General

An Australian view of nuclear deterrence

No Australian minister has made a full-blooded speech on nuclear deterrence for many a long year—not since the early 1990s, I suspect. In truth, that’s not surprising: it’s been proliferation that’s grabbed all the attention since then. Moreover, talking about nuclear weapons requires the speaker to perform a delicate balancing act between upholding the current reliance upon nuclear weapons and endorsing a longer-term post-nuclear vision. Because nuclear weapons are—by their nature—scary, the speech has to contain core elements of reassurance and moderation. And there are no votes in it.

True, a succession of governments over the last couple of decades have nailed their colours to the mast on deterrence as part of formal declaratory defence policy. Those wanting to trace the issue through a succession of Defence White Papers (DWPs) since the end of the Cold War should have a look at paragraph 9.7 in the 1994 DWP, paragraph 5.15 in the 2000 DWP, paragraph 6.34 in the 2009 DWP, and paragraph 3.41 in the 2013 DWP. Echoes from those DWPs can subsequently be heard in other ministerial comments—in Stephen Smith’s response to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament report of late 2009, for example.

But none of the White Papers unpacks government thinking about nuclear deterrence and, in particular, extended nuclear deterrence, in detail. Indeed, most governments seem to have convinced themselves that—on that topic at least—the less said the better. The Rudd government went so far as to say that if extended nuclear deterrence ceased to be effective, ‘significant and expensive defence options’ would come onto the Australian strategic policy agenda—a statement which implies that nuclear deterrence isn’t merely long-lived, but important for Australian security. The Gillard government thought that a bridge too far. Its DWP endorsed extended nuclear deterrence in much the same manner as its predecessors, but the comment about significant and expensive options disappeared.

So what should a more long-winded statement actually say? First, that the government retains its commitment to a Menzian vision of nuclear weapons. Menzians—as opposed to Gortonians and disarmers—are ‘middle-of-the-road’ thinkers. They believe that nuclear weapons can play a stabilising role in international order, so long as they’re held by great powers sensible enough to be self-deterred in their use. They believe that nuclear deterrence works, and that arms control has a distinct role to play both in moderating the tensions between the nuclear powers and in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to a less exclusive set of owners. Finally, they believe that US extended nuclear deterrence to its allies, including Australia, works well enough that Australia has no need of its own arsenal (though in just about every protégé state there’s a debate over what ‘well enough’ means).

Second, a statement would say that the government believes a post-nuclear world is possible but not close—indeed, it might be drifting further away. What’s close is strategic transformation in Asia, and nuclear weapons’ role as an order-stabiliser might well have a part to play before that transformation’s complete. Because of that, Australia accepts that its ally, the US, will soon embark upon a wave of nuclear-weapon modernisation, and that nuclear weapons might come to have a more important role in US alliances in Asia than hitherto. Such developments are likely because nuclear deterrence will retain its role as an important gravitational shaper of international relations, and a cap on major-power war.

Third—following on from the second point—that Australia supports the US deploying a nuclear arsenal of the size and shape needed to support nuclear deterrence in general and to extend nuclear deterrence to allies and partners. The Australian government believes that a failure of US extended nuclear deterrence—currently offered as an assurance to nearly forty countries—would not simply be a serious problem for Australia but would likely precipitate a wave of nuclear proliferation that would be destabilising for global and regional order.

Fourth, that the idea of sole purpose that’s underpinned most official Australian commentary about nuclear weapons should be read merely as an empirical statement about Australian strategic conditions in a non-transformational Asia—not as an ideological position denying the utility of nuclear weapons in countering large-scale conventional force. Geography and distance, plus US conventional force superiority, have previously provided Australia with the luxury of thinking about nuclear deterrence only within specific scenarios—such as a nuclear attack upon the Australian continent—but it’s uncertain whether that luxury will endure.

Fifth, that Australia remains a strong advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and eventual disarmament. A world in which many fingers rest on many triggers would be an unhealthy and dangerous one. But nuclear disarmament can’t be sensibly discussed except in the context of other moves to stabilise and enhance international security.

Between them, those points say the following: Australian policymakers have a sensible, ‘centrist’ approach to nuclear weapons; they believe that nuclear weapons still have a positive role to play in global and regional security; they accept that the US has to field an arsenal that supports its doctrine and obligations; they don’t accept the doctrinal shibboleth of sole purpose; and they favour non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. And that’s a position we should be willing to put on record.

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

ASIO (3): Giving up the secrets

‘The whole idea of publishing a detailed history of an intelligence organisation based on its classified files seems counterintuitive. Intelligence organisations trade in secrecy. If they reveal their sources, the sources will dry up. If they reveal their techniques their opponents will counter them. If the identities of officers are revealed they will no longer be able to operate with the freedom necessary to achieve their tasks.’

With that opening paragraph, David Horner launches his official history, using the secret files to tell the secrets of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in its fight against spies, terrorists, sabotage and subversion.

Horner writes that the book is based on ‘full and unfettered’ access to ASIO’s records. Part of the aim, he says, is to deal with myths or half-truths about ASIO that have survived for half a century:

These myths damaged the Organisation’s standing in the Australian community, and this is unfortunate because ASIO does not exist for itself. Rather, ASIO exists to serve the nation; as a government instrumentality it ultimately needs to justify its existence to the people of Australia and both sides of Parliament, and to retain their confidence.

In commissioning the three-volume history by academics from the Australian National University, ASIO is offering an accounting that seeks to slay myths, reveal some secrets and justify its existence. Launching Horner’s volume, the Attorney-General, George Brandis, congratulated both ASIO and the Oz polity:

Security agencies present a paradox for democratic governance. By their nature they are required to operate covertly. Yet parliamentary democracy depends upon accountability and transparency. Reconciling those two imperatives is by no means easy. Yet, after 65 years, the very high level of public confidence which Australians have in ASIO is the strongest testament there could be to the fact that we have, on the whole, resolved that paradox successfully. The fact that we have done so is a tribute to the maturity of our political and governmental institutions.

For a sharper insight into the tensions and tradeoffs involved in confronting that paradox, consult Gareth Evans’ diary. As Labor’s Attorney-General, Evans records this on 21 October 1984:

The main achievement of the day was to work through a dozen or so outstanding ASIO warrant applications, writing appropriately rude or sceptical things on several of them, and worrying—as usual—just how much of it all is objectively justified, and how much is part of the ongoing spook mystique. My general working principle is not to take too many chances at all with the anti-terrorism warrant applications, to be a bit more sceptical about the counterespionage, and to be quite profoundly sceptical about everything else.

ASIO has been playing this game for a long time. The struggle with a sceptical Attorney-General can be conducted with various degrees of roughness. The diary, ten days later, reports a discussion that Evans thinks would have pleased ‘spook-averse’ Labor Party colleagues:

My office day primarily involves a very prickly exchange with ASIO’s [head] Harvey Barnett, with him expressing wounded indignation about the access I have given to some junior officers with industrial relations grumbles, and me making it clear that I am not entirely besotted with the Organisation at the moment on several other fronts – not least with some recent leaks which seemed to be attributable to a combination of foot soldiers and senior ideologues unhappy with the winding back of activity on the subversion front.

An annual report at the official end and a bit of leaking in the unofficial shadows can do only so much to tell ASIO’s story. And as for the political masters…well! An official history helps with much more than myth-busting.

The third ASPI interview with David Horner looks at ASIO giving up its secrets, the moral dilemma of the vast number of files created on average Australians who were no threat to society, and the ‘massive waste of time and resources’ in surveillance of intellectuals, writers and artists.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Video produced by Luke Wilson.

It’s Australia Day! (we’ll be back tomorrow …)

Happy Australia Day!Today we’re celebrating Australia Day with a public holiday, a BBQ and some fireworks, but we’ll be back tomorrow with our usual considered analysis and stats. Until then, you might like to check out ASPI Suggests for our pick of good reads and podcasts or catch up on this week’s posts including Graeme Dobell on ASIO, Peter Briggs on submarines and our new feature, a weekly round-up of law enforcement issues called The Beat by Clare Murphy.

Edited image courtesy of Flickr user mags.

Introducing ASPI’s 2015 International Conference: Australia’s future surface fleet

PASSEX with HMAS Perth and INS Sahyadri  Along with the submarine replacement program, the size and scope of Army’s future fleet of protected vehicles under Project LAND 400 and the future of the surface fleet are the other big capability choices for the Abbott government. That’s why ASPI will be taking a hard look at both subjects this year, and will run major conferences on both topics. The first, from 30 March to 1 April, will discuss Australia’s future surface fleet (PDF). Registration will open in mid-February. In May, ASPI will run a separate event on the future structure of Army and the LAND 400 program.

The future of the Navy’s surface fleet isn’t simply about choosing the vessels. There has been much political, public and media attention on the impact of program decisions on Australia’s naval shipbuilding sector. While the factors determining Navy’s future surface fleet are (or at least should be) shaped by strategic considerations, unavoidably they’ve become entangled with questions of construction. Over the coming weeks, the Strategist will run a series of posts related to the strategic, operational, international and industrial factors involved in decisions about the future surface fleet. Read more

Strategically, the RAN’s surface fleet has been the key asset in implementing Australia’s maritime strategy. Australia’s economic prosperity depends significantly on freedom of navigation. For more than a decade, surface ships have experienced a high tempo of operations being deployed on a wide range of missions, including counter-piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Overall, the threat environment was relatively benign, but that’s likely to change. Other countries in the Asia–Pacific region, most notably China, are increasing the number of their major surface combatants. They’re also investing in increasingly sophisticated anti-ship missiles and submarines. Consequently, establishing ‘sea control’ in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments could become more challenging, particularly for Australia’s capable but relatively small fleet of surface combatants. This isn’t to echo the argument (made, for instance, here) that the RAN’s major surface fleet might become obsolete as a result of modern anti-ship weaponry. Rather, what’s needed is an informed and comprehensive debate on how the surface fleet might need to be optimised to operate under those conditions, and what that implies for numbers, design, armaments, sensors and the like—and potentially whether the underlying strategy and doctrine needs to be rethought.

The US Navy’s (USN) new surface warfare strategy is worth looking at in terms of its potential to inform RAN thinking. Senior USN officers used the 2015 Surface Navy Association National Symposium and other outlets to promote the new concept of ‘distributed lethality’. The key idea is that, in order to enable sea control in A2/AD environments, the surface fleet needs to be arrayed more widely across the operational theatre and equipped with more sophisticated sensors and defensive and offensive weapon systems. Through dispersed operations and increased unit lethality, adversaries would face significant planning and targeting problems. Future platforms won’t only feature enhanced defensive capabilities against cruise and ballistic missiles, and (potentially) a new long-range anti-submarine weapon. They’ll also be equipped with new, offensive long-range anti-surface weapons. That includes smaller surface combatants such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) which recently test-fired a Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM); even support vessels might become more lethal.

The USN’s new approach reflects a recent study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA), which also advocated a shift of surface combatants from reactive defence against adversaries’ offensive weapons towards a mix of enhanced offensive armaments and increased inner-layer defences. It also sends an important message to Asia–Pacific allies (including Australia), partners and potential adversaries (e.g. China) that the USN will be able and willing to operate in denied maritime environments.

While the RAN can’t compare with the size and ambition of the USN, its future surface fleet is likely to face a similar threat environment, not least since the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is moving towards ever closer cooperation with our US ally. As well, Australia’s currently acquiring a significantly heavier surface fleet, comprising three new Air Warfare Destroyers, two amphibious assault ships (LHDs) and a yet to be specified number of frigates, likely to be larger and more capable than the ANZAC class vessels they’ll replace. What’s lacking, however, is a political and public debate on how those new platforms will be combined to enhance the ADF’s maritime power-projection capability.

ASPI’s 2015 Conference will put a spotlight on the key questions: What does the future operating environment for Australia’s future surface fleet look like? What are allies’ and partners’ expectations? Does the RAN need a more capable surface fleet, and what are the implications for personnel, resources and other Defence priorities? How should the surface fleet be organised and equipped to deal with the A2/AD challenges? What is the RAN’s equivalent to the USN’s ‘distributed lethality’ concept? And what emerging-technology options might transform Navy capability into the future?

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Why Australia should build its own submarines (2)

Audacious Under ConstructionIn my post yesterday I highlighted the stand-out attributes of submarines, Australia’s need for a greater range/endurance than is available off the shelf, the difficulties of increasing the payload and mobility of an existing design and some of the issues of an overseas build, in particular Option J.

How long do we need? Using the Collins program as an indicator, we have time to do it properly. The Collins contract was signed in 1987 and the first submarine was delivered in 1996. While there were issues to resolve, that was a nine-year design and build program for the first of class from a greenfield site. Today, we’re in a much better position with submarine engineering and shipyard facilities than we were in 1987. The first FSM should fit into the Collins availability cycle, replacing the Collins that would have come out of Full Cycle Docking in 2028. Allowing for an extended first of class sea trials and fix period it should start sea trials in 2025. Read more

The complexity and critical national importance of the submarine capability demands dedicated, specialised management. I recommend the establishment of a Submarine Construction Authority, with appropriate industry and Defence expertise and authoritative leadership. Such an approach could build on the experience and lessons of Collins, avoid the mistakes of the air warfare destroyer alliance structure and repeat the success of the Anzac frigate and Huon minehunter projects.

An Australian design environment would aim to achieve and sustain ownership of the design for future development. That would not mean that we would design the vessel. Rather, we would select a submarine designer to do so while we develop Australian expertise and specialist manpower in parallel. The goal would be to transfer the skills and intellectual property needed to perform the in-service design authority role.

An objective look at the Collins program provides both valuable lessons and encouragement that the future submarine can be successfully built in Australia. The project was completed with an average schedule delay of about 26 months and within 3–4% of the original contract price, after allowing for inflation. The project’s aim to expend at least 70% of funds in Australia was comfortably exceeded. Today, over 90% by value of in-service work is Australian. And construction standards, demonstrated by weld rejection rates and hull circularity, were excellent, exceeding international norms.

Of course, there were a significant number of design and system defects requiring rectification in the newly built submarines. That work was done successfully by ASC, supported by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the US Navy and industry.

The submarine availability problems that have caused such poor ongoing public perception of the Collins arose from failures in in-service support arrangements rather than problems with the design and build. Moreover, the final report of the Coles review found a major improvement in Collins availability as a consequence of its recommendations being implemented.

What about a hybrid approach? It’s been suggested in the Japanese media that we should take a ‘hybrid’ approach, constructing the hull modules for the future submarine in Japan and assembling them in Australia. But doing so would entail all the complications of an overseas build, while precluding the optimal use of modern modular assembly, in which all major systems are installed and set to work on their shock- and noise-absorbing deck sections before those sections are slid into the open hull section, like oven trays. A hybrid construction approach would also complicate accountability for any problems injected into the build and deny Australian shipyards in Victoria and New South Wales the platform and module construction work that they performed so well for Collins.

Moreover, we have an example of why an overseas build of modules is not a good idea: our experience with the bow and escape sections of the first Collins, which were built in Sweden. Both had a large number of weld defects, which took months of additional work in Australia and over $20 million to rectify. A hybrid build would likely increase, rather than reduce, cost and risk.

By contrast, there’d be substantial benefits from building the next generation of RAN submarines in Australia. Indeed, local construction is especially beneficial for submarines compared with surface ships, given the submarine’s unique design and strategic importance. The benefits would include the following:

  • The project would be under the full operational, legal and security control of the Australian Government.
  • It’d be no more expensive. None of the prospective foreign suppliers is a cheap shipbuilder.
  • Building in Australia would support broader investment in shipbuilding that could be repaid many times over across a continuous-build program.
  • The quality of construction is likely to be better and, in any case, would be under Australian control.
  • An Australian build would transfer design, construction and commissioning knowledge and technology to Australia—all vital steps to support the through-life evolution of what will be a uniquely Australian design.

Submarines are a critical strategic capability for the uncertain times ahead. Australia’s requirements and geography demand at least 12 large submarines. Trying to stretch an existing design is a high-risk proposal with limited capability to grow to meet future changes. An integrated design process based on a designer experienced in producing for foreign customers, working with the Australian builders and the ‘in-service’ industries, is the low-risk path. The current focus on a Japanese-built solution is misdirected and a distraction.

Click here to read the Strategic Insights report: Why Australia should build its own submarines.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine specialist, submarine commanding officer and past president of the Submarine Institute of Australia. Peter has no affiliations with any of the potential suppliers to the RAN’s SEA 1000 project. Image courtesy of Flickr user UK Ministry of Defence.

The Beat

Specialist entryWelcome to ‘The Beat’, a regular update that we’ll be publishing from ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement program. Like other ASPI updates, it’ll provide commentary on a select range of topical issues and links to different documents, reports and other items of interest to those involved in the law enforcement field, and its contribution to national security.

Looking ahead

Our first edition focuses on what might lie ahead for 2015 in the broad security space. In this short paper, Rohan Gunaratna shares his views on the terrorist threat, with a focus on daish (Islamic State). A much longer report by CSIS Washington covers what the US can do in the Middle East, and is noteworthy for its commentary on counterterrorism strategy and interagency cooperation. And lastly, the comprehensive forecasts by private intelligence firms Stratfor and G4S are also worth a read. Read more

Interesting to note that none of those forecasts sees any prospect for the early demise of daish, but Stratfor seems less concerned about its activities outside Iraq and Syria (but also perhaps with an expansion into Lebanon) than others. G4S sees the potential for some of daish‘s 2014 gains to be rolled back.

UK inquiry report into the murder of Fusilier Rigby

Last November, the UK parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee released its report into the performance of the security services in relation to the 2013 murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby. The report states that the security services couldn’t have prevented the attack, but makes some interesting findings concerning the high threshold for intrusive investigations, the importance of engagement between street-level police and the community to gather intelligence, and the low priority Britain gives to counter-radicalisation.

From the bookshelf

One worthy read comes from American criminology professor, Louise I. Shelly, whose book  Dirty Entanglements explains the links between terrorism, crime and corruption. She also shows how most of the major terrorist attacks of the past decade required support from corrupt officials and more common criminals. While Australia doesn’t get much of a mention, it’s still a must-read for the evidence supporting Shelly’s case and for those who seek to understand how this unholy trinity interact to jeopardise our interests.

Perhaps of growing interest?

While Australia’s still only talking about legalising marijuana for medicinal purposes, it’s interesting to watch how US states are approaching the issue. Those interested in the debate might like to follow the Brookings Institution’s research thread, including posts like this about the prospects for further marijuana legalisation in the US  and its implications for international treaties.

Coming up….

Clare Murphy is an intern working within ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement Program. Image courtesy of Flickr user Andrew Becraft.

ASIO (2): the spooks and Oz politics

For decades, the Australian Labor Party hated the spooks with a passion. Indeed, many Australians still maintain that deep distrust of their domestic security service.

For Labor, though, the hatred of ASIO—the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation—coincided with the barren years of opposition. In his official history of ASIO, David Horner writes that Labor’s approach to ASIO was poisoned:

In Australian political history, it’s unlikely that any other Commonwealth department has had to endure such concerted, vociferous and bitter criticism from the Opposition—over the two decades from 1951.

Read more

The legacy of scorn and scepticism is reflected in the words of the former Labor Leader, Kim Beazley, now ambassador to the US, who writes that ASIO

exercised its task in a democratic environment where many would challenge its relevance, its techniques and whether, in principle, it should exist. It has been impossible to view its role objectively in the public debate or see the organisation in its complete and complex history.

So, questions of relevance, technique and even whether ASIO should exist. The angst and the anger have several layers. Deepest secrecy surrounded the signals intelligence that had revealed the work of Soviet spies in Canberra in the 1940s (leading to ASIO’s creation) and that veil was not cast off until the 1990s.

The long anger-burn and many of the questions flowed from ASIO’s great public coup—‘the most important episode in ASIO’s first two decades,’ Horner writes—the defection of the Soviet diplomat and intelligence agent, Vladimir Petrov.

The Petrov Royal Commission that followed was a political disaster for the Labor Leader, H.V. Evatt, and fed the Labor belief that ASIO connived with the Menzies Government to commit political sabotage. Horner comments that Labor ran a ‘misguided campaign’ against the service, ‘based on completely false assumptions that were impossible to disprove without divulging highly sensitive intelligence sources on the Soviet Union’.

In a fine review of Horner’s book, The Canberra Times’ editor-at-large, Jack Waterford, notes that Evatt’s charges were ‘fantastic and silly’ but, stung by Labor slurs, ASIO officers ‘began to do some of the partisan things Labor critics were alleging they had always done’.

Horner’s official history shows that ASIO didn’t just gather intelligence, but conducted spoiling operations that were an ‘extravagant interpretation’ of its remit. And he comments: ‘The major consequence of the Cold War was that ASIO pursued its campaign against communists with an almost religious fervour’. Fervour saw ASIO become overzealous: ‘ASIO officers came to believe that any political movement or societal group that challenged a conservative view of society was potentially subversive’.

Here is David Horner in the second of his four ASPI interviews:

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Video produced by Luke Wilson.

Keeping the local jihadist menace manageable

Is extra monitoring the solution? The Sydney siege and the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris have highlighted that jihadist violence is on the rise. But what can be done to keep us safe? In the clear absence of any effective grand solutions to the problems jihadists pose, the answer seems to revolve around money.

The Prime Minister recently declared that the security services couldn’t monitor all individuals who may potentially commit jihadist acts instead simply keeping them under ‘reasonable supervision’. On 2GB, Mr Abbott observed: ‘I can’t say that they’re all under 24-hour watch but…we are doing everything we humanly can to ensure that anyone who is a menace to our safety is being monitored.’ Read more

This approach now seems less reassuring following the Charlie Hebdo killings given their ferocity and organisation. Just like all other jihadist attacks in Western nations over the last two years, the individuals responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack were known to the national security services, just as Sydney siege gunman Man Monis was known to Australian officials. The problem was that the French security services lacked the resources to monitor all dangerous individuals all the time. A French official declared that in order to do this, their security services would need to be three times their current size. Thinking resources, there are several alternatives.

First, the government could stick with the current system of monitoring and funding, while progressively tightening up laws and regulations as necessary, and simply accept that terrorist acts may occur in the future. The danger is that essential civil liberties will be further constrained and yet attacks like Charlie Hebdo might still happen. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

The second option is to keep the current system but throw more resources at the problem. Treble the security forces funding and drive the risks down albeit drawing money away from other areas of government spending. Moreover, there are worrying Orwellian overtones in building a garrison state where large internal security forces monitor everyone’s activities. And while only a trickle, more potential jihadists to supervise are emerging every day. Over time, there may be several hundred to monitor, a feasible but considerable task.

Third, one alternative is to outsource the problem to the Muslim community in whose name these acts of violence are ostensibly carried out. Some argue that the community should self-police to ensure such acts never occur again. This implies though that the overall community is responsible for the jihadists, which seems a stretch. Most members of the community deplore these acts of violence and have regularly warned the security services about dangerous individuals. Moreover, the result of such an implied collective punishment could be to turn the Muslim community into a closed inwardly-focused enclave within our society, an outcome sharply at odds with Australia’s fundamental liberal principles.

Fourth, the problem could be made more manageable by rounding up those individuals of concern. The UK did this in Northern Ireland in the 1970s when they introduced detention without trial. Instead of trying to monitor hundreds of individuals separately, they detained them as a group. The process fell into disrepute because torture was used on some and many were erroneously held. Moreover, that was a civil war whereas the current local jihadist problem involves Australians helping overseas terrorist groups with whom the nation is effectively, if not formally, at war.

Last, we could accept we’re at war with ISIS (and perhaps the al-Qaeda franchise) and declare war. That would mean the laws of war would apply with our dealings with the group, not the laws of peace. Those individuals deemed security risks could then legally have restrictions on their free movement applied such as home confinement or, if needs be, internment. This approach comes under the 1949 Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol 1, and is now much more strictly regulated than during World War II. Even so, there are risks such an approach might be misused for political gain or bureaucratic advancement.

Adopting this approach would limit costs and ease our security services problems dramatically while addressing a major issue in our laws of peace. Such laws punish those who commit crimes, but don’t prevent them happening in the first place. The idea of declaring war was discounted early in the Global War on Terror partly to avoid making the murderous thugs involved appear important. But times have changed.

None of the options is perfect. Their basic difference is between supervising dangerous individuals scattered across Australia on an open-ended cost basis or instead grouping them collectively and limiting security service expenditures. Our safety turns partly on spending but also on approach.

Peter Layton has extensive defence experience and a doctorate in grand strategy. Image courtesy of Flickr user Josh Koonce.

Diggers’ lives endangered by Australia’s gun laws

Spent cartridiges eject from a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) soldiers' M4 rifles as they reconfirm their zeroes prior to a night mission with the Uruzgan Special Response Team (SRT).I recently visited one of the ADF’s special operations units to observe some firearms training conducted by a visiting American expert: let’s call him ‘Joe’. Joe lauded the commitment displayed by the operators he was training. In fact, one of the unit’s in-house instructors relayed that one particularly committed trainee had gone home and cut a mock-up of his M4 rifle out of wood so that he could practice his weapon manipulations in his own time. Most of those present chuckled, but Joe was puzzled. After an embarrassed pause, the instructor explained that, unlike in the US, it’s impossible for Australians—including members of the military—to own the semi-automatic equivalent of the M4 unless they make their living culling roos. Nor could the enthusiastic student legally avail himself of common alternatives to the real thing (airsoft guns, or realistic replicas) to practice with.

While it’s less difficult for diggers to get in some off-duty practice with a handgun, the system is still stacked against them. A handgun license requires first joining a club and completing their safety course, which can take up to 6 months. And no, three tours of Afghanistan doesn’t exempt you from having to sit through a class in which it’s explained that you shouldn’t point your gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Nor does the fact that you’ve completed a virtually identical safety course in a different state. Given that military personnel are redeployed every two or three years, this makes handgun ownership challenging for them. Furthermore, it’s necessary to compete in at least six pistol competitions per year. Tough luck if you’ve been deployed to Afghanistan for six months of the year and away on training courses for another two or three, and your club only runs one pistol competition a month. Read more

So what? Why should we care about military personnel having shooting opportunities beyond their in-house military training? If you know someone in the military, try asking them whether they think they get enough trigger-time on their rifle. Then, if you really want to make them laugh out loud, ask how much handgun practice they get. The reality is that, like any military, the ADF only trains its people to meet a standard that is achievable by the least capable person allowed to continue to wear a uniform. Weapons training is constrained by time and funding, and can realistically only seek to achieve a base level of competence.

But is ‘competence’ enough? As you read this, Islamic State fighters are honing their fighting skills in the fervent hope that they might get to kill the enemy, which could potentially be an Australian soldier. Some have had a decade’s worth of combat experience, come from a long line of battle-hardened fighters, and aren’t constrained by health and safety regulations. And there are thousands of others like them all around the world. When (not if) one of our diggers comes face to face with one of these fanatics, it won’t be about check-the-box competence. It’ll be competitive, and in this competition there’s no silver medal. The goal for our diggers should be excellence, not competence. Those who serve in the ADF put their lives on the line to defend Australia. Surely we owe them the opportunity, should they so choose, to hone their weapons skills so that they’ll be in with the best possible chance of dominating that competition. It’d be absurd to train our Olympic athletes to the point of competence in their sport, but not allow them the opportunity to develop themselves to the point of excellence. And Olympic athletes don’t come home in body bags if they lose.

The visiting American, ‘Joe’, has never been in the military or the police. Yet his shooting skills are such that our special forces operators just shake their heads in wonder. That’s the power of competitive sports shooting. As Joe likes to say, with Zen-like wisdom, ‘if you always hit, you’ll never miss.’ If we’re to give the same opportunity to our diggers Australia’s firearms laws will need to be amended. The obvious place to start is with who qualifies for Category D licenses. Those allow ownership of military-style semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Currently, qualifying for a Category D license is limited to ‘professional shooters whose principal occupation is the controlling of vertebrate pest animals.’ The diggers are professional shooters, but their principal occupation is the safeguarding of Australian strategic interests. Surely that profession has a legitimate claim for ownership?

Deane-Peter Baker is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

ASIO (1):  the intelligence jewels and the alliance

Australia set up a domestic security and spy-catching service to secure intelligence access to the US and Britain. Without the service—the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation—the formal alliance with the US might not have happened. If the crown jewels of Australian defence are the intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US, then ASIO was created to protect the jewels.

Indeed, ASIO’s creation story (1948-49) is founded on the growing panic in Canberra that the US and Britain were refusing to pass confidential information to Australia. Washington and London had discovered, via signals intercepts, that secrets given to Canberra flowed to the Soviet Union. The Brits thought that if Australia didn’t act on security London would have to ‘watch our secrets pour down the drain’ in Canberra. Read more

As the flow of US and British intelligence shut down in 1948, Australia’s top Defence Committee predicted that ‘the whole basis of Australian Defence Policy will be radically weakened’ unless classified access could be restored. America’s ambassador to Canberra bluntly warned that ‘the only conditions under which the US would pass material to Australia would be when the new Security Service had been formed.’

The irony and the duality in ASIO’s birth in 1949 is that Australia created a domestic security service for a set of international reasons. ASIO was the price paid for intelligence access. ASIO’s existence was one element in the achievement of the formal alliance with the US. And ASIO’s birth was a key moment when Australia enlisted in the Cold War.

The former Labor Leader and Defence Minister, now ambassador to Washington, Kim Beazley, thinks ASIO was decisive for Australia’s alliance and alignment:

Not many Australians realise that the most important single government action aligning Australia with the West in the post-World War II Cold War power distribution was the decision by the Chifley [Labor] Government to create ASIO. It was a defensive step. It demonstrated our willingness, in an environment of intense intelligence attacks on various elements of our and our allies’ national security capabilities, to be a trustworthy player. A capable protector of our and other secrets.

All these quotes and thoughts are drawn from The Spy Catchers, the first of a three-volume Official History of ASIO by Professor David Horner. He writes:

Signals intelligence was at the heart of American and British concerns about security in Australia in 1948, and led directly to the establishment of ASIO in March, 1949. These concerns focused on two areas. First, information from decrypted Soviet cables [codenamed Venona] revealed unequivocally that Australian citizens in key government departments such as External Affairs were spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. Second, as a result of this spying Britain and the US cut off Australia from access to Allied Sigint, thus damaging Australia’s standing as a reliable defence partner.

In July 1948 the Australian Naval Attaché in Washington was told Australia had ‘a security grading equivalent to that of India or Pakistan, and was in the lowest category of any foreign power having representation in the US’. Consider the turnaround: in September, 1951, the US, Australia and New Zealand signed the ANZUS treaty in San Francisco.

In the first of four interviews with Professor Horner, we started with the Venona program, the decrypted cables between Moscow and 26 cities around the world, including Canberra, New York and Washington. Venona cryptanalysts read more than 200 cables between Canberra and Moscow, revealing the names or cover names of about a dozen Australians who provided information to the Soviet embassy. Venona led to ASIO and that, in turn, played a signal part (in several senses) in the development of Australia’s alignment and alliance.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Video produced by Luke Wilson.

Assessing the US rebalance to the Asia–Pacific

CSIS’s release of its recent report Pivot 2.0—intended to help nurture a bipartisan consensus in Washington in favour of the policy—shows the topic of the ‘rebalance’ is still a live one in US foreign and strategic policy circles. The report succinctly covers a range of issues, starting with the prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and working its way through China, defence, Korea, India and Southeast Asia. Australia’s clearly not seen as a problem—it barely rates a mention.

The US rebalance (née ‘pivot’) dates from the first term of the Obama administration. So at the start of 2015 it seems quaint still to be writing a blog post on the policy. But around the region, and even within the US, it’s a policy about which people remain uncertain. Some critics describe it as merely the name for Obama’s Asia policy, but in private conversations I’ve heard harsher judgments.

So let me put down here a set of assessments about the rebalance. The policy itself emerged from an early policy review undertaken by the Obama administration to identify where the US was overweight and underweight in its international commitments. The answer was that it was overweight in Europe and the Middle East, and underweight in Asia—underweight across a range of dimensions including the diplomatic, military, economic and institutional. Read more

For those who want to see what is—and isn’t—occurring under the rebalance, I’d recommend doing more than reading the CSIS report. Have a look at two other US sources. The first is the presentation that US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bob Work, gave to the Council on Foreign Relations at the end of September 2014. In that presentation, Work provided a robust defence of the efforts being made to enhance US military capacities across the region. The four largest defence construction projects since the Cold War are all located in Asia. By 2020, 60% of US air and naval forces will be based in the region. And that’ll include the newest equipment, like the F-35s, the P-8s, and the Zumwalt-class destroyers.

In Work’s view, the rebalance is occurring but its effects are somewhat diluted by an even larger global shift within the US defence force—after Afghanistan and Iraq, a smaller emphasis on forward-deployed forces and a larger one on reconstitution of US surge-force capabilities.

The second source is the majority staff report prepared for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in April 2014. That report looked in greater detail at the non-military side of the rebalance—including diplomacy and aid—and in general found a set of policy instruments that were even less well-resourced than the military effort. The East Asia and Pacific Bureau in the State Department, for example, had 12% less funding in 2014 than it had back in 2011.

So yes, the rebalance exists. But it struggles for oxygen, in part because of the broader strategic baggage carried by the president. Moreover, substantial parts of the rebalance will take time to unfold—it’s not designed to address allies’ and partners’ demands for instant gratification and constant assurance. And, even when it’s run its course, the rebalance isn’t going to restore the regional status quo ante China’s rise.

It’s that last point that highlights the extent to which the rebalance faces what we might call a crisis of expectations. Since different people believe it was meant to do different things, they judge it by different standards. Some of those metrics strike me as unrealistic. For example, it’s perfectly true that even after the rebalance is completed, the US’ position in the region won’t be restored to what it was in the glory days of the 1990s. But the rebalance was never intended to do that. It wasn’t meant to reverse the rise of the Asian great powers, nor to roll back the tides of history.

Similarly, the rebalance was never intended to suggest that the US was happy to ignore what went on in Europe and the Middle East. Washington might have thought it was overweight in those areas, but it certainly didn’t think they were irrelevant. So have events in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq distracted the US from Asia? Of course. But the US is a global player, not just a regional one.

The rebalance, even if successful, is merely one variable in a shifting strategic landscape. By itself, it won’t return the US to the position of the ‘indispensable player’ in Asia. Still, its principal value lies in the fact that the policy strengthens Washington’s ties to Asia. And that’s why Australia should want the rebalance to succeed: because its various components—including a comprehensive TPP agreement, a military reorientation into the region, and US membership of key regional institutions—will mean a US more closely engaged with both our and the region’s strategic future.

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

Why Kenya matters

The Ebola crisis evoked the worst fears and clichés about Africa. Forget the vast distances between Monrovia and Asmara or Freetown and Johannesburg. Ignore the many differences between the three countries fighting the outbreak and the fifty or so states in Africa—four times larger and nearly fifty times more populous than Australia—free of Ebola. It’s all ‘Africa’, right?

Well, no. Indeed, notwithstanding the global hysteria around Ebola, the caricature of Africa as an undifferentiated monolith is fading. More and more the continent is being defined by its anchor or ‘strategic swing’ states. That’s broadly a good thing. Their success conveys far greater benefits to Africa than, say, Botswana or Mauritius—frequently lauded for their development efforts but together comprising just 0.3 per cent of the continent’s total population—ever could. But the reverse is also true. ‘Failure’ is more detrimental to Africa if it occurs in key states like Nigeria, South Africa or Kenya.

2014 was a bad year for all three but Kenya faced the most complex range of challenges. Its political, ethnic and economic fault-lines were exacerbated by attacks by the Somalia-based Islamist extremist group al-Shabaab, a never-ending refugee crisis (the second largest in Africa) and an indictment of its President, Uhuru Kenyatta, by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity (the case was finally dropped in December after three years). Read more

How different it all seemed not so long ago. For most of its history since independence in 1963, Kenya was Africa for much of the outside world, at least the Africa it wanted to see: of preternatural landscapes and wildlife, of vibrant, liberal-minded people, of social harmony. Then came the disputed 2007 election. The widespread communal violence which erupted in its aftermath eviscerated the Kenya of our popular imagination.

Such was the West’s disillusionment with Kenya—historically viewed as ‘one of its own’—its commentariat over-corrected. Now Kenya was moving inexorably towards ‘failed state’ status, a country boiling with ethnic hatred, led by an irredeemably corrupt elite at whose pinnacle stood a rogue President bent on not just evading but destroying the international criminal justice system. (Needless to say, most of those commentators were at a loss to explain why the 2013 election passed off peacefully.)

Kenya’s not now an oasis of political stability but nor has it ever been. The distribution of land and wealth has always been a source of tension amongst its myriad ethnic groups. Injustices suffered by one or another have been used as political fodder by the country’s powerful elite since independence. That isn’t unique in African politics. People just thought Kenya was different.

And in some important ways, Kenya is different. It’s the economic powerhouse of East Africa, boasting the region’s strongest international trade and investment links, and serving as its transport, logistics, tourism, banking and services hub. Though millions of its citizens remain stuck in crushing poverty, Kenya jumped to ‘middle income’ status after the latest rebasing of its GDP. Its private sector, which has evolved under relatively market-friendly policies, is arguably the most dynamic in Africa and its economy is amongst the most diversified.

Democracy in Kenya is messy, make no mistake. Though hardly typical, the recent furore over the ‘anti-terror’ bill, which resulted in fisticuffs in parliament and the eventual suspension of some key clauses by a high court judge, was a case in point. Its robust civil society and precocious media are a constant thorn in the side of government.

Kenya’s new constitution, passed in 2010, is meant to enhance accountability, promote a more active citizenry and build national cohesion. For all the criticisms about persistent corruption and polarisation, there’re clear signs of progress. Still, only time will tell. Setbacks and reversals, even violence, are to be expected. No state has ever become a ‘nation’ or developed into a mature democracy where that wasn’t the case.

Human capital is perhaps Kenya’s biggest asset. Its educated, professional class has long been a source of national pride. That the world-leading mobile-money system, M-PESA, was created in Kenya is not an accident. Its culture of innovation is strong and growing.

But Kenya is also different for unenviable reasons. Every country it borders is threatened by some form or combination of terrorism, separatist or civil-war-related violence. Just one border further removed are Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. A ‘rough neighbourhood’ if ever there was one.

Kenya has suffered dozens of terrorist attacks—and reportedly thwarted many others—since its troops intervened in Somalia in 2011 to help end piracy in the Horn of Africa and defeat al-Shabaab. The militants claim the attacks are retribution for the Kenya Defence Forces role in the African Union mission in Somalia.

But what al-Shabaab avers is immaterial: Kenya is now on one of the frontlines of the global fight against Islamist extremism whether it likes it or not (it surely doesn’t). And geographic proximity is only part of the reason. What sets Kenya apart is also what makes it a target. Modernisation and democratic progress are antithetical to the extremists’ worldview and aims. One of those objectives, according to the Kenyan President, is to create a caliphate in the areas of Kenya which border Somalia. If that weren’t enough, the caliphate dreamt up by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria also includes Kenya.

Kenya is trying to deepen global understanding of that security context and the tough choices facing the government. I hope it succeeds. What happens in Kenya matters—and not just to Africa.

Terence McNamee is the deputy director of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. Image courtesy of Flickr user eirasi.