s to be greater Australian focus on the oceans as part of our economic diplomacy, that strengthens the case for an Australian Office of Ocean Affairs to coordinate DFAT’s oceans expertise.

In Perth we supported IORA’s economic declaration by establishing a fund of a $1m dollars to support economic diplomacy initiatives and activities in the Indian Ocean region.

No doubt some of that money could support Australia’s commitment at the Perth meeting to host an Indian Ocean Dialogue next year. That would build on a similar exercise held in India recently. It would be useful in promoting thinking on different aspects of regional cooperation and complement IORA’s discussions.

The MH370 tragedy highlighted gaps in search and rescue in the Indian Ocean and the need for regular SAR exercises in the region. At this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, Defence Minister David Johnston proposed Australia facilitate a regular multilateral search-and-rescue exercise in the future, that’s ‘practically focused, designed to strengthen interoperability, and to build fraternal connections’.

Streamlining SAR efforts was therefore a key objective of the Perth meeting. And last week five countries (Singapore, Australia, Seychelles, Comoros and South Africa) signed an MOU on search-and-rescue cooperation developed by IORA. Hopefully more states will sign on in the near future. To support the MOU Australia usefully committed $2.6 million to working with Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Maldives (the three countries bordering our SAR region) on responding to maritime and aviation distress situations.

The Perth meeting also saw increasing involvement by IORA’s dialogue partners. I’ve argued before that we should be encouraging this process. So it was positive that there was very high-level representation in Perth from the United States and China (both dialogue partners).

There were other positive developments, IORA’s sub groups—the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum and Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group—were given stronger mandates to provide more focus and expert advice to IORA. There was an agreement to better resource IORA’s Secretariat to service the needs of the organisation.

But it’s a pity that little attention appeared to be given to closer connections between the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and IORA in addressing maritime confidence-building measures in the region. Potential for cooperation there was highlighted at the recent Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean. The issue could be explored at the second Indian Ocean Dialogue that we’ll be hosting in 2015.

Regional cooperation is critical for the creation of a stable and prosperous Indian Ocean. At the half-way point of Australia’s chairmanship of IORA, good progress was made in Perth on the Association’s development towards a regional institution that’s able to respond effectively to a range of economic and security challenges.

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